Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Sound of Settling

I knew this time would come. I knew it would be around this time of year. I knew it would be inevitable, but also very beneficial. And I knew that it would be difficult. Although I knew all of these things, I still don't quite feel ready for it: the post-move final settling in. I unpacked the last of the boxes over the weekend, so almost everything is now out in the open; that means that the only thing left to do is to start sorting through it. The whole process of finishing the unpacking and really turning this house into a home had lain mostly dormant, other than a brief interlude over the Christmas holidays, mainly due to the not-insignificant attention we have to pay to our new jobs and surroundings, but it has now moved into the forefront and I am in the process of dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional ramifications of the next step of this process.

Before we moved, we did as much as possible to get rid of things so that we would not be moving a lot of unnecessary junk across three provinces. We did as well as we could, and we cleared out boxes and boxes of books, media, kitchen stuff, and old furniture in our purge. But I still knew that by sometime after Christmas that another purge would have to come, and that it would be even more difficult in a lot of ways for several possible reasons. First of all, we would be faced with the reality that we paid money (both in a moving truck and in gas) to move these things across the country only to get rid of them a few short months later. But the fact is that the totality of all of the items we are clearing out represents no more than a few boxes, so that's probably not the core of it. There's also the possibility that there is some stress from the amount of space in our home; while that is true to some extent (our shelves are fairly full, after all), it's certainly not the entirety of the issue. No, in this case, it's largely psychological, and it reminds me of another process that I have underway.

Losing weight


The best analogy I can conjure is that of losing weight, which is itself more psychological (mental and emotional) than it is physical. Sure, there are the "physical" aspects to actually losing the weight - doing the exercise, eating the right foods, having the proper life habits - but so much more of weight loss is in the mind: the desire to do so; keeping habits going; persisting through challenges; setting and monitoring goals. But it's also true that weight loss is often effective as a byproduct of other habits and goals rather than an end in and of itself; some people have argued that it's even more effective incidentally than it is intentionally in that manner. I'm not sure what the "truth" is - if there is any one magic formula for weight loss, that is - but I do know how much more of it is mental than it is physical from recent experience.

Over the past three months, I have started logging my food in MyFitnessPal after some friends have had significant success with it over the past year. All I started out doing was monitoring my intake of food. I have not really changed my diet, I have not started exercising, and I have not set any goals for losing weight other than the "lose 5 pounds in 5 weeks" default goal needed by the app. I just wanted to start recording what I was taking in, and it has turned out to be really effective. I have lost weight - just how much I'm not really sure, since I didn't know exactly how much I weighed when I started - but more importantly, I'm feeling better about myself because I'm more aware of what I'm eating and I do see that it is making a difference. I hope at some point in the near future to be able to set some more concrete goals and to start exercising more regularly, but I wanted to be gentle with myself and to take one step at a time. So far, so good - at least until I encounter a more significant barrier. Maybe it might be that my progress, such as it is, stalls until I start exercising, or maybe I might hit that point at which my weight seems to level out, whether that's at the point I want it to be or not.

The last five pounds


Many people claim that in losing weight that "the last five pounds are the hardest", meaning that it is that final push over that goal that is the most psychologically challenging. Of course, I don't have that problem right now, since I don't have an ultimate target in losing weight, but this is where I return to the initial premise. I think this "settling in" and getting rid of things is getting a lot closer to those "last five pounds". My "goal weight", as it were, is to clear out all of the extra stuff in my life. There is the physical aspect of actually getting rid of things, but there's also the much more significant psychological aspect of this whole process. Part of deleting the music or getting rid of books or going through my closet or whatever manifestation this process happens to be taking is a process of defining identity. As silly as it may sound, part of the way I have defined myself (as many of us do) is through all of those things and hobbies and shows and artists, and the process of evaluating them involves grieving the thought of who I was, who I wanted to be, or who I thought I would be someday.

I've been on this journey for just over a year, and I would say that I'm halfway through the second year of a three-year transition phase. It started for a number of reasons: I entered my thirties; I started to look at moving back to Saskatchewan; I looked at leaving church leadership; and I looked at wanting to start a family at some point. But here's the thing: just like losing weight, it seems to be easier when I don't focus on the goal itself, but on the habits and the little goals along the way as well as the changes I have already made. As I track my calories on MyFitnessPal, it changes the way I see calories, but it also reflects the changes I have already made. I already did not drink a lot of soda or eat a lot of fatty snacks or eat at fast food restaurants, so I did not have to deal with those issues in addition to the calorie tracking. With the "stuff" in my life, well, I have already started moving away from certain practices and I have refined others; for example, I have already begun to monitor my intake from thrift stores much more rigorously, and I have already taken the first few steps in different areas of life to lose that "extra weight". But it's still not an easy process, and it seems like there is something more of a finality to it now than there has been in the past, which might have something to do with some of my vision for the year to come.

From "Simplify" to "Solidify"


Since 2010, I have had a word that has helped define my focus for the year to come. Sometimes I choose to set some goals or make some resolutions based on that word; sometimes I just let it sit as a guiding idea for that season of life. My words over the past few years have been "peace" (2010); "joy" (2011); "roots" (2012); "sustainability" (2013); "simplify" (2014), and now, "solidify" (2015). It often seems that it takes close to a year for me to really begin to learn what each word means, and by the time I feel like I'm starting to understand it, I'm already moving onto the next word. But here's where I find that it gets interesting: those previous words never really leave me; they remain there as a foundation for the next season. So I'm still simplifying my life, and as I'm doing so, I'm also starting to solidify things in my life.

I'm not quite sure what it means yet, but I think it's tied into the idea of "settling" (somewhat of a synonym for solidifying). I just turned 32, and it feels like this three-year transition is part of the settling process. Maybe it's about settling into adulthood or a career, or maybe it's about settling into who I am. Maybe it's about continuing to solidify those things that will be part of who I am. Of course, maybe it's not all so abstract, and there are practical pieces to this puzzle of things I will be doing over the next year to see it take form and shape. But much like my experience with losing weight, I don't have an idea of what it will actually look like in the long run. All I can do is keep the general goal in mind and focus on the steps in the meantime and wait for the big picture to take shape. For now, that means that I will focus on getting rid that extra stuff, and I will trust that as I continue to do that that I will learn just what it means to "solidify" and what that will mean in the process of uncovering and discovering who I am in this new season.

Friday, January 16, 2015

2014: The Year in Television!

The "television" year in review is always interesting to write. I usually feel like I have not watched that much, but then when I start compiling my list, I realize that there is almost always something in my queue. TV (a term that is increasingly inaccurately applied), like music, is almost always there as a subtext, but it is only occasionally that it emerges as something more intentional or significant, and only every few years that it really shifts. Last year was a major shift for me as several programs I had followed for years ended, and what's interesting is that I did not really replace them this year. In fact, I only added three shows to my "repertoire" (the shows that I watch and or follow): Veep, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and True Detective. I still haven't picked up a new intense drama series to replace Dexter and Breaking Bad (and soon to be Justified), although I have candidates (The AmericansFargo) that I just haven't watched yet. Other than Veep, I'm mostly revisiting comedies from the past, such as previous seasons of Community or Arrested Development. And True Detective was a zeitgeist-fueled binge-watch that I probably won't need to return to, though I am intrigued by the upcoming second season.

Like I have found across the board (ie. music and movies), my pop culture consumption rate is slowing down, and I'm okay with that; I tend to be more interested in investing in existing relationships than in developing new ones, and that's a good thing. In 2013, I had 15 shows that I watched, along with 5-10 other shows that I wanted to see but just did not get to. In 2014, that list is significantly shorter, and shortening even further, at about ten shows in my current repertoire. It does seem ironic, perhaps, that as the TV scope gets wider and more diverse that my tastes seem to be becoming more focused and narrowed. (For a more detailed and nuanced analysis of this overall diffusion of TV, read Andy Greenwald's analysis of the post-Breaking Bad TV universe.)

At any rate, I have recalled and remembered and reminisced about the TV I watched over the past year, and these are the resulting (overly comprehensive) conclusions I have reached. I'm not trying to identify a "best of" list or to even say that all of these shows were worth watching (though I think they mostly were), but just as a description of what my small screen habits were over the past twelve months. As usual, I've divided into four sections according to genre: comedy; variety/reality; fantasy/sci-fi; and drama. For each genre, I have included comments on the shows I watched, what I missed, if anything has dropped off the radar, what I'm looking forward to in 2015, my current short-term priorities and long-term possibilities, and one "wild card" pick for the year for each genre that could be of interest.

Comedy


What I watched:
Community (Season 5) - I wrote at length about Season 5's uneven run in its immediate aftermath before the plucky show was inexplicably renewed at the last moment for Season 6 on Yahoo! Screen. I think I would have to watch it through again to re-evaluate it, but suffice to say that although I would have been okay with the series concluding there that I do think there is still enough life in it to carry it through another season, especially if the new format allows the show to continue to flex its creativity.

Veep (Seasons 1-3) - This was easily my best discovery of the year, and the only new comedy I really added this year. I watched all three seasons in a manner of weeks, and I found myself consistently chuckling at the brilliance of the characters, wordplay, and situations that find their way in this sharp snarky satire about politics. It's easily one of - if not the - best comedy on TV right now, and it's a perfect example of what satire can be, especially with the freedom of language that comes with HBO.

Silicon Valley (1/2 season) - I started on HBO's Silicon Valley, and somehow I got sidetracked from finishing it. I'm not sure if I will make it back or not; there were some great moments in the first few episodes, but I'm not sure if it really is in that top echelon for me. Guess I'll have to watch it and see for myself.

Key and Peele - I only discovered Key & Peele in the past few weeks on YouTube, but there is a lot more gold to mine here.

Too Many Cooks - It's a surreal, disturbing, hilarious, and unforgettable piece of performance art/satire/comedy/social commentary/horror/homage/"what was that?" video that works its way into your brain both as a result of the catchiness of the titular theme song and because of the indelibility of its images. It truly is a singular piece of work, and if anything in the past paragraph has caught your attention, you should watch it. Note: there are some disturbing images, so viewer beware.

What I missed:
Louie (Season 4) - TV's favourite melancholy sad-sack returns.

Parks and Recreation (Season 6) - Yes, I know.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1-2) - The bits I've seen make me think I'll really love this show.

Off the radar:
New Girl - Nothing against it, I just lost track at the beginning of season 3 and never got back into it. From the sounds of what I hear about Season 4, I'm missing out.

Modern Family - It's so very the same, every time. There are great moments in many episodes, but I tend to think I'll leave this one in the past.

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
Better Call Saul (February 8) - From the promos, it really seems like this comedy based on Saul from Breaking Bad will actually work.

The Last Man on Earth (March 1) - Will Forte is maybe the only person left on the planet. Hilarity ensues.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (March 6) - Tina Fey producing a comedy; I'm in.

Community (Season 6) (March 17) - Six seasons and a movie!

Veep (Season 4) - What happens to Selina Meyer in the White House? We'll see!

Short-term priorities: Louie (Season 4); Parks and Recreation (Seasons 5 and 6); Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Seasons 1 and 2)

Long-term possibilities: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seasons 2-8); Bored To Death (24); Clone High (13); Police Squad! (6); Slings and Arrows (18); Andy Richter Saves the Universe (19); The Thick of It (24); Monty Python's Flying Circus (45); Fawlty Towers (12); Black Adder (24)

Wild card: Amazon has a pilot for the return of a live-action version of The Tick. SPOOOOOON!

Reality/Variety TV


What I watched:
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - Oliver proved his promise when he subbed in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last summer, but there were many questions about whether he could sustain his schtick on a weekly basis on his new HBO show. It turns out that there were no need for questions, as Oliver has quickly supplanted his predecessors Colbert and Stewart as the pre-eminent force in journalistic satire. Oliver's rants were must-see YouTube videos every Monday throughout the summer and fall, and even hearing the topic of a new rant (Scottish independence! Miss America! Sugar!) was enough to make me palpitate with anticipation. It was hilarious, insightful, and most importantly of all, really good, cutting-edge journalism. I only wish I could use the segments in a classroom...

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon - I don't think I watched a whole episode of Fallon, but I spent a lot of YouTube time on Fallon's antics in his first year; he gets social media more than (almost) anyone else on TV right now. I'm still waiting for the Emma Stone - Joseph Gordon-Levitt Lip Sync Face-off, though.

King of the Nerds (Season 2) - Nerds was even better in its second season, pocket protector in place and tongue firmly in cheek. I'd say it's a guilty pleasure, but it's just so much fun to watch and I don't feel ashamed about it.

Survivor (Seasons 28 and 29) - I wrote about Season 28 (Caguyan) at length after its conclusion in May, but suffice to say that it was the most entertaining season of entirely new competitors in a long time. Season 29 - San Juan del Sur - featured the return of Blood vs. Water with all new competitors this time, and although it seemed to get off to a good start, it ultimately kind of flopped after almost all players with any strategic sense were voted off shortly after the merge. Granted, it was the first "dud" season in several years (the last real such dud since One World in season 24), so I'm still on board with the show.

The Joe Schmo Show: The Full Bounty - This 2013 comeback of the original reality spoof series was sublime, and I enjoyed watching through each action-packed episode. 

What I missed:
The end of The Colbert Report in December - I'll get around to watching it, don't worry.

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
King of the Nerds (Season 3) (January 23) - Bring on Nerdvana and the unrepentant product placement!

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Season 2) (February 8) - More of the same. Can't wait.
Survivor: Worlds Apart (premieres February 25) - Season 30 - The initial tribe division (white collar vs. blue collar vs. "no collar") is intriguing, and Jeff Probst has said that this is one of his favourite casts yet. Count me in!

The end of The Late Show with David Letterman (finale May 20) - I still have fond memories of Letterman's 90s heyday (particularly Manny the Hippie's movie rating system of "diggity dank" and "schwiggety schwag"), so I'll probably be nostalgic and tune in for a few of his final episodes.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (September 8) - And he's back! It will be interesting to see the real Colbert come through and how he will bring his social media savvy to an entirely new non-satirical environment.

Wild card: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore replaces Colbert starting in a few days, and while there's no way for Wilmore to replace Colbert, it will be interesting to see how he can address race issues as a black satirical news broadcaster. I just wish they had been able to use the initial name of "The Minority Report."

Fantasy/Sci-Fi


What I watched:
Doctor Who (Series 5, 6, and 7) - I spent much of the summer with the 11th Doctor, Rory and Amy, who were by far my favourite gang on Doctor Who. The show stumbled a bit at times in Series 7, but it got better in the second half, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it with the 12th Doctor.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Seasons 4 and 5) - TNG is my perfect "in the background while I'm planning classes or grading papers" show, so we have been watching a lot lately. Like "two seasons in a month" a lot. I'm looking forward to watching the last two seasons, but then I'll have to find a replacement to distract me in the background. Maybe I'll rewatch Doctor Who (unless it leaves Netflix after all...)

What I missed:
Doctor Who (Series 8) - I finished Series 7 in time to watch Series 8 as it aired, and then I moved and started a new job and missed out on it so far.

Orphan Black (Seasons 1 and 2) - I really want to watch it - maybe in time for Season 3?

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
12 Monkeys (January 16) - This new version of one of my favourite cult sci-fi films has been getting good early reviews, so it'll be worth a look.

Daredevil (April 10) - Maybe Marvel's Netflix gamble will work, maybe it will go the way of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and not quite work, but I'm interested to see what happens either way.

Westworld (TBA) - A western sci-fi survival horror based on a 1973 cult sci-fi film (seems to be a trend here) that could be really interesting.

Short-term priorities: Doctor Who (Series 8), Orphan Black (Seasons 1 and 2), Star Trek: The Next Generation (Seasons 6 and 7)

Long-term possibilities: Star Trek (Seasons 2 and 3)

Wild card: Heroes: Reborn. Sure, it became really convoluted and confusing near the end, but a Heroes mini-series could work.

Drama


What I watched:
Sherlock (Series 3) - Sherlock's third series was a little uneven, and though it did not reach the heights of the meteoric second series, it was still a great addition to the series. I'm looking forward to Series 4 in 2016.

Justified (Season 5) - As with every season so far, this season of Justified began a little unevenly, started to get really interesting around episode 5, and then raced to an incredible finish by the end.

True Detective (Season 1) - I binge-watched the entire season in less than three days and really enjoyed much of it: the mystery of the Yellow King and Carcosa; McConaughey's erstwhile existential philosophizing; that shot!; the rumination on male sexuality; and the deconstruction of police shows. There were parts of the show that I didn't really appreciate (particularly the treatment of women), but it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable TV experiences of the past year.

What I Missed:
Fargo (Season 1); The Americans (Season 2); Gotham (First half of Season 1); House of Cards (Season 2); The Newsroom (Season 3)

What I'm looking forward to in 2015:
Justified (Season 6) (January 20) - The final showdown between Raylan and Boyd is coming. I can't wait.

Battle Creek (March 1) - Vince Gilligan has earned an automatic interest after Breaking Bad, even if this does seem like a more straightforward police procedural on CBS.

True Detective (Season 2) - The cast alone is reason to be interested - Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch?! - but the plot also promises to be intriguing, as it is reported to look at the occult history of the U.S. Transportation system in California. I'm not sure if they can capture the neo-gothic feel and zeitgeist of season 1, but I'm not sure they have to. Either way, I'll be watching.

Short term priorities: Fargo (Season 1); Broadchurch; The Newsroom (Seasons 2 and 3); The Hour; The Americans (Seasons 1 and 2)

Long-term possibilities: The Wire; House of Cards (Season 2); Mad Men, The West Wing

Wild card: Backstrom, an intense police procedural starring Rainn Wilson. That sentence alone makes it a wild card.

There you have it: my year in TV for 2014. I think 2015 might be a year of some new TV relationships, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it holds for me and you, since TV should be a social Enterprise. (And yes, that was an intentional Star Trek: The Next Generation pun. Make it so.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Early Oscar Observations and Predictions

The nominations for the Academy Awards were announced this morning, and, yes, I live-streamed them - that's how much of an Oscar nerd I am. This marks my eleventh year of publishing my predictions, and my 22nd overall watching and picking the Oscars. For the record, here are my stats over the past decade of publishing my predictions. (Note that I have made the switch this year to the year that the Oscars are hosted in, rather than the year in which the movies were released, so the years will be slightly different from previous years.)

2014: 8/9, missed Original Screenplay
2013: 6/9, missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2012: 8/9, missed Actress
2011: 7/9, missed Director and Original Screenplay
2010: 6/9, missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay
2009: 8/9, missed Actor
2008: 6/9, missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay
2007: 5/9, missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2006: 7/9, missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2005: 7/9, missed Picture and Original Screenplay

If you break it down by category, here are what my percentages look like over the past decade:
Best Picture: 6/10 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010)
Best Director: 8/10 (missed 2011, 2013)
Best Actor: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2009)
Best Actress: 8/10 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 8/10 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Animated Feature: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Original Screenplay: 6/10 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 8/10 (missed 2008, 2010)
Total: 68/90 for 75.5% accuracy.

Now, onto this year's nominations.

Overall thoughts on the nominations


This year, perhaps as much as any in recent memory, is testament to the power of the Oscar narrative and the late awards season PR blitz; some movies benefit (Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash, American Sniper), while others (apparently) suffer from a last-minute PR hit (Selma, Foxcatcher). It also demonstrates the continuing division between different parts of the Academy (ie. old white Republicans and young diverse voices), as well as the general groupthink that pervades the entire process. While it is a positive that movies like Whiplash (or Amour or Philomena, to cite recent examples) manage to make the short list now, for each movie that makes it, there are many more (Nightcrawler most prominently this year) that are still on the outside looking in.

Also, I find it interesting that after the last few years that have featured several films and performances that have focused on themes and issues of significance to minorities that this year is an almost entire whitewash. All acting nominees are white, only one Best Picture nominee addresses issues of race (Selma), and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is the only non-white Director nominated. It seems that the Academy felt that they had done their duty by giving Directing awards to Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuaron in the past two years, and that having 12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong'o win last year meant that they were now cleared of being racist, so they didn't really have to look past the majority this year. It could be argued, of course, that the performances and accomplishments honoured really were the year's best, and I'm certainly not advocating for quotas, but it seems odd that the Academy reverted to form so quickly in honouring primarily the dominant culture. (Read Mark Harris' take on the Selma omissions here).

Best Picture(s)


The shocker may have been that there were only eight pictures nominated for Best Picture, but none of them were that much of a surprise, considering the recent surge of American Sniper. (Mark Harris of Grantland actually got all eight correct!) The biggest surprise was Foxcatcher's omission, but as Harris observed, it probably didn't really have a chance anyway, along with its ilk such as Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice (or Inside Llewyn Davis or The Master or Drive in recent years) that were just a tad too dark or edgy for the Academy; Whiplash seems to have met that need for Best Picture. Interstellar, Unbroken and Into the Woods never really got the critical traction they needed (unlike Selma, which did), and Gone Girl was a little too genre for this year's group (or something).

The entire spectrum skews indie this year after a few years of studio-focused nominations, but that's more due to the general dearth of good material from the main studios. The nominees divide into their usual archetypes: a controversial pick (American Sniper); indie faves and raves (Whiplash); studio biopics (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and Selma); a film-maker's movie/lifetime achievement award (Grand Budapest Hotel); and the clear frontrunners (Birdman and Boyhood). Birdman - which could be considered the first superhero movie ever to be nominated, I suppose - looks poised to win a few awards, but it seems like Boyhood has a good shot at taking it. I will note, however, that only twice since 1978 has the winning Best Picture had fewer than seven nominations - Crash in 2005 with 6 and The Departed in 2006 with 5, so Boyhood could be facing an interesting bias with only six nominations. Still, it's the early leader.

In regard to Best Animated Feature, I was ready to pre-emptively crown The Lego Movie as the winner, but for some unforeseen reason, it wasn't nominated. I think the leader is Big Hero 6, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 might be awarded in lieu of its predecessor.

Directing and Writing


Best Director is a mostly run-of-the-mill category in which Bennett Miller made history in two ways. He has been nominated for all three of the movies he has directed (the only comparable feat I can recall is David O. Russell's three consecutive nominations in four years, but those weren't his first three), and he is the first Director nominated without a Best Picture nomination under the new expanded Best Picture format, which shows how close Foxcatcher likely was to receiving a nomination. Either way, the only notable omission here was Selma's Ava DuVernay, who would have been the first African-American woman nominated in this category, but alas. Wes Anderson finally gets his due with The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he is along for the ride here, along with The Imitation Game's Morten Tyldum, nominated for his first film. It comes down again to the two technical towers: Inarritu for Birdman and Linklater for Boyhood. It could go either way, but I suspect that Linklater's twelve-year devotion to his craft will earn him the Oscar for Boyhood.

Best Adapted Screenplay is an interesting category. The slots many predicted would go to the Nick Hornby for Wild and Gillian Flynn for adapting her own novel Gone Girl went instead to Jason Hall for American Sniper and P.T. Anderson for Inherent Vice (which is itself a nod to the task he faced in adapting a novel by Thomas Pynchon), so they are likely not going to win. It seems like the British biopics will cancel each other out, which leaves us with Damien Chazelle for Whiplash as the winner. Sounds about right.

Best Original Screenplay is also interesting, and it's easily the most difficult category to pick. It features the three most nominated movies, including the two front runners, as well as Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher, which are happy to be nominated but likely deserving in their own right. It could be either Birdman or Boyhood that wins here, but I suspect that this could be a category in which Grand Budapest Hotel wins Anderson a long-overdue Oscar. I'll give it the early lead.

Acting


Best Actor seems the most clear cut of the four acting categories. Carell has made the leap after a decade, but he won't be awarded on his first go. The Brits - Cumberbatch and Redmayne - should cancel each other out, leaving the early front runner, Michael Keaton for Birdman, and his top competition - Bradley Cooper. Cooper - the only former nominee in any category - was a surprise nomination, but it's his third in three years and first for Best Actor, and he could garner some sentiment. I still think it's Keaton's to lose.

Best Actress features two new nominees (and fairly fresh actresses, period), two former winners, and Julianne Moore, who now has almost as many nominations (5) as notable non-nominations (7? 8?) with her first nomination since 2003. She is guaranteed to win.

Best Supporting Actor has only one previous winner (Robert Duvall), two previous nominees (Norton and Ruffalo), and two long-serving but surprisingly first-time nominees (Hawke and Simmons). My sense is that Norton and Ruffalo will receive the "we can honor them later" treatment, and that Hawke's nuanced performance will be overshadowed by the juicy iconic role of the one-time "Hey! It's That Guy!" J.K. Simmons.

Best Supporting Actress has a similar make-up to the other categories: a previous nominee/winner (Streep); a young first-time nominee (Stone); a "we can nominate her later" nominee (Knightley); and two actresses with surprisingly few nominations despite long careers (Dern and Arquette). It seems like the award is Patricia Arquette's to lose, particularly in the wake of the "Boyhood was filmed over a dozen years" narrative that seems like it will need to be awarded with one acting win.

Technical Categories and Final Thoughts


As usual, I'm not going to hold myself to predictions in the technical categories, though I will make a few observations. I think Birdman is perched to win a few categories (pun intended), as well as Grand Budapest Hotel. I'll be interested to see if The Lego Movie's "Everything is Awesome" can pull the upset over Selma's "Glory" for Best Original Song, and whether Interstellar can manage to win a technical award or two. But I'll hold out for picking those until my final picks on the weekend that includes Feb. 22, the day of the awards (which are only five weeks away).

In those five weeks, it seems like I have some "homework", as this is by far the lowest number of nominated movies that I have seen before the nominations probably since I started on this intentional track in 2005. Of the major nominees, I have only seen The Grand Budapest Hotel - though I certainly feel the need to watch it again (which may have to wait for a couple of months). That means I have yet to see Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, and Foxcatcher in some order, with Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice in the mix; I'm not sure about prioritizing American Sniper, though I imagine I should see it at some point, even if only for Cooper's performance. That's nine movies in my immediate queue with a tenth hovering on the edges for those counting at home, which means I might have a busy - and intense, judging by this year's nominees - few weeks ahead of me. Then again, there are worse ways to occupy my time - I could always watch through these stinkers nominated for this year's Razzie Awards... (of which I have again proudly seen none, and I intend to keep it that way.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014: The Year in Music!

It finally happened: I did not add any new artists to my musical collection in the past calendar year. I suppose it was inevitable; after all, the decline has been evident for several years, as I lamented in my analysis of my diminished status as a "music guy" in my 2013 year in music review, The amount of music I consume in a given year has drastically reduced since my heyday of 2004-2007, and I think this is probably the lowest it has ever been, at least in terms of encountering and/or purchasing new artists and albums. What I have been doing is delving into my musical back catalog to re-experience and strengthen the bonds to albums and artists that I had neglected as of late.

It does make sense, considering all of the transition in my life in the past year, but also in that I consider the way I follow musical artists to be very similar to how I maintain friendships. I happen to be in a period of life right now in which I have been re-investing in a lot of very well-established friendships, as we moved to a city in which I last lived over a decade ago, which has not left a lot of time for newer friendships to emerge. There have been little blips here and there, but no more than passing interest and an acknowledgement that a friendship might develop there at some point; it's similar to watching a video or two on YouTube or listening to an album once and knowing that it might become part of my repertoire at some point, but that I just don't have the space for it right now. And at this point in my life (both in friendship and in music), any new entries (would) have to make an immediate and meaningful connection to be able to become part of my experience, since the fact that many of my musical and actual relationships are steeped in history (many for well over a decade) means that my time for new relationships is limited. So with this framework in mind, I will take some time now to evaluate the year that was for me in 2014 in regard to music.

"What have you been listening to lately?"


In the past year, I have almost been embarrassed by this question as a "music guy", since my answer is invariably "not much new". I only purchased five albums that were released this year - all by artists that were previously established in my listening repertoire - and I don't think I could actually consider them a "best of" list in any other regard than the fact that they were the only five I bought. I listened to another five or so from the year, and I bought another five or six albums from the previous year, but most of my listening was on albums from at least three years previous. In some ways, however, I have seen this trend as a strength, as it has helped me separate the albums that are just part of the zeitgeist from the albums (and artists) that will really stay with me in the long term.

There are a few trends that I have noticed about my listening. It takes longer for most albums to make an impact on me. I used to listen to an album once or twice and be able to really connect with it; now I have to listen to an album at least a half-dozen times to really be able to invest in it, particularly if it is a new artist. I am much more reticent to experiment with new artists or styles, and even styles I used to like have fallen out of my regular listening rotation. I am far less interested in a variety of genres, especially those from my past such as metal, hardcore, and hip-hop; the only artists in those genres that I still follow are those who have been part of my life for several years, and those connections are even becoming more tenuous. I find most pop music almost completely unlistenable at this point, whereas even a few years ago I listened (at least inconsistently) to artists like Mika or Owl City. I have tended to lean more toward familiar kinds of sounds, particularly Americana/folk/indie vocally-focused groups (ie. The Civil Wars, The Lone Bellow, The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, etc.), and my overall taste is much more mellow; not necessarily mainstream, but definitely a more consistent musical palate. That, and I'm still mostly stuck in the world of albums and physical media (mainly because I still don't like using iTunes).

Changes to my collection


One of the things that I did do over this past year was to have addition by subtraction, as I started to refine my collection significantly in 2014 in two ways. The first was by eliminating extraneous albums to which I no longer listen; in the process of moving, I rid myself of somewhere around fifty albums (if not more). The second way was through reducing my wishlist, which I accomplished both through removing albums I decided that I no longer want and by purchasing albums, primarily through third-party sellers on Amazon and on eBay. I now have just over 30 albums on my wishlist, in addition to another thirty or so that are on the "maybe" list, which is remarkable considering that I used to have over a hundred albums on that very same list.

The overall effect has been positive; by having less music in my space, it has allowed me to enjoy the music I have far more. I read a few years ago in a book about "clutter busting" that no one should have more than one hundred albums in their collection. I scoffed at that notion at the time, and although I still think that number of one hundred is a little low, I think I understand the sentiment much more clearly now. I don't know that I would get to that level, but I think that I could easily reduce my collection by at least as much again in the year to come. Maybe my goal could be albums by a hundred different artists in my collection, instead. At any rate, here are some of the changes to my collection in the past year.

12 albums from my wish list that I finally bought in 2014: AP2 - Suspension of Disbelief; Celldweller - Soundtrack for the Voices in my Head; Copeland - You Are My Sunshine and Dressed Up and In Line; Deas Vail - Birds and Cages; Derek Webb - Stockholm Syndrome; Five Iron Frenzy - Upbeats and Beatdowns and Electric Boogaloo; Milo Greene - Milo Greene; MuteMath - Odd Soul; Sufjan Stevens - Michigan; The Swell Season - Strict Joy

Five recent-ish (ie. 2012-2013) albums I picked up in 2014: Bethel Music - Tides; The City Harmonic - Heart; The Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett - A Place at the Table (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack); Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal; Sara Bareilles - The Blessed Unrest

Intro to 2014


There were only ten albums from this year that grabbed my attention this year (more on those later), but in addition to the albums I did enjoy, there were ten albums that were released in the past year on my list of albums "to investigate". There were seven albums by artists that I already enjoy that I need to investigate further in the near future. (In the past, I likely would have bought these outright, but I am much choosier now, regardless of whether I have enjoyed previous albums from those artists.) They are: Anberlin - Lowborn; Arrogant Worms - SPACE; Copeland - Ixora; Demon Hunter - Extremist; Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways; Jack White - Lazaretto; and Needtobreathe - Rivers in the Wasteland. I have listened to a bit of the new All Sons and Daughters album, and I have heard enough to know what I want to hear more and further investigate their back catalog. And the final two entries of my ten are included because of the buzz from the year and the fact that they are the top two albums on Metacritic's year-end poll: St. Vincent - St. Vincent and The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream. If I had to hazard a guess, I would think that three or maybe four of these ten albums might eventually find their way into my collection, but I do need at least to listen to them and give them a fair try.

There were a half-dozen other albums (as well to the additions to my collection) that garnered my attention significantly in 2014, including five from 2014:
Bethel Music - You Make Me Brave (Live at the Civic) - My wife bought this newest album from Bethel, which is a lot like all of their other releases. It (along with their YouTube channel) helps provide a fairly consistent soundtrack in our house when we feel the need to listen to something in the background.
Johnny Cash - Out Among the Stars - Cash's "newest" album was an unearthed collection from almost thirty years earlier. I listened to it a few times, but it didn't really catch on for me, as it lacked the gravitas and maturity of his later works.
Imagine Dragons - Night Visions (2012) - The only new artist that I would say that I added to my repertoire in the past year is my current "guilty pleasure" - a spot previously (and still occasionally) occupied by The Killers. It's pure saccharine pop-rock that I would never attempt to justify as "good", but it's so catchy and I enjoy it anyway.
Guardians of the Galaxy "Original Mixtape Vol. 1" Soundtrack - Although this is itself a 2014 release, it's really a 1970s release. I still had a lot of fun with it, though.
Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun - I spent a whole week in July listening to this album and meticulously breaking down Al's entire career album by album, but I did not buy it for myself. As with most Weird Al albums, I really enjoyed half of it, but I wouldn't listen to it often enough to own it. When I'm in the mood for Weird Al, then it's time for a YouTube playlist.

And, finally, the next (and currently only) album from 2014 that I will purchase at some point: Although the David Crowder Band released their final album in 2012, the titular Crowder returned with a "solo" album this year that was arguably as good as anything he released with his former bandmates. I'm still discovering the depths of this album, but I think it will have staying power with me.

Albums purchased in 2014


All five albums I bought this year were by artists with whom I have a deep connection, with only The Black Keys - at five years - marking an artist that has not been part of my life for at least fourteen years. These are deep "friendships" (as I alluded to in my introduction) that have been rich for many years, and I could write books (actually, books) on any one of these artists, particularly inasmuch as they have affected me in my formational years. It's not a question of whether I would buy these albums or whether they would be a part of my life, but it's how often I listen to them and how our relationship changes; it's not dissimilar to friends who have been in my life that long, as it's not a matter of being friends, but just what the friendship looks like in a new season.

Further to the friend metaphor, each of these albums are more personal and intimate than previous efforts from the bands; this fact, combined with my genuine connection to each artist, makes it difficult to evaluate them objectively, which is why I didn't "review" them. For each of these albums, I have had (many) thoughts of how they intersect with my life (oh, the blog posts that remain unwritten). Since each one has touched me in some way, I thought I would give some brief thoughts on each album and what I have thought of it. Though they are not my "top 5" albums of the year, I suppose they are a "top 5" of a sort, since I prioritized them over all other albums released in the past year; if anything, they remind me of who I am as a music guy - better with scope and depth than with zeitgeist.

The Black Keys - Turn Blue - The Keys are in fine form on what is arguably their best album. At the very least, its blues-rock is as good as anything they've released in the past. It's a little more laid back than their previous efforts, but that's a good thing, and the grooves here are fantastic. Plus, I like to imagine that the album's closer talks about "Saskatoon" rather than "San Berdoo".

Coldplay - Ghost Stories - After the somewhat muddled "concept" album Mylo Xyloto (a concept that didn't quite work, IMHO) that took Coldplay to its most bombastic arena-rock heights, there was really only one direction to go: inward. Ghost Stories is easily Coldplay's most introspective and intimate album since the early days of Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, and it has some really striking moments like those albums did. It's hard to evaluate it against their other albums, in some ways, because it is so different; then again, each Coldplay album (arguably more than any other band other than U2) is its own entity, and this one just happened to be shaped primarily by the "conscious uncoupling" of lead singer Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow. It's a great album on its own, and it brings a new aspect to Coldplay's career that I'm glad to hear.

Project 86 - Knives to the Future - I backed P86's most recent album on Indiegogo because of my fifteen-year history with the band more than a need to have it. After all, I tend not to listen to this genre or style of music (hardcore) anymore, so I knew I wouldn't necessarily listen to it much. That said, it is really good, and Schwab's vocals are as good as they have been in years. I don't know if P86 will be done after this, as Schwab seems to be moving into a new chapter in his life (and he is the lone remaining original member, and ultimately he is Project 86 at this point), but if it is, this was a good way to end it off.

Switchfoot - Fading West - The San Diego surf-pop-rockers returned in January with their ninth and poppiest album yet after they had release several edgier albums leaning more toward the rock end of the spectrum. I don't think that Fading West entirely worked musically - several songs could have used that edge from Vice Verses, their previous album, and there were a couple that were a little too saccharine for my tastes - but it still has that depth and resonance that comes with Jon Foreman's songwriting. Though with that said, I listened to it in a mix of Switchfoot's albums and I could scarcely hear a difference from song to song, so it might be either that West has a greater concentration of the poppiness than their previous efforts or that my tastes are changing a bit. Either way, I still liked it on the whole, and there are a couple of fantastic songs here, so I probably liked it more than I thought I did.

U2 - Songs of Innocence - I cannot describe the elation I felt upon the announcement in early September that U2 had just released their new album - and that it was already in my iTunes! Of course, that elation was soon juxtaposed with the realization that I did not have the internet at my new house yet and that I might have to wait to hear this new missive from the guys. I had to spend several hours and over 1 GB of data turning my phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot and using my mini-laptop to get the album so I could hear the album, but it was worth it. SoI was almost all that I listened to for well over a month, and I'm still listening to it consistently. It is U2's most personal album in years (since How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in 2004), and although I do not think it reaches the echelon of their best work, it can easily be considered to be a great album. There are some great songs included here, and it both encapsulates their career as well as establishing them as a continuing creative force. If this did happen to be their final album (which I don't think it will be, but just hedging my bets), I would be happy with how they concluded their career.

Looking Toward 2015


I'm not sure what the next year holds for me as a "music guy", though I hope that my geographical relocation will allow me to be more connected to that part of who I have been. With that in mind, I have a few goals that I think will be achievable over the next twelve months.

Music goals for 2015:
1. Go to two shows - I only went to one show in 2014 (The City Harmonic), but I think that being back in Saskatchewan might allow me to go to more shows this year.
2. Reduce my collection by 50 albums - I was fairly ruthless last year, but I think I need to be even more ruthless this year with my existing collection, both physical and digital.
3. Reduce my wishlist by ten albums - whether through just eliminating albums I no longer want or by purchasing items off my list. My standard is that for every five albums that I clear out that I could buy one from my wishlist - so if my goal is 50 albums gone, that means 10 coming in.
4. Add five new artists to my repertoire - either through purchase or just in listening.
5. Sort through the music on my computer - It has been a couple of years since I went through my digital collection in a comprehensive manner, so I need to take the time to do so.

And, finally, the albums/artists I'm looking forward to in 2015:
Collective Soul - See What You Started By Continuing - The band has been playing the new songs on their tour in the past year, and it sounds good.
Whitehorse - Leave No Bridge Unburned (Feb. 17) - Canada's answer to The Civil Wars will release their next album in a month, and if it's anything like their last albums, it promises to be harmonious.
Imagine Dragons - Smoke and Mirrors (Feb. 17) - More catchy pop-rock hooks coming right up!
The Lone Bellow - One of my favourite new artists of the past few years will return with their soulful Americana folk rock.
Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials was four years ago, so it's about time for something new from Welch and crew.
Muse - More dubstep? More intimate? More banjo? Who knows? Anything can happen with these guys.
Mumford and Sons - now with less banjo!
Thrice - returning after a hiatus, and I'm sure they will be better than ever.
U2 - Songs of Experience - the companion album to Songs of Innocence may not be released this year, but I'm holding out hope for it - and maybe the chance to see them live again.

Friday, January 02, 2015

2014: The Year in Board Games!

This is one of my favourite posts of the year: my overly involved, ridiculously exhaustive account of the meta-game of playing board games in the past year. I have been doing Years in Review for as long as I have been blogging (well, kind of...I have had a spotty record over the years of actually writing them), but it has only been in the past four years that I have consistently looked at board gaming. In 2011, I combined it with video games, but starting in 2012, I have thoroughly enjoyed delivering a treatise of several thousand words about board games despite the fact that I know very few people who read this post will actually understand or enjoy the content herein. So be ye warned: this is the post of a board game enthusiast; it might serve as a gateway to greater things for some readers, but some readers will find the whole thing confusing and unsettling (not unintentionally kind of like how some people see complex board games). For those who choose to read on, enjoy, and I'll see you at the table in 2015.

Games played


I ended up with 204 total plays this year, which was up 33% from 150 the year before, despite an abysmal September/October (11 plays total, which I suppose is to be expected upon moving to a new province and starting a new job.) Here are some of the games I played in 2014, with numbers of plays in parentheses.

Most played games in 2014: 4T. Anomia / Lords of Waterdeep / Flash Point: Fire Rescue (8); 3. Hanabi (9); 2. 7 Wonders (11); 1. King of Tokyo (14)

All-time favourites by games played: 5. Agricola (16); 4. Dominion (19); 3T. Race for the Galaxy and King of Tokyo (22); 2. Pandemic (27); 1. 7 Wonders (47)

New games played this year: Anomia; Attika; Bora Bora; Camel Up; Eminent Domain; Five Tribes; Flash Point: Fire Rescue; Glass Road; Gloom; Gravwell; Hanabi; Hive; Impulse; In the Year of the Dragon; Istanbul; King of New York; Macao; Notre Dame; Ora et Labora; Pot O' Gold; Ra; RARRR!!; Roma; Sentinels of the Multiverse; Splendor; Spyrium; Star Realms; Stone Age; Takenoko; Terra Mystica; Trains; Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar; Zooloretto (33!)

Additions to my repertoire of playable games: Anomia; Camel Up; Eminent Domain; Flash Point: Fire Rescue; Gravwell; Hanabi; In the Year of the Dragon; Notre Dame; Pot O' Gold; Ra; Splendor; Spyrium; Star Realms; Takenoko; Zooloretto (15)

Games I want to play


Despite the fact that I played 33 new games this past year, I still have 162 items on my list to play on BGG: 139 games and 23 expansions. I would have to play 3 new games a week and not encounter any other new games to play through them all. So that's not going to happen - but I'm going to make it my goal to play enough new games

Of those 162, 25 are either already in my collection or will be soon when they arrive from Kickstarter. I should be able to play those soon.

Of my previous Top 20 lists to play, it's interesting that I still have games left from each year on my "want to play" list: 3 from 2011; 11 from 2012; and 12 from 2013. Not all of those games are still on the top of my list to play, but one has remained constant: the 2011 GAMES magazine Game of the Year, Jump Gate. I'm sure that four years of anticipation will mean that the experience of finally playing it will be underwhelming, but I'm setting it apart this year from my top games to play list.

Top 30 games to play: AquaSphere; Belfort; Biblios; Bruges; Castles of Mad King Ludwig; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Concept; Core Worlds; Coup; Fields of Arle; Glen More; Haggis; Hawaii; Keyflower; La Isla; Lewis & Clark; Machi Koro; Mascarade; Morels; New Dawn; Pandemic: Contagion; Pandemic: The Cure; Paperback; Patchwork; Roll for the Galaxy; Russian Railroads; Snake Oil; Suburbia; Temporum; Trajan

Ten games I really want to play again (ie. a second time): Bora Bora; Five Tribes; Glass Road; Impulse; Istanbul; Macao; Ora et Labora; Stone Age; Twilight Struggle; Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar

Changes to my collection


My collection changed more in the past twelve months than it ever had. I cleared out over 40 items from my collection - many of which were card games I had purchased at thrift stores for cheap - and used many of those items in sales and trades to acquire the 37 new games and expansions I picked up this year. It also helped that I was planning to move 1,800 km and that I didn't want to take all of those games with me. Last year I made it a goal to get rid of games, but I'm not sure I can do the same this year, though there might be a few that make their way out sooner or later.

Games and expansions acquired in the 4th quarter of 2014: Among the Stars: Stretch Rewards 2014 (KS); Bang: Gold Rush; Drop Site; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Honor & Duty (KS); In the Year of the Dragon: The Great Wall and the Super Events; The Resistance: Hidden Agenda and Hostile Intent (KS); Splendor; Village.

Notable games liquidated in 2014: Barons; Curses!; Dominion and Hinterlands expansion; Last Will; Loaded Questions (with exp.); Lord of the Rings Risk, Monopoly, and Stratego; Monopoly City; Power Grid (with 2 expansions); Scattergories; Sequence; Settlers of Catan; Telestrations

Games acquired in 2014: Alhambra: Big Box (KS); Anomia; Anomia: Party Edition; Burgoo (KS); The Castles of Burgundy; Coin Age (KS); Council of Verona (KS); El Grande: Decennial Edition; Firefly: Out to the Black; Fleet; Fresco: Big Box (KS); Galaxy Trucker: Anniversary Edition; Glass Road; Hanabi; In the Year of the Dragon (+ expansion); Jaipur; Killer Bunnies and the Conquest for the Magic Carrot; Kingdom Builder: Big Box (KS); Lords of Waterdeep; Notre Dame (with New Persons expansion); Province (KS); Ra; RARRR!!; Spyrium; Star Realms; This Town Ain't Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us (KS) (26, including 4 microgames)

Expansions acquired in 2014: Among the Stars: Stretch Rewards 2014 (KS); Bang: A Fistful of Cards; Bang: Gold Rush; Carcassonne: Hills & Sheep; Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Honor & Duty (KS); Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau; King of Tokyo: Power Up; King of Tokyo: Promos; Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport; Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts; The Resistance: Hidden Agenda and Hostile Intent (KS) (11+ a few more included with the base games)

Mini-expansions acquired in 2014: Alhambra: Magical Buildings; Among the Stars: Hythian & Wiss; Coloretto: The Extra Cards & The Limit Cards; Dixit: one card; Star Realms: Promo Sets One & Two; Village: Customer 1+2 (10)

Kickstarters/pre-orders still in transit: Antidote (KS edition); Eggs and Empires (+ exp.); Eminent Domain: Microcosm; Fidelitas (KS); Fleet: Arctic Bounty (+7 other mini-expansions); Harbour (KS); Knee Jerk (KS); Mine All Mine! (KS); Scoville (KS); Space Junk (KS).

After this very active year of refining my collection, I'm actually left with a fairly short wish list. I only have 61 items on my wish list, of which: a dozen are random mini-expansions that I would like to have at some point; a dozen are games I'm thinking about or would maybe like to have; another ten or so are expansions I would probably buy at some point. That leaves just under half of the list that are items that I am actively seeking out; they break into two main categories:

Top 10 games I would buy: Biblios; Gravwell; Haggis; Hive Pocket; Impulse; Jump Gate; Roll for the Galaxy; Stone Age; Takenoko; Temporum

Top 10 Expansions to purchase: Dixit: Daydreams, Odyssey, Origins, Quest; Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models; Innovation: Figures in the Sand; King of Tokyo: Halloween; Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs. Imperium; Star Realms: Crisis (4 boosters that equal one expansion); Ticket to Ride Europe: 1912

And, just to finish off, six games that are not currently on my wishlist, but that I would probably buy anyway: Bruges; Core Worlds; La Isla; Morels; Pandemic: The Cure; Patchwork.

Board Gaming Goals


Last year (the end of 2013) was the first time I had set really concrete goals. I found it to be useful to guide my experience of board gaming during the year, so I'm going to set some new goals for 2015; but first, a brief evaluation of the goals from this past year.

Evaluating the 2014 goals:
1. 300 total plays: I hit 204, only 100 short of my goal. Big miss.
2. "Nickel and Dime" my collection: Of the 104 games with which I ended the year, only 11 qualified for at least 5 plays. Another big miss.
3. Clear out (at least) 10 games from my collection: Almost 40 games out the door. Check!
4. Add a dozen quality games to my collection: I added at least 20, so check!
5. Increase my "repertoire" of playable games by fifteen: 15 exactly, with a few more that will lock in with another play or two. Check!
6. Play all of the games on my Top 20 to play list: I played 8 of the 20 from last year's list. Miss.
7. Blog more about board games: Well, I wrote a couple of extra posts earlier in the year, but I'm going to call this one a failure, despite the lack of specificity in the target. Miss.
8. Design a board game. Check!

So that means I accomplished half of my goals for the year, which I am happy with, particularly as my progress has helped shape my goals for 2015.

Board Gaming Goals for 2015:
Goal #1: 240 total plays for the year, an average of 20 per month. The highest I've ever done is 232 in 2012, so this would be a personal record, even if it is a little more modest than my goal this past year.
Goal #2: Add 15 more games to my repertoire in 2015.
Goal #3: Play all of the games in my collection at least once this year. (After all, if I don't play them in a calendar year, it's probably time to clear them out for new games to take their place.)
Goal #4: Play Jump Gate. It has been on my list for four years; it's time to finally cross it off.
Goal #5: Complete a 10x10 Challenge. This means that you play 10 games 10 times each; it's a movement on BoardGameGeek to get players to really dig into games rather than always shuffling to the next item (which is an awfully common problem for board gamers). I'm choosing 10 longer games from my collection, since I know I will easily log 10 plays of games like 7 Wonders, King of Tokyo, or Splendor throughout the year. My 10x10 for 2015 includes: Agricola; Among the Stars; Cosmic Encounter; Glass Road; Innovation; Le Havre; Puerto Rico; Race for the Galaxy; Scoville; and Village. Bonus: I would really like to play a combined 10 plays of the Feld games I own (Castles of Burgundy, In the Year of the Dragon, and Notre Dame).
Goal #6: Play 20 games from my top 30 games to play.
Goal #7: Acquire six quality games in 2015 (other than already processed Kickstarters or preorders).
Goal #8: Make three new "gaming friends"; this, after all, should be a social enterprise.
Goal #9: Blog once a month about board games, in addition to my quarterly updates.
Goal #10: Get my game (Pot O' Gold) finished and published!

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