Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Oscar Picks

The big night is tonight, so here are my final Oscar picks for 2011. It's now Year 7 in my published predictions, and here again is my track record for the past six years. As you can see, I still have a spotty record of picking Best Pictures. The good news is that I can only get better this year...right?

2005: 7/9, missed Picture and Original Screenplay
2006: 7/9, missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2007: 5/9, missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Animated Feature
2008: 6/9, missed Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress
2009: 8/9, missed Actor
2010: 6/9, missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay

Best Picture: It seems like The King's Speech has the edge over The Social Network, so that's what I'm going with.

Best Director: Fincher for The Social Network.

Best Actor: Firth for The King's Speech.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman takes it for Black Swan.

Best Supporting Actor: Bale in The Fighter. Unbelievable.

Best Supporting Actress: I feel like this category is completely wide open, and almost impossible to pick. I still think it should be Melissa Leo, but Helena Bonham Carter or Hailee Steinfeld could sneak the win. I'll go with Leo, though.

Best Original Screenplay: The other really hard category to pick. The King's Speech has buzz going for it, but Christopher Nolan won the WGA and has a case after being snubbed for a directing nomination. I'm going to take the risk and say Nolan will get the win as consolation from the writers, as well as a recognition of a brilliant decade of mostly unrecognized work.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network.

Best Animated Feature: Pixar continues the domination with a win for Toy Story 3.

So there you have it. All that remains to be seen is whether the show actually gets more efficient tonight, and what happens with co-hosts Franco and Hathaway (still trying to figure that one out).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Years of Reading

From October 2008 to November 2010, I kept track of my reading in a widget on this blog. Now, I'm switching that functionality over to my account at LibraryThing, and it will be a lot easier to track. Much like the movies list in the same time period, I find this list an interesting mix. I've noticed that I tend to read sociological non-fiction, classic science fiction, contemporary literature, pop-culturally significant non-fiction, and books on faith in roughly equivalent amounts and approximately normal cycles. I tend to binge on authors (notice the proximity of readings in authors such as Moore, Gladwell, Klosterman, Eggers, and Hornby), and I'm disappointed that I haven't read more classic books in this time. Still, the list gives a good picture of what my reading habits have been like for the past two years, and how I can improve in the future.

(2010) Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932); Superfreakonomics (Levitt and Dubner, 2009); What The Dog Saw (Malcolm Gladwell, 2009); The Men Who Stare At Goats (Jon Ronson, 2004); Stranger Than Fiction (Chuck Palahniuk, 2004); E Pluribus Unicorn (Theodore Sturgeon, 1953); Clutter Busting (Brooks Palmer, 2009); Bite Me (Christopher Moore, 2010); Orphans of the Sky (Robert A. Heinlein, 1963); Amusing Ourselves To Death (Neil Postman, 1986); Zeitoun (Dave Eggers, 2009); Beatrice & Virgil (Yann Martel, 2010); Microtrends (Mark Penn, 2006); A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers, 2000); The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon, 2000); Red Moon Rising (Pete Grieg and Dave Roberts, 2003); The Passage (Justin Cronin, 2010); Invictus (John Carlin, 2008); The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman, 2010); The House of the Scorpion (Nancy Farmer, 2002); The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006); You Shall Know Our Velocity! (Dave Eggers, 2002); Leafs Abomination (Feschuk & Grange, 2009); Netherland (Joseph O'Neill, 2008); Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005); Jesus Came To Save Christians (Bell & Golden, 2008)

(2009) Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (Chuck Klosterman, 2004); The Year of Living Biblically (A.J. Jacobs, 2007); The Know-It-All (A.J. Jacobs, 2004); This Is Your Brain On Music (Daniel J. Levitin, 2006); Killing Yourself To Live (Chuck Klosterman, 2005); The Kraken Wakes (John Wyndham, 1953); Watchmen (Alan Moore, 1987); Chuck Klosterman IV (Chuck Klosterman, 2006); The Shack (William P. Young, 2007); Downtown Owl (Chuck Klosterman, 2008); Perfect From Now On (John Sellers, 2007); Your Movie Sucks (Roger Ebert, 2007); Everything Bad Is Good For You (Steven Johnson, 2005); Generation X (Douglas Coupland, 1991); Why We're Not Emergent (DeYoung and Kluck, 2008); Kill Your Idols (DeRogatis and Carrilloo, eds., 2004); Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008); How Far Can We Go? (Perrault and Salkeld, 2009); Searching For God Knows What (Donald Miller, 2004); The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell, 2000); Blink (Malcolm Gladwell, 2005); The Door Into Summer (Robert A. Heinlein, 1957); Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw (Will Ferguson, 2004); Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson, 1971); How To Be Good (Nick Hornby, 2001); King Lear (Shakespeare); Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (Brian Aldiss, 1959); The Black Cloud (Fred Hoyle, 1957); Fool (Christopher Moore, 2009); Catch-22 (Joseph Heller, 1961); The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove (Christopher Moore, 1999); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling, 2007); The Machineries of Joy (Ray Bradbury, 1965); A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Donald Miller, 2009); A Dirty Job (Christopher Moore, 2006); Killing Bono (Neil McCormick, 2004); Messy Spirituality (Mike Yaconelli, 2002); The Secret People (John Wyndham, 1935); The Uses and Abuses of History (Margaret MacMillan, 2008); The Seeds of Time (John Wyndham, 1956); Mostly Harmless (Douglas Adams, 1992); Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer, 1996); Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner, 2005); Peace Like A River (Leif Enger, 2001); Jesus For President (Shane Claiborne, 2008); Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling, 2009); Not A Star (Nick Hornby, 2009); And Another Thing... (Eoin Colfer, 2009)

(Oct - Dec. 2008) Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1965); The Irresistible Revolution (Shane Claiborne, 2006); The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1993); The Odyssey (Homer); Dust (Arthur Slade, 2001); You Suck (Christopher Moore, 2007); Soul Cravings (Erwin McManus, 2006)

Two Years of Movies

From October 2008 to November 2010, I kept a detailed record of all of the movies I watched. I don't know why I didn't do it on Flixster; I think perhaps I was frustrated by the idea of having to write a review for each one, or having to log into Facebook to record each viewing (which I replaced, of course, with having to log into my blog to review each viewing). It's a mix of genres, eras, and styles. There are some I regret ever watching, and some I regret not having watched sooner, but I think in all it gives an interesting picture of those two years of viewing.

Rushmore (1998); W. (2008); In the Name of the Father (1993); The Philadelphia Story (1940); The Third Man (1949); Hot Fuzz (2007); Double Indemnity (1944); Synecdoche, New York (2008); Shadowlands (1993); Goodfellas (1990); Elf (2003); Raging Bull (1980); The Simpsons Movie (2007); Galaxy Quest (1999); Man On Wire (2008); Kung Fu Panda (2008); Futurama: Bender's Game (2008); I'm Not There (2007); The Sting (1973); The Savages (2007); Napoleon Dynamite (2004); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); Be Kind Rewind (2008); Romeo + Juliet (1996); Dog Day Afternoon (1975); Rocky Balboa (2006); The Incredibles (2004); Little Miss Sunshine (2006); Casablanca (1942); Wall-E (2008); Leatherheads (2008); Wait Until Dark (1967); Gran Torino (2008); My Fair Lady (1964); Passchendaele (2008); The Man Who Wasn't There (2001); Gangs of New York (2002); Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Get Smart (2008); Insomnia (2002); Equilibrium (2003); Watchmen (2009); Tropic Thunder (2008); The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004); The Ladykillers (2004); O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000); Strictly Ballroom (1992); Citizen Kane (1941); The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966); Charlie Wilson's War (2007); The Hudsucker Proxy (1994); Blood Simple (1983); Charade (1963); Futurama: Into The Wild Green Yonder (2009); Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009); Intolerable Cruelty (2003); Disney's Robin Hood (1973); Rachel Getting Married (2008); Hamlet 2 (2008); Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975); X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009); Star Trek (2009); Doubt (2008); Death At A Funeral (2007); Bottle Rocket (1996); Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008); Raising Arizona (1987); Up (2009); Junebug (2005); West Side Story (1961); Last Chance Harvey (2008); Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980); Cadillac Records (2008); Revolutionary Road (2008); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009); One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975); So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993); The Soloist (2009); Burn After Reading (2008); The Graduate (1967); Shaun of the Dead (2004); Shaolin Soccer (2003); Millions (2004); Inglourious Basterds (2009); Magnolia (1999); Good Will Hunting (1997); American Zombie (2008); Miller's Crossing (1990); Zombieland (2009); Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009); Paris, Je T'aime (2006); Young Frankenstein (1974); The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009); Half Nelson (2007); The Wrestler (2008); White Christmas (1954); Badder Santa (2004); Moulin Rouge! (2001); The Iron Giant (1999); Blade Runner Final Cut (1982, 2007); Muppet Christmas Carol (1993); The Apartment (1960); Rent (2005); Up In The Air (2009); Taking Woodstock (2009); Avatar (2009); A Serious Man (2009); The Brothers Bloom (2009); Life Is Beautiful (1998); Public Enemies (2009); 9 (2009); Gosford Park (2001); Crazy Heart (2009); (500) Days of Summer (2009); The Hurt Locker (2009); The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009); Coraline (2009); Top Secret! (1984); Shakespeare In Love (1998); Macbeth (1948); Alice In Wonderland (2010); Goodbye Solo (2009); Sherlock Holmes (2009); It Might Get Loud (2009); Iron Man 2 (2010); Where The Wild Things Are (2009); Ponyo (2009); Extract (2009); The Invention of Lying (2009); Pirate Radio (2009); Toy Story 3 (2010); Inception (x2) (2010); Juno (2007); The Boxer (1997); Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010); Date Night (2009); The Expendables (2010); Cold Souls (2009); Zoolander (2001); In America (2003); The Social Network (2010); Wall Street (1987); The Secret of Kells (2009); Pontypool (2009)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Easy, eh?

I was disillusioned after recently watching Easy A. It featured an interesting premise - a teenage girl takes The Scarlet Letter too seriously - along with a striking lead (Emma Stone), a mostly well-chosen supporting cast, a few literary and pop culture shout-outs, and a couple of whipsmart zingers, which should have been enough for it to succeed, despite its flaws. I wanted to like it, but its glaring miscues took too much away from the movie's conceit. Amanda Bynes' portrayal of the fanatically Christian Marianne was too over-the-top for the duration of the movie, but even her performance could have been redeemed, were it not for a number of misjudgements in the script. Granted, I was not expecting a tour-de-force cinematic revelation, but I was anticipating that the movie might not completely unravel in the final third. I had hoped for something like Juno - which seems to hold the title for one of the "best" movies that deals with teenage sexuality - but instead got something like an attempt to mimic Juno, combined with Saved and Gossip Girl. I do not need to go into detail, but suffice it to say that the choices in writing make the movie worth not watching. (And I do plan to write another post soon about the portrayal of teenagers and high schools in movies.) The point here is that, when faced with what could have potentially been a movie that had nuance and subtlety, the makers settled for the easy route and pandered to their perceived audience through an unnecessarily ostentatious storyline. It's made more maddening by the fact that there was the possibility of something more, and there should have been a stronger resolution. It's one thing to write off a movie in the first few minutes, but it's another when a promising plot turns for the worse. But a movie is only a couple of hours, and as a self-contained unit, it's easily forgettable; though these kinds of actions are disappointing, they're not overly significant, unlike when they happen in a television series (Heroes after Season 1 might be the all-time champ of this occurrence). As I reflected on this trend, I realized that this is how I often react to Glee: wishing that they would really work at developing the characters and storylines, much as they did in the first half of the first season, rather than settling for half-developed idealizations that end unrealistically and inauthentically. As a result, many of the characters have already become caricatures, and there is exceedingly little development possible for the majority of the characters in the show, with the exception of Kurt and possibly Sue Sylvester (whose nuance is a testament to Jane Lynch's acting, not to the writers who continue to abuse her character). Of course, I realize that the world of WMHS is already sensationalized, and I'm willing to suspend some disbelief in order to enjoy the show, but it's when the writers push me past that point and abuse that suspension with lazy solutions that aggravate even elementary writing sensibilities that I bristle and consider leaving the show behind. I know some would say that I deserve this kind of treatment for consuming schlock like Glee, and I might tend to agree with them right now, but it still disappoints me to turn my back on it, because they don't have to take the easy way out.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Tax relief

I'm mailing my taxes today. But before you congratulate me, or begin to wonder how I'm so far ahead of the game, I should clarify: I'm mailing my 2009 taxes today. They have been all but finished since November, but it is slightly embarrassing that it took so long to get to the "almost finished" point. It's not even that I've been avoiding having to pay; the incentive is there, since Revenue Canada owes me money. So it's been very strange for me. Usually I don't have this kind of paralyzing apprehension about these kinds of tasks, but there has been something keeping me from completing this particular duty in the past eight months. I have found that, to some extent, this process has reflected much of my emotional health in recent months: when I'm healthy, I'm productive, effective, and focused, but when I'm not doing well, it's really unhealthy. I'm halfway through the school year, and I've had some weeks that have been really positive, and some that have been a struggle just to get doing something worthwhile with my time. I know some people would call it depression, but I don't think I would go so far as to label it that way. I'm working through things, mostly with a positive attitude, and I can think of very few instances in which I have been unable to function. It's all part of the journey of this year, and although it's a challenge, I know it's worth it.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

On writing

Since I cannot mend the book, I must add to it. To leave it as it was would be to die perjured; I know so much more than I did about the woman who wrote it. What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work. Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant. I found I must set down (for I was speaking as before judges and must not lie) passions and thoughts of my own which I had clean forgotten. The past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering. I did not, even when I had finished the book, see clearly many things that I see now. The change which the writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning - only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.
- C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1966 Timelife Edition, p. 266)

I'm jealous of writers like C.S. Lewis. I appreciate how much he has contributed to our literary culture, and how his discourse on many facets of the Christian faith have developed my understanding of faith, but I'm still jealous of him as a writer. I'm sure that the passage above, taken from the narrator (Orual) from his revisioning of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, took him hours of crafting, but I feel like I have no choice but to imagine that it was effortless and that paragraphs like this happened to him all the time. Of course, it's not just Lewis of whom I am envious: I have friends who are published or at least crafting very interesting novels, and I have struggled to be consistent in keeping a blog that reflects my voice. I don't think that it's an unhealthy envy and I don't resent them for it; I just want what they have. I've wanted to be a writer for a long time, and I've publicly stated my goal to have a book published by the time I'm thirty, which is now under two years away. I do consider myself a writer, but it seems that my last several years of authorship have been fraught with an existential crisis that has kept me from the kind of self-realization described by Orual in Lewis' text. Because I have struggled through the process of becoming a teacher, both in identity and in singleness of creative focus, I have established filters in my own writing process that do not always allow my personality to come through. As one friend explained to me, my blog at times seems to be a "vanilla-ized" version of me, rather than the real thing. His comment took me aback, but it did not surprise me; after all, I have found it difficult to establish my voice and to allow that voice to be evident in my writing. Furthermore, I have had difficulty working through the audience of this blog: is it solely for my edification, purposefully externalized, or some amalgam of private and public? In the midst of my struggle, I have either pulled myself out of my blog entirely, or buried myself in "safe" topics like movie reviews or reactions to pop culture, and I have not used "my own pen to probe my wound", as Lewis succinctly states. I think that one of my problems is that I often just expect it to happen, rather than recognizing explicitly that writing is a craft that must be developed and nurtured through practice and consistency; my lackadaisical approach to blogging and writing in general has been hazardous to the health of my ability to write. Any time that I have really pushed forward into new territory as a writer has been accompanied by intrinsic pressure to work through material, as well as extrinsic pressure (ie. deadlines, like when I wrote a weekly column in the Sheaf called, appropriately enough, "Life of Turner"). My blog has provided some of the intrinsic push to work through things, but the extrinsic motivation has eluded me for much of the past few years. That's where I continue to require the assistance of an audience, as the interaction that others have with me as a result of my writing helps keep me focussed and productive. So please help me as I continue to work out what it means to work through things in my life as a writer. I want (need?) my writing to change me, as I work through not only this blog, but also a book that I am crafting, and the audience is a necessary part of this process. I'm not going to make resolutions or promises regarding frequency of posting to try to motivate myself - they often seem to be more of a deterrent for me, since they are so easily disregarded once broken - but I am committing to being more honest, open, and vulnerable in my writing. Do your part and hold me to it. Please.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

On being an Android

I finally caught up with 2008 and joined the smartphone revolution. I went in thinking about buying an iPhone 3, but I ended up with an Android phone - a decision with which I am quite pleased, considering that I had already begun to co-ordinate my life on Google (mail, calendar, etc.). I have only had the phone for three days, but it seems like it has already begun to revolutionize the way I work, think, and interact with the world around me. I feel more connected to my networks, and I am again re-evaluating my contact lists as a result. I have begun to work through which apps will be good for me, and by extension which websites I will use regularly. I have not been surprised at the amount of effort I have already exerted in preparing my phone for use, but it has surprised me at how much effort I will need to continue to undergo to consolidate all of my contacts and keep things simple. It'll be a bit of work over the next week or two to get my system worked out, but I'm really looking forward to how this piece of technology may make my life "better".


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