Friday means nothing until 1, or noon in this case. Except working on 502 papers and stuff like that. But today, a student just joined the class. And so I tried to get her caught up in stuff. Thankfully, she's a musician, and doesn't need to learn "rhythm" or "melody." That went OK. Then a GSI meeting, chatting with Yona about the co-op, class, coffee/late lunch with the speaker today, and then the speaker's lecture. Topic was really exciting: how Egyptian musicals adopted European ideas of Eastern music as their own. The examples he showed were interesting, but the entire thing seemed to be about finding evidence here and there (and good evidence, mind you), but I wanted a lot more on the why this is happening, some of which occured in the Q&A. Still, a good talk, and yummy food, and Carlos wasthere with some baby photos. We miss Carlos. Actually a lot of people were there. And then I came here and kept working. And now I'll go home and keep working. And tomorrow...you get the idea.
Thursdays aren't as long as Tuesdays, but they feel that way by the end. 502 was helpful, once we figured out what Wiley was talking about (he asks cryptic questions, and we have to come up with what he wants, or else its discounted or discarded, and it's frustrating as hell). Then Stephen joined Rebecca and I for lunch, and I put on Assassins to block out the bad brass band practicing next door. And more class followed, and it slowly wore me down. But after dinner, I went to hear Mary sing at the art museum, and was very very pleased. She has a lovely, clear, and extremely flexible voice. The program was varied, including some Scottish tunes (I knew one of them as a pipe reel) and a Cole Porter song (Night and Day), but the problem with these is that they sound too entrenched in the classical idiom- they are so exacting on pitch and rhythm that they lose something important. Sigh. Still though, lovely Renaissance Dowland, Villa Lobos Bachianas Brazilias #5, Britten, and the gloriously catchy and uplifting Schubert Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Wonderful, and wonderfully attended. Then more Chaplin movies. Also, today's word of the day was my favorite yet: apocryphal
Today's French class offered up hints about why it's hard to have a British professor teaching translating. Sometimes it just sounds funny to her, or to us, and she's well-positioned for ribbing. Afterwards, I came home and had a lovely, slow lunch, read some, and headed off to lecture, which was fine and good. i get questions about the exam now. I don't know why they think i know things. Afterwards, it was a good solid afternoon of reading and working and other fun things, except for an excursion out to see Nine Lives (****) at the theatre. It's a wonderful collection of brief, semi-interlocking vignettes. I don't know why small tales feel the need to interlock characters, usually with no other reason. But it's a side note here, and at least not distracting. The vignettes have all the explosive power of good short stories. If a few seem weak, it's only because of the strength of others in comparison. There's little action, little resolution, but by the end of each, the central female character in each feels completely defined, and so realistic. this is due in part to the phenomenal acting. In one scene, Robin Wright Penn meets an ex-lover (Jason Isaacs) by chance in a grocery store. They catch up, and it quickly becomes clear they're not over each other, not fully. The camera is so intensely focused on her face, it's captivatingly excrutiating, watching everything filter through her eyes, rather than action or even dialogue. There's a s ense of desperation in each scene, and inescapability from it. Some are deceptively simple- a young girl wanders back and forth between her mom and her dad, being played off of them, but not in a dysfunctional divorce kind of way. It's subtler. And others are fiercely emotional without going over the top. The movie's strongest is a tale of an estranged daughter who comes home to talk with her dad. As she waits for him and talks with her sister, she asks her which room she has, and where her bed is. It's so wonderful to see a movie that asks questions which aren't important to the audience, but important to the characters.
My 9 am section was slow, as ever, but OK. In any case, I do feel like I'm getting through on some level to my students. And then the onslaught of classes was the same: frustration and anger by students in 502 (I'm really not likely to get overly pissed or reactionary to these things), quiet British music class where musicologists talked, and a looooong Bach class where I glean very little. But afterwards, i had a nice chat with Danny about politics and music, which we'll continue, and then I dragged Clarie and Kira to English dance. So nice to be back. And to do some calling. Collier's Daughter is easy, and i would love to take it faster, but it would have died. Puck's Deceit fell apart, sort of, but people recovered fairly easily by the time the lines led up. And i got excellently complimented on my two slow dances: Michael and All Angels, with the gorgeous gorgeous music, and De'il Take the Warr, which everyone really really loved, which is great. I made a few style points, and got complimented on my demos and clear instructions, and had fun dancing too. The only problem, we did Greensleeves and Yellow Lace, which takes forever to do, and I chose to sit out, so no dancing in the second half. But I had fun, and maybe Kira and Claire did too. Oh, I hope I get to come back some time. Maybe after this long long week is over?
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
French, despite not doing the homework, was worth going to. One, I can translate on the fly pretty well, as it turns out. Two, I learned that the French hate Belgians. Three, I learned about the test. Four, I got a photocopy of the book. And five, we learned numbers, which are ridiculous in French. Fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-and-one, sixty-two...sixty-nine, sixty-ten, sixty-eleven...sixty-ten-nine, four-twenty (suddenly, we're not adding, we're multiplying). Then I had a nice afternoon of productive reading in the GSI office, and a good class, and two excellent teaching sections. We hit most of the things I wanted, the students were active and engaged, and I enjoyed it and felt comfortable. Excellent. Plus, I have Gershwin in my head now. Back to the co-op with Kevin on the bus, dinner, and a surprise officer's meeting, which was long but had some good ideas. I love my fellow officers. And then, work/procrastination in the lounge with Claire, Jas, Kira (who gave me an excellent backrub), and Adam (with guest appearances by Natalie and Yoshi). And some phot review with Ascia before bed. Class tomorrow will have to be expanded, so I think I'm going to show movies, because I can.
I got up about noon, and ate (small side note: fragels are amazingly delicious) and showered and went to help clean up more, which was moderately successful. Then I went and cooked, which was a success, but barely. We couldn't turn on the gas for the oven. We couldn't find tomatoes. We couldn't find the frozen strawberries. So we decided to chop up the tropical fruit left over from the party. Coconut- hard to cut. Yeah. Then by Raj's going to make juice, I discovered that the juice canister, which I had filled with bleach to clean it after juice was left in it and it was left sitting out all night, was taken, orange concentrate was added to the bleach water, and it was put out as juice. No, that should not happen. Raj double checked after being assured it was OK, and I think we are all happier as a result. Man. Chaos. But, dinner was awesome. We had this long, meandering conversation about and using big words, ways to mess with academic writing (my favorite: footnotes that go off on completely unrelated tangents like "Yeah, this reminds of a time at camp when there was a guy who went by the name Squirrel, and he..."). For the first time, it felt like being back in Swarthmore with intelligent, silly, funny, awesome people. Yay. And now, maybe I should, I don't know, actually do my work for tomorrow? Just a thought.
Well, winter has returned, but I didn't have to leave the co-op at all. Instead I made jello shots and baked Rice Krispies treats and put up lights and decorations. In between this came food and tracking people down and averting minor crises, although the only major disaster was filling up the pool, only to have to unfill it so it would stop leaking all over the floor. What the co-op needs is a siphon. Anyway, the day was fun, and not stressful, and after it was a rather excellent party. Lots of fun dancing. Rebecca and Shinobu showed up later on, which was excellent. The drinks (daquiris, jello shots, mojitos) were all fantastic, and the Rice Krispies Treats were buttery and gooey, as I like them. I got to take lots of pictures, play a contortionist version of Twister, dance dance, talk to people, mess around with the hula hoop, and wear my neon jams, beach-ish shirt, and the floppy hat that if I wear the brim down makes me look like a middle aged tourist, and if I wear it up, I get the very gay sailor look. Need we figure out which way is more fun? Also, the situation with the person I may or may not be flirting with is still unclear. At one point, Brix was trying to land a ping pong ball in a cup, and while we struggled to come up with a prize, John piped up that if he got it in, we would do a solo dance. And he missed, and told me that it would probably happen anyway, which it did. And yet, like so much else (including my classes), nothing is clear. Still, fun. And even cleaning up with Kira to Wilco until 4:15 or so in the morning was kind of fun. I'm a fan of cleaning up now, while everyone else went for the do it later approach. And then I slept long and enjoyably, which is rare after I party, because I continually wake up.
Such a beautiful afternoon. It was almost spring. In January. I spent it mostly either inside writing a synopsis of Tristan und Isolde or at the GSI meeting/lecture. The meeting went well- I'm gaining footing, and reassurances that my fears and problems are in fact shared by people who've done this before. Awesome. Then a delicious dinner (spinach patties and rice, with chocolate cake), extended for a couple hours. I was going to go bowling, but it started raining, and I was enjoying watching Mary Poppins with Anna and Brix, so I did that, some work, and then went off to a co-op party elsewhere, and ran into a bunch of people there. This did absolutely nothing for my general un-thought-out plan to meet new people, but on the upside, I had fun hanging out with them. Which itself is something of a victory.
502 was intense. After finishing up Tristan discussion, we returned to our first assignment, which he told us all we completely missed the point of. The big problem is you can't address what 6 people did wrong collectively, not when your expectations depends on the extent of extant work on your topic. Thus some people left in tears feeling personally attacked, while I just felt confused. I'm pretty hard to upset. I read through the comments, I have my complaints (he questions all the assumptions I make on behalf of the audience, which is a fine instinct, but to question my calling the Kennedy assassination a tragic event still memorable to people is ridiculous. Really), and I've got an idea of how to fix it. Lunch was quiet without Rebecca, and then British music was quiet, as I was the only person who seemed to say anything at all in that class. I never know when to stop talking, because no one else says anything, and the professor looks pained, but doesn't press the issue, so I usually end up answering her questions. And then in Bach class, we actually got to Bach and analysis, even if it wasn't always clear the point the professor was making. Also, there are conductors in the class. The kind that insist on grandly conducting the recording from their seat, which I find just about as tolerable as that guy I sat in front of at Porgy and Bess who sang along, off-key, with the music. Can't we just listen and discuss, because this is a musicology class, not conducting practice. Or at least, try to conduct to yourself, smaller, and less distractingly. After class, I chatted with Stephen and went home for dinner, and then off to the concert, meeting Rebecca. John Eliot Gardiner was conducting the Orchestra Romantique et Revolutionaire and the Monteverdi Choir in a double bill of Mozart's C-Minor Mass and Requiem. What a pity the C-Minor Mass never caught on the way the Requiem did, as it's a far superior piece, in my opinion (for starters, there's no bland finishing of Sussmayer). Gardiner's approach is a stunning one, scaling back the hyperemotive tendencies many performers take, using period instruments, and a smaller ensemble, to create the full range of emotion with the intensity of a finely-tuned chamber group. The conducting was brisk and clean with the chorus, and orchestra, and the ensembles maintained if not a constant balance, a cohesive sound which blended well between the colors. The soloists in both pieces were strong and warm, and the soprano soloist who began the Mass burst out radiantly, both with her strong, clear voice, and her warming smile. There's a lot of joy in Mozart's music here, with its pastoral moments, balanced by a good dose of fire and brimstone in its more austere moments. The sharper movements, like the stunning Qui Tollis, and the Rex Tremendae in the Requiem were marked by a decisively sharp-edged attack on the rhythms, milking more meaning from the silences than most can from the disssonances and soaring vocal lines. Gardiner showed at times a bit too much ritardando, which clashed with the decisive, clean style so effective here, but the overarching result was one of pure radiance, a magic and wholly memorable version of classic pieces scrubbed down and glistening with musical power. The best part about the concerts is I know everyone on the bus back to north campus: Rebecca, Brad the clarinetist, Bryan the bassist, Ian the composer, coopers Wolfgang, Simon, and Dustin, and probably others. General consensus- an excellent excellent concert. After getting back, I watched The Daily Show, did some work, and went to bed at a reasonable time. Amazing.
French was enjoyable as always. A few mistakes, but I'm learning. Learning learning learning. Because it was cold, I decided to come home for lunch, leftover curry and stuff like that, warm and tasty, before heading off again for the popular music class. After class, I had an afternoon free to do all the work and reading I have to do for tomorrow. Part of it, naturally, was squandered, but reading got done. And that's what counts, right?
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Oh, the gray rainy icky cold weather. Not so fun. Teaching, not so great when discussion doesn't happen. I mean, we're talking about censorship, racial exploitation, stereotypes. Actual topics people have opinions about. Except, apparently, my students. Anyway, that was a let down, though I remained in a good mood all day. Then, there was class: disucssing the plot of Tristan, which was kind of cool, when we got down to details, and one sentence verb in particular which shifts the meaning of the sentence from stealing Isolde away from a man to Isolde stealing Tristan away from a man. Pretty cool. Except for the point where the professor wouldn't accept "voice of reason" as a characterization, and then called it a "voice of rationality." That's just stupid (Rebecca thought my overtly critical reaction was hilarious). Then British music, which was slow and full of the readings I didn't actually do. And then Bach, which was really really slow, and chronically unclear what is important or how it all relates and repetitive. I have a feeling everything I learn in that class will come from me. Then I saw Stephen in the music library for the first time since returning, which was awesome (he knows everyone in the Bach class, apparently). And then I enjoyed a fairly slow evening of work, Work Holiday discussing, light bulb changing, so on and so on.
Martin Luther King Day. That man died so that we could have a day off school, so be grateful. I enjoyed sleeping today, and feeling a bit better appetite-wise. And I did a lot of work. And then I went to see Walk the Line (**). This follow up to last year's vastly superior Ray feels oddly substanceless and disengaged. The music is good, and the fact the actors do their own singing is quite amazing, but I can't help feeling like this is a stunt, rather than an integrated part of the movie. For that matter, the concert scenes are well-filmed, stylish, with a good sense of the electric feel of the age. But what happens off stage should be the bulk of the drama, and here it pales in comparison to the vitality and chemistry. While it seems to go through the motions of necessary biopic elements rather half-heartedly, it comes up with nothing fresh to offer in their place. The film opens well with pulsing music and Johnny Cash lost in thought, then flashbacks for the movie to the tragic loss of his brother. The ensuing grief isn't shown on screen. Brother Jack dies, and we flash forward a number of years. What this is supposed to do is prevent closure, I reckon, but all that happens is we're shifted away from the emotional lynchpin of the story, given no context into which the grief is supposed to come but doesn't. Similar scenes are oddly displaced as well: we know Johnny has a drug addiction, but no one seems to do anything, and at no point does he really go through recovery (except one sweaty night right at the end). The sum of all this is that these feel like subplots, with no ongoing plot to connect them, engage with, or give us a reason to stay. The one plot element which works winningly is the love story, in part from the breezy, enjoyable nature, the playing off of the concerts, and Reese Witherspoon's delightfull bright, subtle performance. As a woman thrust into the spotlight almost permanently, she finds a careful way to show and mask simultaneously thoughts rippling below the surface without breaking too much. It's not a case of a good woman compelling Johnny to stick around, but rather the audience. Then afterwards, a long long Work Holiday meeting. We're doing work! We're throwing a beach party! I made a sign! And clever punny subtitles with Megan for all the jobs! Then, I did more work.
Road trip, or rather day trip. Claire, Natalie, Christina, John, and I piled into a car and drove off to Clare, Michigan for Claire's birthday. The drive had good music of various sorts and an episode of This American Life. I did some reading, part of a crossword I finished later on tonight (silent E theme: eg. What you find in a prison library: PROSEANDCONS), and chatted with the fine company. In Clare, we had brunch at the local hotel, which was decent, and looked at a lot of shops. The hig points were the boot/hunter gear/biker gear/fabric store (I swear!) and the antique store with WWI-era postcards of cute love scenes with text like "I find you most agreeable" or "Between Love and Duty!" Very excellent, if a little long after the 5th or 6th store. The evening was spent doing stuff like cleaning the bathroom and doing work which I ought to have done earlier. But it's good to get out every now and then, even if it's to small cutesy Irish/Amish Michigan towns.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Up nice and late, and instead of work, watching The Five Obstructions (****). It's a fascinating game in which Lars von Trier challenges his mentor Jorgen Leth to remake a short, esoteric film he made called The Perfect Human. What follows is an ingenious puzzle-solving look at art and its construction. As vonTrier makes more and more challenges to the film of various natures, Leth finds an absurd pleasure in finding ways around them. There's a pure pleasure of watching two directors battle it out. Every resultant film is suprisingly elegant. Sometimes vonTrier is pleased and surprised by the outcome. Once he is angry that the film is not what he specified, and an argument ensues. What a film like this forces you to think about is layers of interpretation, authorship and ownership, and the control we exercise over our art. the final film is penned by vonTrier itself, and loops back to add another layer of understanding to the film we've been seeing. Recommended for those fascinated by filmmaking and all its sly entanglements. After the movie, dinnercooking. We set off the fire alarm. At one point, I noticed that we should turn on the exhaust fan. It wouldn't work. I looked for someone else who could figure it out. Of course, i found no one. However, once the fire alarm goes off, *everybody* shows up suddenly in the kitchen. Well, the meal finished eventually, and then I came here and did French, because that's the kind of fun I lead. Maybe darcy's goodbye party is still going on. I'll go home now.
It's national blame someone else day. Convenient, as I did make a sizeable mistake. I got up and finished my 502 paper more easily than expected. So I dabbled a bit with that until it was time to go to section, where I was quickly reminded that I missed the weekly GSI meeting (new) before lecture, which I obviously could have gotten to and foregone the minor things on my paper. Ah well. We met afterwards, he didn't seem overly upset, and I'll hopefully have this imbedded in my mind now. Then I went and signed for my room for next year (yay!), and got Charlie Chaplin movies out of the library, and finished the Chaplin book. Now I'll actually write the damn paper (maybe). After a pretty crappy dinner, I talked with Kira for a bit, and then got roped into going to the Cavern, a local club, with Jeremy and John. I did French homework for the first hour or so, and then later we wandered, looked at people, and danced some to a pretty good reggae band. Unlike John and Jeremy, I don't need alcohol to dance. Not that it hurts, mind you. The weather was crappy snow/sleet/wind, but it was warm inside, and rather enjoyable, so good work yout wo at talking me into going.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Happy Birthday greeting to Rebecca, who probably isn't reading. Clas class class. Oh, we had power back last night. Hot water is a plus. 502 was fine, except for the bad brass quintet playing next door, and not really having any time to discuss my project. Then I had to go buy lunch because the power loss meant all the food got sent away. And then more class. I still say Elgar is progressive in his writing, and progressive doesn't have to just mean harmonies. And Bach class continues to be incomprehensible. Dinner, for which I was not hungry, and then Escher meeting, which was long and kind of pointless half the time. Then I watched The Office, which i greatly enjoyed, then came here and read Oscar stuff. Cool! Robert Altman gets an honorary Oscar. Why they won't give the man a damn award for his directing yet is beyond me. Of course, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Welles, Malick, and Scorsese never got the love either. Sigh.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I woke up, turned on the light, and nothing. Oh, I need a new light bulb. Actually, what we needed was new power. So I showered in the shower that has a window (apparently at theat point there was still hot, so I am lucky, and the milk was still cold, so I ate), and went off to French where we learned stuff. I love it, because I'm getting back into languages, which I adore, and the class in English, so I can contribute without stumbling over things I don't know. I also got my course reading for British music. 600 something pages of it. Good lord. Could not find the necessary books for French, or the coursepack for the Bach class, because the syllabus is so so so so awfully organized (gives the readings, but not when to do them, what of them to do, or where to get them). Then I came home, ran into John at the bus stop, and made my way into the empty co-op (still dark). After a bit of work in my room, I thought I'd see about dinner, finding a bunch of empty pizza boxes, and a few slices of cheeseless cold pizza after scavenging, which were consumed by flashlight (aha! a use for the booklight gift!) and in solitude until Kira arrived, then Brix, and Richard. It was a lot more fun by that point. And now I'm here in the music school, with my book, reading, although I'm feeling exhausted and achy (although I've not been coughing all day, which is a first!), so perhaps I'll go home and make use of the booklight as a, well, booklight. The heat seems to not be working with no power. Blankets will be necessary. Actually a big group slumber party in a lounge would be awesome, or barring that, a subtle mentioning to someone that it's cold and could I sleep with them, but I don't think I can pull it off. Bedtime with a book it is.
Monsterday. Up, and teaching a 9 am section, which fell somewhere between the other two in terms of responsiveness. But, not bad, and hopefully it will get better with practice and prepping. 9 am, not so good for awakeness. But it gives me enough nervous energy to actually remain up and active all day. Then, 3 classes. 502 is excellently like 501 it seems. Just breaking apart research and writing styles critically. Then, lunch with Rebecca and British Music with her, which was fun, although it seems rather unstructured. The prof has a good grasp of the subject at least it seems. The Bach vocal music class was odd. The prof sort of meanders, does not give names or spellings for a lot of stuff, and meandered through history, revisiting topics he'd already covered, which is frustratingly hard to follow (with his accent too) and take notes. After class, I came home to eat and go off with Brix to the new officer training. Georgia recommend drinking sufficiently, which didn't really happen. But we met Natalie and Christina there, and had our training, which was long, but also somewhat useful, and then went out for Ascia's birthday. Work wasn't even touched (I did the French homework earlier after class), but I had a fine game of Scrabble (won 225 to 140-something, 132, and 57, helped by XI, EX, and AI with the X on a triple word score). I also had a bingo of MINNIES, but don't know what it means, and I was getting persecuted for words I did know. So that seemed pointless. But I also enjoyed the silly game Marry, Date, or Dump and generally conversing in a board game bar with coopmates, and then drove Ascia back, since I was not drinking. Best part was actually beating the people who left early back. OK, not the best part (that would be either Scrabble or conversations), but amusing. Sleep or work? Hmm. Let's ponder that while I get into bed.
Monday, January 09, 2006
This has been an absurdly good year for movies. This year's crop has been marked by seriousness. The bulk of these films have explored weighty subjects, and in particular the nature of violence. And so, I begin with 10 films which deserve recognition:
The Runners Up: 20. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The latest installment is the most satisfying yet, coupling dark forces in the world of magic with the troublesome time of adolescence. The characters are developped amazingly well as they struggle with weighty issues of conscience. Marked by swift pacing and a decidedly nuanced approach at the various tones the story requires, the latest in the children's series grows more adult by the minute.
19. The Beat That My Heart Skipped. A thriller which builds slowly, sustaining interest all the way. A tale of a man deciding between the life his father runs with the underground mob, and the life his mother dreamt for him, a concert pianist. Riveting, the way the two worlds collide in this sensitive and thrilling movie.
18. Syriana. A complex, interwoven tale of international power and personal decisions. The sprawling ground covered is both insightful and affecting, offering not lessons, but rather observations of characters caught amongst larger forces. It's an intelligent and ambitious film which succeeds at every level.
17. Good Night and Good Luck. George Clooney's story of Edward R. Murrow's battle against Joseph McCarthy is inspiring, and ever-so-prescient. The film plays linearly, but powerfully, marked by stellar performances, a period feel with elegant black and white cinematography, and a powerful script which surges ahead. Not a moment is wasted.
16. Batman Begins. This film shows a sensitive and complex view of superhero Bruce Wayne. Battling not just evil, but his own fears and prejudices, Christopher Nolan produces a highly charged superhero held together by a thorough examination of the moral dilemmas confronting Batman. Both emotionally and intellectually engaging, it's an action film with not just a heart, but a mind.
15. Me and You and Everyone Else We Know. Of all the films I saw, this one still intrigues me with its simple charms and delightful whimsy months after viewing it. Miranda July's debut film is a tender examination of love and its meaning for different characters. Concerned less with broad strokes, she focuses on what each charactrer's details add to the interweaving tales of characters seeking love, acceptance, and happiness with magical results.
14. The Squid and the Whale. Noah Baumbach's excrutiatingly bitter and painfully funny comedy about divorce handles a messy subject with all the mess you can imagine. Between Jeff Daniels's flailing over-intellectual father and Laura Linney's condescending mother lies a sharp-toothed comedy about self-absorption and self-revelation, as deftly navigated by the two children caught in the midst of it all.
13. Nobody Knows. The latest film from Japanese director Kore-eda painfully chronicles the neglect and derilection of 5 children, abandoned by a oblivious mother. With subtle gestures, Kore-eda creates a devastating portrait of a family struggling to stay alive, let alone together. Heartwrenching without any instance of force.
12. Grizzly Man. Werner Herzog's thoroughly absorbing documentary about Timothy treadwell balances judgement against Herzog's own beliefs. Treadwell, who spent the bulk of his life isolated amongst the wild grizzlies of northern Alaska, is undone by his own fervent beliefs of his place in nature, which alternately frighten and enrapture. What emerges is a complex and compelling portrait of a man at the fringe of society, and the beauty of capturing him through Treadwell's words and Herzog's alike.
11. Pride and Prejudice. In terms of sheer enjoyment at the cinema, it's hard to beat this film. They've created a fresh version, adding to the two in existence, one which resonates with youthful energy, heady passion, and awkwardness. Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFayden are perfectly matched as headstrong individuals dealing with sudden irrational love, and are backed by a fine assortment of supporting couples. The film is smart and witty, showing the public and private sides of matchmaking with great agility and sweeping gestures.
And now, the 10 best of the year.
10. 2046. Wong Kar Wai's luminous followup to In the Mood for Love is an engrossing meditation on heartbreak, loss, and memory. The weaving tale explores the haunting effects of love lost across the years, and the irretrievable chances which have passed Tony Leung by. The film is painted in gorgeous light and color, and amidst the labyrthine plot comes a glorious and deafeningly sad cry of loss. It's not simply the most beautiful film of the year, but also the most intimately painful.
9. The Upside of Anger. Joan Allen and Kevin Costner are brilliant together as a bitter woman scorned by her husband's sudden flight, leaving her with four daughters, and a man who has watched his better days leave him with resentfulness and a middling talk radio sports show. The screenplay is sharp, and the pure enjoyment of watching these two share drinks, comfort, and eventually stumble into love is fantastic. Realistic and surprisingly emotional underneath the laughs.
8. A History of Violence. David Cronenberg's tale is deceptively straight forward, and full of unexpected punch. Viggo Mortensen plays a man who heriocally saves his customers one night, launching him on a roller coaster of fame, garnering unwanted attention from Ed Harris, who mistakes him for a man. The subject takes on the question of changing identities, whether fame, violence, or the lack thereof can truly change a person. Maria Bello is stunning as his wife, and William Hurt is marvellously sinister in a small role as a Philadelphia mob boss. The action is taut with never a dull or shallow moment- everything has layers of meaning hinted at on the surface.
7. Match Point. Woody's best film in over 15 years is a acrid tale of social climbers in London. The cast of characters use whatever they possess to get what they want, whether money like the rich Hewett family (Emily Mortenson, Brian Cox, and Matthew Goode), sex (Scarlett Johansen), or cunning (Jonathan Rhys Myers). Chris (Myers) is a man whose sights are set on Chloe's (Mortenson) family's position, but can't help being seduced by Nola (Johansen), the struggling actress. Through calculations and miscalculations, Chris is increasingly finding the affair a dangerous game, accompanied by a chillingly cynical screenplay and ingenious twists of fate and luck along the way.
6. Junebug. A charming, intelligent chamber drama concerns cultural clash, taking no sides, but remaining faithful to all characters. When a Chicago lawyer takes his art-collector wife back home to meet his rural North Carolina family, its met by unfulfilled expectations and awkward silences, too often filled by Amy Adams heartwinningly chatty sister in law, this years most memorable character. It's not a comedy, but a thoughtful, delicate examination of characters out of their element. From the mother's derisive, pragmatic comments to the wife's patronizing attempts to accomodate, to the stony silence of the two brothers caught in the middle of the battle lines, it's a film with the pleasure of an excellent novel, with real, imperfect characters who grow with one another.
5. The Constant Gardener. Fernando Mireille's followup to City of God is a powerfully persuasive look into a pharmaceutical conspiracy and a lovers death, combining the personal and the political seamlessly. Ralph Fiennes's mild-mannered diplomat is thrown in with the audience into a turbulent mess of politics, assassination, murder, and poverty after his wife (Rachel Weisz) is killed. His ensuing search for the culprit uncovers more than he bargained for, one which wrestles effectively with the notion of implicit guilt in permitting things to happen. The film's style is kinetic and stylish, and features finely tuned and spirited performances from all involved.
4. Caché. The year's most distressing film by far is this intensely riveting thriller from Michael Haneke. After receiving a surveillance tape of their house, what seems like a joke gone too far becomes an unraveling series of horrorific experiences for suburban couple Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. Auteuil believes he knows who is to blame, seeking revenge, but his suspect denies it, and the fear induced by this pulls apart their lives slowly and devastatingly. Haneke turns the ordinary into a grotesque, dark version of it, one where nothing seems safe any more, where the answers are maddeningly few. The effect is a thriller of pure, visceral horror, driven in by stunning performances and simple, swift acts which sneak up on you and linger long afterwards.
3. Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee's tender, understated love story is richly textured by fine performances and a laconic script. So much of the films power relies on what cannot be expressed by the characters. It's a tale of an accidental love, neither released nor embraced, which simulataneously unites and drives apart two men. Ledger's inability to embrace emotional commitment on any level is a sly mix of practicality and his own flaws, while Gyllenhaal's more romanticist is blinded to the problems which befall them. The emotion is quiet, but gut-wrenching, with such searing acuity towards the increased internalization of love, guilt, and loneliness.
2. Brothers. A Danish film with such sharpness for a family's dynamics and how slowly they evolve. Two brothers, Michael and Jannick, occupy the role of good and bad son respectively. Upon hearing that Michael's plane has crashed, Jannick finds himself in a position of needed responsibility for the family. What evolves from this and other sharp developments is a look at what happens when family roles are abruptly displaced and the sometimes comic, often dangerously brutal effects. The characters react not just to the events and to each other, but primarily to their own minds: guilt, prejudices, and rivalries come to the surface, producing a compelling and thorough examination of characters coping with people they don't know as well as they thought.
1. Munich. This year's best film is its most daring and intelligent. Spielberg's epic examination of Israel's retaliatory violence against Palestine for the slaughter of its Olympic team, easily his best since Schindler's List (and possibly ever), is a brave and powerful examination of an ongoing conflict, reframing the debate in terms of human lives. Eric Bana is assigned to lead a team to assassinate 11 Palestinians behind the massacre. What begins as a straightforwardly familiar movie of thrilling espionage becomes more and more complicated, both in the physical efforts to assassinate, but also in the moral quagmire the crew finds them in. Spielberg's darkly honest look at bloodshed spares no comfort while Tony Kushner's screenplay is nuanced and powerful in its language. By not taking sides, he achieves a higher position, one of thorough examination of difficult questions: when is violence legitimized? Does family or nation take precedence? How is treason defined? The film resonates with such issues and treats them with the gravitas and throroughness they deserve. The film is gritty, riveting, and occasionally nearly impossible to watch, but Spielberg's focused masterpiece provides one of the most enriching experiences in cinema history.
There you go! And for the record, here are 10 films I've not seen, thus not factoring in (at this point): The Best of Youth Head-On Hustle and Flow Kung Fu Hustle Kings and Queen March of the Penguins Murderball Mysterious Skin The New World Walk the Line
It begins. I got up early to finish prepping for classes, write up my syllabus, etc. I had French reading class, which went surprisingly well. We read through a text line by line, and really I could do all of it. Thank God. Then I met with the professor and had some time to try out my keys, eat, and wander, bumping into Rebecca and then Alex. So exciting. I made copies, bought binders, which I realized later I left in the copy room, and then time for lecture and teaching. About 5 minutes before the lecture ended, I asked Vera "How do you know who's supposed to be in your section?" Ah the things you never think about. I ran and made copies of the rosters and such, and went to teach. It was a little rocky, occassionally getting lost in words, like trying to explain melody versus harmony, and what constitutes a melody. The second section was easier (ah, practice), and I had a lot more willing participation, which helps immensely. And then I came home, ate, and sat through a house meeting, and did my 502 reading in the library, and updated my LJ with top movies of the year. I'll cut and paste it above. Time to go prep tomorrow's class.
I actually slept well last night. Still sick, yes, but I almost always am worried about flying (remembering to pack/do everything, not oversleep, etc.), but I slept in one full 8 hour chunk, even waking up slightly before my alarm. So I had tea and showered, and Jenny fixed me oatmeal, which I ate quickly and happily. Goodbye Philadelphia! I miss it already, especially because arriving here did not feel like coming home to anything in particular yet. Travelling was uneventful, full of reading this Charlie Chaplin book (mediocre, though occasionally humorously anecdotal- actrually it's a lot like listening to old people talk about stuff you mostly don't really have any connection to). Getting to the airport from Lansdowne is ridiculously fast (like 20 minutes), so I had plenty of time, countered by the 15 minutes of hustling in Chicago to connect, which was fine despite the fact people do not know how to walk in airports. I hate them all. Then, I arrived and met Claire and Natalie, who drove me back to the co-op where I saw people and prepped for the class I'm teaching *tomorrow.* Slight moments of panic aside, pretty uneventful. Oh, and there's no snow at all here now. Weird.