2014: The movies I watched

At the movies

My final tally for 2014 was 262 movies, at a total runtime of 28,025 minutes – or 467 hours and 5 minutes, or 19 days, 11 hours and 5 minutes.

Why I did this (watched this much and kept this diary), I’m not entirely sure, and I’m surprised I kept it up all year. First, I wanted to know just how many movies I was watching. Then I wanted to know how much time I was wasting spending watching movies. Then I thought it would be neat to know the medium on which I was doing my movie watching (of the 262 movies I saw in 2014, 99 were on DVD – my own, the library’s, friends’, video-store rentals – and 57 were theatrical releases. I saw 39 movies on Netflix and 67 in “other” ways – mostly these were films that were on TV, or screeners, or movies I watch at other people’s houses, or movies I watched at/for work when I worked for a subtitling company. Side note: I spend way too much money every month on my cable package, but I am making the most of it.)

I hadn’t set a goal for myself when I started this thing, though I was on course for a 400-movie year. In January and February, I’d easily average eight to 11 movies a week. But then I stupidly got myself a full-time job (I was in grad school at the beginning of 2014), then a part-time job, then another. Employment gets in the way of spending 22 hours a week watching movies.

I never went to film school and I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud keeping up with current releases but not delving deep enough into film history, including the silent era. I’ve become re-acquainted with my library card, which I use almost weekly for my DIY film school. But I’m not done. Not even close. That’s the great thing about cinema: As much as you watch, you’re never, ever done.

My 2015 movie wish list: quality over quantity; that Montreal’s movie theatres’ schedules become double-feature friendly again; go to more film festivals; watch more foreign films; watch more classics; keep a diary, again.

Here’s my 2014 film diary:

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Birthday post: Time capsule 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 1.08.34 AM

 

Here’s the fourth consecutive instalment of these birthday time capsule things I’ve been doing. You can read 2011, 2012 and 2013 by clicking on each year (come on, you know how hyperlinks work). I’m starting to convince myself this isn’t merely a vanity project, but a nice way to keep track of changes in the world. When I die, which, given my eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, is likely to happen by the end of the decade, the first and last entries I hope will at least be fun for future generations to read.

I can’t really complain about where I am right now, though. I’m truly and unironically #blessed.

Birthday breakfast: Froot Loops.

Birthday second breakfast: Breakfast poutine at one of my favourite diners in Montreal. (They emailed me a gift certificate for my birthday. Can we legally marry restaurants yet or are we still bigots?)

Price of gas: $1.354/litre.

In my Amazon cart: Nothing! But I have this massive 800-page book on the history of Saturday Night Live in my Indigo/Chapters cart.

Current job(s): I plead the fifth on this question in 2012, and didn’t bother including it in 2013, but I’m quite happy and very busy – oh, so, so busy – professionally. My only complaint would be that it’s harder for me to go to the movies during the day now.

No. 1 album on the Billboard 200: Blake Shelton’s latest, Bringing Back the Sunshine.

No. 1 song on the Billboard 100: The catchy “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. It’s an all-women Top 5, btw. How often has that happened? Taylor Swift is No. 2 with “Shake It Off,” Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora are No. 3 with “Black Widow,” “Bang Bang” puts Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nick Minaj at No. 4, and her Minajesty is also No. 5 with the great “Anaconda.”

No. 1 movie at the North American B.O.: For the second week in a row, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, a bonkers thriller and great adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel.

Currently reading: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I am seeing at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma next weekend. (The novels I read are generally ones about to be adapted into a motion picture.)

I consider myself an expert at: Avoiding eye contact.

I wish I were more/less: More willing to speak up when I feel wronged/Less OK with being wronged.

Goal for Year 26: For 25, I wanted to use my passport at least once. I did! So I’m repeating that goal, but this time adding the caveat that it needs to be to go to a place I’ve never been.

I spent the day: Killing time while my car was being serviced at the worst place in the universe (I got a flat yesterday and the closest auto shop to my place is a Canadian Tire store); had two breakfasts; caught up on some PVR’ed shows I missed last week (what the what is going on with How to Get Away with Murder – too many characters!); watched the Japanese film House at home; will be seeing Nightcrawler tonight at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma; dinner before or after the movie at TBD location; writing this/thanking everyone on social media for the well wishes; debating which two shows I will PVR tonight, and which I will catch on streaming some time this week (I went with The Good Wife, because duh, and The Walking Dead Season 5 première).

Twitter followers: 558.

Oscars 2014: Surprises and snubs in this year’s crop of nominees

Oscars

At this point in awards season, and after weeks of best-of year-end lists that take some of the guessing out of the awards-prediction game, very few revelations could really surprise movie fans following the Academy Awards’ nominations announcement this morning and indeed, pretty much every nominee announced was a possible contender. No left-field entries here.

Nine movies will be competing for the best picture Oscar, with American Hustle and Gravity picking up 10 nominations each, followed by 12 Years a Slave with nine. Quebec directors’ Denis Villeneuve and Jean-Marc Vallée’s films picked up seven nominations in total: Prisoners is nominated in the cinematography category for the great work by director of photography Roger Deakins, who also worked on last year’s visually mesmerizing Skyfall. Dallas Buyers Club picked up two acting nominations for Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey – two Golden Globe winners already – as well as makeup, editing and best original screenplay nominations. Dallas Buyers Club will also be vying for the best picture Oscar.

Ever since the Academy upped the best-picture nominees to “a maximum of 10,” I’ve felt that you can still have five without missing any. This year is no different: American HustleCaptain PhillipsDallas Buyers ClubGravityHerNebraskaPhilomena12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. I could have done with just HustleGravityHer12 Years and Wolf.

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Review: August: Osage County

August: Osage County

August: Osage County
Dir. John Wells
Screenplay by Tracy Letts, adapted from the play by Letts
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham.
121 minutes

At the dinner party that is August: Osage County, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are served first; the rest of the cast gets their leftovers, but they didn’t leave much.

Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted it himself to the screen, August: Osage County tells the story of the Weston family, reunited during a scorching couple of days for the funeral of Beverly (Sam Shepard), the Weston patriarch. His wife Violet (Streep) is left to pick up the pieces and is all too happy to receive her three daughters Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Barbara (Roberts) whom she skewers every chance she gets.

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Review: Her

HER

Her
Dir. Spike Jonze (Adaptation.Being John MalkovichWhere the Wild Things Are)
Screenplay by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt and Olivia Wilde
126 minutes

Spike Jonze’s first feature length film since 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are is Her, set in a futuristic but wholly realistic and recognizable world in which moustachioed men wear high-waisted pants and bright pastels, operating systems are advanced enough to understand even whispered commands, and handwritten letters are done on the computer, too, by BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. It’s where Her‘s main character, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, great as usual), works. Not since Up‘s opening scene did a film establish a character’s life and quirks in its first 10 minutes quite like Her does.

Theodore gets requests for birthday and anniversary notes and writes sweet letters to strangers’ relatives and loved ones. His coworkers love his letters, but outside of work, Theodore isn’t such a star and he doesn’t seem as agile with his own feelings as he is when writing about others’. He’s going through a divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara), a writer, and jokes to his friend Amy (Amy Adams) that he “can’t prioritize between video games and Internet porn.” To get organized, he buys a new operating system that should help him with email and scheduling. “It’s not just an operating system,” the ads claim. “It’s a consciousness.” And indeed it is: as it’s setting up, the computer asks Theodore questions – like what his relationship with his mother is like – to fine tune the OS’s personality to his needs. He ends up with an OS named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the name she loved most after reading a book on baby names in two one-hundredths of a second.

The two are charmed with each other, for sure. Theodore even feels uneasy about Samantha reading his emails to him when they involve other women. He’s embarrassed when he is set up on a date by a friend and Samantha shows him photos of the woman (Olivia Wilde) he would be going out with. Samantha evolves, though, and quickly. She starts feeling things and thinking and wanting and yearning. “Are these feelings real,” she wonders, “or are they just programming?” She fantasizes about having a body and what it would feel like to go on walks with Theodore.

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Best of 2013: My favourite R&B songs of 2013

"Drunk in Love" feat. Jay Z

I don’t write about music nearly as much as I would like to or as much I write about film and television. I watch just about anything, but I’m a bit more picky when it comes to music.

R&B is my jam. I chalk it up to growing up in the 90s, one of the best decades ever for the genre – Toni Braxton, Destiny’s Child, Jodeci, Dru Hill (with pre-“Thong Song” Sisqo), Mary J. Blige, TLC, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Brandy, Monica (and Brandy & Monica!), Mya, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Brian McKnight, Usher, Next, Mariah Carey, Sade, Whitney Houston, Blackstreet, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill. Listing everyone is making me nostalgic and sad – how many are still active, let alone relevant, in 2014? I also have to credit my sister for my introduction to the genre. It was Christmas ’95, and she had asked for three cassette tapes: Brandy’s self-titled debut, TLC’s CrazySexyCool and Mariah Carey’s Daydream. We shared a bedroom, and some time between the first time I heard “Creep” and the thousandth listen of “Fantasy,” I was hooked.

The 2000s were good for R&B for a short while (and the decade introduced the world to Alicia Keys, John Legend, Robin Thicke, Ciara, Beyoncé’s solo career, Mariah Carey’s second wind), but then it seemed like the genre lost its crossover appeal and even the most seasoned of R&B artists were ditching some their bluesy roots for a more poppy, dancey, produced sound. Sometime in my youth, too, it became fashionable in hip hop to sample old R&B standards, and that created an easy introduction for me to the genre (Jay-Z’s The Blueprint was the first hip-hop album I ever bought, in October 2001 for my birthday).

It’s easy to say that your favourite things get unfairly overlooked – they’re *your* favourite things – so I’m reluctant to say categorically that R&B gets the shaft, but I do believe it does. It’s gone through a (forced) self-reinvention in the last few years, with 2012 marking a turning point in the genre. It was in my opinion a great year for R&B – one that 2013 could not live up to – with incredible releases by Frank Ocean (the Grammy-nominated Channel Orange), Miguel (Kaleidoscope Dream), Elle Varner (Perfectly Imperfect), Melanie Fiona (The MF Life), Emeli Sandé (Our Version of Events), Solange (True), Alicia Keys (Girl on Fire) and R. Kelly (Write Me Back).

Still, 2013 had its moments. Here are my favourite R&B songs of 2013.

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Best of 2013: My favourite movie scenes of the year

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Movies (wholes) are made up of a bunch of scenes (parts), so I wanted to look back on the most memorable scenes from this year’s films. I’m very happy to be joined by my friends Sophia LoffredaRadina Papukchieva and Elizabeth Tomaras to reflect on our favourite movie scenes of 2013.

RELATED: BEST OF 2013: TOP 10 MOVIES

La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) – Party scene and final scene

In his latest film The Great Beauty, legendary Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, proves that no one can do sweeping, elegant, haunting visuals like he can. After watching the film, I could picture the face of the main character, famous writer and lost soul, Jep Gambardella (played by Tony Sevillo), as he turns around during his ridiculously extravagant birthday party, shimmying, with a cigarette in his mouth and an expression on his face that tells us he doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s hilarious, it’s grandiose, it’s outrageous, it’s incredibly well done. Sorrentino dedicates eight minutes to making this rooftop celebration come alive, zooming in on gems like the perverted facial expressions of guests or the shadows of strippers against a cloudy glass in the distance. Yes, eight minutes of screen time! At one point, the camera flips and Jep and his guests are upside down, dancing for their lives. Then, just as the party is winding down, the dancers go into slow motion and the camera follows a line of flailing arms until it gets to Jep – standing still at the far end, stoic, lighting another cigarette, he begins one of the film’s deeply profound, poetically beautiful monologues about existence, hypocrisy, truth, and happiness. The party scene sets us up for The Great Beauty’s ode to La Bella Vita and for its mockery of the Berlusconi era’s extreme indulgence and shallow living. With religiously rooted, awe-inspiring choral music like “The Lamb” by the Tenebrae Choir, Sorrentino hits us with a one-two punch. Keep an eye out for his final scene, a truly stunning exploration of an old nun climbing a set of stairs in pain, as her wrinkled hands grip the floor and Jep finally realizes the meaning of life’s “flashes of beauty.” Even if you have to watch The Great Beauty with subtitles, please do. It may be slightly self-indulgent on Sorrentino’s part, but his work is truly unique, not to mention incredibly breathtaking. His genius lies in his no holds barred approach to tiny details, and in his realization that there is nothing more powerful than Roman landscapes paired with silent contemplation.

Sophia Loffreda

The Place Beyond the Pines – Opening scene

When done well, the long tracking shot is proof of mastery of the art of film. To be able to follow a character move swiftly through locations builds anticipation and curiosity. The ability to create a mood with a single brush stroke is a rare pleasure that makes directing seem at once effortless and incredibly meticulous. The opening scene of The Place Beyond the Pines follows Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he moves from his caravan, through an amusement park, into a cage where he is about to do motorcycle stunts. We don’t see his face until he is sitting down on the bike, putting on his helmet and jacket. It’s a memorable opening to one of my personal favourite movies of the year.

Radina Papukchieva

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