Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On Little Things and Books

Here's the thing about culture shock thus far--and I admit that it my be different for me, in that A) thus far I've been (relatively) fluent in the language of every country in which I've spent time and B) I'm picking up and moving every few days like a particularly capricious and whimsical tornado tromping its way through a trailer park: it's not necessarily what I expected. Speaking a different language? Not a problem (although the day where I traveled from London to Mainz with a stopover in Belgium and got 4 different languages in one day was more than a little exhausting and made my brain feel like lukewarm spaghetti). Different cultures? Groovy! What a great chance to learn! Restaurants that do things in a slightly different order than what I want? Kill me now.

It's the little things that are exhausting--the minutiae that govern every day, the rules you don't think about that are subtly, almost imperceptibly different that trip you up and make you feel like a crazy person. So, just for fun, here are a few of the little things that are perplexing in their differences because seriously why would these be different anywhere it's so eeeeaaaasssssyyy *screaming noises*:

-I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: neither bathrooms nor water are for free I can't get over this, and refuse to on general principle. And so I spend every day a dehydrated mess with a bladder teetering on the edge of a catastrophic, Old-Faithful-esque explosion.
-There's no standardization in restaurant protocol--when to sit down, when to pay, how to pay, where to pay. This doesn't seem to bug anyone else, but every time I eat out it's an exercise in floaty-dancing.
-Americans are spoiled rotten with street signs, in that we actually have them. Stop taking this for granted. Alternately, apparently Europeans have the kind of honed and preternatural senses of direction about which we can only dream.
-Rules of the road (or lack thereof): I have yet to fully understand traffic laws anywhere I go, and am convinced that it will be this lack of understanding, and not a pack of wild Russian dogs or an exotic illness or anything like that which will be the death of me out here. In London no one pays attention to the walk/don't walk signs except when they do, and every time I thought I figured out the pattern I'd casually almost get run over by a Vespa. In Germany people obey the walk/don't walk signs with wild-eyed dedication except when they don't and I could never quite get the rhythm down for that either. Point is, if you go overseas you'll probably get run over. Act accordingly.
-Cussing is taboo in the US, but just a fact of life here--just today I've seen at least two different billboards/ads that would make a Sunday school teacher scarping off into the hills.
-On that note--tragically, I never got a picture of the Dildo King billboards in Berlin, but they were everywhere. This is a city that is incredibly passionate about selling dildos (dildoes? What's the grammatically correct way to pluralize dildo? Dildae? Dils-do?).
-personal space. Again, Americans are spoiled rotten, in that over here it's *not* generally assumed that everyone will stay at least an armslength away. If you get a foot then today is a good day for you.
-Post offices--German bureaucracy is maddening and confusing, but German postal workers (at least from my limited sample of one office in Prenzlauer Berg) are delightful human beings. It may have taken me 40 minutes, but I got my package sent and the woman who helped me didn't even make e feel like an idiot while doing it.

I'm sure there are other examples--and they'll bug me the second I step out the door--but the point is this: it's not the big cultural differences that make you do a double take; it's the everyday occurrences that you suddenly  can't negotiate, and everyone around you can't comprehend why you don't know what's going on because who doesn't know that? It's wacky?

Parting note: I've decided during my trip to try and only read books that take place in or capture the spirit of the countries I'm visiting. I cheated a bit at the beginning and read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill, which is very much about Dublin, but is also very much about Ireland's relationship with the UK, so I allowed it. Why I decided to start with a 600 page historical epic is anyone's guess, but it meant I had to skip my Germany book. But now I'm in France--I read Perfume: Story of a Murderer on the train here, and, in a fit of woeful optimism, will start A Tale of Two Cities tonight. If I somehow plow through that, I've got The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer to tide me over (or, if it comes to it, to work as my Hungary book). And once I hit Italy am morally and legally obligated to read Andre Aciman's Call me by Your Name, which is arguably my favorite book and takes place in Italy. What I want/need, however, are suggestions for all the other countries. So, if you have a favorite book that takes places in or evokes (deep breath) Spain, Morocco, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand, please do let me know! Save me time googling so I can spend more time doing what I really love--getting lost on European trains and then pretending I know exactly where I'm going.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Oscar Predictions 2016: Cry Havok, and Let Slip the etc., etc.

Here's the deal--I know this space is currently a travel blog, and I intend to get right back to those pithy anecdotes about public transit, but I am who I am. A tiger can't change its spots (if it had any), and I can't stop myself from writing up Oscar predictions, even if I'm doing it on a train and this is theoretically the quiet car and I should probably stop typing like I'm mad at my keyboard. These are my spots, and I'm sticking with them.

Things will be a little different this year: Normally I do an entire series of posts and give a detailed profile of every category. It's a blast (for me) but it takes hours and hours and an entire week to post in its entirely. I only have 55 minutes before I have to get off this train, so we're doing Oscar Predictions: Lightning Round. I'll just give my predictions and a (hopefully) brief rundown of what to look out for. We'll see if I can finish before Wurzburg--if not I guess I'll just have to miss my stop again to finish.
(Note: I'm not going to miss my stop. I'm going to look out the window in a blind panic every two minutes in fear of missing my stop. ICE trains aren't quite as forgiving as regional German transport.)

And Now, an Illustrative Parable about Trains

Apparently, trains are harder than I thought.

And I'm not just talking about the security checks on iternational trains (which, I know I should have been surprised that they happen, but you try figuring out security when you're not expecting it, you don't know the rules, and it's happening in French), I'm talking about the deceptively straightfoward process of getting on and off trains.

Problem the first: The doors on German trains do not always open. There's a little button to push if, for whatever reason, you want to escape die deutsche Bahn. This is a helpful little tidbit to file away if ever you find yourself mournfully watching your stop drifting away from you as the doors remain resolutely, malevolently closed.

Problem the second: not all train stations are created equal. So if you're expecting a platform or a building, and all you're greeted with is the side of the road, don't run up and down the train in a panic looking for the station until your stop slowly drifts away from you and the doors remain resolutely, malevolently closed.

The obvious subtext here--I missed my stop. For many reasons (at least two!) The good news: I'm perfecting the art of getting lost in Europe--I managed to get off at the next stop (I picked someone who looked like they were getting out and I followed them and did exactly what they did. They probably thought I was stalking them by the end), and then decided to walk back to my original destination (only a few KM). So I missed my stop, but I got to stroll along the Rhine for an hour, which was lovely.

But this isn't the end of the story.

Problem the third: many of the train stations I'm encountering don't have people who sell tickets; just kiosks. It's 2017. I get this. I can use a kiosk like a grown up and smile while doing it.

Problem the fourth (or maybe Problem the third, subparagraph 1): these delightful machines do not take 20 Euro bills. Nor do they take cards. Would anyone like to guess what I had in my wallet while trying to buy a return ticket?

Problem the fifth: not necessarily a train-related problem. Oestrich-Winkel, the lovely, picturesque village I was visiting, is profoundly uninterested in selling anything other than wine. So if, hypothetically, one wants to buy something quickly to get smaller bills and doesn't want to buy 40 euros worth of authentic Rhine valley wine, one may or may not be hypothetically out of luck.

Obvious subtext #2: after hours of walking and touring in the cold--a really wonderful experience--I was looking forward to getting on the train (yay heaters! yay sitting!), only to be confronted with a horrible Catch-22: in order to get on the train, I needed smaller bills, and in order to get smaller bills, I kind of needed to get on the train.

In all of my time in Oestrich-Winkel (roughly 5 hours), I encountered exactly one business that was open and selling things that wouldn't break my bank: a bakery.
This bakery had no menu. No signs on its products. Just various pastries and one very taciturn baker.

My German isn't bad--in fact, it's rather good. I've had no trouble communicating, negotiating, etc. But I've apparently drawn the line at learning words for pastries, the names of which I wouldn't know in English either.

Here follows a transcript of my transaction:

Me: I would like... ...one of those things.
Baker: ...you mean the (insert unintelligble German here. It had something to do with nuts.)
Me: ....yes. Exactly.
Baker: (glares)

The good news, part 2: whatever I bought was delicious.

The part that proves I'm an idiot, part 1: I remembered on my way back to the station, having missed a few trains during my bakery quest, that you can buy tickets on the traIn, and can use a card.

The part that proves I'm an idiot, part 2: there was a man behind an info desk not 10 feet from the kiosk in the station the whole time. I hope he enjoyed watching my panic enfold in real time.

The moral: trains are hard.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Some (not so brief) thoughts on London

Quite by accident, London is kind of the perfect opening destination for my trip, in that it's giving me something of a framing device for everything I'm about to see. I was at the British Museum (or, as one of my professors described it, a monument to Imperialism, and she's certainly not wrong, but man am I glad I went), looking at various artifacts and curiosities from the world over, and I found myself wondering what the difference might be between how the UK was representing these countries and how they would represent themselves--and I get to spend the next 4 months figuring out exactly that. What a cool thing. I don't think it'll be controversial to call the UK's involvement with the rest of the world ... problematic (very generally said: Imperialism-generally not a super thing), but you can see the fingerprints of that history everywhere, as well as London's continually developing role as an international city: I've heard far more in the way of other languages spoken on the subway than I've heard English.
So what about London itself?
London is, for lack of a better word, fast.
Strike that--London is manic. It's agressive. A city perpetually stuck in a state of giddy breathlessness. I tend to walk fast--I get my blinders on, smell the blood in the proverbial water, and go for my goal it's the only one left on the shelf--but I'm finding myself constantly in the slow lane here. And it's kind of fantastic.
London is overwhelming, in every sense of the word, but positively so. I can't help but thinking of a pair of quotes while I'm here: Samuel L. Johnson's (relatively) famous "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"--I get the sentiment, and there's certainly enough to keep anyone occupied for ten lifetimes, but perhaps a more accurate sentiment might have been "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of literally everyone on the street treating every waking moment like it's the Indy 500 and just wants to sit down"--as well as the openings of Mrs. Dalloway, in which we all get to fall in love life, London, this moment in June. There's a reason London is a city consistently romanticized and lionized in pop culture--it's a city that begs for romance and oozes it from every pore. And I find myself totally woozy and intoxicated and smitten by the whole things--I've got stars in my eyes and they look like Big Bens and Millenium Bridges.
Also, fun fact--there's a reason that Virginia Woolf quote doesn't read 'life, London, this moment in January'--because it's cold. Listen, I'm from Leadville: in the 10 days before I left, it snowed over four feeet. It got under -10 most nights, and didn't get much above 0 during the days. I figured I'd be coming to Europe to escape winter. I took a rainjacket and I lauged in the face of piddly little London winter.
I know now that I'm wrong.
There are two types of cold: the Leadville cold, the quick and merciless cold, the kind of cold that freezes your hands to metal and can turn snow into ice in a hot second, the cold that takes your skin and laughs while doing that. And then there's the London cold--a damp, creeping thing that crawls under your skin and dies there. These two colds were not created equal. Now I'm wearing underarmor and two different sweaters and I still wish someone would light me on fire. Here's hoping as I move south there's less fog and more blizzards. Because I can handle blizzards--but give me this London stuff and I'm lost.

Finally: one random thought, one random act of kindness, and one thing I learned--because all three of these categories are important, and I want to end all of these blogs on a positive note.

Random thought: Language is a currency. And like any currency, some travel farther than others. Let's all take a moment how unbelievably privileged we are that we can speak our native language in most corners of the world and have at least some (justified) expectation of being understood. My hostel roommates have been from Poland, France, Germany, Austria, and Russia, and not yet has any one even considered the possibility of speaking a language other than English. And the fact that I get to use my native language is great--but how great (and important) is it/would it be if these people could use theirs as readily as I do mine? In case you need another reason why teaching/learning foreign languages is important, than here you are: make someone else's currency travel a bit more.

Random act of kindness: I know they're literally getting paid to be nice to me, but good grief are the people paid to help you in London wonderful. I was struggling to buy a train ticket on the kiosk-y thing, and a woman came up to me, did the whole process for me, showed me how to do it for next time, and made jokes the whole way through. If this had been in New York, chances are someone would have straight broken my legs had I asked for help.

One thing I learned: free water is apparently a profoundly American concept. In my infinite optimism, I just brought an empty water bottle and assumed I'd fill up as I go. I've seen approximately 2 drinking fountains since I've gotten here, and both were clearly designed for children (adults, I assumed, having long since given up the habit of drinking water). So I'm spending most of my days casually being on the verge of death by dehydration.

Long story short: London is groovy. Go see London. I'm a bit bummed to be moving on already--a small part of me already wonders if the trip has peaked as it began (I'm not so far into the trip that I'm used to the act of traveling yet, so every time I turn a street corner it feels like Christmas: 'where am I? Wow! Old buildings! Accents! Red buses! Oh happy day!"), and that everything I'll see from here might pale just a bit in comparison, but what a silly thought--I don't have to worry about comparisons because there won't be any--what's the point of comparing London with the national parks in Vietnam I hope to visit in a few months? DIfferent worlds--and as lovely as this one has been, I'm sure I'll find other lovely ones along the way.

Also, quick note about pictures: You may have noticed that this post is conspicuously lacking in pictures. Reason for that is all my pictures are on my phone, and I'm writing this on a different device, and have yet to figure out a way to quickly and/or conventiently get them over here or share them to this blog. So if you're friends with me on Facebook or are following me on Instagram (jkuster191), you're getting the full, uninturrupted stream, but if this your only resource, I'll have to work a bit to get those pictures here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day 1: Sometimes a Great Notion...

Hello all!

I'm going to need to come up with a different kind of greeting. I'm sitting in the airport with another hour to burn before I get on the plane, so I thought I'd try my hand at this whole travel blogging thing. I have to admit--I've never wrote about myself in a public context, and as of now it feels at best bizarre and at worst profoundly egotistic. But here we are. I'll do my best to be pithy, entertaining, and interesting, but I'm not sure I'll be able to promise any more than whatever strange, travel-addled thought is crawling its way through my brain at any given moment. So this could be an adventure.

To that end, I've been thinking about how to approach the next four months--it's such an alien experience to me that I'm lacking any kind of frame of reference or structure with which I can try to figure out my behavior--so maybe I'll end up living under a bridge in Prague for four months. Or maybe I'll add 30 more countries to my roster and see if I can break the record for most consecutive poor decisions in 50 countries straight. Who knows?

But in hopes of getting a little bit of clarity for the next months, I've decided to come up with a list of rules (guidelines?) (suggestions?) for what to do while I'm getting lost across the world.

1. And this is the most important one, the one designed to keep me a little bit sane--I am not allowed to punish myself or feel bad for not seeing every corner of the world. Here's the thing with traveling--despite the fact that I'll be dancing around in exotic locales and drifting from port to port, I will still (tragically) be a human being, which means this will, in a sense, be like any other four-month period in my life. Some days I will be grumpy. Some days I will want nothing more than to close the door and get some sleep. And this is ok--forcing myself to enjoy every second or else is a great recipe to hating it all. So if I need a break, I'll take a break, and I'm not allowed to beat myself up about it.
2. Say yes--within reason. This is an obvious one. It's tough to have adventures if I turn down everything that comes down my way. So if someone asks if I want to go surfing, or if I want to go to a concert in some back-alley pub, and it doesn't seem like I'm going to wake up in a bathtub with my kidneys harvested, then I ought to do it.
3. Don't get my kidneys harvested. Also an obvious one. Don't be stupid--a breahtakingly unrealistic goal, I know, but it's important to have dreams.
4. Don't panic--I have my visas, and I have a bank account. Everything else is negotiable. I have one million and one plans right now--and just about all of them are bound to go wrong. And this is also ok. I'm going to make mistakes, miss things, change [plans on the spur of the moment, etc.--and these will be the best parts of the trip, probably. So I need to let go of my inner control freak and roll with it.

So that's that--not sure this is a particularly interesting inaugural post, but I imagine it's going to take me a bit to find my feet, blog-wise. Until then, you'll have to bear with me--I'll do my best to post pretty pictures and things in the meantime, in hopes of tiding you over until I figure out something interesting to say.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 3: Craft Categories

And we're back again--that's right, two in one day, because the depths of my sadism know no bounds--and apparently neither does your masochism, since you've clicked over here twice in one day. This is what they did to Joan of Arc to make her recant--they just posted a couple links on her wall and suddenly homegirl was all about getting out of that prison cell. Some things are just too much to ask of a person. And yet here you are. Think about your choices. I'd say I'll think about mine, but this is my blog, so by law I don't have to.

And as quickly as it's all come, this will be my last big movie post. I'm sure I'll manage some Oscar predictions even though I'll be traveling (because some things don't change regardless of the scenery), but otherwise this blog will start morphing into a travel blog starting .... soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe never. I've never travel blogged, nor have I ever written about myself and my experiences in a public space (and, frankly, am dreading the whole enterprise), so we'll see how it goes.

For now, simpler things: today I'm going to shine a light on all my favorite movie-things about which no other sane human cares--the craft categories! Yaaaay! But I'd love to convince you why getting jazzed about costumes and sound effects and prosthetics is the right way to watch movies--because there's *so much* richness there for the taking, and all you have to do is look. So get in my imagination-boat and let's go have a look at some of the cool things I saw in movies this year, and I'll do my very best not to exhaust you.

(Note: I've included a brief description/definition of a few categories, in case you're not positive to what each craft category refers.)

Best of 2016, Part 2: Directing/Screenplays/Acting

And we're back again today--apply whichever Henry V quote best pertains to your state of mind at this moment (I always assume it's the one with going into the breach once more, dear friends, but what do I know? Maybe you're feeling the one about ghosts. This blog is your oyster) and let's sally forth.

Today will be a massive and ungainly creeping horror-show full of the worst kinds of intensity--should be fun. Because I'm trying to sandwich all of these posts in before I leave on Sunday, I'm going to be tackling a pretty massive amount of content: first, we'll tackle the categories at which I am contractually bound to say that I've dreamed at failing: directing and screenplays. And then, if anyone is still alive, we'll plow onto the acting categories. Hooray!

In interest of super brevity (brevity's rad cousin from Indiana), I'm going to try to do something pithy and insightful for every entry in only one sentence. I hope you've got your pearls close at hand, because by the end of this you will have clutched the ever-living crap out of them.

Best Director
Just for the hell of it, these will be written in the format of recipe instructions. Look out, world.
(I think this means I'm already going to kill super brevity and toss it in the desert just like I did regular brevity.)

5. Barry Jenkins-Moonlight
Take two parts identity crisis, one part three-pronged story structure, and simmer them repressed desire and gorgeous lighting for 10 years. Rinse, try not to repeat.

4. Pablo Lorrain-Jackie
Throw the recipe book out--you don't need it anyway--and make something gorgeous and jaw-dropping while glaring at everyone and daring them to ask why you're not going to let them eat it.

3. Denis Villeneuve-Arrival
Be patient--the cake of your dreams will come to you. In the meantime, whittle the most intricately crafted and lovely cake pan that you can. Expect the people looking for the cake to get what's going on.

2. Martin Scorsese-Silence
Don't cook anything--give everyone you know something wonderful, and then punch them repeatedly in the face. Say nothing if they ask why. Drink their sweet, sweet tears.

1. Damien Chazelle-La La Land
Spend years making the lightest, crunchiest, most colorful confections you can imagine, lay them out in a looooooong buffet, invite all your friends, let them fall in love with your spread, and then remind them that it will all be gone in an hour and they better enjoy what they can while they have the time.

Honorable mention: a cake metaphor that ends in horrific violence for Jeremy Saulnier and Green Room (I hate leaving him off, but that's how it is).

Best Original Screenplay
And these will all be tenuous metaphors packed to the gills with left-field allusions and historical jokes, because I'm feeling whimsical, and dammit, no force on Earth will damper my whimsy train.

5. Taylor Sheridan-Hell or High Water
Cormac McCarthy tossed in a blender with Tracy Letts and the guy who got fired from SNL for being too depressing.
"I've been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys. Not anymore."
4. Byron Howard, Rich Moore et al.-Zootopia
Like if Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Spike Lee were both furries and had a baby whose only sustenance was animal based puns.
Dad: Judy, you ever wonder how your mom and me got to be so darn happy?
Judy: Nope.
Dad: Well, we gave up on our dreams and we settled. Right, Bon?
Mom: Oh yes, that's right. We settled hard.

3. Jeremy Saulnier-Green Room
If the spirit of Pol Pot possessed a young Quentin Tarantino (rental store era Tarantino, not Jackie Brown era Tarantino) and convinced him to scribble out a dream journal after watching Triumph of the Will.
It's funny. You were so scary at night."

2. Kenneth Lonergan-Manchester by the Sea
This is the screenplay Will Hunting writes after driving out to California, realizing Minnie Driver never loved him, and then getting hit by a bus hitchhiking back to Boston.
Patrick: What happened to your hand?
Lee: I cut it.
Patrick: Oh thanks. For a minute there, I didn't know what happened.

1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou-The Lobster
No metaphor I can come up with makes this movie stranger or more delightful than it already is--Colin Farrell runs into the woods and invents a secret sign language to involve getting turned into a lobster. I can't beat that in terms of sheer wacky genius.
Hotel Manager: Have you thought about what kind of animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?
David: Yes. A Lobster.
Hotel Manager: Why a lobster?
David: Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.

Honorable mention: Jackie puts on a pink hat and coolly lights an entire genre on fire and then starts from scratch.

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Whit Stillman-Love and Friendship
Jane Austen and the writers of Arrested Development get together and make Thomas Hardy's bear dance around in a frilly dress--this movie is an ironic interpretation of that bear's interior monologue.
"Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates. Only by having children ourselves can we begin to understand such a dynamic."

4. Jeff Nichols-Loving
This is the sound an unstoppable force makes when it encounters an unmovable object, and both simultaneously decide to drop their adjectives for the common good.
(No quotes worth posting from IMDB, and I just don't remember the movie's screenplay to quote it verbatim. At any rate, the dialogue isn't so much the point of this movie.)

3. Barry Jenkins-Moonlight
Somewhere, in a parallel universe where everything is one shade more beautiful and profound than the one we inhabit, a closeted, 40-year old investment banker wakes up crying, but can't remember why. 
"Ok, let your head rest in my hand. Relax. I got you. I promise. I won't let you go. Hey man, I got you. There you go. Ten seconds. Right there. You in the middle of the world."

2. Eric Heisserer-Arrival
If Andrei Tarkovksy and a very patient linguist got together and slapped an Isaac Asimov pinata, this movie would eventually fall out.
Halpern: We have to consider the idea that our visitors are prodding us to fight among ourselves until only one faction prevails.
Dr. Banks: There's no evidence of that.
Halpern: Sure there is. Just grab a history book.

1. Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese-Silence
A sermon using a Bible in which all the red words have been taken out, delivered by a pastor who has never met his congregation, heard by an audience that turns into giraffes when no one is looking.
"You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as his. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don't have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted."

Honorable mention: sweat-drenched pastiche in A Bigger Splash

Note: I've disqualified Fences from this award--not because it's not a fantastic script, which it absolutely is, *but* because it is the exact same script as used for the theater production (the writing credit at the end of the film is "August Wilson, adapted from his play," but August Wilson has been dead for a decade). I loooooove this script/play, but think there's something to be said for reserving movie awards for scripts that were written for the movie.

And though I imagine they are totally worthless in helping you understand why I picked these movies/performances, or why you should see them, or what is special about them, I'm going to keep up the tenuous metaphor track, because I'm having a blast and want to see how deep this rabbit hole goes. I bet two categories from now I'll be able to smell colors.

Best Actor
5. Jesse Plemons-Other People
The Anger and Sadness characters from Inside Out stacked on top of each other and wearing a trenchcoat, tasked with lying their way into a country club for successful straight people.

4. Daniel Radcliffe-Swiss Army Man
A farting and lovelorn corpse with superpowers. This isn't a metaphor or an embellishment--it's just what Daniel Radcliffe plays in the movie.

3. Joel Edgerton-Loving
If an Easter Island head were given the opportunity to speak about all it had seen, but chose not to.

2. Casey Affleck-Manchester by the Sea
The angry foster child of a closed throat and a clenched fist.

1. Denzel Washington-Fences
The leader of a pack of mammoths, carelessly wandered into a tar-pit, glacially sinking lower, centimeter by centimeter, doing its best to pretend it doesn't mind that everyone around it can keep walking.

Honorable mention: Ryan Gosling's by turns weepy and ebullient jazz pianist in La La Land

Best Actress
5. Kate Winslet-The Dressmaker
Sing, muse, of the anger of Kate Winslet, daughter of a RuPaul's Drag Race fever dream, who came here to make dresses and burn down your house, and she's all out of dresses.

4. Taraji P. Hensen-Hidden Figures
This is the way a rung near the bottom of a ladder feels if it knew it could do advanced mathmatics much better than the rungs closer to the top.

3. Ruth Negga-Loving
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, the sound it makes will eventually move to Virginia, don a gingham house dress, and stare into the camera.
(Very few clips of this movie on Youtube, so just go have a second look at the clip I posted w/ Joel Edgerton.)

2. Natalie Portman-Jackie
Camelot--not the real place, but the fantasy, the romantic yearnings of hundreds of thousands of wistful bookworms, English majors, and suburban housewives strewn across centuries--comes to ghastly, unnatural life and staggers down 5th avenue in New York, wailing to all the people who can't hear it.

1. Viola Davis-Fences
The part of an iceberg that's visible over water may only be a small fraction of the iceberg's size and strength--but it's the only part that has a voice, and so it does the best it can, it sings its songs and it feels small, but every now again an ocean liner comes along and the iceberg gets to remind us and itself that it is vast--it contains multitudes--and can still be counted on in a pinch to do something world-shattering.

Honorable mention: Emma Stone's sass and vulnerability in La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
5. Garrett Hedlund-Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A G.I. Joe doll comes to life, and its first words are that it wishes it could have voted for Elizabeth Warren for president.
(Totally unironic side note--can we talk about how criminally underappreciated Garrett Hedlund is, and how he's constantly giving complex and nuanced performances in movies that have no interest in complex, nuanced performances? Why doesn't this guy have a better career?)
(Side note two--I forgot to mention the other day that no movie this year has misunderstood its source material as breathtakingly as this one. Who thought it was a good idea to take an unbelievably angry satire about the falseness of patriotic pageantry and try to turn it into a feel-good celebration of patriotism?)
(Side note three--no clip. Bummer.)

4. Lucas Hedges-Manchester by the Sea
This is the puppy that thinks it doesn't need you, but then you leave, and it doesn't know what to do with itself--it cries and yowls and maybe it pees on the rug, and when you get back it jumps up on your leg and you momentarily forget that it fully expects you to clean up what it did.

3. Mahershala Ali-Moonlight
You have been floating on the ocean in a life raft for weeks--just you, a pack of rations, and your thoughts, not even a tiger that's a metaphor for God to help you while away the time--and suddenly it starts to rain, the kind of warm, gentle rain that reminds you of summers spent from someone else's childhood, the kind of rain that makes you feel, however briefly, that you're a human being with wants and needs and hopes and dreams that have nothing to do with survival.

2. Trevante Rhodes-Moonlight
But when that rain ends, you become very, very cold. You have two choices--throw yourself into the ocean and accept your fate, or stay on the raft and make yourself believe that you no longer have the ability to perceive temperature. Somehow you manage to do both simultaneously.

1. Alden Ehrenreich-Hail, Caesar!
You know Karl May never actually visited the Southwest, right? He stayed up, late into the night, scrawling dizzy daydreams of cowboys and their dizzying and charmed lives, basing all his novels on the American Southwest on the cowboy he pretended to be while playing as a child. This is that cowboy--fully grown, sure of himself, and then forced to move to the city and become a real estate agent for rich, older women.

Honorable mention:

Best Supporting Actress
5. Michelle Williams-Manchester by the Sea
You know the tired-looking woman who is forced to hold the boom mike every day during the filming of Real Housewives of New Jersey? Ask her about her life.

4. Molly Shannon-Other People
It feels kind of disengenous and strange to try to come up with a silly blurb for a performance that's a woman dying of cancer, so I'll just say it's a lovely, warm, sad performance.

3. Linda Edmond-Indignation
A conquered Amazonian who, as punishment for her crime of daring to live in the jungle, is forced to make kosher meals for lesser men for centuries.
(There's literally no video on Youtube that features Logan Lerman's poor, harangued mother in this movie, so just close your eyes and imagine you're watching a clip right now.)

2. Kate Dickey-The Witch
Anne Coulter has night terrors--this is the worst of the apparations that comes to her in the night, the one that oozes out from under the floor boards and stares at her until she can no longer tell the difference between the mirror and the silent, dead-eyed banshee weeping in the corner.
(also no clips here, but why haven't you seen this movie yet?)

1. Naomie Harris-Moonlight
There is nothing moral or immoral about a tornado--it is purely amoral, a primal force of nature that acts according to its nature without thought to the consequences, because what would it think? A trailer park is a tiny, insignificant obstacle standing in the way of its ancient and inevitable quest to move from A to B. So the tornado goes through the trailer park with its eyes glazed over, and there's nothing to do but wait until it's over and then try to pick up the pieces.

Honorable mention: Terrible wigs but man what warmth from Nicole Kidman in Lion

That was utterly ridiculous. I don't really know what to make of anything I just wrote, and I daresay you might not either. Hooray! It was fun though.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 1: Top 10, Zen Awards

I find myself in a strange position this year. Simply put: movies have been something of an afterthought of late.

If you've known me for any amount of time, or, hell, spoken to me for more than 6 1/2 minutes, you know that's not something I'd be bound to say. Just the fact that I've got a movie blog and have been posting lists like this in form or another for 11 years now (sweet kettle of corn I am ancient and horrible) is a relatively sizable hint that I toss myself at movies with a bit more enthusiasm and (dare I say) pizazz than the joe-average moviegoer.

And yet that's just not worked out for me this year. Rather than listing the veritable cornucopia (cornucopiae?) of responsibilities, stresses, woes, etc. that have followed me around this year like love-sick puppies, suffice to say that this past year--and the last six-ish months in particular--have been pretty definitively the busiest of my short and silly life thus far. Which, unfortunately, means that I haven't been able to dedicate the time to movies that I normally ought. Even in the context of writing this--I imagine these posts will be somewhat rushed and truncated, because I'm leaving for a 4-month, 3 continent extravaganza in 5 days, and shockingly a whole big bucket of my mental processing space is stuck on that.

So, for the first time since high school, I'm going to offer some kind of New Years resolution: this year I will be better at movies. Even if I have to work all day, I am going to not be the kind of lazy sad-sack who just stares into space when I get home; I'm going to stare into space at movies, and it will be delightful. I don't care if I don't finish my work until 3.00 and have to wake up at 7.00--that will be the perfect time to watch that three hour long Hungarian epic about potatoes I've been meaning to see.
(Note: this resolution is going to have to wait a few months though, because see above, re: trip, extravaganza, etc.)

The point of this rant? This year I've only seen 50 movies. I know, I know, 50 movies from one calendar year seems like a giddy luxury to people who only went to the theater twice this year, but for me it's a jaw-dropping, legitimately embarrassing tally. Note that my record for one calendar year is 98, and my average is easily in the 80s. Oh well. Part of this is no doubt due to the wackiness that I previously described, as well as the fact that I'm writing this a full month earlier than usual--there are tons of movies I'd love to see that just haven't expanded to my corner of the world yet. And as usual, I'm horrendously lacking in foreign films, because we just don't deserve them in the middle of the country (every year for 11 years I've had to write that, and every year I roll my eyes just a little harder). So apologies to movies like 20th Century Women, Live by Night, Patriots Day, Florence Foster Jenkins, Toni Erdmann, Land of Mine, Neruda, The Handmaiden, etc., etc., etc.

The other takeaway: I haven't had the time (or willpower) to seek out as many obscure movies that you may have never heard of, which means that my list is a bit more commercial than usual. Not that there's anything wrong with that--it just means that you may have actually seen some of these movies. The horror!

So here's the format: I'll kick things off with a top 20 list (which, admittedly, seems a bit excessive when I've only seen 50 movies, but I'm nothing if not excessive), followed by the annual Zen awards (preceded by the annual 'please someone give me a better title for my awards' award for things Joe says every year without fail). So if you can grit your teeth and wade through the breathtaking abuse of the English language and common decency that I am about to unleash, you'll be rewarded with a bit of silliness at the end (still no common decency though). Oh happy day! Catch it all in breathtaking Cinemascope after the jump.