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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Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Free Montreal preview July 7

Guardians of the Galaxy

If you can’t wait until Aug. 1 for the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel is screening 17 minutes of never-before-seen footage from the film in select theatres across Canada and the United States on Monday, July 7, at 7 p.m. (that’s 7 p.m. on 7/7).

Tickets are free for the IMAX 3D screening, but you have to reserve yours (up to 2) at SeeItFirst.com. In Montreal, the screenings will take place at downtown’s Scotiabank Theatre and Guzzo’s Marché Central Megaplex 18. As of Wednesday evening, tickets were still available for both events.

Guardians of the Galaxy stars Chris Pratt, his abs, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Djimon Honsou, with the voices of Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper and Josh Brolin, among many others, and will be out on Aug. 1. It’s directed by James Gunn, who helmed indies like Slither and Super – but also directed a segment from Movie 43.

The first two trailers for Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy have about 25 million hits on YouTube.

10 ways to fix SNL Québec

SNL Quebec

I love Saturday Night Live. Even terrible episodes have one or two redeeming sketches. At the very least, Weekend Update is a safe bet for a few laughs. When it was announced that Télé-Québec would be producing SNL Québec, I was thrilled and cautiously optimistic. There is no denying what a cultural institution the show is. The U.S. version of SNL – created by Canadian Lorne Michaels, who is still executive producing after 39 years – carries a soft power during U.S. election years and is undoubtedly a breeding ground for comedians: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracy Morgan, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Ana Gasteyer. The list could go on and on.

I want to like SNL Québec – love it, even. But there are too many missteps and unoriginal ideas for a show that is just starting out. There have only been two episodes so far (the first, hosted by Louis-José Houde on Feb. 6 can be streamed on Télé-Quebec’s website), with no guarantee that the show is going to get picked up for more.

There hasn’t been a shortage of items in the news for SNL Québec to parody, but it’s barely touched them. We’re in the middle of an election campaign, and all the show could manage was a cold open featuring a dinner party with the four party leaders and a knock at François Legault’s CAQ, both during the second episode, hosted by Stéphane Rousseau (link to come). I expected more election and political sketches this time around, but maybe that just isn’t the show SNL Québec wants to be. Still, it has some redeeming factors (Katherine Levac, a young cast that’s game for whatever, endless possibilities for musical guests) and potential, and I think it could and should come back, but it needs some work.

Here are my 10 suggestions for how to fix SNL Québec:

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Review: The Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice chauve) at Théâtre Sainte Catherine

La Cantatrice Chauve The Bald Soprano

First impressions are so important.

It’s true in job interviews, meeting your in-laws or first dates, and it’s true in theatre, too. I was instantly pulled into Raise the Stakes’ bilingual production of Eugene Ionesco’s odd The Bald Soprano thanks to Paul Naiman and Michelle Langlois-Fequet, playing Mr. and Mrs. Smith, opening the play with the sort of zest and fervor that are impossible to ignore. Mrs. Smith is telling her visibly annoyed and inattentive husband about her day as he continues to read a comically large newspaper. This would be the first of many (to my surprise) physical and visual gags in this production of The Bald Soprano.

The Smiths host the Martins for dinner (a meal that never actually happens during the play’s 80-minute runtime) and the double-date quickly turns into an opportunity for the four characters to one-up each other, telling ridiculous stories and anecdotes. It’s no-holds barred when the local fire chief comes by, upping the energy tenfold. The Martins (Hugo Prévosteau and Chelsea Morgane) have a memorable entrance after being chastised by the Smiths’ maid (Lesley Leichtweis Bernardi) for being late. The Martins look like they are straight out of a Wes Anderson film, she in a pink blouse and blue floral skirt, he, a mustachioed bespectacled man wearing an orange turtle neck and light-blue pants. They forget how they know each other until deducing that they are probably married since they sleep in the same bed in the same room in the same apartment.

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Kanye West in Montreal: Best moments

Yeezus

Kanye West hitting the stage at 8:15 p.m. would be the first of many surprises at the hip-hop artist’s latest Montreal show. Montrealers were promised Yeezus last fall, but the show had to be rescheduled – we lost opening act Kendrick Lamar in the process, but West was more than able to hold his own.

The show lasted about two-and-a-half hours – West has a seemingly endless catalogue of hits and a very long wind. A mid-show rant about his work, career and genius took up more than 20 minutes alone. It served as an entr’acte, with two very distinct shows manifesting themselves pre- and post-rant. Pre-rant, West was serious, distant, angry even, going through a high-concept story about rises, falls and egos. Post-rant, and after ditching bedazzled masks he’d been donning for the first half of the show, West the showman (and an unapologetic show-off) gave the audience what they had been waiting for and expecting all night: sing-alongs, engagement and West’s biggest hits. Yeezus is definitely the most artsy hip-hop concert I’ve ever attended (in his rant, West mentioned the change hip-hop shows have gone through, from a bunch of guys on stage with live microphones to tours by West, Drake and Jay Z with sophisticated sets and artistic concepts. If he saw me nodding tonight, it was because I was remembering one of my first hip-hop shows, Ja Rule in the early-2000s. Let’s just say it was memorable because it was such a mess.)

Here are my three favourite moments from Yeezus in Montreal:

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Jay Z in Montreal: favourite moments

Jay Z

For almost two hours, Jay Z rocked the Bell Centre stage during his Magna Carta World Tour in Montreal last night.

He didn’t disappoint, performing more than a handful of songs off the album that is the tour’s namesake, Magna Carta Holy Grail, even though it wasn’t a huge hit among fans and critics. But it was when he started firing off hit after hit from his almost 20-year career that I realized the fun show could have been longer given Jay Z’s immense back catalog of hits.

You can read Sophia Loffreda’s and my thoughts on the show and our favourite moments from the last night over at The Cafe Phenomenon.

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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