Let the wars begin (the end of the Golden Streaming Era)

With Apple Plus launching yesterday, and Disney Plus arriving a little more than a week from now, it’s time to mark and lament the end an era: The Golden Age of streaming.

Years from now we’re going to look back on the simple age, when virtually all the content was available on Netflix. When we cut the cord back in 2017, Netflix was the only subscription we were paying, then had Amazon Prime Video as an added bonus. Now it seems that every media conglomerates is going to stand up their own streaming service, walling off their content in hopes to shake a few more dollars out of us in yet another monthly subscription.

I’m taking this as an opportunity to re-inventory our TV costs and prioritize the streaming services as we watch the landscape change.

Pre-Cord Cutting Costs

  • DirecTV We were subscribed to whatever package gave us all the major sports channels, including NBCSN and NFL Network. Costs would fluctuate as they always ratcheted up the costs until you complained. ($115-145/mo)
  • Netflix The goldmine of back catalog content. We do a 5-stream family plan ($13/mo)
  • Amazon Prime Video We were Prime customers long before we consumed prime video and would remain Prime customers if the Video wasn’t there.

Total Pre-Cord Cutting Costs: $128-$158 per month

Pre-Streaming Wars Costs (Current Situation)

  • HULU + LiveTV: We’ve jumped back and forth between Sling, PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV, but are now currently using HULU to provide our live TV content. The primary reason we subscribe to a live TV package is to get sports. If there were (or is) a more cost-efficient service that offered ESPN, TNT + TBS (for NBA and MLB), NBCSN (for NHL) AND NFL Network – and no other channels – I’d go for it. Right now the Hulu streaming service gives the added benefit of Hulu content as well ($45/mo)
  • Netflix – we’re finding fewer and fewer reasons to keep watching Netflix. Truthfully my daughters watch it the most, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. ($16/mo)
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • CBS All Access: When new Star Trek is airing ($6/mo), otherwise I’ll cancel it right after the season finale ends.

Total Pre-Streaming Wars Costs: $61-67 per month

The Streaming Wars Costs and Priorities

Now with all of these segmenting services coming into play, we’re starting to look at prioritizing these streaming services and coming up with a few cut lines where we’d consider dropping a service or not subscribing all together.

The “Gotta Have It” Tier

1. LiveTV Streaming Service. Barring a significant price increase, or that all-encompassing sports deal unicorn, we’re probably going to stick with Hulu.

2. Disney Plus. This is where we’ll be redirecting my kids for their content, and the upcoming Star Wars and Marvel shows seem really appealing.

3. CBS All-Access. While it doesn’t seem like All-Access has panned out to be what CBS intended, they at least realize that there’s a demand for Star Trek, and if they keep producing relevant and quality Star Trek shows, I’ll keep forking over the amount for the minimum tier.

The “As long as you’re giving it to me…” Tier

4. Amazon Prime Video. We don’t really watching much on Prime Video, but as long as Amazon’s Prime 2-Day Shipping includes this service we’ll keep subscribing.

5. Apple Plus. We’re not sure their original content is going to be any good, and in the one day we’ve used the service, I’m appalled that they show you *a lot* of content that you may not have access to (like HBO and other premium channels), but if you’re going to give me a year for free by purchasing an iPhone, then we’ll keep your app installed on our Roku.

The “Having Second Thoughts” Tier

6. Netflix. I’ll be honest. I’m going to have a serious conversation with my family about whether we’re going to keep subscribing to Netflix, at least on a continual basis. Maybe we’ll check in twice a year to see if there’s anything worth checking out.

The “Not Even Considering It” Tier

7. HBO Max. It’s not coming until March, and at $15 is set to be one of the more expensive streaming services, but I’m not seeing much appeal to subscribe to these services, and ultimately I think this is going to scuff up the polish on the HBO prestige brand.

8. The NBC Peacock Streaming Service. I’m going to call my shot. This service won’t exist in the same form within two years. Despite being owned by Comcast, I think NBC is going to ultimately struggle with the logistics of running a good streaming service, and will find that it’s easier to just license their content elsewhere.

9. DC Universe. While I’m an avid comics fan, I don’t have the time to keep up with their exclusive (or non-exclusive for that matter) content.

10+ Any other services not mentioned above. I know there’s a lot of niche stuff out there, from ESPN+ to DAZN, but unless it’s free, we’re not interested.


It’s still worth being a cord-cutter right now, with the best part being that you’re not tied down to any commitments. As I mentioned with Netflix, if you have the ability to go month-to-month, I’ll be tempted to check in on a service for a month or two and see whether anything is compelling. My fear however is that some of these services may be tempted to pull people back into agreements, with the whole industry repeating the mistakes that drove their customers away.

Buckle up, the next several months should be interesting.

Avengers Endgame (Spoilers)

After seeing Avengers Endgame on Sunday, I’ve been dwelling on my feelings about this movie. While I initially enjoyed it (and still do), I have to admit that my feelings about it have diminished the more time passes and the more I think about the picture. There are two ways this movie should be considered: as a monumental bookend to a cultural phenomenon that spans 22 pictures in 11 years, but also with the coherence of the plot.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

One can’t overstate the level of difficulty in matching the hype in tying this story together, as well as concluding everything that was done in Infinity War. The fact that they were able to cohesively tie together a story that complex, with that many characters – and stick to a landing that didn’t feel like a train-wreck – should be marveled (yes, sorry). Just look at the Justice League movie to see how things could go wrong. Back when I started my blog 14 years ago, I wouldn’t have fathomed that comic book movies would not only dominate the movie industry but that there’d be a coherent plot thread through a cinematic universe – yet here’s exactly where we are. This should be a celebrated, and not just those like me, who consider superheroes an integral part of my childhood and mythology.

The Russo Brothers and all the writers and directors involved with the MCU managed to create high emotional stakes with these characters, often paying off when those character arcs came to a resolution. I have to admit I laughed and cried a few times throughout these movies. One cannot deny the emotional resonance that doesn’t feel manipulative or contrived.

All of that said: when I started to move past my emotional reactions and started to apply some logic to the plot, things started to fall apart quickly, to the point where I have some real problems with parts of this movie.

To be clear, I’m not trying to nitpick the plot in the movie. I know that most scripts have blemishes that may need to be over-looked, especially when time travel is involved as a central plot device. I also realize that this is a comic book movie, asking us to accept Infinity Stones, reality-warping power and super-powered gamma rays, all requiring a suspension of belief to a certain degree. As I revisit comic crossovers from my youth, I’m careful not to be over-critical about the seams in the story. However I do take issue when decisions are made that are not in keeping with the character, or that a serious consequence is ignored, simply because it conflicts with an overarching goal of the story.

This brings me to the major problems with Endgame:

Having the 5 year cake and eating it too

At the end of the movie, when they started to montage everything returning to normalcy, there was a scene where Peter Parker saw his buddy Ned back at school, which triggered the thought, “It’s a good thing they both got snapped out of existence, or else Peter’s buddy would have been out of high school by now.”

So to get this straight – everyone that was snapped back into existence didn’t feel any passage of time, while everyone else who was left behind had five years of aging pass between them. All of a sudden you have a world – or universe – where people who have been coping with grief and loss (and if they heeded Cap’s advice, they moved on) are suddenly reunited with everyone. Hopefully that guy in Cap’s grief group didn’t go on any more dates, or their husband is going to be coming back to an ugly situation.

Maybe there’s some master plan where this five-year gap is going to give way to a slew of new movies and TV shows to address this, but I’m guessing that it’s going to be conveniently forgotten.

At this point, I really wish that they would have just changed the past and either prevented the finger-snap or restored everyone not long after. As a father, I can understand Iron Man not wanting to lose the relationship with his daughter, but that would have presented a pretty big moral challenge to the movie. Let’s say that they confirmed Pepper was pregnant, as it was insinuated at the beginning of Infinity War, there would still be assurances that his daughter would have been born, and the moral quandary would be whether she’d develop into a different person if they altered the events.

The paradox of fighting 2014 Thanos

If 2014 Thanos did in fact die, does that negate everything that happened in Infinity War? Did the 2014 Gamora return back to her original time? You start to think too much about the different paradoxes that occur and start to see the story unravel a bit. Typical comic lore tells us that messing with the timeline results in alternative realities being created (which is why the current one feels largely unchanged), yet it was important for Captain America to go back and return all of the Infinity Stones to prevent this. The writers seemed to pick and choose what paradoxes they wanted to thwart, and which ones should be ignored to arrive at the desired plot point. Frankly, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure approached time-travel more coherently than this movie.

Captain America’s fate

I realize that not all heroes (or actors) can last forever, and that both Iron Man and Captain America’s deaths were speculated leading up to the end of the movie – however the choice Captain America made to remain in the past, seemed completely out of character with what we knew about the hero. If we’re to assume all of his actions (like returning the stones) impacted the Prime timeline, then shouldn’t going back to be with Peggy have greatly impacted everything else that happened after that, including Peggy having children and grandchildren with her original husband? I want Captain America to have a happy ending after all of these movies, but came with consequences that are problematic to say the least.

This brings me to the succession of Captain America. We spent over 4 movies exploring the complex relationship between Cap and Bucky with this whole Winter Soldier arc, which was a story of redemption and trust for the character, a fitting end would have been for Bucky to complete the redemption story by taking the shield from his best friend that stuck with him through thick and thin. I get both Falcon and Winter Soldier have been Captain America in the comics, but the movie spent more time telling us about the close relationship between Steve and Sam rather than showing us. The presumption is that MCU’s Falcon didn’t really have any powers, to begin with. This seemed completely unearned.


There were other issues with the movie, and again I don’t expect the script to be perfect, but the above gaping holes in the plot are really preventing me from loving this story. It’s not to say there weren’t things to appreciate. Iron Man’s death felt appropriate and earned, and the battle at the was an appropriate epic conclusion to the Infinity War and all the other events that led up to this. The movie definitely was “good enough”, but not great.

What did you think?

How I Cut The Cord

Like many folks out there, I have become fed up with my rising Cable/Satellite bill and my falling TV consumption.  We recently re-assessed all of our bills and despite a reduction in our equipment fees, we were still paying upwards of $115 per month to DirecTV for Satellite.  Since having kids, our TV consumption has both dropped and changed significantly.  Our serialized show consumption has dropped significantly (really only watching a handful per year), but we remain casual news consumers (we record NBC nightly news and watch local news each morning and evening), as well as avid sports consumers (we have normal NFL consumption – no Sunday ticket, as well as NBA and NHL playoffs).  It was getting harder to justify the $115 per month for how little we were consuming.

Last Spring I began to seriously research cutting the cord and what it would entail.  We still wanted to consume broadcast TV with local sports, as well as subscribe to some basic cable channels that would enable us to watch ESPN and TNT/TBS (for sports). Ideally, we’d like a way to DVR the news and other content that wasn’t available on-demand.  It turns out that while cord-cutting is popular, a number of variables make it difficult to follow a standard solution.  Here are the steps I took to enable our cord cutting.

1. Researched Solutions

Over-The-Air HD Coverage.  This is the largest variable and possibly most significant aspect of cord-cutting. Given how big of sports fans we are, we could not forgo live broadcasts of Broncos games and other major events.  The easiest and (possibly) cheapest solution is over-the-air HD.  The biggest factors in your quality of signal are your distance and elevation from the broadcast points.  I found the closest broadcast points going to TVFool.com.  With this, you can now expect which stations to receive and determine how powerful of equipment you need. For Northern Colorado, the strongest signals come from Lookout Mountain just west of Denver, which is about 60 miles away from our house.  I ended up getting a pretty powerful indoor/outdoor antenna (more on that later) with an 80-mile range.

Cable-Replacement Streaming Services. Over the last two years, the bundled streaming services area has become quite competitive.  During my course of research, I looked at the following:

  • DirecTV NOW – Seemed promising, but didn’t give it much consideration since we have given enough money to DirecTV and AT&T. I’m extremely skeptical that the prices will not rise down the road.
  • YouTube TVThe most compelling solution, but unfortunately isn’t fully baked for my (or many) locations with local TV coverage. I did not try this.
  • Sling TV – Used the free trial and enjoyed using the service. This one was the easiest to use and had a lot of great channels, but didn’t have the combination of the channels that we wanted at the time we tried it. It does appear that Sling has recently adjusted their offering and pricing, and have given me a reason to try it again.
  • Playstation Vue – The solution we ultimately chose.  It’s important to note that you do not need a PlayStation 4 to use PlayStation Vue. Currently, I am utilizing Chromecast through my iOS devices, as well as Roku.  They offered the best channel combination and content possibilities for $30 per month.

Depending on your needs, each solution does have its benefits. The best part about these services is that you’re not locked in, and can switch at any time.  Since the billing is month-to-month, I’m actually going to suspend our subscription for the rest of the summer and will re-evaluate my subscription once football starts.

2. Buy Proper Equipment

Depending on what you determine from TVFool, your equipment may vary.  Some people are able to get away with an on-the-wall indoor antenna. In my case, being 55 miles away from the transmitters, I opted for a pretty high-grade indoor/outdoor antenna.  You may also need to buy a digital receiver, depending on your TV. The basic rule of thumb is that if the TV has an input for a coaxial cable, the receiver should be built in. My Plasma from 2006 was not.

Here is the equipment we purchased:

Channel Master CM-42 UHF and HDTV Antenna ($109 on Amazon)

antenna

CHANNEL MASTER Antenna Mast Steel Antenna Mast (5ft) (CM-1805) ($22.50 on Amazon)

 

Mast

This turned out to be a glorified fence post/pole. Doing this again, I would have looked for something cheaper at Home Depot.

 

Winegard LNA-200 Boost XT Digital HDTV Preamplifier ($34.18 on Amazon)

preamplifier

I returned this.  It turns out I was getting a good enough signal without it.  I’m not sure if my antenna is considered amplified.  If you’re like me, I would buy this to have on-hand, but only open it if the antenna signal looks like it needs to be amplified. If not, return it.

 

Mediasonic Homeworx HW180STB 3 / 4 Channel HDTV Digital Converter Box with Recording and Media Player ($28.30 on Amazon)

Homeworx

I only needed one of these for the Plasma TV. Our other three TV’s already had tuners built in.  The one complaint I have about this unit is that it doesn’t seem to be as sensitive to signals as the other TV’s that have their tuners built-in, so I’m missing out on a few channels.  This one also had a DVR-expansion capability when you plug in an external hard drive through USB, but I quickly replaced it with the next product below.

SiliconDust HDHomeRun ($99 on Amazon)

hdhomerun

It’s important to note that you don’t need this device to cut the cord, but if you’re looking for a DVR option, the HDHomeRun can be combined with Plex to replace your DVR functionality.  The HDHomeRun is a pretty simple device, a tuner that outputs the signal your network cable. You configure it using another computer, with an option to use that computer (or network-attached storage) to store DVR files.  In addition to that, they have a Windows Store App that lets you stream the TV onto your computer in that same network.

Enter: Plex, my favorite Media Center distribution. Plex utilizes that HDHomeRun’s tuner and wraps DVR capability into it. Not only that, but they have a beta feature that allows you to stream the live video directly from the Plex app.

You do need to be a little more technical to utilize these features. Plex is really smart in that it helps you connect all the parts to build your own over-air-to-streaming solution, but I don’t think they can legally offer the service out of the box.  Still, I didn’t have much trouble setting it up.

[UPDATE: 13-July] Some people seemed pretty excited to hear about the DVR possibilities, so I wanted to offer some additional clarification:

  1. You need to be a Plex Pass Insider to use the DVR portion, it’s $5 per month, but I gladly pay the fee because it allows me to access my Plex server from outside my house and download off-line content to our tablets. Yes, it is another bill. The HDHomerun does have some basic DVR functionality that’s not tied to any subscription that simply records the video to your hard drive, but Plex makes it a pretty good experience.
  2. The DVR’d show is only accessible after recording is finished, you can’t start a currently-airing show on time-delay. During football season we would pause football games during bedtime and then speed-watch to catch up, I won’t be able to do this with the current solution.

 

Devices to Receive Streaming Services

There are a ton of options here, and it really depends on your needs. It really comes down to evaluating your budget, streaming services you receive, as well as how you want to interact with the device.  At a glance here are the primary ones I considered:

  • AppleTV – One of the more expensive options. Works great if a majority of your content is in the Apple ecosystem. It has most major services, but as of July 2017, doesn’t have Amazon streaming (it’s only been announced).
  • ChromeCast – One of the cheapest solutions, but also one of the clunkiest.  You interface by starting the media on your phone, mobile device, or browser, then “cast” that media to the ChromeCast.  In many cases, the Chromecast is being told to go get the media from another stream on the internet, but sometimes the media may be streamed/mirrored from the controlling device.  The drawback here is that you have to navigate it using your phone, which makes it a chore to select a movie with multiple people.  It has access to a majority of services (although as of this writing you cannot “Cast” Amazon Streaming video from your phone, only your browser.
  • Kindle Fire Sticks – I don’t have any experience with this device, but based on my research there is one major benefit and one major drawback: the benefit is that the device is affordable, the drawback is that it’s likely subsidized by Amazon services and will likely give preference to those services when using content.  I think it has most major services on it, but admittingly I have not researched this fully.
  • Roku – My recommedationI’m a big fan of Roku largely because it’s not tied to any major platform or ecosystem. It’s the “Switzerland” of streaming devices, being that most major streaming services work with it.  As of this writing, it’s the only device that I’ve found that has access to the major streaming services that I use (Netflix, Plex, Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Vue, SlingTV, etc).  I would recommend spending a little more to buy the at least the Roku 3 over the Roku Streaming Stick, for the sole reason that the Roku 3 has a USB port that can stream movies, photos and other content – off-line.  The Roku 3 is about the size of a hockey puck, which makes it a great travel companion. We’ve streamed ripped movies in many hotel rooms, remote cabins and other areas where fast internet isn’t prevalent.  It looks like there are two version of the Roku 4. Unless you really want to futureproof your streaming needs, I would suggest avoiding the 4k model as most streaming content isn’t available in 4k.

3. Setting Everything Up

After receiving all of the pieces, it was now a matter of putting everything together.  Assembling the antenna wasn’t too painful. Luckily of the one I bought, it was mostly assembled when it came out of the box, although other antennas may require more assembly.  I then mounted it to the pole and set out to mount the pole onto the house.  One benefit of replacing my satellite is that I essentially had all the hardware and connections.  With DirecTV mounting the satellite and connecting all the wiring, it was simply a matter of removing the satellite from the roof mounting pole and replacing it with the antenna pole.  I unplugged the coax hookup from the satellite and right into the antenna. It’s important to note that you have to be a little careful down in your wiring hub, as the splitter DirecTV used had a port to send power to the satellite, so I made sure to unplug that before I hooked everything up.

The benefit of this is that I didn’t have to run any additional cable. If I were replacing Cable and did not have a roof mount, I would have considered mounting the antenna in my attic and figuring out a way to send that cable all the way to the splitter in the basement. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but I’m happy I didn’t have to deal with installing a roof rack, playing in the attic, or fishing cable through walls.

Next was plugging in all of the Coax Cable directly into the TV’s (I had packed away all of the DirecTV receivers and equipment).  It turns out that I did not need to use the amplifier that I purchased (and in fact, I think it was interfering with my signals), so I was able to return it. As previously mentioned, I was able to leverage all of the cables that I used and didn’t have to mess with identifying connectors. If for some reason you don’t have access to a Coax Cable Splitter, you’ll need to consider purchasing one.

Now came the tedious part: calibrating everything correctly.  With the report I got from TVFool, I determined that the antenna had to be facing at 200° to get the best transmitter.  I climbed back on the ladder and used a compass (which was available on my iPhone) to get me to 200 and pointed it there.  I then tightened everything and secured the pole (albeit with methods that could be more effective).

I then fired up each TV, set the tuner to “Air” and auto-scanned to discover my channels.

This is where things got tedious. If you’re not getting any signal, you’ll need to troubleshoot all of your connections. I would suggest having a long coax cable on hand and running it directly from the antenna connector into your nearest TV, eliminating all of the possible points of failure.  If you find that you are able to receive channels, make sure you’re getting all of the channels that you’re expecting. In my case, where my location is borderline, this meant a lot of trial-and-error in moving the antenna.  While I tried to keep it at 200°, I played with 195, then 205 and tried to pinpoint the exact location where the scanner is picking up the most channels, and the channels you care most about are the clearest.  This means going up and down the ladder, scanning, then reviewing channels for any interference.  Once your reception was acceptable, I unplugged the long cable from the antenna and plugged it into the cable that led to the splitter.

Once your reception was acceptable, I unplugged the long cable from the antenna and plugged it into the cable that led to the splitter.  Then on each TV I re-ran the channel scans and did the tweaking. At this point, it became apparent that not all TV-tuners are alike, and you may need to do some tweaking to see if you can get the channel you want.  This is where I discovered that the external tuner I got for the Plasma is not as sensitive as the built-in tuners on the more modern TV’s.

Now that I was getting over-the-air TV, it was a matter of configuring all of the streaming services to work on your device. Most of these were already in place, but I did install and configure the cable-replacement streaming service (Playstation Vue), and now was off to the races.

4. Living with a cut cord

I’m not two months into it and am mostly satisfied.  The first few weeks, I did have to deal with the wind blowing my antenna out of alignment, but I’ve come up with some ways to secure the antenna’s position. Ideally, this would be solved by replacing the roof mount (which has a bigger opening than the pole), or drilling a hole through the pole and secure it with a screw.  However, the antenna position has been pretty secure for over 6 weeks. About two weeks ago, I thought the weather moved it as I was missing my NBC channels (9News/KUSA and it’s Channel 20 affiliate), only to find out that something happened to their transmitter and those channels are not being broadcast correctly (they’re working on repairs now).

I haven’t missed the cable programming at all.  We don’t consume a lot of channels to begin with, and the summer is typically the slower period for shows, so we’ll see how things kick up when fall premieres hit.  I did watch many NBA playoff games through Playstation Vue and was very happy with the result. Most of all, I don’t miss my cable bill at all. Two months in, our equipment has already paid for itself.

I’ll check back in on this when football season rolls around, but if you do have any questions about cord-cutting, don’t hesitate to ask! I’m far from an expert, and there are a lot of complexities, but I’m happy to share what I learned.  Good luck!

50 Shades of SquarePants

Movie mix-up shows ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to ‘SpongeBob’ audience

I came across this story earlier this week and wanted to share my single degree of separation with this story. The funny thing about is that the opposite happened in what’s likely the same theater the night before.

I guess I’ll have to come clean and admit that I saw 50 Shades of Grey with my wife – but when you have an 18-month-old, you don’t get many opportunities to see a movie in the theater and be able to participate in pop culture conversations (at least that’s what I’m telling myself to sleep at night).  Back to the point.

By the time we got into the movie they were deep into the previews, which seemed strange to that they all seemed to be for animated movies.  I was wondering if maybe the studios were really trying to appeal to the soccer-mom demographic.  We finally get to the “featured presentation” part, which fades into a panning zoom of an island, flashing the words “Nickelodeon Studios Presents”.  At that point everyone took out their phones to illuminate their ticket stubs, wondering if they were in the right theater.  A good 5 minutes pass before the movie stops and they change things over.  From the looks of things it looks like they didn’t fix the problem by the morning.

Modern-Gen Movie Stars Mt. Rushmore

When judging greatness, one of the things I like to do is to make a “Mt. Rushmore” of things, allowing for the categorization of greatness, rather than having to deal with ranking. Of course, all of this is subjective and is really done to foster discussion.  Please feel free to participate in the conversation!

Being on baby watch, we’ve been keeping a low profile and catching up on movies.  Today we watched Flight (which was a good – but not entertaining – movie), which spurned the following dinnertime conversation between Bethany and I: is Denzel Washington one of the greatest actors of the last generation?  After coming to the conclusion that he was, we then attempted to figure out which actors would be included with Denzel as one of the greatest, resulting in the Mt. Rushmore of actors below.

Criteria and Overall Impressions

  • We took the last 20 years into account, so a resume quasi-1993 and after
  • With one exception, we took all actors over 60 out of consideration (eliminating Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicolson and anyone who starred in Godfather)
  • Actors are permitted to start in TV, but must be primarily considered movie starts today
  • While relevant, awards are not the primary criteria.  We’re basically looking at star power, using the following scenario: Seeing a preview with this actor would give you reason enough to see the movie
  • We’re looking at the overall body of work, so while they may no longer be at the peak of their popularity, they’re still relevant today and have been for all of their career or the greater part of 20 years – whichever is greater.
  • To make the initial list we couldn’t look at our phones, if you have to dig into stats for the actor, then they’re not worth being on the list
  • They’ve starred in movies that for better or worse, have remained culturally relevant

Taking this criteria into account, we set out with our goal of making two Mt. Rushmore’s, consisting of 4 actors and 4 actresses.  Both were difficult in their own way.  For the men, it was extremely difficult drawing the line between the first tier and second tier.  For the women, it exposed a significant problem with the movie industry: it’s extremely difficult for an actress to have a long career.  Part of it has to do with the fact that Hollywood doesn’t know how to write modern middle-aged women.  Looking back on the last 20 years, most hot commodity actresses had careers like Runningbacks: Untouchable for a period of 3-5 years, then just fizzled out and haven’t done anything memorable recently.  Names that have come to mind include Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Natalie Portman, and Rachel McAdams, with the jury still out on relative newcomers like Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. 

For better or worse, cinema reflects society’s values and even though we’ve made great strides in gender equality, people are not going to accept a version of Flight with the pilot being played by a woman, or a female version of Walter White or Don Draper.  To make matters worse, there seems to be a shortage of great roles for women older than 30 – at least until you reach the age to play an adult’s mother or grandmother.  It’s really sad when you think of it. Thus, I had a really hard time coming up with a 4th Actress Rushmore spot, and made the controversial move of giving it away to the men, who I couldn’t whittle from 5 to 4. I know it doesn’t make sense, but please make a case for another actress.

So without further ado, here are my Mt. Rushmore’s of modern movie starts:

Actresses

Meryl Streep

Streep

Even though we’re not doing rankings, if we were: Meryl would top the list of actresses and probably lap anyone else.  She may be just over 60, but she’s the one for which I made an exception.  Her resume from the last 20 years is just that impressive.  She was huge before 1993 and since then added another 8 Oscars, winning one of them last year for The Iron Lady.

Strongest Movies: The Iron Lady, Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, Mama Mia! (plus a ton of other movies)
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances (setting back her career): None

Julia Roberts

Roberts

It could be argued that Julia peaked with Pretty Woman, but since 1993 has remained culturally relevant for the better parts of two decades.  She may make most her money on “chick flicks”, but those are usually the movies you have on your bookshelf.

Strongest Movies: Eat Pray Love, Charlie Wilson’s War, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances: Ocean’s 12, Valentine’s Day

Sandra Bullock

Bullock

I personally can’t stand her, but she has managed to stay relevant for the better part of 20 years, topping it off with her Oscar from the Blind Side.  She probably got a lot of sympathy mileage from the way she thanked her (unbeknownst at the time) cheating husband during her Oscar speech.

Strongest Movies: Speed, The Net,  Miss Congeniality, Crash (at the time), The Blind Side
Movies That Potentially Hurt Her Chances: Crash (in retrospect), Speed 2: Cruise Control

Actors

Tom Hanks

Hanks

Although Tom’s been in relative obscurity playing Robert Langdon, Tom Hanks got so much mileage from the first half of this generation that he still doesn’t have to buy a beer ever again.

Strongest Movies: Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Toy Story, You’ve Got Mail, Charlie Wilson’s War, Saving Private Ryan, Road to Perdition, Cast Away, The Green Mile, Philadelphia
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: The Da Vinci Code (but only because it’s controversial)

George Clooney

Clooney

While Clooney spent the first part of this generation doing TV, he pretty much embodies the modern movie star. Out of anyone on this list, he’s probably the guy you could talk to over a beer (except for maybe Tom Hanks). When people dream about becoming cool movie stars, they think of George Clooney. Just get him on your top bill for your movie and it’ll be a hit.

Strongest Movies: Ocean’s 11, Up in the Air, Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Three Kings, The Descendants
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: Ocean’s 12, Spy Kids, Batman & Robin

Johnny Depp

Depp

Depp may owe the revitalization of his career to Pirates, but he’s taken advantage of every opportunity, to the point that you’ll be in the theater to see whatever he’s making, even if it’s utter crap.

Strongest Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tourist, The Rum Diary, Sweeney Todd, Don Juan DeMarco
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows

Denzel Washington

Denzel

Denzel can pretty much add credibility to any movie that you see.  Any time I see a trailer with him in it, my first thought is “Oh Denzel’s in it, so it has to be good”. Even if it’s not, you’ll usually end up saying that at least his performance was good.

Strongest Movies: American Gangster, Inside Man, Man on Fire, Training Day, Remember The Titans, The Hurricane, The Bone Collector, Courage Under Fire, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: The Book of Eli

Leonardo DiCaprio

Dicaprio

When I was in high school, I hated Leonardo DiCaprio for subjecting all of us to Titanic, but dude was smart.  Making that date movie pretty much insured that he could star in any picture he wanted – and took that its fullest advantage, rattling off a resume that looks like a Greatest Hits album.

Strongest Movies: Django Unchained, Inception, Shutter Island, Blood Diamond, The Departed, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, The Beach, Titanic, Romeo + Juliet
Movies That Potentially Hurt His Chances: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (which made him a punch-line for Titanic-haters), The Man in the Iron Mask

 

So yes, my Mt. Rushmore stole an actress spot and gave it to an actor, but let me ask you this: which one of these five would you take off the list?  As far as actresses: who would you add? Would you have a different list all together? Let me know who would be on your Mt. Rushmore!