Hamlet

Favorite Movies of 2015

And for my final “best of” list this year, here are my favorite films that I saw in 2015. While 6 of these are films that were released in the last year, some of the others are much older, but also things I’d never seen before.

And, because I watched 130 new (to me) films in 2015, I’ve also included several films as honorable mentions at the bottom. So here are my recent favorites. What are yours?

Brooklyn (2015)

BrooklynThere were three films I’d been itching to see since reading lots of good things after the 2015 Sundance Film Festival: Brooklyn, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Me and Earl and the Dying GirlBrooklyn is the one I saw most recently, but it’s quickly become one of my very favorite of the year, probably even close to first place. I’m a sucker for a British period piece in the winter, so the beautiful 1950s of Ireland and New York present in this film were a lovely little gift. Saoirse Ronan is a perfect leading lady trying to adjust to an entirely new life in a different country and finds herself in a perfectly complicated love triangle. This is a movie I can’t wait to own so I can watch it again and again.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Diary of a Teenage Girl is an interesting case because it ended up on my “best of 2015” lists for both the book and the film adaptation. The film is what brought me to the book, largely because Bel Powley is such a compelling leading lady. She perfectly captures Minnie’s 15-year-old voice and her self-obsessed tendencies. Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, and Christopher Meloni round out the cast with great (and troubling) performances. This is an honest and endearing representation of teenage girlhood.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex MachinaIt seems funny that my relationship with Ex Machina only began in May of this year because I feel like it’s become a part of me. Ex Machina plays a big role in my master’s thesis project, so I’ve done lots of research and writing about it in recent months. To me, this movie is the most compelling of the year–a sci-fi thriller with a twisty plot and some of the most complex gender roles I’ve seen recently. Alicia Vikander gives a breakout performance as Ava, a robot created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who may or may not have human feelings. This is one that will leave you thinking long after the movie ends.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Far From the Madding CrowdLike I said about Brooklyn, a good period piece in December is like candy for me, so Far From the Madding Crowd was an especially sweet treat. Carey Mulligan is perfect in the leading role and she’s got a line of suitors that make you hope she’ll find love eventually (until she picks the wrong person first and it’s annoying). Though the story takes place in the 1870s, the gender roles are surprisingly progressive, asking audiences to consider why a woman needs a husband to be happy (answer: she doesn’t, unless she finds the right man). This is another I could watch again and again.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. KramerKramer vs. Kramer was a film my mom and I watched during our unofficial summer film series to clean out our VHS collection. This is a truly devastating film about the fallout of divorce. And with lead actors like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, you can’t really go wrong. Kramer vs. Kramer is the oldest film on my “best of” list this year (excluding the honorable mentions), but it’s message and characters are still poignant more than thirty years after it’s release.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp FictionPulp Fiction was one of the movies I was always embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen, but my roommate was in the same situation until we decided to go for it this past spring. It certainly isn’t a short movie (but when Quentin Tarantino directs, you can expect that), but the narrative is split into several smaller sections and follows a large ensemble of characters that keep things moving. We were both pleased with how much fun watching Pulp Fiction was. I’ve been in so many film classes with guys who worship Tarantino that I’ve become a bit jaded toward his work, but this is one that lives up to the reputation.

National Theatre Live’s Hamlet (2015)

HamletOkay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch as far as films are concerned, but I couldn’t leave it off the list. I LOVE that the National Theatre makes some of its productions available to audiences worldwide, especially with a production like this one, which was apparently the fastest-selling event in London theater history (I still can’t wrap my mind around how crazy that is). Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds give (obviously) stellar performances as the biggest names in the production, but the entire ensemble is equally wonderful. This incarnation of Shakespeare’s play doesn’t really fit into any specific time period as all the characters are costumed very differently, but it’s all believable and interesting to take in. What I would’ve given to have been a live member of that audience…

Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's ListLike Pulp Fiction, it was a bit embarrassing to be a pop culture-loving person who’d never seen Schindler’s List, but I finally remedied that problem last week. The film lives up to its praise–it’s crushing, tragic, beautiful, and horrible all at once. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give stellar performances (though it does make me wonder a bit more what it might be like to see Ralph Fiennes play a good guy. Just once!). There are lots of important Holocaust narratives in the world of pop culture, but it’s undeniable that Schindler’s List belongs in the canon of essential viewing to understand the terror of this period in history.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of EverythingThe Theory of Everything was the kind of movie that I bawled my way through, nearly from start to finish. Eddie Redmayne completely deserved his Oscar for his performance as Stephen Hawking. This is yet another British period piece that’s made it onto my list, but this one packs an emotional punch the others don’t really have (though I also, inexplicably, cried an inordinate amount during Brooklyn). The relationship between Stephen and his first wife, Jane, in this film is tender, compelling, and ultimately bittersweet, but it’s fascinating to see how two people could persevere through such difficult circumstances and still remain close.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About KevinAnd now, a very different kind of movie. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror story that begs the question, “why the hell would you want to have kids?” This is pretty much a worst case scenario, but it’s still really freaking scary to think about. I’d long-been interested in watching this movie, but was a little concerned by the first 20 or so minutes of it; there’s very little dialogue and what feels like unnecessarily long takes of grating sounds and imagery, but this all works to set the film’s uncomfortable mood. We Need to Talk About Kevin makes clear allusions to Rosemary’s Baby–it’s like an modernized story of how that baby would grow up to be a terrible human being. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller both give great performances is this deliciously unsettling film that will leave you feeling all kinds of disturbed.

And, as promised, here are my honorable mentions:

Cinderella, Election, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, In Bruges, The Imitation Game, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Monkey Kingdom, Mud, Nightcrawler, No Good Deed, Selma, The Shawshank Redemption, Trainwreck, Wetlands

What were your favorite movies you saw this year? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

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Book #78: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Unfortunately, my Shakespeare class this semester hasn’t been everything I’d hoped it could be. In fact, I hardly feel like I’ve learned anything from being in the class, but I’m at least happy I’ve been pushed into reading some of Shakespeare’s best-known works. For me, this was a first-time encounter with Hamlet, and I definitely see what all the fuss is about. The soliloquies abound in this play, and many of the most quotable Shakespearean passages are found within these pages. My interest now would be to see a film or stage adaptation of the play, because I always think the visual aspects make Shakespeare more understandable.

On a more personal level, I’m so glad to finally be caught up with my reading! For this class, we’ve only got King Lear left to read, and since I’ve read it before, I think it should go fairly well. I’m hitting the point in the semester where I really don’t want to do anything, but I’m actually channeling that feeling productively by forcing myself to get ahead on as many assignments as possible so I can have more free time on the weekends and upcoming Thanksgiving break (not to mention my birthday is next week, and no one should have to do homework on their birthday).

For now, I’ve still got two long days of school and work ahead of me before I can enjoy the weekend, so back to work.

November.

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Though November is pretty much my favorite month of the year, it’s also an undoubtedly busy time. I’m eleven weeks into the semester, which means that things are generally winding down, but also that finals and exams and presentations and papers are all happening. This is really the first time I’ve been behind in any classes, which is a pretty good accomplishment (and probably a reason why I shouldn’t be sitting here writing this instead of reading Hamlet). Sometimes you just need a break.

 

TV  — Thankfully, I’ve still managed to keep up with my pop culture fun to a certain extent. On Monday, I finished my viewing of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” because Netflix was kind enough to add the ninth season just a few days after I finished season 8. I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching thisshow, and I’m very excited FX is already showing a preview for next season.

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As for my other TV viewing habits, I’m just trying to keep up with the influx of fall shows. I’ve only added two new shows to my schedule this season: ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and The CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “How to Get Away with Murder” provides the same melodramatic fun that I love about “Scandal,” and “Jane the Virgin” is adorable and funny and totally worth watching. I’m also keeping up with returning shows like “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” “Scandal,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Reign,” and “America’s Next Top Model.” I’m waiting until Thanksgiving/Christmas break to binge the new season of “Homeland” with my mom. We’ve seen the first two episodes, but decided it would be easier to wait than to try to catch up little by little, so don’t spoil things, please!

Movies — As of yesterday, I’ve completed my goal of watching 125 new movies in 2014! I haven’t seen many in theaters recently, apart from Gone Girlwhich you really all should have seen by now because it’s wonderful. I’m definitely looking forward to the onslaught of awards season movies that are starting to roll out now; I’m specifically excited for Birdman, Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Wild, Into the Woods, and seeing Whiplash again. As for the movies I have seen recently, some favorites have included Obvious Child, In A World…, and Scream 1, 2, and 3. Netflix doesn’t have Scream 4 right now, which is fairly frustrating. I also had the distinct pleasure of watching the notoriously bad Showgirls recently which was certainly an experience.

Books — Most of my reading has been focused on completing my reading assignments for class, which is pretty understandable considering I’m in an English Master’s program. My biggest projects there have been Hamlet (which I’m behind on) and Antony and Cleopatra (which our professor removed from the reading list, but since I’m already three acts in, I want to finish it). I’m also working away at reading lots of Edgar Allan Poe short stories since I have a class specifically dedicated to Poe. For my final class, most of my reading has been from a very helpful book called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide that goes in-depth on various critical theories used to analyze literature. It’s great for lit nerds, not so great for the casual reader.

For my own funIMG_0667.JPG reading, I’ve only done three noteworthy reading projects of late, but all of them are worth mentioning. Early in October I bought and read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, which I enjoyed (if you’re interested, I’m on Dunham’s side in this “sexual abuse” situation, but I also don’t want to start a debate). Though it wasn’t my favorite read ever, there were many laugh-out-loud moments and I thought it was a very true representation of what Dunham has always claimed to be. I also read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot in October in my quest to read all the important drama literature. The play is frustrating and sad, like lots of those written in the absurd style. Currently, I’m reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Pleasewhich is of course entertaining and funny. I expect to finish it this weekend, so look out for a post with my review.IMG_0683.JPG

And to cap it all off, Taylor Swift’s newest album, 1989, was released last week, meaning that I won’t really be listening to any other music until at least January. My favorite songs at the moment are “Blank Space,” “Style,” and “I Wish You Would.” But I basically adore the entire album because Taylor is a goddess and I’ve worshiped her for six years.

Now, back to the real world. It’s the weekend and after spending the afternoon at our homecoming football game, I know I should be thinking about completing the homework that’s been accumulating on my to do list. Right now, though, the idea of curling up in a blanket on the couch watching movies for the rest of the night sounds so, so much better. A girl can dream, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

Book #34: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard

Book #34: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard

I think it’s safe to say that absurdism isn’t exactly my thing. After working my way through a handful of Edward Albee’s plays, I was ready to move on to different things, but my professor wanted us to have another stop on the path through Theatre of the Absurd with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Maybe if I’d ever read Hamlet (since the titular characters come from this Shakespearean work) I’d feel differently, but I didn’t really enjoy reading this play. It’s quite confusing, and I’m sure it could be more clearly appreciated when seen rather than just read. And with the knowledge that Tom Stoppard has written other things (like the screenplays for Shakespeare In Love and Anna Karenina), it’s hard to imagine that he’s the same person who wrote this play. Ah, well. Onto other things.