2014: The Best, the Worst & the Otherwise

I barely saw anything in 2014. Never happened to me before, but I’m not at all complaining. I spent an obscene amount of time doing FUN stuff, and particularly getting my ass OUTDOORS. This is a good thing.

I still saw some films and a few of them were very good. And, yeah, I know I’m late.

Number of films viewed in 2014 (all release years): No freaking clue

Top 10 ? Films of 2014 (released within the calendar year):

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. The Lego Movie
  3. Godzilla
  4. Mr. Peabody and Sherman
  5. The Muppets Most Wanted
  6. No
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. Big Hero 6
  9. Inherent Vice

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Interstellar
  2. The Monuments Men
  3. Birdman
  4. How to Train Your Dragon 2

Meh:

  1. Robocop
  2. Mockingjay

The Worst (or Most Disappointing) Films of 2014:

  1. 300: Rise of an Empire
  2. Transcendence
  3. The Interview

Absolute worst movie of the year: Transcendence (I can’t believe 300: Rise of an Empire didn’t win in this category. Seemed a no-brainer at the time.)

Films released in 2014 that I didn’t get to (the list of shame):

  1. Life Itself
  2. Boyhood
  3. Gone Girl
  4. St. Vincent
  5. Whiplash
  6. The Judge
  7. The Theory of Everything
  8. Blackfish
  9. Foxcatcher
  10. Dumber and Dumber to
  11. The Imitation Game
  12. Wild
  13. Still Alice
  14. Unbroken
  15. Selma
  16. Cake
  17. Big Eyes

My favorite movies viewed but released in a year other than 2014: Die Hard, Ghostbusters

The best movie of 2014 that I didn’t actually care much for overall: Birdman

Favorite movie score or soundtrack in 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

Most enjoyable “bad” movie (the guilty pleasure category): I, Frankenstein

Best party in a movie: No takers this year

Favorite actress performance last year: Saoirse Ronan, The Grand Budapest Hotel (this is more of a function of how many films I didn’t see last year, but I still liked her.)

Favorite actor performance last year: Michael Keaton in Birdman

The movie that was my “feel-good” go-to: The Lego Movie

The movie that most left me wondering “what the heck just happened here?”: Transcendence (but this is more of a “what the heck were they thinking moment”)

Favorite classic film viewed in 2014: In the Good Old Summertime

Favorite chick flick viewed in 2014: Love Actually, of course!

Favorite action flick: Big Hero 6 (go ahead, debate me on this one)

Favorite horror or slasher films in 2014: I am ashamed to say I didn’t see any last year!

2013: The Best, the Worst & the Otherwise

2013 was a terrific year for films. That there were so many that were excellent, limiting my “best of” list to 10 was excruciatingly painful. I am still wavering terribly on spot number 10, but I feel like it’s time to commit.

Number of films viewed in 2013 (all release years): 122

Top 10 Films of 2013 (released within the calendar year):

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. Gravity
  3. Her
  4. Upstream Color
  5. Before Midnight
  6. American Hustle
  7. The East
  8. 20 Feet From Stardom
  9. In a World…
  10. The Way Way Back

Honorable Mentions:

  1. The Spectacular Now
  2. Much Ado About Nothing
  3. Don John
  4. Trance
  5. Enough Said
  6. Warm Bodies
  7. The World’s End
  8. The Grandmaster
  9. About Time
  10. Europa Report
  11. Electrick Children
  12. The Kings of Summer
  13. Nebraska
  14. Philomena
  15. This is the End
  16. The Wolf of Wall Street
  17. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  18. Inside Llewyn Davis

The Worst (or Most Disappointing) Films of 2013:

  1. Olympus has Fallen
  2. Getaway
  3. Oz: the Great and Powerful

Absolute worst movie of the year: Olympus Has Fallen

Films released in 2013 that I didn’t get to (the list of shame):

  1. Fruitvale Station
  2. Frances Ha
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Stories We Tell
  5. Blue is the Warmest Color
  6. The Act of Killing
  7. Short Term 12
  8. Blackfish
  9. Captain Phillips
  10. Prisoners

My favorite movies viewed but released in a year other than 2013: Moonrise Kingdom, Wings of Desire, Rebecca, and Rear Window

The best movie of 2013 that I didn’t actually care much for overall: Inside Llewn Davis

Favorite movie score or soundtrack in 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis. Also American Hustle since I have a soft spot for 70s music. Lastly, Metallica: Through the Never.

Most enjoyable “bad” movie (the guilty pleasure category): White House Down

Best party in a movie: This is the End

Favorite actress performance last year: Amy Adams in American Hustle (The character reminded me a lot of Julianne Moore’s character in Boogie Nights.)

Favorite actor performance last year: Joachim Phoenix in Her (Although, close behind were Oscar Isaac for Inside Llewyn Davis and Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.)

The movie that was my “feel-good” go-to: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The movie that most left me wondering “what the heck just happened here?”: Upstream Color

Favorite classic film viewed in 2013: Rebecca

Favorite chick flick viewed in 2013: Love Actually, of course!

Favorite action flick: Fast & Furious 6

Favorite horror or slasher films in 2013: Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods

And there you have it! Onward to 2014…

15 Books That Have Impacted My Life

A little exercise from over on Facebook that a few of my fellow ex-Barners took part in: 15 books that changed/impacted my life in some way or another. Here are mine, in absolutely no particular order, and with no apology…
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Lewis Carroll
Why this one?  The world is a magical, ultimately illogical place full of bizarre and amazing people, places and things. It also taught me that words are wonderful, malleable tools (or weapons) for describing and thriving and surviving in it. It made me want to dream big.
2. The Diviners/Margaret Laurence
Why this one? It is incredibly well structured and written, and the story of a woman trying to maintain independence while trying to balance key relationships fully engaged me. I thought it was my first banned or at least controversial book, but then I remembered sex education via Lady Chatterley’s Lover…
3. Great Expectations/Charles Dickens
Why this one? I discovered my affinity for the bizarre and horrible through Miss Havisham, for adventure and intrigue (later to be fully realized by Dumas’ novels!), and for coming-of-age stories.  I endured the pain of love rejected (thankfully, not for reals at the tender age of less than 12!)  After this, I would be drawn to books that had strong themes around social, political and related personal struggles set in varying time periods (whether actual or as later imagined in Sci-fi/Fantasy visions of the future/other worlds.) Many authors/books arguably do these things better than Dickens, but this was my “first”.
4. The Gate to Women’s Country/Sheri Tepper
Why this one? Someone once must have thought that I could learn important life lessons from this novel of a feminist utopia where brutal violence is being bred out of society, and said society exists primarily as a matriarchy. Apart from discovering that I LOVE dystopian novels, I took from Women’s Country a realization that I could forge a pretty decent life on my own terms, that “settling” should never be an option, and servitude and violence need to be kicked to the closest curb.
5. The Illustrated Man/Ray Bradbury
Why this one? I discovered imaginative literature in a big way through Ray Bradbury. Never a fan of short stories, or collections thereof, Illustrated Man effectively changed all of that. The story of the tattooed man whose individual tattoos would come to life in the telling of each successive story in the collection, I thought at the time was brilliant. Not all of the stories are that great, but some are superb.
6. The Man in the High Castle/Philip K Dick
Why this one? When I was a kid one of my favourite games to play on my own was “what if”. I was always – very seriously – thinking about “what if x happened, what would the world be like? What would I be like?” When I discovered Philip K Dick, and specifically, this novel, I felt like I had met someone who “got me”. High Castle is an alternate history envisioning a world in which the Axis Powers have won WWII.
7. Ever After/Graham Swift
Why this one? I am addicted to anything related to time travel or the juxtapositions of timelines. This novel focuses on the latter, looking back from a current existence into another’s life as told through a journal. It explores why what we do matters or should matter. Since I think about this concept a lot, the book resonated pretty highly with me. And it was far more accessible, at least for me, than Byatt’s Possession.
8. It/Stephen King
Why this one? Stephen King’s novels were the impetus for me getting involved in book discussion groups. When my friends and I discovered Salem’s Lot (this was the first one for our little group), we all read it and talked about it incessantly. This was the beginning of a life-long urge to read and discuss books (and films, for that matter) with others.
I always thought that The Stand was the one that meant the most to me from King’s work, but this has turned out not to be so. My mind constantly drifts back to It. I love coming-of-age stories (It has it in spades). I thrive on stories where love is found, lost, and then sometimes, satisfyingly, is regained (It.) I love stories that illustrate strong friendships that are exemplified through selflessness and sacrifice (Uh, It.) I am scared of clowns (Duh, It.) Except for the incredibly stupid spider thing, I love this novel!
9. I, Robot/Isaac Asimov
Why this one? I didn’t discover Asimov until I was at University. I really liked Sci-fi at that point, but I was, I thought, less enamored by tech/science-heavy versions of it. At least this was how I viewed Asimov. Story short, I dated a guy who was appalled by my attitude and lent I, Robot to me. What a revelation. Through I, Robot, I discovered how much I appreciate it when imagined worlds and futures are rationally and fully conceived: They don’t need to be real, of course, but they need to make sense within themselves.
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams
Why this one? Because it’s damned funny and I recognize my own sense of humour in it.
11. Winesburg, Ohio/Sherwood Anderson
Why this one? I am so drawn to these stories in part because of their portrayal of small-town life but also because of their intense focus on the inner lives of the characters, and the loneliness and alienation they experience.
12. The Count of Monte Cristo/Alexandre Dumas
Why this one? Best adventure story EVER, and always a member of my top 5 reads! After reading this novel the first time, I begged for fencing lessons, although I seriously doubt I called it fencing. (Not surprisingly, there was nowhere in Simcoe, Ontario to learn fencing.) Instead, I made countless swords out of sticks (which my father put an end to the first time I duct-taped a pocket knife onto the end of one), dug tunnels into snowbanks as escape routes, and turned my closet for a few weeks into an impenetrable cell.
13. Of Human Bondage/M. Somerset Maugham
Why this one? Of Human Bondage is perhaps the most intensely personal for me, particularly the seeming contradiction of Philip Carey’s pursuit of an independent and unencumbered life pitted against the desire to be intimately connected with another, ultimately someone who cares nothing for him in return. One of the best books I have ever read.
14. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle/Haruki Murakami
Why this one? Reading this novel was like being trapped in a fantastic dream. You know, the type of one where you know you’re dreaming but you can’t wake up. A surreal and utterly bizarre experience that I didn’t want to end. A man loses his estranged wife’s cat and sets out to find it. This one is all about the journey, and that is what ultimately appeals to me (although the destination is welcome when it comes!)
15. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret/Judy Blume
Why this one? Pretty much everything I came to know about all of those troubling thoughts, sensations and other surprises associated with the years between 12 and 15, was learned via my friends’ older siblings and Judy Blume. Without Judy, I’m not sure I would have got through puberty alive!

In Celebration of the Gloriously Twisted

Love in film, just like in real life, isn’t always a straightforward proposition.

Sometimes it’s just a slight departure from the traditional romantic dalliances we might expect. At other times, it is a gloriously twisted celebration of extremes.

And while I have great affection for the expressions of love that can be found in, say, a Jane Austen adaptation, I have to confess that given a choice it’s the more unconventional love story that I most often want to spend my time with.

The heart wants what the heart wants. Mine reminds me of this all the time.

And a few of the best of these films, at least in my mind?

1. Secretary (2002). E. Edward Grey so eclipses that wanna-be, Christian. Seriously. And Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic.

2. Let the Right One In (2008). I know they’re kids and one’s a vampire, but this is a love story at its heart.

3. Battle Royale (2000). Before Hunger Games there was this excellent piece of work. Love trumps rules equals game changer.

4. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989).  Hey, James Spader is making the list twice!

5. The Crying Game (1992). When I included this one I wasn’t thinking about the obvious plot points most of us talk about. Instead, there’s this beautiful moment that captures the nature of the feelings between two of the central characters around the telling of the fable, the scorpion and the frog. I love that scene!

6. Hot Fuzz (2007). Bro-mance is a term I’m not overly fond of using, but I really can’t think of a better one for this entry into the list. The dialogue between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is the key here. Hilarious! And Simon Pegg pretty much makes all of my lists.

7. Lars and the Real Girl (2007). I have always thought of this one as exemplifying the healing power of love, especially when the girl in question is such a wonderfully quiet and receptive listener who makes very little demands on her significant other.

8. Heavenly Creatures (1994). Takes a look at the question of what we may be willing to do to be with someone we love.

9. Crash (1996). Well look at that, James Spader made this list AGAIN! I have no words for this one, at least none that I want to put here, but it most definitely belongs!

10. I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK (2006). Sometimes, or maybe even all of the time, it’s just a matter of your crazy, your quirks, your weirdness finding their complement.

There are a few more I would add:

– Warm Bodies (2013)
– Natural Born Killers (1994)
– Pumpkin (2002)
– Edward Scissorhands (1990)
– Wristcutters: A Love Story (2007)
– Harold and Maude (1971)

So, what have I missed?

The Best Places to Be, Part I: The Movie Theater

mother-son-watching-movie-theater-md

I think that I loved movie theaters long before I knew that I was in love with movies. No, actually, I’m sure of it. Even when, back in the day, my movie going was confined to being dropped off on Saturday afternoons with a few dollars for a ticket and some popcorn, I can recall being more excited about being in the theater than about the movie I was about to see. In fact, it didn’t even matter what movie was showing; if it was Saturday, I was going to be there.

When I was a kid that movie house was the Strand Theater in downtown Simcoe. It’s still there although I think there might be two screens now instead of just one main screen (http://www.strandtheatre.ca/). I loved everything about it. The concession stand which sold these cute little boxes of popcorn with fresh melted butter (and which, just a few short years later, would provide the large cups of Coca-Cola into which we would pour our mickeys of Southern Comfort or Cherry Whiskey), and the ladies washroom, where we would smoke the cigarettes we had stolen from parental and older sibling stashes and apply purple eyeshadow. Why purple I do not know, but we thought that we looked smoking hot. We were delusional, of course. I’ve seen the pictures. And even the strange little man who served as the ticket taker, who had these bandaids always plastered on his nose (for goodness knows what reason), and of whom we were all rather terrified. I think he was tortured by kids for decades, that poor little man!

(A brief aside, the Strand would be my first part-time job. I LOVED that job! Barely a teenager I worked in the concession on Friday and Saturday nights. It would close just after the start of the second showing around 9:00 pm, and my co-worker and I would quickly close up and slink into the back row to watch whatever was playing. What made this totally cool was that (1) I was seeing movies every weekend for FREE, and (2) they were almost always movies I wouldn’t be old enough to pay to get in to see until several years later. This last bit explains so much about how I’ve turned out!)

But the best part was the experience of the movie. I always sat near the back, midway down the middle bank of seats, and once rooted, I wouldn’t budge until the film was over. Here’s how it would go and this is my favourite part: the lights would slowly go down and then this awesome kind of hush would descend on the room. A quiet (relatively) room devoid of light (relatively) with only an image to compel attention. And that was it, I’d be somewhere else in some other time or dimension, absolutely transfixed by what was on the screen, completely divorced from my life and reality for a blessed couple of hours.

I can see that it all sounds dreadfully cheesy and not a little romantic. Well, whatevs, that’s exactly what it was like and what it has been like ever since. It doesn’t even matter which theater I’m in (although I have a decided preference for the Oriental Theater – http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/Milwaukee/OrientalTheatre.htm, sometimes the comfy chairs at the iPic), I absolutely LOVE that moment when the lights go down, the room gets *almost* completely silent, and I’m suddenly transported some place else.

In fact, you might say that I’m utterly and incurably addicted to it!

How John Hughes Saved My Life

My first exposure to a John Hughes movie was Pretty in Pink. I was fairly young and quite frankly paid less attention to how dreamy Blane was – confessing now how wrong it was that I wanted to actually date that snake, Steff, instead – than to any valuable learning that might have come out of the experience. I just didn’t pick up on the little bits of wisdom inherent in his films until I was well into some decade typically associated with adulthood.

But here’s how. I mean, I’m sure that Hughes never set out -likely- to save anybody, but maybe it happened anyway. And I know that these ideas and bits of wisdom are relatively universal and talked about in other spheres as well, but they appeared for me in a tangible way as a result of watching Hughes’s films all those years ago.

Here’s what has stuck with me.

1. Being unique and different is cool. Challenging to maintain at times in the face of all the so-called “normal” around a person, and the need to be accepted by others, but it is worth all the awkwardness one feels or exhibits in being different.

2. Think individually and say what you think. Groupthink is a blight and should be avoided at all costs.

3. Boredom is completely and absolutely curable. Go out and do stuff, lot’s of stuff. And when you do, you’ll meet people. And then, well, hell, loneliness gets cured, too!

4. Humor is the ultimate weapon against awkwardness, shyness and the inability to make small talk. It covers up so many flaws and missteps, it’s almost like BB cream (which is a miracle, seriously), or the kind of putty you use to fill in dents on a car. This one is the most difficult for me; I’m Canadian by birth and there is apparently, I’m told, a possibility that we are not funny.

5. Be completely and utterly silly as often as possible. Admittedly, social constructs and employment get in the way of being a total goof, but in the off hours the sky’s arguably the limit.

6. Your friends are your friends are your friends. Accept every little flaw and foible and be proud to stand by them. Chances are they are going to be there for you in the same way. Unless of course they are criminals and then plausible deniability may be needed. Or an anonymous phone call to the FBI or the Mounties. Or restraints. I’m just saying.

My top 10 John Hughes films in order of lesser to most loved (writer or writer/producer or writer/producer/director credits)!

10. Weird Science

9. Dutch

8. Pretty in Pink

7. Uncle Buck

6. Vacation

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

3. The Breakfast Club

2. Some Kind of Wonderful

1. Sixteen Candles

Nothing says ‘Be my Valentine’ like a good film…

758614876_917520And because it is that time of the year, here are my picks for this year’s Valentine’s movies, in no particular order.

There are definitely some repeats from past lists, but hey, who can argue with timeless? Well, some of you will but that’s what makes this so interesting. I would consider changing out some, but “I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.” 🙂

What are yours? (I suspect a number of you will have very intriguing and eclectic lists!)

1. Say Anything: John Cusack with a boom box playing In Your Eyes (actually, though, a Fishbone song is playing!). Is there really anything further to be said here?

2. Wristcutters: A Love Story: Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t find that special someone. What’s not hopeful about this message?

3. Die Hard: In the first one, Bruce Willis takes down a bunch of well-armed, very bad guys and regains control of a really tall building, just to save his wife. There’s even a stuffed animal in a limo. That’s romantic, my friends.

4. Shaun of the Dead: I know it’s a zombie movie, but I’m secretly in love with Simon Pegg (or at least it was a secret!) and funny is a most, if not THE most, attractive quality. So sue me.

5. Love Story: The one from 1939. Guy and gal meet, promise to meet each other again in 6 months, stuff happens. Sound familiar? I like the original better than the remakes (An Affair to Remember, Love Story (again, that’s right), and Sleepless in Seattle. Okay, I won’t lie, I loved An Affair to Remember, but Love Story is great.)

6. Wild at Heart: Sailor serenading Lula with an Elvis love song in a David Lynch film? Not to mention Willem Dafoe being a very, very bad guy.

7. Harold and Maude: I don’t care what anyone says, this one is going on the list.

8. The Graduate: The final scenes in the church? This one can never go off the list.

9. In the Mood for Love: The music alone is incredibly romantic. The story, the way it’s filmed is stunning. On my personal all-time top 10 film list.

10. Casablanca: I can’t stop loving this film. WhenEVER Ingrid Bergman cries in a film, I’m done.

11. Titanic: Okay, I realize that I spend all my time trying to make people believe that I was completely untouched by the love story in Cameron’s film, but cards on the table at last: I have been outright lying to others AND mostly to myself for years. So, again, sue me.

Further disclosure: Yes, I know that this year’s list omits Love Actually and several Jane Austen adaptations. However, I have decided to strategically save Mr Darcy, Captain Wentworth and Alan Rickman for the December holiday season, ending the year on a high note.