Saturday, February 23, 2013

Best of 2012

This is the latest I've ever done a year end "Best of" list. This is due in large part to my not seeing the film Les Miserables when I wanted to. I had wanted to see it over my birthday weekend but I decided to wait until one lady was able to see it. We could never coordinate a time and I ended up seeing Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, and six films at the Portland International Film Festival. I finally saw Les Miserables yesterday, so now I can do my year end best of list (I have not seen Argo yet and it looks like it has the momentum to steal Best Picture away from Lincoln even though the last time the Academy awarded Best Picture to a film that did not get a Best Director nomination was in 1990 for Driving Miss Daisy). Enjoy!
Best Quote of the Year
"President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college...What a snob.”
by Rick Santorum

In a year that gave us so many memorable quote from Republican presidential candidates and Republican candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives, it was almost hard to choose which quote represents to the most hilarious of the year. I decided to go with the Rick Santorum quote above because it illustrates how clueless conservatives are about the meanings of words and is so absurd that you wonder how he could say it with a straight face. If you have a chance, check out a recording of Rick Santorum saying it, because his delivery is hilarious, particularly when he says "What a snob!" Usually, a snob is someone who is arrogant and proud of his or her intellect, so for a president who wants everyone in America to go to college, that's not a sign of being a snob. A snob would not want other people to have the same education or to reach the same level of intellect, because a snob thinks he's better than other people. Even more crazy, Santorum said this to a roomful of conservatives and they applauded him! You mean to tell me that conservatives don't want everyone to go to college? Isn't that what being a snob is all about?

 Best Book
The Mirage by Matt Ruff

Last year, I went to a booksigning and lecture at Powell's City of Books for this intriguing novel. Novelist Matt Ruff wrote one of the most fascinatingly creative novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It falls under the "alternative history" genre. In this novel, the Arab countries of the Middle East make up the "United Arab States", a democratic superpower, while the United States is fractured into different countries in open hostility with one another. The United Kingdom plays the role of Iran in this alternative universe, and the Jewish state of Israel is Germany, which has to deal with hostility from fundamentalist Christians and neo-Nazis who aren't pleased with having their homeland run by Jews. In this novel, the Jews of Israel (in Germany) are aligned with the United Arab States. Other interesting details include references to a former action movie star being the governor of Lebanon, Gadhafi is the governor of an eco-paradise state of Libya, and Saddam Hussein is a gangster warlord. The novel begins with a 9/11 incident (which takes place on November 9th) in which twin towers in Baghdad are destroyed by fundamentalist Christian terrorists. Once you start reading this novel, you simply won't be able to put it down. Though I was not happy about the ending, I still believe it is well worth reading and deserves a lot of credit for originality and inspiring a lot of thinking outside of the box.

Best Song / Best Music Video
"Some Nights" by fun.

In my job, I have to research songs on the Internet to find the writer and publisher in order to contact them for the right of the company to use these songs on products that they sell. Well, last summer, as I was researching a song on a website, I kept getting a link to the song "Some Nights" while the website played this song. I was completely hooked on it. When I looked for a music video on YouTube, I was blown away by the clever use of setting the storyline in the Civil War. Just like the band's name, this song and video is simply "fun." I love the melody shifts and it has a very high charge melody, too. Simply put, "Some Nights" is the best song I heard in 2012.

Best Album / Artist of the Year
Born Under The Star of Change by Kaya
When Bruce Springsteen's political anthem zeitgeist Wrecking Ball came out a year ago, I thought for sure that it would end up as my favorite album of the year. He had captured the anger of our times, regarding our dismal economy and a condemnation of those whose greed put our economy in the toilet. That album stands next to his classic masterpieces Born in the U.S.A. and The Rising albums. However, that was before I discovered Kaya's spiritual album, Born Under the Star of Change. Again, my exposure to this album is due to my job, as this artist is distributed by the company I work for. He performed at our annual conference last year and I listened to his album out of curiosity at first and the more I listened to it, the more I loved it. I also loved the way I felt after listening to it. I could feel a positive energy shift. So many of his songs have a deep spiritual meaning and cover a wide range of topics. I wrote about the album twice last year, so I don't need to repeat myself here. Of all the CDs I heard last year, this one is the absolute best.

The reason why I am naming Kaya as my choice of "Artist of the Year" is because this album represents a "come-back" for him, after a 15 year absence from the music scene. In the 1990s, he was being marketed as a teen idol and was a well known pop star in Canada. After meeting a young lady who died of leukemia, he decided to walk away from it all: the wealth, the adulation, the tours, the records, and just pursue a spiritual path. Now, he decided to return to music making spiritually enhanced music. I consider him the male Enya and I hope that he will become just as successful as her in this genre of music.
Best Foreign Language Film
A Separation (Iran)

This was the first film from Iran that I have ever seen and it won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award last year. A well deserved win! I saw it last year with the "Movies and Meaning" discussion group and it was quite the discussion (there was a new guy in the group who came across as a snob by commenting that none of us knew or understood what the film was really about, which annoyed everyone because we actually love hearing the different perspectives people take away from the film). The film is intense and well worth seeing. It deals with lies, class, religion, and misogyny. I've read before that of all the countries in the world, the United States is more similar to Iran than we actually are to the socialist and very secular countries of Western Europe. I don't agree with that view, but I can understand the comparison because both Iran and the United States have a very strong element of religious conservatives who seem to hate secular liberals more than they hate foreigners. In this film, we see the divide which is similar to the United States: an upper class, educated family is not religious, while the poor, working class live by religious authority and conformity. This film deserved its Oscar and it was great to get a glimpse of life in Iran, even though it is fiction, and to hear Persian spoken in a film.

Best Television Show

Though I wish this show would be more traditional in terms of the characters and storylines, I think it is fantastic that there is a TV show that showcases the People's Republic of Portland, in all our ironic, hipster glory. There are some interesting sketches and a friend once asked me how accurate this show was regarding life in Portland. I told her that it was a satire, which requires a bit of exaggeration, but some of the ideas are pretty right on. For example, the episode where a couple go to a restaurant and ask about their meal being organic or free range...this is typical Portland culture. Where the satire goes into absurdity for the sake of comedy is that the couple actually gets a complete biography on the animals they are about to eat. It's funny because its absurd and it makes fun of Portland in a loving way. The unfortunate aspect of the show is that it supposedly has caused an uptick in young people moving here, despite our dismal job market and expensive housing options. Seriously, if you love this show and are wanting to move here because of it, DON'T!! At least get a job offer before you move. A better idea is to find a hipster neighborhood in your city and create your own "Portlandia" experience.

Best Song from a Motion Picture
"Skyfall" by Adele

Theme songs from movies are slim pickings these days. I don't know why. Back in the 80s, it seemed like every movie wanted its own cool theme song and soundtrack. The James Bond series gave us plenty of memorable songs: "Goldfinger", "Live and Let Die", "You Only Live Twice", "The Man With the Golden Gun", "Diamonds Are Forever", "Nobody Does It Better", "For Your Eyes Only", "A View To A Kill", "The Living Daylights", and "Licence To Kill". The Bond theme songs for the Brosnan films of the 1990s were disappointing and not radio friendly. They totally wasted the talents of Tina Turner and Sheryl Crow in lackluster Bond theme songs. Madonna's "Die Another Day" was a welcome relief, but then they went into another slump with the theme songs to Daniel Craig's Bond films. Until Adele, that is. Her "Skyfall" is a welcome return to the Bond-sound, utilizing a few familiar notes to indicate that this is most definitely a Bond song and what an incredible song, too.

Best Costume Design
Les Miserables

One of the aspects I loved about the film version of the popular musical, Les Miserables, is the clothing styles worn by the men. This is my kind of style and I really do wish that this would come back in style again. I particularly love the look of Inspector Javert's blue jacket with black neck collar and silver fleur-de-lis. I would absolutely wear something like that. The vests worn by the men also represents my style. I have a few vests but I prefer the 1800s style. The costume designers did a fantastic job in this film.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables 

For me, Anne Hathaway wins the honor hands down with her devastatingly heartbreaking performance of "I Dreamed a Dream." I was completely stunned when I watched that scene in the movie theater. She conveys all the heartbreak and despair in her face and voice during the singing of that achingly beautiful song. Though her role of Fantine in the film is small, her impact is huge. I hope it will be felt tomorrow night at the Academy Awards.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook 

Robert DeNiro is always a joy to watch in any film. He strikes me as the kind of father-in-law you'd want to have. In this film, he plays a father with a gambling problem, whose temper has caused him to be banned from ever attending a Philadelphia Eagles game in person. He imposes on his son, played by Bradley Cooper. Wanting his son to watch the game with him is less about father-son bonding than it is about his superstitions (he considers his son watching the game with him to be "good luck" for the Eagles to win the game). He does a great job in the film, along with Jennifer Lawrence (the likely winner of this year's Best Actress Oscar) and Bradley Cooper.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Michelle Yeoh, The Lady

The most beautiful Asian actress playing the beautiful dissident in Burma? Now that's perfect casting! It's a shame that Michelle Yeoh was not given a Best Actress nomination for this role, for she did a phenomenal job of disappearing into Aung San Suu Kyi. I did not see Michelle Yeoh at all in this film. She was Aung San Suu Kyi. Yeoh has been among my favorite actresses since I first saw her in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997. I wish that she was in more films. I loved her in Memoirs of a Geisha, and I hope that Amy Chua has sold the rights to her controversial best-seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to Michelle Yeoh. There are so few acting opportunities for Asian actresses and while I believe Yeoh could play a wide number of roles (not just Asian-specific characters), I really would love to see her play Amy Chua in the film version of the demanding Chinese mother and the battles she has with her youngest daughter. No matter what films she makes in the future, though, I believe that her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi was phenomenal and worth of the "Best Actress" distinction for 2012. She was born to play that role.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis may be receiving his third Best Actor Oscar award tomorrow night for his portrayal of America's 16th and greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, but this is the first time he has won that distinction in my Carroll Awards (which goes back to 1980. You can see my previous best actor selections in an old blog post). He did a fantastic job in this role, to the point where I could not see Day-Lewis at all. He was Abraham Lincoln come to life and it has been long overdue for this beloved president to be seen on the big screen. When it comes to selecting the single best acting performance in each of the four categories, I have a preference for actors and actresses who play real or historical people over invented characters. I think it takes a lot more work to convincingly portray a real life or historical person. One has to disappear into the role and for a famous actor, this is hard to pull off. Tom Cruise has difficulty with it, because when I see a Tom Cruise film, I'm aware that I'm watching Tom Cruise playing a character. This was especially distracting in a film like Valkyrie, where he played a Nazi officer attempting to assassinate Hitler. But, Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the best actor of the Baby Boomer generation. It will be difficult to watch any potential future movies about Abraham Lincoln without Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal.

Best Director
Luc Besson, The Lady 

French director Luc Besson captured my attention with 1991's film La Femme Nikita, which was the first foreign language film that I liked. Actress Anne Parillaud was my Best Actress choice for 1991 for her role in that film as a street gang member who becomes an assassin for the government. Besson has made quite a few films over the years, but none have interested me much until he decided to bring Burmese dissident and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi's life story to the big screen. It was a story worth telling and he told it well. I still have no idea why it did not capture the acclaim of film critics and all the award nominations. The film was far better than some previous Best Motion Picture award winners, such as The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, Shakespeare in Love, and American Beauty. I mean, seriously...those film win the top honors but The Lady did not garner any such nomination?

I have a tendency to split the honors between Best Director and Best Picture, but this year, I have to credit Monsieur Besson for the difficulties and dedication he took on for this important film project. I'm not certain that any other director could do as great of a job. It'll be interesting to see where his career goes from here.

Best Motion Picture
Best Cinematography
Best Film Score
The Lady

This should come to no surprise to anyone who knows me. I've been a big admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi for about 18 years now and a few years ago, I had made a wish to the universe that a film biography would be made of her life and that it would star Michelle Yeoh. The universe granted my wish in a beautiful and moving motion picture. This film covers the most important parts of Aung San Suu Kyi's public life, with a prologue of her as a young girl whose father is assassinated and an epilogue of her a few years after her husband's death when the Buddhist monks protested en masse against the brutality of the military dictatorship. In between, we see a woman who did her family duties by returning to Burma to care for her ailing mother, which happened to coincide with the upheaval in the country when the college students protested against the government. She becomes a symbol of democracy for the nation that never experienced it. She endures the loneliness of separation from her English husband and their two sons for the sake of winning democracy for the people of Burma. Of all the movies I've seen in 2012, The Lady has touched me the most, at the deepest level of my being. It is truly a great motion picture experience and thus why it is named as my favorite and the best film released in 2012. In second place is Lincoln and in third place is Les Miserables. Those three movies were simply phenomenal and the other two deserve the top spot as well, but no film hit me at such a deep emotional level as The Lady, so it deserves the top honor.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Music Video Monday: Duran Duran

This week's music video is by Duran Duran, which was my favorite band back in 1984. Their song "Union of the Snake" is the perfect song to usher in the Chinese Year of the Snake. I always loved their cinematic quality of their music videos. They, along with Michael Jackson and Madonna helped to make MTV the #1 station among teenagers in the 1980s.

Last week at work, I had to product review yet another upcoming DVD release that has about 6 "documentaries" dealing with various conspiracies. One of the more interesting documentaries on the DVD is about they symbolism and long history of "serpent worship". I watched it, quite riveted. I had no idea. The narrator claimed that once you are aware of how the snake is used in all kinds of mythologies and religious stories, you'll begin to see them everywhere. In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, there was the talking snake that convinced Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil). There's also the story of Moses turning a snake into a staff. From Greek mythology, there's Medusa with her head full of snakes. Cleopatra committed suicide with Marc Anthony with a snake bite (an asp). In Meso-American culture, there's Quatzalcoatl, the plumed serpent. In some Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God churches in the South, there are snake handlers, who grab poisonous snakes as a testament of faith.

One of the best advice I've ever gotten was from a Navy chaplain when I was stationed in Italy. He would say to me often, "Be as wise as a serpent and appear harmless of a dove." I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. It wasn't until years later, when dealing with office gossip that I learned just how true those words are. I have learned that people seem threatened by someone they consider to be intelligent. The common misperception of me is that people seem to think I'm much smarter than I really am (one lady on Facebook thought I was smart enough to join MENSA, which I know that I am not). To de-emphasize this, I often play the clown or say something people think is stupid, just to take their impression of me down a notch or two. When people think you aren't bright, you can fly under the radar. I like that.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how the Year of the Snake will play out. Hopefully, it will be a great year...especially for me, personally. There's stuff that I want to do this year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Welcome to the Year of the Snake

Surprise! It's me. I've been meaning to write several old posts for January, but that would be too much of a commitment, so I decided that the Chinese New Year would be a great opportunity to break my long hiatus and start regular blogging again. I suppose I could go back and write about events in January, such as Obama's Second Inauguration (I thought his speech was far better than his disappointing first Inaugural speech in 2009), but I am deciding that my blog for 2013 begins now. January will just have to be the missing "hiatus" month.

For 2013, I am keeping with my tradition of the past few years of giving a theme to my year as well as a theme song to my year. This year's theme is a rather simple: "Lucky 2013." I will focus on good luck this year. My year of good luck. As a kid, I used to fear the number 13. I suppose a certain hockey mask wearing psycho on the Silver Screen had something to do with it. I remember being afraid of turning 13. But once I turned 14, I realized that I had a great 13th year, so that number no longer carries any stigma with me (I'm actually disappointed that buildings don't have an official 13th floor, even though floor 14 is in reality the 13th floor). Anyhow, I will be playing with the idea of luck and examining it and thinking about it. In consistency with that theme, I have chosen the song "Lucky" by Greg Kihn to be my theme song this year. I love this song from the 1980s. Other songs under consideration were "Wishing I Was Lucky" by Wet Wet Wet and "I Should Be So Lucky" by Kylie Minogue. However, I found that those were too wishful and according to the principles of the Universal Law of Attraction, I need to be more in the mindset of thinking that the things I am hoping for this year have already come to past. Greg Kihn's song was the perfect choice because of its upbeat melody and the positive lyrics.

Every year, I like to try something new. Last year, it was flotation tanks. I did it twice (including on my birthday weekend). This year, I decided to try an experiment by living my life according to my astrological chart. In January, I went to a session given by an astrologer who explained the basic mechanics of this "New Agey" belief system that gets much ridicule in the general public and among science types and logic / left brained folks. I'm not convinced that there is anything to astrology, but after hearing the astrologer give good and easy-to-comprehend background on the basics of reading a chart and how to plan one's year, I decided to give it a try. My biggest problem has been timing and I need a good system of timing for myself. I feel like I wasted the last two years. In 2011, my focus was finding the love of my life that will lead to marriage. I struck out badly that year. In 2012, my focus was on finding a living wage career in government or college. I did have 4 interviews last year, which I believe is a personal record for most interviews in a single year since I moved to Portland in 2006. Something is improving! However, in the past, while it has been difficult landing an interview, I had a great track record of being hired from those interviews. This didn't happen for my last year, so now I enter 2013 wanting both a living wage career and a lady love by year's end. Thus, 2013 is my lucky year. It will happen this year.

January was a busy month for me, as well, in my search for a new place to live. Unfortunately, I have met freaks or had to deal with flakes. I don't know why it was easier to find a room to rent when I was not happy about giving up my studio apartment in 2010 (the apartment complex would not allow month to month so I decided to vacate, a decision that I have come to regret), but now that I am desperate to move, I have run into brick walls. I have no idea why people are so flaky. My God, it does not hurt to meet people...especially if you keep running your ad for housemates every day for weeks on end! Anyhow, according to one astrological book I read, I need to make the move in March, so I am not wasting a day in February thinking about it. Besides, this is the month of the Portland International Film Festival, which is far and away my favorite Portland tradition. I have tickets to see six films (narrowed down from my list of 18 films that I wanted to see out of the 135 films being shown), but I may splurge for two more. I love getting the booklet and reading through the descriptions of the films and making a list and then narrowing it down to what I can afford. My preferences on subject matter tend to be: anything dealing with life under totalitarian governments, communism, or Nazism / fascism goes to the top of my list. Any film from France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand gets first consideration. And finally, any film that is set in a location that I'm curious about or want to see, I will go to that film. Among this year's offering is a film from North Korea and another one from Taiwan. Since I'm very curious about those two places, those films went to the top of my list.

Also this month, I have decided to see a counselor to help with my career search and lady search. Saturday was our first official session (the week before that was our intro session to see if we were a right fit). Interestingly, the counselor asked why I needed to see her because she thinks I'm smart and don't need help. I informed her that 12 years of my life went by without my accomplishing one of my three major goals. I need to do something drastic because I feel like I'm losing momentum in life. She offers a very affordable rate that I did not think was possible. Had I known it was this inexpensive, I would have gotten counseling in 2009 when I needed it the most. What I hope to get out of it is some kind of momentum. I didn't make any three or six month commitment. I'd play it by ear. It's just nice to talk to someone who really listens and offers suggestions.

Since I never did my "Best of 2012" list, that will be in Friday's post. I'll include my choice for 2012's Nonconformist of the Year since I never made that known on my blog last December. I also never got around to writing movie reviews for "Lincoln", "Skyfall", "Zero Dark Thirty", "Life of Pi", and "Silver Linings Playbook", so look for that this month, as well. If I really want to play catch up, though, I should probably write my album reviews of Bruce Springsteen's and Madonna's 2012 releases.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Happy Year of the Snake, Have a great Mardi Gras, and here's to a great year of blogging (I will be continuing my series of analyzing personal ads).