Oscars

Reading and Watching in 2017

In my Sundance reflection I posted over the weekend, I promised to catch up on my recent pop culture ventures since I’ve neglected my duties of late (full-time jobs really just hinder this whole recreational blogging thing).

So, in an effort to stay true to my word, here’s a quick glimpse at all the popular stuff I’m consuming these days. Spoiler alert: I’ve become kind of savage with things I don’t like, so you’re in for a treat.


Books

At the moment, I’m on my sixteenth book of 2017, but I doubt I’ll be finishing it any time soon. I’ve returned to the Outlander series with the fourth installment, Drums of Autumn. I’m at the 200-page mark in an 880-page saga, so who really knows when I’ll finish or what shenanigans I’m in for along the way. Thankfully, Diana Gabaldon doesn’t let me down and keeps things entertaining and unexpected, unlike many books I’ve started and stopped recently.

I’ve given up on two books so far in 2017, which generally provokes a sense of relief, while also being a big ol’ bummer. I don’t like to dislike books, especially when I spend 100 pages of effort on something I end up tossing aside. My rejected novels were Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which I bought on a whim at a used book store, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I didn’t have harsh feelings about The Poisonwood Bible—the same cannot be said of the former—but I just didn’t feel it going anywhere. To be fair, I started the novel and read a good chunk on my way to Sundance and didn’t really pick it up again until returning, so I was struggling to readjust. But at over 500 pages, I wasn’t feeling compelled enough to trudge through, so I put it aside. This is one I could see myself returning to in future, just not any time too soon.

Other quick reading notes: I’ve already crossed off 3 of the authors I planned to read in 2017, have made progress on 2 others, and have completed 2 other reading goals for the year. I read Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection milk and honey in about 12 seconds over the weekend and enjoyed it. I read a collection of Emily Dickinson’s works and consumed something like 700 poems in a week. I also recently read the Russian novella The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk after seeing the film adaptation at Sundance. The novella is fun, but the film is far better.

I’ve basically been reading Drums of Autumn exclusively, but fairly soon I’ll double up with something else, likely Romeo and Juliet in my goal of reading four of Shakespeare’s plays this year. I don’t want to pair Drums of Autumn with another novel, so I’ll keep the balance with other plays or short story/essay collections for a while.


Movies

I’ve seen a fairly ridiculous number of movies in 2017—forty-three, to be precise, which is just two short of the number of days in the year thus far. To be fair, I did start the year at a film festival, but I’m also just in the kind of mood that basically involves at least one movie a day.

You can read my Sundance post to hear about what I liked there, but there have been plenty of other fun things I’ve seen on my own time. Arrival was the most recent Best Picture nominee I saw (I still haven’t seen Hidden Figures or Hacksaw Ridge) and I loved it way more than expected. Other things I’ve really liked include Sing Street (2016), Grey Gardens (2009), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Temple Grandin (2010), The Handmaiden (2016)and Fifty Shades Darker (2017). Yes, the last one is kind of embarrassing, and yes, the last two have something very specific in common, but I’m fine with that.

Here’s hoping I reach 50 films—which is 1/2 of my goal for the year—by the end of the month (but honestly, it will probably happen by the end of this week).


Television

TV has been unexpectedly complicated for me in 2017. TV tends to be my breeziest medium, but I’m having a very difficult time finding something that clicks for me this year. To be fair, I’ve still completed 7 series this year, but each of those has been under 20 episodes, so I haven’t had to really commit.

My biggest surprise was my lack of interest in The Americans, a show I started expecting I would love it and planned to catch up before the new season comes later this spring. I watched the entirety of season 1 and the premiere of season 2, and just kept finding myself underwhelmed. This is the show every critic says is totally underrated and deserves nominations it rarely receives, but nothing about it really hooked me. I kept watching in the hopes that would change, but I finally decided to stop. It was a decision accompanied by a surprising amount of turmoil, but I really haven’t thought about the show at all since, so I think I made the right decision.

I’m finally committed to a new project with Flight of the Conchords, though this show is only 22 episodes overall, so again, it’s fairly temporary. It’s silly and strange and I like it. Same goes for Moone Boy, which I watched very quickly a few weeks ago.

There is a handful of shows currently airing/soon to return that I’m keeping up with, including: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Mindy Project, Girls, Legion, and Bates Motel. It’s nice to have a few things to rely on, especially when I’m not particularly inclined elsewhere.

And speaking of my lack of interest, my roommate and I have developed an exciting and cut-throat habit of “canceling” movies and books and TV shows (aka we deem things “canceled” when we stop liking them, and they cease to exist). So The Americans? Canceled. Together we tried to start back on Penny Dreadful, having both watched the first season when it aired, but that only lasted 14 minutes before cancelation. I also canceled The Leftovers after watching 19 minutes and feeling like I never needed to return. I have a lot of random things on my TV list for the year, and I expect some of them to be canceled as well. At least I’m giving them all a shot.

Of the things I have actually watched, I would most highly recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events because it is just delightful, and I also had fun watching Chewing Gum, Looking, and Glitch in January. And seriously, Moone Boy is super sweet and charming if you’re looking for that type.


Now I’m off to go finish a movie I started this afternoon and enjoy some quality reading time. Next time I write, I fully expect to have canceled a few more things.

I can’t wait.

Favorite Movies of 2016

The year is wrapping up, which means the inevitable is happening—I’m spending my days reflecting on the best entertainment of the year. My “best of” compilation below is not a list of my favorite 2016 films, but of my favorite films I watched in 2016, meaning some have earlier release dates. Check my list (in order of when I saw them) and descriptions of each movie below. For reference, you can enjoy my full 2016 viewing list here.

What were the best films you watched in 2016?


Room (2015)

Though my initial impression of Room was not totally stellar (though I still really liked it), the more distance I had from the film, the more impressed with it I became. Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning performance as a young captive trying to raise a son and escape her confines is a must-see. The tension built in the climactic scenes is just as captivating as you find in the best thriller films. Despite having seen Room in early January, it’s a film I continue to think of regularly.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

If you’ve had any kind of significant conversation with me in 2016, I probably mentioned this film (and now apologize for being annoying). I’m proud to say I attended the second screening of this film in the world at the Sundance Film Festival and have loved it since then. Manchester by the Sea features beautiful performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams dealing with grief and forgiveness. It’s a cathartic, tragic, and funny film that is sure to continue winning awards into the new year.

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster was the last screening I attended at Sundance this year, and it’s another film that has stuck with me through 2016. Word on the Sundance rumor mill was that The Lobster is a movie you know you’ll either love or hate within the first 10 minutes, and I think that’s pretty true. This darkly comic, dystopian little weirdo of a film features Colin Farrell in the lead role in a society where single people are sent to a hotel for 45 days in which to find a soulmate. If your allotted days expire, you’re turned into the animal of your choosing and released into the wild. I find The Lobster to be equal parts hilarious and disturbing, but maybe that’s not your thing.

The Witch (2015)

The Witch is another love-it-or-hate-it type that I also happened to love in 2016. When my roommate and I saw the film with a crowd of about 20 on a Sunday afternoon, it was clear that most other audience members hated what we saw as a creepy/cool film. Who knew a blank-faced goat would be one of the best movie villains of 2016?

Swiss Army Man (2016)

After hearing the resounding WTFs about this film at Sundance, I really had no idea what to expect from Swiss Army Man. When the most common plot description is that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse, it’s hard to know if you’ll like a film. Turns out, I loved it! Minus the final 10-15 minutes, but those are thoughts for a longer discussion. Swiss Army Man is visually stunning and weird as hell, but also a movie you aren’t likely to forget.

Green Room (2016)

I didn’t know about Green Room upon watching it except that there were neo-Nazis involved and most reviews were pretty stellar. Anyhoo, I was so very pleased to see this little weirdo that adds to the growing list of great indie horror/thriller films in recent years. Watching one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances is bittersweet, but it’s great to see a group of very unlikeable characters become the people you root hardest for. Also, Patrick Stewart’s “I’m a gross American” accent is not to be missed.

Moonlight (2016)

Like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight is a film we’ll all continue to hear more about as awards season rounds out in early 2017, and deservedly so. While some say Moonlight is the absolute best film of the year, my preferences lie elsewhere, but I still see it as a profoundly moving and beautiful film. The section (since the story is told in three parts) I visit most often in my mind is the first in the film, when we see Chiron as a young boy with a mom who is just beginning to dig herself into the drugged darkness that later consumes her life. I think the main reason this sections stands out most to me is the presence of Blue, played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali. That the most stable person in young Chiron’s life is a drug dealer is heartbreaking, but I found myself wishing again and again that Blue was still there to help Chiron later on. I left the theatre feeling a bit muddled after this one, but it’s a film I’ve mentally returned to often.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

There are few things I love more than a good coming-of-age story, and The Edge of Seventeen is an instant-classic in this genre. Hailee Steinfeld shines as Nadine, a girl who (like many teenagers) feels everything vividly. Nadine is smart and kind, but also kind of dumb and ridiculous and dramatic, but all in a way that makes you feel for her because we’ve all been there. Oddly enough, this is the film on this list that probably made me most consistently emotional, likely because it tells the story that sometimes feels truest to life.

Other People (2016)

Due to an unfortunate coincidence, I missed out on attending the world premiere of Other People at Sundance in January and wasn’t able to fit it into my other viewing times during the festival. But after hearing many people say it was their favorite film during our time in Utah, I made sure to watch it as soon as I could. Other People is the rare movie that can make you laugh and cry with equal intensity, and neither emotion feels out of place in this film about a gay comedian who moves home to be with his mother in her final year of life. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon give outstanding performances in the lead roles (seriously, Golden Globes, where are their nominations?). Though the basic plot of the film might seem cliche or expected, this is one of the most honest and realistic films I’ve seen in a long time. It allows you to both laugh hard and cry hard without either emotion feeling cheap or incorrect.

La La Land (2016)

As soon as teaser trailers were released for this film, I was dying to see it. The combined force of Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damian Chazelle was enough to get me excited about it, so the fact that it’s topped so many “best of the year” lists only made me more anxious to get myself to this film as soon as I could. Thankfully, I spent a joyous Christmas afternoon in the theatre for this one, and I wasn’t remotely disappointed. The film is beautiful visually and thematically, and Stone and Gosling give outstanding performances and performers trying to make it in Hollywood. If you aren’t charmed by this movie, you might not even be human.

Fences (2016)

When you combine August Wilson’s best work with performances by Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis, there isn’t much to do but start handing over awards. Of course these two give stellar performances—they did win Tonys for it, after all—and, even though I’ve read Fences twice before and plan to teach it this semester, I’m still astounded by the emotional force of Wilson’s writing. Washington maintains the simplicity of a stage production in the film, which I appreciated, and the combined effect of the ensemble is what makes the film a real knockout. I would be shocked if Davis doesn’t win every award she’s eligible for this season.


Honorable Mentions: Goat (2016), Rain Man (1988), The Light Between Oceans (2016), Fruitvale Station (2013), 13th (2016), Hamilton’s America (2016), Moana (2016), Deadpool (2016)

Snow Days

I couldn’t be happier to be writing this from the comfort of my bed, snuggled under a pile of blankets with snow falling outside my window. My semester got off to a busy start, so I thought I’d take this moment of reprieve to write a quick update of my pop culture life these days.

Books — School reading obviously takes precedent over any leisurely reading, but I’m still free enough that I’m able to maintain something for myself. After forging my way through a book of William Inge plays, I took a sharp turn to reading Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight, a fun teen novel about murder (I guess it doesn’t sound that funny, but it really is). My latest Southern lit reading assignment was Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, a super strange and darkly comic book chronicling the strange lives of a group in Depression-era rural Georgia. It’s a truly entertaining read. This past weekend I finished My Ideal Bookshelf, a collection of lists made by various celebrities of the handful of book they’d put on their “ideal” bookshelves. It was especially fun to read the lists of celebrities I like (like James Franco), and the book provided me with several books I’ve added to my own reading list.

Currently, I’m in the middle of reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and I’m enjoying the experience tremendously. I’ve also started Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time, a book I’m required to present about in one of my classes next month. This snow day (which just might turn into two snow days) is giving me the perfect opportunity to stay in and read guilt-free.

Movies — I’m well on my way with my 100 movie goal for 2015, having watched 23 new movies this year. Some recent favorites include the classic Pulp Fictionwhich I hadn’t seen until recently, and Still Alice, the movie for which Julianne Moore is likely to win an Oscar. Admittedly, I also got really into this Lifetime movie called Restless Virgins that I watched on Netflix, so I guess that should make the list as well. Sometimes you need something mindless to watch, I guess.

TV — I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so busy with TV-watching as I do now. I’m making pretty good progress on my rewatch of Lost (I’m currently watching episode 2×15), but I’m also kept very occupied by all the normal TV shows I watch that are airing. This list includes: Downton Abbey, Girls, Bob’s Burgers, Jane the Virgin, Parks and Recreation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Broad City, Scandal, Reign, and How to Get Away with Murder. It’s both sad and a little stress-relieving that Parks and Rec and How to Get Away with Murder will be ending in the coming weeks so my watch list can be pared down a bit. However, Bates Motel, Game of Thrones, and Veep will all be returning soon, so the madness continues, I suppose. For now, though, I’m content to stay in my bed and enjoy my cozy day inside.

Book #15: The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Book #15: The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Since last fall, I’ve purchased lots of books at our local Half Price Books Outlet, which is kind of my new favorite place ever. Where else can you find great books for 25 cents? Anyway, The Descendants happened to be one of those purchases. I’ve only seen the film once, but that was enough to spark my interest in reading the book that went on to be the winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars in 2012. I had somewhat mixed feelings while reading the book, and it certainly took me longer than expected to finish it (but, in my defense, I am in my final semester of college. Life is busy.). However, by the end of the novel, I was pleased with the overall experience, and I’d recommend it to fans of the film.

One thing I will say about my feelings of the book is that I was happy to see some things addressed in the novel that had been bothering me. Matt, the patriarch and narrator of this novel, is kind of a frustrating character. I was most annoyed by how he acted as times as a father; he was often uncommunicative and very distant from his daughters, and that really frustrated me. Later in the book, though, this was addressed by Matt himself and his older daughter, Alex, which made me very happy that what I thought were holes in the story were actually relevant to character development.

On another side note, while finishing the book yesterday, I unexpectedly found myself crying. A lot. It’s obviously an emotional story (Matt and his daughters are forced to come together because of his wife’s permanent coma), but I didn’t expect to react the way I did. There are a few very poignant scenes at the conclusion of the novel that absolutely make it worth reading.

2013 Movies in Review

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild: B
  2. Looper: C+
  3. What’s Your Number?: C+
  4. New Year’s Eve: C-
  5. Zero Dark Thirty: A-
  6. Django Unchained: A
  7. The Impossible: B+
  8. The Lucky One: C
  9. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: B+
  10. Now is Good: C
  11. Pitch Perfect: B+
  12. To Rome With Love: B
  13. Monsieur Lazhar: B+
  14. Louis CK: Chewed Up: B
  15. Tiny Furniture: B-
  16. C’est pas moi, je le jure!: B
  17. Side Effects: B
  18. Rue Cases Negres: B
  19. Shame: C
  20. Little Women: B
  21. Celeste and Jesse Forever: B+
  22. Comme une image: B
  23. Je vous trouve très beau: C-
  24. 21 and Over: C
  25. Smashed: A
  26. The Sessions: A
  27. Bernie: B
  28. The Queen of Versailles: B
  29. Mansome: B-
  30. West Side Story: B
  31. My Left Foot: A
  32. How to Survive a Plague: B
  33. Les femmes du 6ème étage: B-
  34. Amour: A-
  35. Carrie: B
  36. Père et fils: B-
  37. Bachelorette: B
  38. Mères et filles: B-
  39. Safety Not Guaranteed: B
  40. Howl: C
  41. Bel Ami: C-
  42. The Vicious Kind: C-
  43. Broken English: C
  44. Mélodie en sous-sol: B+
  45. The Taste of Others: C-
  46. Un transport en commun: B-
  47. Compliance: B+
  48. Wish Upon a Star: B-
  49. Fish Tank: C
  50. The Romantics: C
  51. Raising Arizona: B
  52. The Great Gatsby: A
  53. This is 40: B
  54. Beautiful Creatures: B+
  55. Hit & Run: C
  56. Life of Pi: A
  57. Struck by Lightning: C
  58. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: A-
  59. Tales from the Script: C
  60. America in Prime Time: A
  61. That Guy…Who Was in That Thing: B
  62. Love Story: B+
  63. Psycho: A
  64. The General: B
  65. Word Wars: B
  66. Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments: B
  67. The House at the End of the Street: C
  68. Atonement: A
  69. This is The End: B+
  70. The Bling Ring: B
  71. Quartet: A
  72. Rosemary’s Baby: B
  73. Fatal Attraction: B+
  74. World War Z: B
  75. Despicable Me 2: A
  76. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: B
  77. Spring Breakers: C-
  78. Rear Window: B+
  79. The Dark Knight Rises: B+
  80. Straight A’s: C-
  81. Everything Must Go: C+
  82. The Cabin in the Woods: C
  83. All Good Things: B+
  84. First Position: A-
  85. Closer: B-
  86. The Paperboy: B
  87. There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane: B-
  88. The Out List: B
  89. Plastic Disasters: C
  90. Miss You Can Do It: A-
  91. Ghost: B-
  92. Trainspotting: B
  93. The Conjuring: B+
  94. Ginger & Rosa: C
  95. Flight: B-
  96. The Host: B-
  97. Identity Thief: B
  98. Ruby Sparks: B
  99. The Way, Way Back: A
  100. Side by Side: C+
  101. Last Night: B
  102. Nobody Walks: C+
  103. The Giant Mechanical Man: B+
  104. The Human Centipede: D
  105. Indecent Proposal: B
  106. Not Suitable For Children: B
  107. Glee: The 3D Movie: B
  108. Ira & Abby: B
  109. Kissing Jessica Stein: C
  110. Manhattan: B-
  111. Some Like It Hot: A
  112. Magic Magic: F
  113. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: B+
  114. Zack and Miri Make a Porno: C
  115. Wet Hot American Summer: C
  116. Fast Times At Ridgemont High: C+
  117. Blue Jasmine: A-
  118. Movie 43: D
  119. Admission: D
  120. The Spectacular Now: B+
  121. Barefoot in the Park: B
  122. Lost in Translation: B+
  123. Haywire: C
  124. Casting By: A
  125. Americans in Bed: B
  126. Gideon’s Army: B
  127. Anna Karenina: B+
  128. Clear History: C
  129. Incendiary: C
  130. Nine: B-
  131. Kinky Boots: C
  132. Enough Said: A
  133. Room 237: C+
  134. Gravity: A
  135. Hannah and Her Sisters: B
  136. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: B
  137. An Officer and a Gentleman: B+
  138. Match Point: B+
  139. Top Gun: C
  140. Extract: B
  141. Take This Waltz: B+
  142. Emma: A
  143. 12 Years a Slave: A
  144. Varsity Blues: D
  145. About Time: B
  146. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: A-
  147. What Maisie Knew: B
  148. Six By Sondheim: B+
  149. Out of the Furnace: A-
  150. Nebraska: A
  151. sex, lies, and videotape: B
  152. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: B
  153. American Hustle: A
  154. Daughters of the Dust: C
  155. Blackfish: A-
  156. Wendy and Lucy: B+
  157. Behind the Candelabra: A
  158. The House I Live In: B-

“12 Years a Slave” — devastatingly brilliant

12 Years a Slave

The Oscar buzz surrounding Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is absolutely deserved. The film follows the true life of Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana in the 1840s. The film is harrowing, especially in the many scenes of heinous abuse slaves suffered at the hands of their masters. 12 Years a Slave features stellar performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, and I think it’s safe to say we’ll see it nominated for Best Picture, Cinematography, and the sound categories in the upcoming awards season. This film isn’t for the light of heart, but it’s an devastating portrayal of one of the darkest periods in American history. 12 Years a Slave will undoubtedly serve as a landmark in media representing the truly terrible history of slavery; a film that is equally a must-see and one you’ll never want to watch again because of its terribly realistic nature.