I’m not really into March Madness. I kind of keep tabs on the NBA and will be sure to tune in when the Mavericks are in the playoffs. But basketball has never really been my thing, and college hoops even less so.
But you know what I do love? Books, movies, TV, and video games. So this year I’m finally putting up something I first thought of a couple years ago, my very own March Madness-inspired bracket.
Here’s how it’s going to work. I’ve picked my 16 favorites books, movies, etc. or defined series thereof and seeded them within each region. And you all are going to vote on them. We’ll spend about five days on each round, I’ll give a little commentary along the way, and in five weeks we’ll have an overall winner!
A few rules/things to keep in mind:
- Everything here is stuff I’ve personally seen/read/played. This isn’t an all time great list, it’s stuff that I have a particular personal connection to. And yes, in some cases the fact that your favorite thing isn’t to be found on this bracket reflects a personal failing of mine because I haven’t seen/read/played it.
- Seeds are definitely prone to being influenced by what I’ve seen/read/played recently, or what I have lots of nostalgia for.
- In the TV region, I had to consider the ENTIRE series, not just a selection of seasons. For example, if I could have limited How I Met Your Mother to seasons 1-6, it probably would have been seeded a few spots higher. Because that’s most of the series, it still rates pretty highly, but it might have been higher if not for seasons 7, 8, and 9.
- In the other regions, I could choose to either a single item or the entire series it’s a part of, although in some cases some common-sense delineations have been made. For example, you’ll see the Star Wars Original Trilogy on there rather than the Star Wars series. That’s because the Original Trilogy is a broadly recognizable unit separate from the other movies.
#1 The Lord of the Rings – 100% – WINNER
#16 I Am the Messenger – 0%
It’s a hard call to name a favorite book of all time; I usually list the first four seeds as a collective “favorite.” But harder luck for my favorite book I’ve read in the last year to come up against LotR.
#8 Jurassic Park – 62% – WINNER
#9 The Golden Compass Trilogy – 38%
It’s a shame to me that Michael Crichton only managed one book on this list (Timeline was VERY close to squeezing in), but if there could only be one, it’s definitely got to be Jurassic Park. Tough competition, though, as you’d expect from an 8 seed versus a 9 seed. The Golden Compass, and to a lesser extent its sequels, are still among my favorite books of all time. I love the main characters, and I love the inventiveness of the fantasy world stretched out before you.
#4 Les Miserables – 45%
#13 The Silmarillion – 55% – WINNER
Tolkien’s second appearance in this bracket, and though this is a competition between two forbiddingly large and dense books, I’ll wager more people voting here have actually read The Silmarillion. Which is a shame, because as great as it is, Les Miserables, in all its luxurious (and at times overbearing) detail is positively incredible. The way it builds up to its magnificent conclusion is remarkable, and it deserves its spot as one of my four collective favorite books. Read it if you haven’t.
#5 Ender’s Shadow – 46%
#12 Redwall Series – 54% – WINNER
Orson Scott Card is all over this bracket, and it’s well deserved every time. I know there are some who consider Ender’s Shadow even better than Ender’s Game. Not for me, but Shadow is still great. On the other hand, though, I spent an awful lot of time reading Brian Jacques Redwall series. I fell off a few books before the last one was published due to some reliance on formula that the later books are especially guilty of, but there’s also something joyful to that formula. I recommend starting with Mossflower if you’ve never read the series.
#2 The Crossing – 9%
#15 A Farewell to Arms – 91% – WINNER
It’s so interesting to me that these two came up against each other; I seeded without regard for matchups, just trying to rank as accurately as possible. But Cormac McCarthy feels, in many ways, like the direct successor to Ernest Hemingway. They’re writing styles are different, but both are minimalistic, with a turn towards expression through character action only, rarely taking us inside someone’s thoughts. I considered including the entire Border Trilogy here instead of just The Crossing, but The Crossing is even a cut above the other two for me. FYI: you can read the trilogy (of which The Crossing is book two) in order, but it’s by no means required.
#7 Harry Potter Series – 92% – WINNER
#10 Old Kingdom Trilogy – 8%
Some of you may know the Old Kingdom trilogy better by the actual names of the books: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. They’ve got a beautifully unique fantasy world and remarkable female protagonists (written in an age when that wasn’t so in style as it is now). On the other hand, Harry Potter dominated my childhood from 4th grade through most of high school, just like it did for so many others.
#3 Ender’s Game – 100% – WINNER
#14 – Alvin Maker Series – 0%
If Orson Scott Card is going to place three books on the bracket, at least it happens that two of them have to fight each other. Ender’s Game is an immediate must-read if you haven’t already. I distinctly remember the first time I read it: reading for a while, putting it down to make myself go do something else, and then being back to reading it again 15 minutes later because nothing else seemed half as worth doing. A literal “can’t put it down” moment. The Tales of Alvin Maker series is far less known than the Ender series, but definitely worth reading. It takes place in a semimagical alternate history America, with the first book starting a little before when the Revolutionary War would have taken place. The series meanders a bit and can get occasionally heavy with the symbolism, but it’s a quick, easy, delightful read.
#6 The Road – 57% – WINNER
#11 X-Wing Series (Rogue Squadron Books) – 43%
I’ve chosen to include here from the X-Wing series only the books which were written by Michael Stackpole, which are the ones about Rogue squadron. There are also several books in the same series about Wraith Squadron, written by Aaron Allston, and while they’re fun, in my estimation they’re not of the same quality. Even with that bonus, though, I expect they’ll have a hard time overcoming The Road, which is probably the most depressing book I’ve ever read but undoubtedly also one of the most beautiful.
#1 Forrest Gump – 79% – WINNER
#16 Stranger Than Fiction – 21%
Two movies of extraordinary happenstance, and both of them great in their own regard. This was maybe the toughest region to get into, with films like The Matrix, Good Will Hunting, and The Lion King just missing the cut. So kudos to Stranger Than Fiction (i.e. Will Ferrell’s 2nd best movie, following Elf). But Forrest Gump is a titan, and I expect to be able to gush on in more in subsequent rounds.
#8 Her – 46%
#9 School of Rock – 54% – WINNER
This is a weird matchup. School of Rock is Jack Black at his finest, a hilarious and heartfelt comedy with some really solid drama thrown in. But Her is my favorite movie so far this decade. It’s deliciously weird, chillingly foresighted, beautifully designed, and I just love the hell out of it. (See me gush more about it here, here, and here.) As close as 8s and 9s usually are, there’s a very definitive order to these two, at least for me.
#4 The Shawshank Redemption – 71% – WINNER
#13 The Sandlot – 29%
The Sandlot is a seminal coming-of-age movie, one of the very best ever committed to film. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the finest movies every made. Tough matchup, Sandlot.
#5 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 18%
#12 Master and Commander – 82% – WINNER
Now here’s a matchup. They’re both swashbuckling, hard-nosed adventures. Butch Cassidy is the film that launched Robert Redford, and features one of the most iconic pair of antiheroes ever. I mean, you remember the final shot of this movie and the hail of gunfire that sounds over the freeze frame. On the other hand, I think Master and Commander is under-appreciated and too easily forgotten. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany make an amazing pairing for this high seas Napoleonic contest.
#2 Star Wars Original Trilogy – 92% – WINNER
#15 Field of Dreams – 8%
Man, the baseball movies are pulling some tough matchups! So let’s give Field of Dreams its due as one of Kevin Costner’s best, and featuring a couple all-time great monologues from Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones. But come on. I’m such a massive Star Wars fan, for me this isn’t even close. And I’m betting the polls will reflect that.
#7 The Dark Knight Trilogy – 85% – WINNER
#10 Jason Bourne Trilogy – 15%
Another phenomenal matchup. I swear I’m didn’t make this happen. You’ve got probably the best superhero movies of all time (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) on one hand, and on the other is a trio of movies that redefined the modern action film. Bourne was so good at what it did, he made James Bond emulate him. But then again, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale giving us the on-screen Batman we always wanted. Oh, and Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course, adds points by itself.
#3 Toy Story Trilogy – 85% – WINNER
#14 Beauty and the Beast – 15%
Here’s the thing: Beauty and the Beast was, along with The Sound of Music, my first cinematic love. But I am Andy from Toy Story. I grew up surrounded by cowboys until I discovered Star Wars, and have been trading heavily in both ever since. Toy Story speaks to me on such an intensely personal level, on top of being the near-flawless set of movies it is.
#6 Ocean’s Eleven – 67% – WINNER
#11 Memento – 33%
I could be mistaken, but I think Christopher Nolan is the only director who’s placed two movies on this bracket (though yes, that’s selling a couple “trilogy” directors a little short. Nolan is a master of structure. If you look at his movies, their narratives are actually pretty straightforward. It’s the way those events are arranged that are a huge part of what makes him a remarkable filmmaker, and there’s no finer example than Memento. Then again, Ocean’s Eleven is in the masterful hands of Steven Soderbergh and is one of the best heist movies, and funniest heist movies, ever made, and employs some very clever plot structure of its own.
#1 The West Wing – 80% – WINNER
#16 – Heroes – 20%
This might be the most one-sided contest in the entire bracket, in any of the regions. The West Wing is one of the most brilliantly written, incisive, hilarious, heartbreaking shows ever made. Sure, it’s got its lull in season 5, but that’s nothing compared to one great season of Heroes followed by several seasons that are mostly respectable curiosities. Just to be clear, this does NOT include that Heroes Reborn series, of which I only watched the first couple episodes.
#8 Scrubs – 23%
#9 Arrested Development – 77% – WINNER
I’m a recent convert to Scrubs, and only about halfway through season 3 as of this posting, so there’s a good chance that if I do this again next year it’ll have risen some in the seeding. But don’t sell Arrested Development short. The Netflix season 4 was a disappointment I haven’t even finished, but it’s easy to forget just how great those first three seasons were.
#4 30 Rock – 88% – WINNER
#13 The Newsroom – 13%
Let’s address The Newsroom first: a little seen, three season HBO series from Aaron Sorkin that doesn’t quite measure up to The West Wing (because what can?) but is a fun and challenging show in its own right. The Newsroom doesn’t lose much if you watch it now, but it was particularly poignant in the moment for delivering commentary on current events. So why is it seeded 13 while 30 Rock is up at #4? 30 Rock is one of the most cleverly funny shows I’ve ever seen, and probably more prone to make me actually laugh out loud than any other show on this list.
#5 Avatar: The Last Airbender – 42%
#12 M*A*S*H – 58% – WINNER
I was watching The Legend of Korra this week, and while I enjoyed it, it really just made me want to go watch Avatar all over again. It’s one of the most slickly produced and touching children’s series ever, unfolding a complete and well-told story over three seasons that even nails the tricky ending. M*A*S*H, on the other hand, was something I came to in high school, and fell in love with the sharp wit and full heart of the show. It’s on Netflix now, go give it a watch.
#2 Batman: The Animated Series – 45%
#15 Game of Thrones – 55% – WINNER
I’m going to cry if there’s an upset here. Game of Thrones is good, and it overcomes some qualms I have about its content with exceptional characters and an epic historical mystery in a fantasy world as rich as Middle Earth. But Batman: TAS is my childhood, and possibly the best sustained take on Batman we’ve ever seen. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are iconic in their roles as the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime, and this show gave us Harley Quinn!
#7 How I Met Your Mother – 42%
#10 Mythbusters – 58% – WINNER
I know Mythbusters just ended, and to be honest, it’s been a while since I watched it. But in some ways that’s a testament to its quality and longevity. The show was super fun and made me (and everyone) wish I had a giant workshop to use to build hovercrafts and giant slingshots and stuff. Meanwhile How I Met Your Mother, or at least the first six season, have a special place in my heart. If only they’d ended earlier and better…
#3 The Office (US) – 75% – WINNER
#14 Freaks & Geeks – 25%
The one-season wonder versus another show that was brilliant in its heyday but outstayed its welcome a bit. Still, as great as Freaks and Geeks is in its solo outing, length has to count for something. Plus, what a peak The Office had! I remember in college dozens of people would get together in the common room on Office nights to all watch together. It was amazing.
#6 Batman Beyond – 40%
#11 Chuck – 60% – WINNER
This might be the least-seen matchup in the bracket. Batman Beyond was a gorgeously creative extension of Batman: The Animated Series, one that actually took seriously Bruce Wayne’s aging. Terry McGinnis proved a worthy successor to the Batman mantle, as this show did as a new entry to Batman canon. And then there’s Chuck, which really ought to be a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of James Bond, Get Smart, or the spy genre in general. Yes, it’s full of genre tropes and over the top plots and characters. But that’s part of why it’s just so fun. An emotional heart underscores the entire thing and is not to be overlooked.
Video Game Region
#1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – 100% – WINNER
#16 Empire Earth – 0%
Arguably the best game of all time (I certainly think it is, and I’ve probably spent more time with it than any other ever) versus a flawed but deeply entertaining RTS that was effectively the successor to Age of Empires. I love both games. I love Ocarina of Time way more.
#8 Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 0%
#9 Super Smash Bros. – 100% – WINNER
Human Revolution was a game I bought because I needed something to tide me over ’til Mass Effect 3 and it was $20 when I got it. What I found, though, was a sharply poignant near-future cyberpunk world, and one of the most memorable video game experiences I’ve had in recent years. Human Revolution makes a compelling case for video games’ ability to handle complex issues as well as, or even better than, other media. Against it stands the original Super Smash Bros., a crazy idea that turned into one of the best series Nintendo has on offer. But that original one is still the best; this spot is for that game alone, not the full series.
#4 Mario Kart Wii – 33%
#13 Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – 67% – WINNER
Battlefront II gets the nod here over the original for its mode additions, particularly hero characters, and its balance adjustments that made it a far better game to play regardless of which faction you fought as. It’s a great game. Mario Kart Wii is the most social game I’ve ever played. For two years of college, there were 4-7 of us that played this almost daily.
#5 Gizmos & Gadgets – 43%
#12 Super Mario Galaxy – 57% – WINNER
There are a few video games I credit with developing my love for the medium. While Gizmos and Gadgets wasn’t the first game I ever played a lot of, it was the first one I remember loving. If you don’t know it, try to seek it out. It’s technically an “edutainment” game, but it’s got some good platforming and clever (if a little easy now) physics puzzles that are well-integrated with the rest of the gameplay. Against it stands one of the best platformers ever created, and the only core Mario game I’ve ever finished. Super Mario Galaxy is a remarkable, tremendously fun, mind-bending game.
#2 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – 100% – WINNER
#15 Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – 0%
The entire Metroid Prime series is really good, and Corruption is easily the best for its improved controls. Indeed, it’s one of the best controlling Wii games around. Majora’s Mask, though, is part of what defines Zelda games for me. A little weird considering it’s one of the “non core” Zeldas in existence, but it and Ocarina were my first two. They defined the series to me, and I love how creepy Majora’s Mask is. The three day structure and abundance of side quests is phenomenal, and the dungeons that are there are simply great, as is the shapeshifting mask mechanic.
#7 Knights of the Old Republic – 83% – WINNER
#10 Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast – #17%
I’ve played these two more than any other Star Wars games ever. (Sorry, Battlefront.) They’re also inextricably linked to me. I was on board the hype train in the run up to the release of KOTOR, even through the delay to the PC release (I didn’t have an Xbox at the time). But when I got it, I discovered that our home PC wouldn’t run it. So I put it in the closet, went out to Best Buy, and happened upon Jedi Outcast, a game I’d played just a smidge of before with a friend. Jedi Outcast had (and maybe has; it’s on Steam now) a vibrant multiplayer scene coupled with a strong single player story, and both made you feel like a Jedi. When I eventually got to play KOTOR, though, I got to see why it’s one of the finest RPGs ever made, BioWare at the height of their considerable powers, getting to play in an unexplored part of the Star Wars galaxy.
#3 Mass Effect Trilogy – 71% – WINNER
#14 Hearthstone – 29%
Say what you will about the ending to Mass Effect 3, the sequence at the end of the game on Earth is harrowing and tremendously emotional. The entire series shines in story, only occasionally bobbles in gameplay, and is only barely outstripped by the two N64 Zelda games for the top seed. Hearthstone is a game I play all the time, but it will never have the impact of Mass Effect.
#6 Portal Series – 75% – WINNER
#11 Batman: Arkham Asylum – 25%
I can’t put the full Arkham series here because I’ve only played Asylum (although I’m getting ready to launch into Arkham City soon). That’s ok, though, Arkham Asylum is great. It defined a generation and then some for 3rd person hand-to-hand combat, but more importantly, whether you’re fighting or sneaking you always feel like Batman. Portal on the other hand is one of the most refreshingly unique experiences to grace video games in a long time, and followup Portal 2 made up for any loss in originality with a lengthier campaign with plenty of wonderful new gameplay elements to use.
Round 1 – 3/8 thru 3/13 – VIEW RESULTS
Round 2 – 3/14 thru 3/24 – VIEW RESULTS
Sweet Sixteen – 3/25 thru 3/28 – VIEW RESULTS
Elite Eight – 3/29 thru 4/1
Final Four – 4/2 thru 4/4
Final – 4/5 thru 4/10