Secret Service Vs. Photographer: An MMA Breakdown

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At a Trump rally at Virginia’s Radford University, Time magazine photographer Christopher Morris got shoved by a U.S. secret service agent. Reportedly, Morris’ response — trending as it did toward “fuck” and “you” in the hothouse lunacy of pre-Super Tuesday hysteria — was countered with a Secret Service ass kicking. Specifically, as captured by video, a chokeslam. The move that involves placing both hands around the offender’s neck and upending him by guiding his head toward the floor faster than his now airborne feet.

Not so amazing for a student of the fistic arts, or an obsessive student of mixed martial arts (MMA). But what happened next? A shock to end all shocks, as the white-haired photographer seemed to realize, either as a product of prior fight training or just as a result of lightning-fast animal-like reflexes, that though the fight had moved to the ground, it was far from over.

So forthwith, a scene by scene breakdown of the best photographer defensive maneuvers your martial arts money can buy delivered by International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation world champion and OZY’s Editor-at-Large Eugene S. Robinson.

Video By Joe Perticone of The Independent Journal

1. Shock Absorber

Hard to see how Morris lands but he cleverly takes the brunt of the landing on his back. It’s a big muscle and a great shock absorber. He keeps his elbows in and his hands tight to his chest. Yes, to hold his cameras, but still a workable defense.

2. Head’s Up

 Head? Not on the floor but a few inches off the ground. Keeping it in motion, makes it harder to hit.

3. Oh, That Upkick

To the untrained eye it may look like the flailing of an undisciplined child, but at the behest of a badass like Morris, the upkick is a weapon to be feared — and a bonafide knockout shot if it hits its intended target under the chin. In any case, it keeps the Secret Service agent at bay despite his attempt to use a knee frame on Morris’ left leg. And finally…

4. The Modified Butterfly Guard

Knees raised, feet crossed at the angles, Morris has now blocked entry as well. Not bad for a man about to get his ass kicked for taking pictures.

So there you have it. Ground defense can be your friend. Or an enemy to be feared. Learn it. Live it. Love it.


The Contenders: When Super Tuesday Was Not So Super

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Learn more about Michael Dukakis’s doomed 1988 presidential campaign by watching The Contenders: 16 for ’16a new TV series from OZY about the men and women who have run the ultimate political gauntlet in pursuit of the most powerful job on Earth. It airs every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST this fall on PBS.

Super Tuesday seemed like a good idea in theory. It was believed by the Southern Democrats who came up with the mammoth election event in the early 1980s that having a dozen-plus Southern and border states vote on the same March day would drown out the results of the traditional bellwethers, Iowa and New Hampshire, and drive the selection of a nominee with a broader appeal — and who was not too liberal for Southern tastes.

Reality had other ideas. The first full Super Tuesday contest, held on March 8, 1988 (a smaller version had been attempted in 1984), in which voters in 20 states went to the ballot, defied its creators’ expectations on almost every level. Not only did the one-day extravaganza dilute support for the more moderate Southern candidates in the race and anoint a Northern liberal as the Democratic front-runner, but its split-decision results also led to a protracted nomination battle that paved the way for one clear victor on the Democrats’ “super” day: Republican nominee George H.W. Bush. And, as OZY explores in a new episode of The Contenders: 16 for ’16, airing every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on PBS, the eventual Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, would face a rested, armed and well-funded Bush that November.

Super Tuesday was invented as a “grand and futile prophylaxis against a liberal nominee,” writes Richard Ben Cramer in his account of the 1988 election, What It Takes. As Cramer chronicles, the two centrist Democratic candidates best suited in theory to benefit from the mega-contest, Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, who had won in Iowa, and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., were in actuality the two least situated to feast on the the Southern electoral smorgasbord. For one thing, they had to battle each other for every white, middle-income, blue-collar moderate in the region. For another, there was the wild-card factor of Jesse Jackson, whose base among Black voters — 25 percent of Southern Democrats at the time — could launch his own candidacy, or at least handicap Gore and Gephardt’s efforts.

More than anything, however, the sheer size and scope of the Super Tuesday battlefield — stretching from El Paso to Key West to Cape Cod and spanning 140 congressional districts and 70 million Americans — made the contest daunting. “They created a monster, which no candidate can control,” the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato told the Los Angeles Times.

Gephardt began to realize just how futile conventional campaigning would be while flying between campaign stops in Texas and Florida. In Texarkana, where he did a photo shoot with one foot in Texas and one in Arkansas, he joked to his aide Joe Trippi, “Is this our idea of covering two states?” The run-up to Super Tuesday “had the feel of a mass airplane hijacking,” Hendrik Hertzberg reflected in the New Republic, “as planeloads of desperate candidates and their journalistic hostages flew from tarmac to tarmac, stopping only to refuel and blink into television lights.”


Southern leaders had hoped Super Tuesday would force candidates to broaden their message to reach a cross-section of voters, but instead it rewarded, as Cramer put it, “pure movement and muscle.” Campaigns had to target their resources to narrow demographics and geographies and, if they could afford it, blast the airwaves with costly ad blitzes. The candidate best positioned to do both was Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts who had triumphed in New Hampshire and had the largest cash reserves and ground organization. Still, Dukakis largely avoided campaigning in the Deep South, focusing instead on the “crown jewels” of Texas and Florida and spending twice as much as Gephardt on ads in 11 of the 20 Super Tuesday states, including a devastating commercial in which an acrobat dressed in a suit and Gephardt wig performed flips while the Missouri congressman’s alleged flip-flops were enumerated.

The winner? Nobody, at least on the Democratic side. That Tuesday night, television news anchors “had a hard time picking the ‘winner,’ ” says Cramer. “In time, they gave up.” Dukakis won six primaries, including Texas and Florida, Gore took border states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky, Jackson swept the Deep South and the sinking Gephardt won his home state of Missouri.

The unexpected beneficiary of Super Tuesday was Vice President George Bush, who had the muscle to push aside his Republican rivals on the big day…

The mega-contest may have dealt a harsh blow to Gephardt and forced long shot Gary Hart from the race, but it utterly failed to produce a Democratic front-runner. The unexpected beneficiary of Super Tuesday was Vice President George Bush, who had the muscle to push aside his Republican rivals on the big day, spending more than $3 million on regional ad blitzes depicting him with farmland, flags and soldiers while his opponents slugged it out in the trenches. Bush won 16 out of 17 contests, accomplishing precisely what many Democrats had hoped Super Tuesday would do for them: identify a moderate, establishment candidate with an aura of invincibility.

In the general election, Bush handily beat Dukakis, winning 40 out of 50 states, including the Super Tuesday South, giving his party its fifth presidential victory in the past six cycles — and sending the Democrats back to the election drawing board.

Grow Your Own Home: PredicTED by OZY

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Video by Tom Gorman

As humans gather in increasingly dense urban megacities, the need for greener, smarter buildings is becoming ever more urgent. How do we house everyone without choking the world in smog and sprawl?

Luckily, the next generation of visionary architects is weaving nature back into our highly artificial urban jungle. Skyscrapers built with superstrong wooden panels are sprouting up around the world, cutting down on warming greenhouse gases from steel and cement construction.

It’s not only humans that will soon breathe easier. Buildings themselves may be able to skip the energy-guzzling air conditioning and heating systems and regulate their own temperatures thanks to flexible, “breathable” metal exteriors. These panels function much like pores do in human skin and are powered by the sun.

Most out there of all, we may soon be able to forgo the construction process entirely and create eco-friendly homes as easily as planting a tree. Brooklyn-based Mitchell Joachim thinks he can do this by planting trees that will become natural, livable, carbon-sucking bungalows. As with anything, there’s a catch — you can’t fast-track nature, so give it a good seven to 10 years before moving in.

In this latest installment of PredicTED, meet a new class of “starchitects” reconstructing the building in remarkably fresh ways.

Millennials Rock the Financial Planning World

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Laura Varas has a few tips for anyone starting the search for sound advice on managing their money. Start with personality — yours, naturally, but don’t forget the personality of whomever, or whatever, you are turning to in order to get your financial life in shape. These days, amid a proliferation of new and old ways to manage money, there’s a personality out there waiting for you, much like that mythical soul mate, whether you are rich or poor, indebted or endowed, savvy or slow, wise or wondering. “One size never fits all,” says Varas, founder of Hearts & Wallets, a financial industry research and consulting firm. What she wants to know: “Does the brand resonate with my personality?”

And what more and more smart young people are discovering is that the trope about getting ready early for retirement — that one-size-fits-all personality around which most of the financial planning industry is built — just ain’t what it takes these days to seal the deal. What Varas found in a recent survey of more than 40 financial advice companies is a proliferation of new products that, instead of focusing on retirement, cottoned on to the brave new world that defines millennials as different from earlier generations: They tend to start life heavily indebted, they marry later and prepare to buy (what seem to be impossibly expensive) houses later. As for retirement, well, who assumes they’ll ever be able to punch out and stop working for good? Instead, 18 new entrant companies in the past 10 years focus not on the golden years, Varas found, but on “financial wellness and smart investment,” which recognizes that paying down debt, saving for a down payment on a house and building an emergency fund for millennials need to come before retirement.

The field is changing and growing so fast that it defies easy categories for choices.

The “personalities” of millennials have a few other key differences as well. They’re digital natives, accustomed to a welter of choice that they navigate on mobile devices, and they aren’t used to paying for, or at least not paying much for, stuff online. They’re also risk averse and distrust big institutions, according to a report from Corporate Insight, a financial consulting and research company. It’s this kind of intel that has trickled into a rapid and bewildering proliferation of tools that seem to slice up a person’s needs into almost any combination, at any price point, from simple financial calculators to elaborate planning and investment platforms that come with a sliding scale of (more expensive) human intervention. FlexScore, a free online tool that makes finance almost a game, features a ton of math and financial theory behind it. After you enter personal financial data and goals, it spits out a wellness score. Even so, tech like this may look very different soon enough. “The tools that are being created today are probably not the tools we’re going to use in five years,” says Jason Gordo, FlexScore’s founder and CEO.

The field is changing and growing so fast that it defies easy categories for choices, experts say. While FlexScore highlights financial weaknesses and steers customers to service providers (who pay referral fees), LearnVest, good for newbies, tries to provide a more traditional planning service by ramping up the technology component to save costs and lower fees. HelloWallet, meanwhile, operates inside of company retirement programs to help plan and gauge an employee’s financial wellness. Some tools make the approach through budgeting, like You Need a Budget or Mint; others, like Personal Capital, can track both budgets and investments. And then there are the planning tools aimed at professional advisers, including Jemstep, which was recently acquired by Invesco.

Of course, getting the most attention recently are the robo-advisers, automated investment platforms pioneered by market leaders Wealthfront and Betterment, but also now used by big investment houses like Schwab and Vanguard. But here too the offerings have grown only more diverse: WiseBanyan, which is free, or SigFig, which provides cheap access to an investment adviser. And, undoubtedly, the gold standard remains the personal financial adviser — an actual person paid by fee, commission or percent of assets managed.

Indeed, Brooke Salvini, a financial planner in Avila Beach, California, says she’s considering using a robo-adviser for some clients’ investments. But, she points out, this addresses only “the investment sliver” of a client’s needs. And Varas predicts the market will become even more fragmented as new products launch. “Millennials are forcing traditional firms to get more coherent about who they are there for,” she says. Which means that if you can’t find that perfect match today, maybe all you have to do is wait.


The Code King of India’s Startup Scene

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Pull through the gates of the organic farm— down a path lined with mango trees, past spinach, papaya and bananas growing in the even sunlight — and arrive at a rudimentary hut with a steel roof. A couple of messy, content white guys are hanging out. They point the way to Freeman Murray, who’s sitting on the middle level of a scaffolded structure you might miss, thinking it’s a pile of scrap metal or a forlorn construction site. It is in fact a home, school, boot camp and co-working space, and Murray is the guru in residence. He’s helping a couple of Indian twentysomethings through their morning lesson: Javascript.

Here, on the outskirts of India’s tech hub, Bangalore, 43-year-old Murray, a bearded, sun-tanned, mild-mannered programmer, teaches middle-class young people — some with imperfect English, some college dropouts, many seeking a career switch — the ways of the Web. This co-founder of a local art-and-tech co-working community is a minor celebrity in India’s startup scene. (A lively Quora thread asks, “How does one meet Mr. Freeman Murray?”) He branched out to create this program, Jaaga Study, a couple of years ago, and it’s part of his larger presence in the country as an advocate of accessible computer science education. He’s also helped set up the Center for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship and is chapter president of Code for India in Bangalore, which tries to distribute programming skills widely. 

[He’s] a delicious anthropological case study in the perpetual intersection between Silicon Valley and the Far East.

India is well known for its scientific achievements; graduates of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology powered much of the tech explosion of the ’90s and 2000s. By the end of this year, India is expected to overtake the U.S. in numbers of Internet users, hitting 400 million, which according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India isn’t even one-third of the country. Coding boot camps are popping up everywhere, from online MOOCs to in-person six or 12-week affairs that promise six-figure salaries. Some, like Hyderabad-based the Hacking School, run around $1,000 and, says its founder Meraj Faheem, target people who already have a computer programming background.

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Murray is the chapter president of Code for India in Bangalore — but the title belies his thoroughly fan-girled status.

Source Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for OZY

Yet much of India lives far from these heady times, explains Karl Mehta, Code for India’s founder. “There’s a huge class divide,” Mehta says. Faheem finds Murray’s approach interesting but wonders about how convenient or practical it really is. After all, only around 5 percent of graduates of technical colleges find work at IT product companies and less than 20 percent at IT service companies, according to the employability research company Aspiring Minds.

Here at Jaaga Study, though, things seem idyllic. The dozen or so students are attending for free — Murray is self-funding the initiative — in a place that’s all jaunty, with mishmashed floors, and is outfitted with tents, where everyone sleeps. In the morning, there’s yoga and study; at various points during the day students farm or teach tech skills at nearby schools. And everyone rides Murray’s electric unicycle. Dolly Goyal and Rajesh Mule, both 23, spent 18 months living plain, programmy lives under Murray’s guidance and are now trying to bring tablets into classrooms. Nearby sits lanky Italian Matteo Bianchini, 27, who’s building a peer-to-peer marketplace. Jaaga, he says — computer screen propped open in front of him, white iPod headphones draped around his neck — is “a perfect place to unplug.” 

A high school dropout and eventual entrepreneur, Murray is a delicious anthropological case study in the perpetual intersection between Silicon Valley and the Far East. A relic of the ’90s computing revolution, the son of a programmer and a former coder at storied Sun Microsystems, Murray is a Bay Area native who came of age when life in the Valley was peaking. As an undergrad (he made it after junior college), he helped build the Internet Underground Music Archive, a well-known music startup, and made his way to Sun soon after. From there, he and his boss quit their jobs, eventually building a company that was soon acquired by the then-prestigious Excite@Home. Then, the bubble burst. 

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Students meditate in the mornings before coding — and later ride an electric unicycle.

Source Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for OZY

Now comes the tale of an entrepreneur turned Zen after a successful exit and a tempered market. “I was super ambitious then,” he says, reflecting that those monied days caused his peer group to “lose touch with the value of money.” So he learned to live with less, bumming on a Hawaiian beach — “the best days ever.” And then the choice: “I could either come back to the Bay and get a real job and be normal … or I could go to India.”

It says something about the tech world that the guy with a Dude-meets-Bryan-Cranston look wearing flowy orange pants and a tiger T-shirt can, with minimal money and a 4G router, run a coding boot camp in the developing world. He’s a sign of the tolerance and even adoration countercultural technologists hold for the unconventional. Today, you can find some of the sharpest developers around working out of geodesic domes on rural plots of land or even on buses as they travel the country. But as much as life has changed around here, Murray still goes back to California annually for a couple of months. In part for Burning Man, the counterculture fete favored by SF’s mindful-techie crowd. He says he’s not off the map from his old world … but “I’m definitely that guy  who went to India.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Matteo Bianchini. 


Korea’s Indie Coffee Shop Singers

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In sunny downtown Seoul, young Koreans gingerly sip milk tea and coffee in a quaint pastry shop. But what really completes this idyllic scene is the music of choice — the bubbly melodies of South Korea’s J Rabbit.

If the drama of Korean pop is king in Asia, then its foil may be the more subdued genre of Korean indie. Former Seoul Institute of the Arts classmates, singer Jung Hye-sun and songwriter Jung Da-woon embody this carefree spirit amid South Korea’s diverse music landscape. The indie female duo, whose homemade YouTube videos easily hit nearly 3 million views, has all the lightheartedness and soul of Feist but with the Korean flair for all things cutesy.

Fly high, everything’s all right.

J Rabbit

It’s one reason J Rabbit has already amassed such a strong following on social media since its first coffee shop concert in 2011. “They have such a keen understanding of the basics of music, which makes their stripped-down melodies so magnetic,” explains Leslie Tumbaco, editor of Seoulbeats. J Rabbit’s joyful tunes revolve around putting some pep into your step: “Fly high, everything’s all right / Laugh aloud and begin again / Today will bring you good things.” Hye-sun and Da-woon are also quite the experimenters, often incorporating a medley of instruments — bells, violins, cellos, marimba xylophones, melodeon accordions — into their songs.

But it’s not just the sweet lyrics that make J Rabbit’s music brighten a gloomy day. It’s also the whimsical attitude that takes center stage in all the duo’s videos. In their hit song “Good Things Will Happen,” Da-woon merrily plays the piano and snaps her fingers as Hye-sun chirps along in a manner so adorable that it would put your wide-eyed toddler cousin to shame. Of course, they end the little ditty in the same way they started — full of giddiness and giggles. On special occasions, Hye-sun even whips out her rabbit hat, a nod to the Chinese zodiac year when she and her co-star were both born.

K-indie artists such as J Rabbit typically struggle with limited venues and tiny fan bases in South Korea, explains K-indie blogger Chris Park. Both within the starstruck nation and abroad, the genre is largely overshadowed by its more established older brother, K-pop. “No one lives by their music. There are very few [K-indie] bands that can sustain themselves,” Park adds. Despite the slim chance of success, J Rabbit signed with music label after becoming YouTube sensations in 2010. “Good Things Will Happen” is the first song off the band’s most recent album, Stop & Go, and is guaranteed to perk you up better than any morning cup of joe.

In a world of saccharine and prepackaged pop music, the time may be ripe for K-indie artists like J Rabbit who tout the happy-go-lucky way of life. As Seoulbeats’ Tumbaco puts it, “You never know what you’ll hear, and the pleasant surprises makes it always interesting.”

Fun With Bundaberg Rum

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Secret, hidden and occult societies abound, pockets of passionate people united by a compelling and sometimes fanatical interest in everything from Etruscan perfume bottles to Satan. But none of them can hold a candle to those that form around alcohol. And not the kind you rub with, the kind you drink.

Which is why it’s not in the least surprising that of all of the kinds of alcohol you can drink, none boggles the mind while it titillates the palate as much as rum does. Starting with the fact that experts can’t even agree on a single standard for what rum is because of wide variances on how much alcohol is in it, how long it’s been aged, where it comes from and what it would be correctly called. 

But from the 14th century, when Marco Polo was drinking it in what’s now Iran, and pirates and colonists alike were using it for currency, to today, rum, which is made from distilled, fermented sugarcane and associated products, is still produced mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Making the fact that we just got our hands, and mouths, on some from Australia? Crazy, cool and as perfect as could be in terms of recreational drinking.

It’s 100 proof, which means it is to be approached with caution.

Richard Sterling, food writer

You see, since the late 1880s, Australia, probably better known for its beer, has been working a certain amount of magic on rum, spearheaded by Bundaberg. Forget that Bundaberg Rum has won awards for being Bundaberg Rum and forget that it sponsors the National Rugby League, even weathering protests for ad campaigns in Australia that some felt made it too attractive of a tipple, Bundaberg at about $30 a bottle is not the easiest to find in the U.S.

And while possibly not as coveted as the more expensive Gosling’s Old Rum, which runs about $65 a bottle, Bundaberg is eminently smooth. The kind of smooth that’s a problem in and of itself, since that which drinks easy tends to be drunk more. A math, according to one superfan, that ends up making him “crazy aggressive.” 

Which is an occupational hazard with rum, claims of Australian rum’s troublemaking tendencies notwithstanding. “It’s 100 proof,” says Richard Sterling, a Cambodian-based American expat and Lowell Thomas Award–winning travel and food writer, “which means it is to be approached with caution and which makes it preferred in survival kits”

The same could be said of life. Also apropos, and what we remember of our first taste of it, Lord Byron’s sage “There’s naught, no doubt, so much the spirit calms as rum.” All of this about a low drink formerly the purview of pirates and anyone else besotted enough to take it as payment for work?

Damned straight.

Most Memorable Moments at the Oscars

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We knew he’d take the #OscarsSoWhite issue head on. But those who expected host Chris Rock to ease in, or ease up, at the “White People’s Choice Awards” were sorely mistaken. The comedian said Tinseltown is “sorority racist” — as in “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa” — and lambasted those who told him not to host the show. “They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit,” he said, noting how he wasn’t about to lose another gig to Kevin Hart.

Many of the winners’ speeches focused on big issues, says OZY’s Libby Coleman, from climate change and corruption to LGBT rights and dystopia. And while the 88th annual Academy Awards will long be decried for its lack of color — it’ll also be remembered as a night when the event’s host made everyone laugh while reminding us that a lack of diversity is not at all funny.

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Carlos Recommends: The Greatest Movies From Oscars Past


Growing up in Miami, I was guilty of loving movies, trying to stay up a little bit later, whenever possible, to watch just one more. My early tastes, which included Bogie and Bacall, have evolved over the years. With the Academy Awards upon us, I offer up five favorites from Oscars past that you may have missed.

Y Tu Mamá También

Do you know what that means? “And your mother too.” No, this 2002 film from Mexico is not some put-down game in Spanish. Rather, it is a powerful and surprising look at friendship — how close, how jealous, how … unexpected we can be as humans. Gael García Bernal burns and delights as the handsome young star. The film was so hot — NC-17, really — that they simply listed it as “not rated.” Miss at your own peril, because this brainchild of the Cuarón brothers is simply terrific.


“You must remember this.” Casablanca — a powerful story of love, history and derring-do, with memorable, quotable lines — remains my favorite movie of all time. No, Bogie never said, “Play it again, Sam,” but he did say, “I never make plans that far ahead,” “Here’s looking at you, kid” and a whole lot more. A World War II drama and forbidden love story loaded with powerful subthemes, it truly is a movie for the ages, underscored by the great love song pulled throughout the narrative: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a tale of do or die.…” Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are at their best, and the film is even better, especially when you know that it almost wasn’t made.

Te Doy Mis Ojos

OK, this one wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but it did win seven Goya Awards (Spain’s version of the Oscars). I stumbled upon this beautiful film (Take My Eyes in English, or, literally, I Give You My Eyes), which tells the tragic story of several couples and siblings straining to be who they are. It’s a gripping tale, told through multiple angles and perspectives, à la Crash, complicating any moral simplicity in the process. Watch this tough film and learn something.

12 Angry Men

Most people reading this won’t remember Henry Fonda, arguably one of the greatest actors ever. He shone brightly in films like The Grapes of WrathAdvise & Consent and, later, On Golden Pond. But in 1957, he turned in perhaps his best performance as a conflicted juror wrestling with a murder case. Poignant, powerful, political — this is must-watch cinema. Long before A Few Good Men and …And Justice for All made courtroom dramas dramatic, Sidney Lumet’s big-screen directorial debut burned up the screen and raised the question of “reasonable doubt” in a whole new way. And, oh dear, does the movie have one of the great scenes of all time: a weary Fonda saying to an angry juror about a third man, “He can’t hear you,” even though all three men stand just feet apart. Spectacular — a nail-biter, a treat.  

City of God

If you are a cinema fan, you know this film, so I apologize for including it. But then again, I would have had to apologize if I didn’t include it — it is simply that divine. Set in Rio de Janeiro, it tells the story of a boy growing up in Brazil’s slums. Beautifully shot, filled with powerful themes and spectacular characters (Lil Zé, Knockout Ned, Carrot and more), loaded with twists and drama, it is (once again) a film for the ages. If there is one movie to rival Casablanca, this might be it.


Brie Larson, The 20 Years-In-the-Making Best Actress

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Brie Larson’s Twitter feed is all goofy-glamorous photos, promotions for her films and quotes from Alan Watts. The late Zen Buddhist philosopher pops up like fortune cookies of wisdom during appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and at couture fashion shows. Take this Watts gem about cultivating detachment: “Life is not going anywhere; there is nothing to be attained. All striving and grasping is so much smoke in the clutch of a dissolving hand.”

The day after that particular post, Larson was nominated for this year’s Best Actress Oscar. Oh, the irony. And after being the clear front-runner, she took home the Best Actress trophy, in addition to picking up the SAG, Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and BAFTA for her performance in Room, a drama based on the best-selling novel about a young woman raising her son in a backyard shed after having been abducted as a teenager. “Thank you first to the academy,” she said, accepting her Oscar. “Thank you to everyone…” It’s not the first time Larson’s name has been in the discussion for best actress — in 2013 she became a critical darling thanks to the indie hit Short Term 12, in which she plays a counselor at a facility for at-risk youth —  but it’s the first time the idea has stuck.

There’s a deafening chatter about Larson’s Hollywood moment, but the actress at the center of it excels at the unspoken, Zen-like gesture. (Through representatives, she declined an interview.) Room ends with a close-up of Larson, soundlessly mouthing the film’s last, haunting line. In Short Term 12, she clubs the shit out of an abusive parent’s car, delivering an emotional sucker punch without any of the words an earlier script called for. “Initially, her experiences had been spoken about more, but you don’t need it in the script when it registers on Brie’s face,” says casting director Rich Delia. “You can sense she’s been there.” 

“I have a long history of being cast in movies that I think are dramas that I later find out, when the movie comes out, are comedies,” she joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Wherever she’s been has brought Larson to her new place as the newest Hollywood It girl: plastered on the covers of Elle, Variety and W and written about in the New York Times, Vanity Fair and New York Magazine’s Vulture, which asks, “Can Anyone Beat Brie … ?” But for those who think she burst onto the scene with her scene-stealing performances, the truth is, stardom doesn’t happen overnight — and is almost always accompanied by “striving and grasping,” even if Watts might disapprove. 

Like a number of American actors, Larson, born Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers, broke into the profession at a very young age. In a 2013 interview in the Guardian, she said that as a kid she told her mom, “I know what my dharma is: I’m supposed to be an actor.” At 7, Larson started acting school. Her admissions interviewer, the director of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, Craig Slaight, recalls, “I was so taken with her maturity and her commitment and sparkle that I accepted her at an age younger than we normally do.”

The next year, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and younger sister, telling Variety, “It was Room. It was all one room; the bed came out of the wall. I had two pairs of jeans, a couple shirts, a couple headbands and a pair of orange Converse [sneakers],” she said. Her first gig, in 1998, was a fake-commercial sketch about a Malibu Mudslide Barbie on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, followed by a Disney Channel movie, Right on Track, when she was 13. And from there, the work kept coming. To date, the 26-year-old has been in 15 features — in major supporting roles that registered with few audience members as the same girl of flicks like Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, The Spectacular Now and 21 Jump Street. Last year she co-starred in Trainwreck, as Amy Schumer’s sister, after Judd Apatow invited her to several lunches with Schumer where they just told stories. “I have a long history of being cast in movies that I think are dramas that I later find out, when the movie comes out, are comedies,” she joked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

There was nothing comic about Short Term 12, the film in which Larson starred in her first leading role. It got everyone talking and caught the attention of Room casting director Fiona Weir. For Short Term 12, Larson was the first piece in a complicated casting puzzle, according to Rich Delia. “She always had such a disarming vibe when she’d come in, so lovely and generous,” he says. “She had an old-soul quality — in the best sense of the word.” And that quality has served her well. As GQ noted, in two years, Larson has played high-schoolers, college students and moms, and no one really knows her age because she’s been around so long.

Looking ahead, Larson’s next project is her first franchise leading role in Kong: Skull Island, a voucher from Hollywood that she is bankable in a big way. After that, she has the lead in another smaller film, The Glass Castle, based on Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir, in a role originally intended for Jennifer Lawrence, fueling comparisons between Larson’s ascent and Lawrence’s path from indie starlet in Winter’s Bone to blockbuster heavyweight in the Hunger Games.

It doesn’t take a fortune cookie to know that the future is unknown. But the 20-years-in-the-making overnight star seems content not to know where her path will lead, as she quotes Watts once again, “There is no Way. Nobody knows the Way.”