Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The best movies of 2010 so far.

I have been working on remembering the movies I saw in 2010. Luckily, I keep a kind of a running list. I've seen a lot of movies, as it turns out. Why do I feel there haven't been so many good ones?

Even so, I was able to fill out the following categories for movies that were

Craptastic: Step Up 3D. I am in love with the entire Step Up franchise, although, for me personally, nothing will ever beat the joy of going up to the ticket booth and saying, "I'd like two tickets for Step Up 2 colon The Streets, please." Those, my friends, were happier days. Still, this one was especially wonderful, in that no one felt obligated, really, to create a character or whatever. Characters are for actors who can't dance. Seriously, if there were more than, like, a dozen lines of dialogue, it was totally time for a dance. And this time, the dancers reached out to grab you by the throat or smack you upside the head, i.e., because there was 3D. Good times!

Animated. I could also include in this category Howl, but the animations were not the most wonderful part of that movie. This year, I loved How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, and Toy Story 3. All of these were quite wonderful, and even though I think Toy Story 3 wins on points, I loved Despicable Me more. It just cracked me up.

Starring Michael Cera. We saw both Youth in Revolt and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this year. You know what? I have had the same conversation with several people in which the question is posed to me: are we sick of Michael Cera yet? For me, the evidence is in: No. I found Youth in Revolt to be charming, and the bad boy Michael Cera was hilarious. But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was as funny as hell, so amazingly inventive, with MC sending up his own MC persona so beautifully that it kind of seemed like we were at a whole new MetaMichael level. Bring it on, I say.

Featuring mind-blowing visuals, both good and bad. Let's start with the bad: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Blah. That is all. Good: Inception. Whatever else you might say about it, it looked cool as all get out, including some truly inspired stuff when the sleepers in the van were falling in slow motion and it looked like they were doing a super-soporific underwater ballet. Magical. Killer. Also, Joseph Gordon Leavitt is kind of a mind-blowing visual all on his own.

Policiers. In this category, the items to beat are the three films in the Red Riding trilogy, and for my money, none of the following beat RR, even though they were all pretty good: Police, Adjective, The Girl with (tattoo, etc.) movies, and The Secret in Their Eyes. The Police, Adjective movie is Romanian, and is one of those movies that you're not sure is actually a movie, because it is so still and therefore so much like the kind of tedious parts of life. It rewards you if you stick with it, I swear. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/Who Played With Fire was just like the books: lurid, violent, dark, gripping. I suppose there were police in these movies. But they're full of mysteries that need to be solved, so they belong in this category (she argues). The last, The Secret in Their Eyes, features the soulful Ricardo Darin, also of The Aura. He is splendid and so is everyone else, and its setting in post-Peronist (and ff) Argentina is of great interest, the more so because it's not hammered upon. But the Red Riding movies: now those get under your skin and don't fade. Seeing the three films over the course of less than a week added up to an extremely rewarding movie-going experience. Violent, violent, violent. Dark, very dark.

Thrillers of the non-police variety. (artificial category distinction) Both The Ghost Writer and Animal Kingdom were very good. Of the two, I liked Animal Kingdom better, though The Ghost Writer was an extremely suave and polished accomplishment. I liked the rawness of Animal Kingdom, and seeing Guy Pearce, even for a few minutes, is a real treasure.

Documentary. Huh, apparently, I saw only one: The Beaches of Agnes, Agnes Varda's retrospective on her own career. Lovely in all the ways that she is lovely. Sharp, witty, beautiful. A must-see.

Notable for a great performance. The Maid which was, I believe, Chilean, featuring a muscular and startling performance by Catalina Saavedra; Shutter Island, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a great performance, I thought, though plenty of people didn't like the film (I did); The Yellow Handkerchief, indie and possibly full of indie cheese, but with the always-excellent Maria Bello and the seldom-seen William Hurt--why? why so seldom, William Hurt?; Ben Stiller showing us why God made him that way in Greenberg, also with Greta Gerwig, not too shabby; Jonah Hill creeping us out and also making us a little sad in Cyrus; and Russell Brand not ever to be forgotten as a fully persuasive narcissist, reprising his role as Aldous Snow, both hilariously and chillingly, in Get Him to the Greek. Also, and most recently: James Franco in Howl. Beautiful and moving.

Comic. I saw a lot of movies that were nominally comedies, but they are not coming to mind at the moment. On the other hand: I laughed at The Other Guys (I have been admonished for this, but I did--I laughed), Scott Pilgrim (both Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman were beyond hilarious, and that's not all--the funny keeps on going in that movie), and Get him to the Greek (the afore-mentioned R. Brand, in a towering performance). Why weren't there more funny movies? Did anyone see something that I missed? Surely the apocalypse must be nigh.

Freaking odd. I like to see the odd French movie now and then. This year, Wild Grass was that movie, but whoa, weird. And with one of those stupid non-ending endings. It wasn't ambiguous, it was just . . . not an ending. I object. Also, j'accuse.

Dramatic. Ben Affleck gets my vote for Boy Makes Good because of Gone Baby Gone and now this, The Town. It isn't quite what GBG was, but it was very good. Sharply directed and well-performed. The chase scenes, for instance, made sense visually, and also were integral to the plot: no tearing around town for the sake of a tear around town. Jeremy Renner proves that he's the real deal in this movie. The REAL DEAL, the people. I would add Winter's Bone to this category. Sharp and unhappy and dark. Very good.

Underwhelming. Some critic, trying to be provocative, said that the Coen brothers (of their Blood Simple era) ought to see the Australian The Square as giving them a run for their money. Not even. Not remotely. Also, and it doesn't make me happy to say this, Drew Barrymore's latest (Going the Distance) was kind of wan. Maybe it's her or maybe it's that Justin whatsisname, her once-boyfriend? Not super compelling. Not really worth our Drew, whom I love and only wish that she be paired with an excellent leading man so that she can make the romantic comedies that are a part of God's great plan for our happiness. PLEASE.

Long. Justin Long.

Too dark. I love a dark comedy, I really do. But I do not love a movie that kind of makes me feel a little sick inside because I laughed. Into this category falls Terribly Happy. Tis sharp, tis passing sharp, and well written and well acted. But a significant part of the plot falls upon whether a wife is being beaten by her husband, and whether their little daughter will be better off with the dad when the mom is gone. Material for a comedy? I say: NO.

Just plain good. This year I admired Please Give from Nicole Holofcener, featuring the always amazing Catherine Keener; the Red Riding movies; Scott Pilgrim vs. The World; The Kids Are All Right--it only looks formulaic; Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray impeccable in Get Low; and what has, so far, been maybe the movie event of the year, the absorbing, intelligent, not-at-all-like-anything-else The Social Network. Really, really, really good.

I am hoping that there will be a pile of movies that make me laugh before Christmas, because, the people, I love/need to laugh. A lot. Let us all pray for that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Early to rise.

Monday night, I was sorting the set of writing assignments from my grammar/style class (Editing Assignment #2). The sorting meant putting the papers for Tuesday's student conferences into one pile, those for Wednesday in another, those for Thursday and those for Friday into two more piles. Then I carefully lay the piles atop one another crosswise.

This process is what I call "grading." Or more precisely, "pre-grading." It was too exhausting to actually "grade." So I said to the historian (say it with me now): "I'm going to get up early tomorrow morning to grade."

And then I said (wait for it:): "So I'm going to go to bed early."

Cue me at midnight, having been in bed for nearly an hour. Am I asleep? No.

Note to self: "go to bed early" is a meaningless phrase (clause? you tell me, Grammar Police, similar to the Karma Police, but with a less beautiful melody to their theme song). Any "go to bed" before midnight is pointless.

Anyhow. Cut now to 5:45 a.m. I am dreaming some beautiful/lousy dream (which? you tell me, Dream Police, I can't remember). I hit the snooze button on my cell phone. Five minutes later, I hit it again, then say these immortal words: "Oh right. I want to get up."

At 7 a.m. I am at work. I am sitting in the student center with my stack of nine papers (that's today's crop). I am listening to Rostropovich playing the Bach Cello Suites and I am reading papers and I am--get this--enjoying myself. Quite a bit. At 7 a.m. Grading.

As of this moment, which is 11:24--that means it's 36 minutes to "go to bed"--I am feeling it, this long day preceded by not enough sleep. But it was a pretty good day. Okay, a full-on good day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things I am enjoying right about now.

1. The first-thing-in-the-morning sun, and the last-thing-at-the-end-of-the-day sun.
2. The moon in a nest of clouds.
3. The last tomatoes.
4. The last peaches.
5. Walking the dog in the late evening.
6. My adult children, with their full beautiful lives and the little connections I have with them almost every day.
7. A bagel in the morning.
8. Re-acquainting myself with how sentences work (the subject matter of one of my classes).
9. Choosing clothes to wear every day.
10. Looking forward to a movie tomorrow night. What movie? Who cares?

Wait for it . . . the annual Best Movies So Far post, coming up this weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Music & lyrics.

If my life of late were put to music, these would be the lyrics:

blah blah blah blah stress blah blah
blah blah blah blah whine blah blah
blah blah stress
blah blah whine
I think I'll find something to buy.

The second verse, similarly, would go something like this:

blah blah blah blah I can't take it anymore
blah blah blah blah I am still on the internet!
blah blah no more
blah blah internet!
now I think I'll bake a cake.

However, in case you are worried that I might run out of rhymes, I discovered this weekend that shopping is a placeholder for other forms of self-care. Also, that I manage my anxiety better when I am writing. I'm still anxious, but I linger there less. So I am currently working on two poems, if by "working on" we mean "thinking about and taking occasional notes." Actually, that is what we mean, and it's acceptable, qua writing.

Also, I am rediscovering, as we speak, the curative powers of cake. Cake still works.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You know what's way overrated?

Formative feedback, that's what.

I had the bright idea recently of asking my class for some formative feedback, midway through the semester. It's the first time I've taught this class, and I wanted to make sure that the students were getting what they wanted. We all are kind of swimming through this together, after all, me teaching it for the first time, them taking it for the first time, and wouldn't it be great to just, y'know, get some comments, some suggestions, some input, some helpful critique? so we could take this good thing, this class, la cosa nostra, this thing of ours, and make it better?

Oh yes. What a great idea. It made me feel super-virtuous and proactive. I asked a colleague to facilitate the feedback solicitation, which is to say, to ask the students to write down their answers to the following questions on a piece of paper:
a. What is going well in the class?
b. What would you like to change or improve?
Then my colleague was to collect the papers, the anonymous papers, and I would read them and ponder them, and this would enable me to improve things.

This improvement would, of course, come after the part where the comments burned a hole into the fabric of my soul for a couple of days. But that's to be expected.

Luckily, I was too busy today to even eat lunch, so there was no time to brood in any concrete way. Only in the lowgrade way, where I felt like I might be coming down with the flu or maybe I would perish from hunger. Either that or maybe I'm a terrible teacher. Probably the latter.

Well, tomorrow is class again, and I will just have to take myself, my books, my (souped-up, post-formative-feedback) preparation and my flu/hunger/I'm-a-bad-teacher ethos into the classroom again. And just try, that's all.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Another way of understanding the role of television in my life.

Over dinner:

Me: (enumerating the television shows of my youth) . . . and Hawaii Five-O, and Taxi. And Cheers.

The historian: Of course, when you were watching a lot of those shows, you were a kid, and I wasn't.

Me: . . . right . . .

The historian: . . . but then, we really didn't watch much TV . . .

Me: (rolls eyes)

The historian: because we were in grad school, and so there just wasn't time.

Me: I'm not sure if that's actually true . . .

The historian: well, it didn't seem like there was time.

Me: (pauses to reflect) . . . of course, you actually finished your Ph.D.

The historian: (tactful silence. Eats quesadilla.)

Thursday, October 07, 2010


For the past several weeks, my work e-mail has been warning me that I am approaching a limit. True to my character, I waited until I was over the limit and therefore prevented from receiving and sending e-mail. Then, I deleted just until I was let back in the sending/receiving fold. A few days later--sometimes just a few hours later--I was back on the warning list.

Yesterday evening, I spent a good hour deleting e-mail. I had cause to reflect upon ephemera: the little notes we send each other, the small witticisms, the evidence of a friendship. Farewell, little notes. Adieu, small witticism. Evidences of my friendships, go with God.


Yesterday, a text book editor stopped by the Writing Center. He had some leftover sandwiches from a meeting and offered one. Packaged with the sandwiches were cake doughnuts.

I fell on the sandwich as did the Assyrian, who came down like a wolf on the fold. The doughnut I left in its paper sleeve, tucked into my bag, for who knew when I might need it?

Today. That's when I needed that doughnut, whilst reading drafts. It was delicious.


I am reading drafts. Not online: actual drafts, printed on paper. The students who forgot their hard copies in class, who sent them to me via e-mail? I printed them out. Die, trees! Reading drafts in hard copy, writing in the margins, is so choice. Should you have the means to do so, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Yesterday in Wyoming,

I was here. I will show you pictures of my own later.

I also learned about this.

And we stood here.

I have so much to tell you! but it will have to wait, because we are going to Red Lodge now.


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