Tag Archives: movies

Dancing About Architecture

Last month, I watched a movie on Netflix that I hadn’t seen since high school. Jon Stewart was, sadly, about to leave The Daily Show and I was remembering how I saw him in the 1998 movie Playing by Heart, which I’d sought out as a teenager because Gillian Anderson, whom I loved on The X-Files, was in it. Pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart plays her love interest. It’s a pretty good movie, although not likely to be anyone’s favorite- an ensemble drama about love with a cast that also includes Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, Ellen Burstyn, and Gena Rowlands, among others. It was trying to do what Love Actually did more successfully a few years later– show a big group of people and their various romantic scenarios, although it’s more of a drama than Love Actually (there’s one storyline about a guy dying of AIDS). In one scene, Angelina Jolie is yelling at someone on a pay phone, which amused me.

 

The notable thing about this movie, though, is what it was almost titled– Dancing About Architecture. It was only changed because there was a movie out at the same time called Dancing At Lughnasa. But Dancing About Architecture would have been a much better title. It comes from a scene where Angelina Jolie’s character recounts how, when she tried to talk with a musician friend about his music, he told her that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and she countered that talking about love was the same way.

 

I tend to agree. But for now, let’s focus on talking about music– though it might indeed be like dancing about architecture, I’m going to make an attempt.

 

I have the hardest time discussing music. When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I wince. There never seems to be a good answer to that question. Back in middle school, people started to define themselves by what music they listened to and would make judgments about you based on your own music taste.

 

Here’s the thing, though–it never ends. Even as an adult, people judge you by the music you listen to. You might not make fun of someone who’s bad at sports or isn’t into partying, but judgment about music never ends. When I read this post I wrote a long time ago, I cringe at how defensive I sound. But I feel that way because I can’t believe that even as we’ve grown up, we haven’t evolved beyond these petty judgments we made as pre-teens.

 

There’s much more music that I like than music I dislike and, ironically, I feel like a lot of people would say that means I don’t really love music, as if you can’t love many different things. It’s hard for me to talk about music to the kind of people who consider themselves music lovers by virtue of being picky about what they like, prizing the obscure and wanting to be ahead of the curve with popularity, and making a hobby of seeing live shows. I don’t think I’ll ever be a very picky music consumer, as my tendency is to go with my instinctual like or dislike without thinking too much about why. And while I get how it feels good to like something before it becomes popular, I seem to be missing the disdain-for-popularity chip.

 

I think I’m coming around on live shows, though.

 

I wrote about it a bit here and here— how I don’t like most concerts, at least ones in small venues, and how I don’t seem to get the high from live music that so many people seem to. I did go to a concert earlier this summer in a larger venue, and I really enjoyed it. Due to that middle-school judgment factor, I’m hesitant to say who the artist was–it’s a popular artist about whom people tend to have strong opinions, both positive and negative. But I started to understand that high-on-live-music feeling that people have described to me.

 

Then I got that feeling myself in August when I went to New York to see Les Mis again. Ramin Karimloo was leaving the show at the end of August and I wanted to see the show one last time with him in it. So I did, and it was fantastic. My obsession with Les Mis is well-documented, but this seriously put me in a good mood for the next week. It was actually kind of amazing– I spent way too much of this summer in absolute misery, and not without good reason, and yet the thing that made me happier than I’d been in months was the power of this show’s music. (I was brought out my misery by a show called…Les Miserables. Heh.)

 

This led to me spending a truly embarrassing amount of time watching clips of Ramin Karimloo on YouTube. I got really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see him in Les Mis again–my new job (which I’m liking so far) started the day after Ramin’s last show, so going down for that was out of the question. But then I remembered that he was playing two concerts at BB King’s in New York the following weekend- and I was pretty sure I could make it down for the Saturday show.

 

So I did.

 

I have Ramin’s album and, like I said, have spent a ridiculous amount of time watching him on YouTube. He does these shows in a style he calls “broadgrass”–everything from Broadway to bluegrass, and sometimes Broadway in the style of bluegrass (like singing “Bring Him Home” on a banjo). I love, love, love this guy’s voice, and I was excited to see what he’d do at the show. (And, let’s be honest, also a bit excited to look at him.)

 

The show was at BB King’s on 42nd Street, which has first-come, first-served seating. It started at 7:30 with doors opening at 6. I got there at 5 and the line was already pretty long. I’d brought a book to read while I stood there. The crowd was, hilariously, about 90% female.

 

I was standing there in line when suddenly I heard screaming coming from up ahead in line…and the next thing I knew, Ramin was standing right in front of me. Because he’s freaking awesome, he’d decided to come out and say hi to everyone waiting in line. I said hi, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for coming.” I think I started to tell him that I’d come in from Boston, but he’d moved on by then.

 

So it was a pretty amazing night already. I had not been prepared for Ramin walking right up to me, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone out and didn’t get another picture of me with him, but I did get a shot of him with the people behind me. (Random side note: when I ended up sitting at a table with some random people, whom I talked to, they told me that a minute after Ramin came out, George Takei walked by! I didn’t see him at all and wouldn’t have believed it if they  hadn’t shown me the picture they took with George.)

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I settled in at the table once they let us in and talked to the people around me. There was an opening act, Jamie Cunningham, who told us about how he became the opener after connecting with Ramin on Twitter. And then it was time for broadgrass!

 

He sang all kinds of things- songs from his album, songs from shows he’d been in, songs from shows he hasn’t been in, bluegrass, Broadway in the style of bluegrass, original songs, covers, mashups, you name it. He also made me tear up when he sang “Bring Him Home” and dedicated it to Kyle Jean-Baptiste.

 

Most of the concert ended up on YouTube, and I’ve been rewatching obsessively. A few favorites: here he sings “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, a fantastic song that his voice is perfect for:

 

I wasn’t familiar with James Bay, but after Ramin covered his song “Scars,” I looked it up and…sorry, James Bay, but I think I like Ramin singing it better: :

 

And here’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma!, broadgrassed-up. Beautiful morning, beautiful man.

 

I think I get it now– how people get a high from live music, because while it had happened to me with musical theater before, this was the first time I got it from a concert. I don’t know how many artists could provoke this kind of reaction in me, but I understand now the feeling people get from live shows.

 

What I understand even less now, though, is looking down on other people because of their taste in music. Ramin’s music does something to me that I can’t even describe, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And there are people out there who have the same kind of experience I just had with music I don’t like or am indifferent to.

 

I wish I could do a better job explaining the feeling I’ve had since that concert last week. But it’s like dancing about architecture.

Things I Loved in 2014

I did a “Things I Loved This Year” post for 2013, and here’s another one of sorts for this year. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m consuming fewer and fewer things that I dislike. I think I’ve just gotten better at realizing what I like. Every book I read this year got at least three stars on Goodreads. I only saw a few new movies and didn’t hate the ones I did see. If I wasn’t getting into a show, I didn’t continue watching it—I stopped watching How to Get Away with Murder after five episodes and didn’t make it past the pilot of The Leftovers. (I did stick with Season 3 of Homeland to see how it ended, but didn’t continue with Season 4.)

Books
If I finish the book I’m currently reading by tomorrow, I’ll have read sixty books this year. I’m going to post more about the books of this past year in future posts, but some highlights were Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. All YA, interestingly enough. Also, at book signings, I met both Ann M. Martin and Neil Patrick Harris!

Movies
You know, I haven’t seen that many movies yet. All the Oscar movies are coming out now, though, so I’m sure that will change over the next couple of months. So far, I’ve enjoyed Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars, both of which are based on books I’ve read.

TV Shows
The Good Wife was a big highlight. So was Jane the Virgin, which is hilarious and adorable. Gina Rodriguez is just really sweet and relatable in the title role, and it reminds me a lot of Ugly Betty. I’ve recently started watching Community, too, and am enjoying it.

Theater
LES MIS. Freaking fantastic. I also saw a production of Into the Woods that got me interested in the movie that just came out (haven’t seen the movie yet), and Finding Neverland when it was in Cambridge—I liked it but didn’t love it. My friends and I also saw both The Book of Mormon and The Lion King in Boston, both great.

Music
I never disliked her, but this year I’ve started to like Taylor Swift more than I anticipated. I think part of it is a backlash-to-the-backlash thing—I’ve never really understood why some people who don’t like her are so vicious towards her. If you don’t like her music, fine, but what has she, as a person, ever done that’s so bad? So I put a lot of energy into defending her, but it was really only this year that I started to like her music.

I also really enjoyed Ramin Karimloo’s solo CD. Speaking of which…

Celebrities
I still love Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul, but Ramin is one of my new favorites. And a late-breaking addition: Trevor Noah, the new Daily Show correspondent, whom I can already tell I’m going to love.

Food
I discovered that almond butter fudge—really just almond butter mixed with coconut oil and frozen—is awesome and healthier than most other desserts. I also started making this awesome cinnamon-apple smoothie.

Thoughts on Last Year’s Movies

I am picky about movies—I tend only to see the ones that have gotten critical acclaim, which means I spend the most time watching movies in the latter half of the year. Some years I see everything nominated for Best Picture, but not this time. I don’t want to see Her because the whole premise of it creeps me out. I won’t even talk to Siri, so the idea of falling in love with a computer is just… *shudder*. And despite my abiding love for Leonardo DiCaprio, based on what I’ve heard about The Wolf of Wall Street, I don’t think I’d like it. However, I did see all the other Best Picture nominees.

Out of those nominees, my favorite, surprisingly, was Philomena, which I hadn’t heard a whole lot about before I saw it. Out of the movies I saw that were not nominated for Best Picture, my favorite was Saving Mr. Banks.

Here are my thoughts on last year’s movies, in no particular order.

Prisoners

This was intense. VERY intense. It’s a thriller in which two young girls disappear from a quiet Pennsylvania neighborhood on Thanksgiving. A mentally challenged young man who drove an RV in the neighborhood where the girls were last scene is questioned, but ultimately released. Then the father of one of the girls (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands, kidnapping the man and torturing him to try to get information out of him. Meanwhile, a detective named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) searches for the kidnappers in a more conventional way.

I really liked this movie, even though one of the friends I saw it with figured out the ending pretty early. Some things about that ending still confuse me, but the writing is excellent (it’s so literary that I thought it must be based on a book and was surprised to find out that it wasn’t), there’s gorgeous cinematography, and I think Hugh Jackman should have gotten more recognition for this role than he has.

Gravity

In a lot of movies that are shown in 3-D in the theater, the 3-D can be superfluous, but this is the kind of movie that was made for it. I don’t think watching it on DVD at home, minus the objects floating around in space, would be as interesting. Overall, it’s a good movie, but I’m kind of surprised that it’s gotten as much critical acclaim as it has. It’s a very simple story and the characters are kind of flat—George Clooney is basically playing George Clooney as an astronaut (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Golden Globe crack about how the movie’s about “how George Clooney would rather float off into space and die then spend one more second with a woman his own age” was priceless) and Sandra Bullock’s character’s one distinguishing characteristic is that she had a daughter who died.

Enough Said

It’s hard to find good romantic comedies these days, but this is one of those rare gems. Even rarer is that it’s a love story about two people in their fifties about to become empty-nesters. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a divorced masseuse who, at a party, meets a woman (Catherine Keener) who becomes her new client and her friend as well as a man (James Gandolfini) whom she begins dating. Things are going well until she realizes that her new friend is her new boyfriend’s ex-wife. She doesn’t reveal what she knows to either of them and is unable to stop listening to her friend’s complaints about her ex-husband—“She’s like a human TripAdvisor!” she says at one point.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, famous for her work on TV, is great in her first, and hopefully not last, lead role in a film. Sadly, it was one of the last films that James Gandolfini completed before his death last year. It turns out the man famous for playing a brutal mobster was also great at playing a very sweet, regular guy, and it’s a shame we won’t be able to see any more of that.

Captain Phillips

I adore Tom Hanks, so I’m a bit biased towards anything he’s in, but this movie is another in the win column for him. Since it’s a true story that only happened a few years ago, obviously you know how it ends, but that didn’t prepare me for the last five minutes of the movie, where we see the captain crying in shock and covered in other people’s blood as the medics examine him. On the basis of that alone, Hanks should have gotten an Oscar nomination. Barkhad Abdi, as the leader of the pirates, did get a nomination, well-deserved.

12 Years a Slave

I liked this movie, but actually not as much as I thought I would. The main reason why is something that sounds so insignificant if I say it but really did matter to me—I thought the movie didn’t show us enough of Solomon’s life before he was a slave. There’s been a lot of commentary on the light this movie has shown on the horrors of slavery, but I thought that with the lack of humanizing details about Solomon, it became too much the story of slavery and not enough the story of Solomon Northrup, therefore turning him into more of a symbol than a person.

I don’t know. I haven’t heard this criticism anywhere else, so maybe it’s just me. Even so, it is definitely well-done and worth seeing.

All Is Lost

I was kind of wary about seeing this one. I mean, there’s one character in the whole movie and almost no dialogue and the entire thing is about him trying to survive on a sinking boat. I’d heard that it was best to see on the big screen, and I can see how that would be the case, but it was pretty compelling even when watched at home. Robert Redford plays the guy on the boat. We never get any backstory on him at all—not what he’s doing out there, nothing about his family situation, not even his name. But even so, you’re rooting for him all the way, even as things seem increasingly hopeless.

Frozen

I finally saw this after hearing about it for months, and it was wonderful. It has all the best elements of the classic Disney movies—great music (“Let It Go” is the best Disney song in many, many years), cute animals and comic relief (a reindeer named Sven and a snowman named Olaf who dreams of summer, in this case), and romance, although it takes a backseat here. With this and Brave, Disney has put a positive spin on the princess craze by writing princesses who are strong and independent, and this movie has two of them, sisters Anna and Elsa. I love that it’s about sisters and the love they have for each other—I can’t remember the last movie, animated or otherwise, I saw that had sisters at the center of the plot. And it cleverly turns the love-at-first-sight fairy tale trope on its head by pointing out how insane it is to think you’re in love with someone you don’t even know.

Saving Mr. Banks

To quote what a friend of mine posted on Facebook when the trailer for this movie came out: “Emma Thompson? Good. Tom Hanks? Good. Mary Poppins? Gooooood.” I love Tom Hanks, as I said, and Mary Poppinswas like the movie of my childhood, so I was prepared to like this movie. However, I ended up loving it even more than I thought I would. I am shocked that Emma Thompson didn’t get an Oscar nomination. As PL Travers, she’s perfect at showing her persnickety, proper side as well as the hurt and vulnerability she carries with her from her painful childhood. Colin Farrell is also great in flashbacks as her loving but unstable, alcoholic father. And I was also surprised to see what other famous faces popped up here—BJ Novak as songwriter Richard Sherman, Paul Giamatti as a chauffeur.

American Hustle

I actually didn’t like this as much as I thought I would. It’s got great acting all around, interesting and hilarious characters, and plenty of ridiculous 1970s hair. Plot-wise, though? It kind of lost me in the middle. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about what these people were doing or who was scamming whom by doing what. I wonder if it would have been better or worse if they’d stuck more closely to the true story it’s loosely based on. Still, it’s fun, and who wouldn’t want to see Jennifer Lawrence accidentally blow up a microwave?

August: Osage County

This is the kind of movie that’s enjoyable while you’re watching it but leaves you uncomfortable when it’s over. Like most movies based on plays, it’s very talky, and the plot is basic dysfunctional-family-comes-together fare. Some characters are better developed than others—Meryl Streep’s painkiller-addicted matriarch and Julia Roberts’ bitter oldest daughter are among the more developed, while Juliette Lewis’s breezy optimist sister comes off more cartoonish. The acting is terrific, but it’s the kind of movie where absolutely nothing is resolved at the end and you’re left wondering what the point of the whole thing was.

Dallas Buyers Club

This was really good. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are both excellent as, respectively, Ron Woodruff, a homophobic rodeo enthusiast whose HIV diagnosis leads him to find and sell alternative treatments to the harsh AZT he’s prescribed,  and Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS who becomes Ron’s unlikely friend and business partner. From what I’ve read, it takes a lot of liberties with real life events, but it’s still a great story and both McConnaughey and Leto deserved their Oscars.

Blue Jasmine

This was actually really sad, which I wasn’t expecting. I think I thought it would be more of a Woody Allen comedy, but while there are funny moments, it’s more of a tragedy about the downfall of a Wall Street wife named Jasmine French after her husband goes to prison. I’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire, but from what I know about it, this story has a lot of parallels to it. Cate Blanchett is fantastic as Jasmine, who, even as she does her best to start life anew, ultimately finds herself longing for the riches she’s lost. You root for Jasmine even as her behavior is cringeworthy and slightly insane, and when you finally learn the entirety of the backstory that landed her in her predicament it’s surprising and heartbreaking.

Philomena

I loved this movie, and I actually didn’t know a whole lot about it before I saw it. That’s how I recommend going into it, because although I knew the basics—it’s based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman searching for the out-of-wedlock son who was taken from her and put up for adoption—I’m glad that I didn’t know anything about how that search unfolded. So I won’t tell you much except that it turns out to be simultaneously sad, heartwarming, and life-affirming. Judi Dench is great as the stubborn, loving, occasionally hilarious Philomena, as is Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who’s helping her.

Frances Ha

I feel like I shouldn’t have liked this movie, but for some reason I did. It has all the markings of a pretentious hipster movie—it’s in black and white for no discernable reason, it’s about a not-very-successful twenty-something modern dancer in New York City, the main character is a bit self-absorbed. And yet…it worked for me. Maybe because it’s about a twenty-something’s struggles with friends, career, and figuring out where her life is going, which I can certainly relate to. And also because Greta Gerwig as Frances is pretty damn charming. I didn’t think How I Met Your Dad sounded like a great idea, but I’m more interested in it now that I know that she’ll be starring in it.

The Spectacular Now

It didn’t knock my socks off, but this is an above-average teen movie. It’s very intense—not all about high school social status and the prom, although those are both part of the plot. And the two main characters, played by Miles and Shailene Woodley, actually seem like real people and not teen archetypes. It’s been compared to Say Anything…, and while it’s not quite that good, it is definitely one of the better teen movies I’ve seen recently.

Short Term 12

Wow, this was really good and incredibly underrated. Brie Larson plays Grace, a caring but professional twenty-something supervisor at a foster care facility for teens who’s dating one of her coworkers. Grace comes from a troubled background herself, and the arrival of a new girl at the facility combined with Grace’s recently discovered pregnancy force her to confront her past. Everything about this movie feels very real, and Larson, who reminds me a bit of Jennifer Lawrence, is outstanding. I’m excited to see what else she’ll do in the future.

Mud

I have to say that I’m a big fan of the McConaissance. This and True Detective prove that his Oscar wasn’t a fluke, and while this movie has a lot of flaws, McConaughey’s performance is largely what left me with positive feelings about Mud despite those flaws. He plays a mysterious man who two fourteen-year-old boys from Arkansas find living in the woods. It’s a coming-of-age story more than anything else, and sometimes the screenwriter seems to have consulted the coming-of-age and the Southern stereotype pages in the screenwriting bible too much. (One of the boys is named “Neckbone.” Really?) It’s also the worst kind of Bechdel-test failure, where the female characters are mainly damsels in distress and really exist only as romantic objects. And it leans on the predictable side. But McConaughey brings a certain warmth to his character that permeates the movie, and in the end the story is moving without being too sappy.

Nebraska

Not my favorite, but I enjoyed it. Bruce Dern is an old guy who’s convinced he won a million dollars in a sweepstakes and Will Forte is the son humoring him by driving him from Montana to Nebraska where he can supposedly collect his prize. He learns a lot about his dad along the way, through lines that are mostly sweet and subtle but that sometime err on the side of telling and not showing. And what’s up with both this and Frances Ha being in black and white? Schindler’s List is pretty much the only modern movie that can get away with that. But even so, this is worth a watch.

Fruitvale Station

This is the true story of Oscar Grant, who was shot to death by the police in a subway station in Oakland early on New Year’s Day 2009. Unarmed black man being killed—it’s sadly an all-too-familiar story, but this movie shows you one of the humans behind the statistics. Oscar certainly had flaws, which the movie doesn’t gloss over—he spent time in prison and cheated on his girlfriend—but we also see him as a caring son, grandson, friend, boyfriend, and father to his four-year-old daughter. It’s a bit heavy-handed at times, particularly in one fictional scene where he takes care of a dying dog, but still an excellent movie (and the rookie director, Ryan Coogan, is only twenty-seven, which makes me feel like a slacker). I saw it while donating platelets, and despite knowing how it would end (it’s a true story, so it’s not exactly a secret), I got all teary and the nurse was like, “What movie were you watching?”

About Time

I may have spoken too soon when I said there weren’t any good romantic comedies anymore, because this is the second great one I’ve seen recently. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, aka Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter movies) is told by his father (played by Bill Nighy, whom I can never think of as anything but Billy Mack from Love Actually) that the men in their family can time travel—specifically, they can travel to places in the past that they’ve been before. Tim uses this power to help him meet Mary (Rachel McAdams), and surprisingly, the movie doesn’t end with their relationship. Instead, it’s more concerned with the day-to-day of their lives and the ways that it changes when Tim uses his power to redo things.

Yes, it’s on the sappy side and yes, there are some plot holes, but the characters are so kind and likeable that I came away feeling moved. There was a moment in the middle when I thought Tim might do something awful, but it never happened. And it’s actually a love story not just between Tim and Mary, but also between Tim and his dad and, to a lesser extent, Tim and his sister. There are some really lovely scenes where Tim bonds with his father.

The Lifeguard

I knew that this hadn’t gotten great reviews, but I thought I might like it anyway. Like the main character, I’m about to turn thirty and worked as a lifeguard as a teenager (one summer at a condominium complex much like the one in this movie). Plus, Kristen Bell! But it was actually pretty boring. One cliché that grates on my nerves like no other is teenagers dying to get out of their nice suburban town, which is found in abundance here. I feel like with some changes, the story—Bell’s character leaves her job as a city journalist to move back in with her parents and resume the lifeguarding job she had as a teenager—could have been a lot more compelling. Instead, it all just feels self-indulgent and low-stakes—and considering that there are subplots about statutory rape and teen suicide, that’s saying something.

The Book Thief

I love the book so much, but I wasn’t quite sure what a movie version would be like. And this was…not bad, but I feel like it was just a story that didn’t translate well to the big screen. In the book, for instance, you never forget that the story is narrated by death, but in the movie, death only speaks at the beginning and end. They made some weird choices about what words should be in English and which should be in German, too, and overall I think it was a better story to read than to see.

Things I Loved This Year

I’ll do another post about the events of last year, and I’m going to do some more substantial posts later on books, movies, and TV, at least, but I wanted to do this post on some of the things that I enjoyed the most this year. Without further ado:

Books

October was my book month. Two books I’d been anticipating for a long time were published that month—Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Halfbook and The Disaster Artist, a book about the making of The Room by Greg Sestero, who played Mark. I also attended the Boston Book Festival, where I had conversations with J. Courtney Sullivan, Tom Perrotta, and Hallie Ephron. I read many other wonderful books throughout the year, and I’ll blog about them more in a future entry, but some highlights include John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

Movies

The best movie I saw for the first time this year actually came out twenty years ago—Schindler’s List. I don’t know how I made it to this year without ever having seen this movie. And…wow. I have such a hard time talking about this movie because I’m not sure I can in a way that does it justice. It completely deserves the reputation it has—I will say that. And the very end has me in tears every time. (I’ve seen it quite a few times since I first saw it in August, most recently last night at Erin’s. Yep, our super-fun movie night was with a three-hour movie about the Holocaust.) It also motivated me to learn more about the real story behind it, so I’ve now read several books about Oscar Schindler and the Jews on the list- so many that I could tell where writers got their sources from. And there’s so much more I want to say about this movie that I’m not sure how to say, but just know that it profoundly affected me.

Future entry coming about the movies that actually came out in 2013.

TV

The two TV shows I caught up with this year that I loved the most could not be more opposite. Parks and Recreation is this happy, upbeat show about nice people doing good things. Breaking Bad is a dark, tense show about an increasingly evil guy doing increasingly terrible things. They’re at opposite ends of this TV mood scale, but I loved them both so much- Parks and Rec because it’s funny and sweet and I enjoy all the characters, Breaking Bad because it’s incredibly well-written and acted and basically a masterpiece. (Yes, I’ve seen this clip.)

I also started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly for the first time. The week of the marathon bombing, I desperately needed something to make me laugh. Previously, I’d only watched these shows sporadically, but after that week I put them both on my DVR. They keep me sane.

Music

I didn’t listen to much new music this year. I did listen to a LOT of U2. I’ve always liked them, but over the summer I started listening to them kind of obsessively and discovered some songs I hadn’t heard before or re-discovered songs I hadn’t listened to enough. As for new music, I enjoyed Sara Bareilles’s The Blessed Unrest, especially her song “I Choose You.”

Theater

Aside from the very welcome news that Les Miserables is coming back to Broadway next year, there was a lot of good theater in my life this year. I traveled to New York to see Lucky Guy on Broadway, which was wonderful and moving and…there’s so much I could say about it and maybe I will in a future post. I saw Wicked for the second time. I saw a local production of Les Mis. I also saw a great play in the fall called The Power of Duff.

Technology

Two devices have massively improved my life this year. I bought a Roku, allowing me to stream Netflix and Hulu on my TV, and it’s been fantastic. (Future post about everything I’ve been watching via Roku.) I also finally caved and got my first smartphone, which was a good decision. I’d always been afraid I’d end up spending too much time online if I had the Internet on my phone, but that hasn’t really happened. Plus, now I know when the bus is coming.

Celebrities

My two biggest celebrity crushes this year are both guys on AMC shows- Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul. It’s kind of interesting- with guys in real life, I’ve never been attracted to good-looking jerks, and I realized this year that even with celebrities, there’s a personality element present with everyone I like. Jon Hamm, I am convinced, is a perfect human being. I could look at him all day, and I think it’s a travesty that he doesn’t have an Emmy yet. But even if, for some strange reason, you’re not into his looks or his acting, you have to love him after this. And this. And this.

Aaron Paul (who does have two well-deserved Emmys), is possibly the most adorable person on the planet. I love him on Breaking Bad, where he played one of my favorite TV characters of all time, but he seems like such a sweet person, too. Read this. And this. And watch this clip of him on The Price Is Right before he was famous, because it’s hilarious. And look at his Twitter and his Instagram, from which I have learned that he really loves his wife and he really loves pizza.

Food
When Pigs Fly bread is the best kind of bread, and it’s awesome when you toast it and spread avocado on it.

Remember that if you take nothing else away from this post.

Happy New Year, all!

On Love and Deserving

Warning: herein lie spoilers for the movie The Town, Season 4 of Gilmore Girls, and the novel Driver’s Ed.

I started thinking of all my associations with the words “love” and “deserving” when used together.

Here’s one—this lovely song by Lori McKenna (possibly the subject of a future Katie Recommends):

[spotify id=”spotify:track:0p5x6zmXBjXdQ0bVcvMPhm” width=”300″ height=”380″ /]

Here’s another—the cheesy book and self-help tape Luke listens to on Gilmore Girls (which, laughable as it is, does help him realize that he’s in love with Lorelai). I can’t find the clip where the tape says, “You deserve love,” but here’s another one that includes the tape.

But here’s another, the one I think of most often. A few years ago, I’d just seen the movie The Town and hadn’t really liked it. My biggest issue with it was that when the female lead discovers that the guy she’s been seeing is the same guy who traumatized her by kidnapping her at gunpoint during a bank robbery, she still wants to be with him. I did not buy that for a minute, and shared that thought with some co-workers at lunch one day. One co-worker, who’d seen the movie and liked it, was surprised. “But she loved him!” she said.

“Some people don’t deserve love,” I countered.

And I’ll never forget the look on her face. She looked like I’d slapped her—as if, with an offhand comment about a character in a movie, I’d hurt her personally.

But I meant it when I said it. I really did believe that not everyone deserved love. Everyone deserves to be loved by their parents and families, but does everyone deserve romantic love?

I have a lot of friends who have fallen for lousy guys when they deserve much better. It’s frustrating to see your friends continue to see and to respond to jerks, and my response, more than once, has been that guys like that don’t deserve love. Not that they don’t deserve the love of my awesome friends—that they don’t deserve love, period.

But how far does that theory go? If a fictional bank robber/kidnapper doesn’t deserve love, what about real people? Do murderers deserve love? Rapists? Domestic abusers? Cheaters? Do genocidal dictators deserve love? If you do a terrible thing, should your karmic punishment be the permanent loss of romantic love?

This almost seems like a set-up to a discussion of religion, but my thoughts here aren’t quite so high-minded. Honestly, I’m thinking about myself—someone who has never received romantic love from anyone. Someone who has no firsthand experience with the emotion they sing about in so many songs, that drives the plot of so many of my favorite movies. Someone who, most of the time, tries very hard not to talk too much, in this blog and in real life, about how frustrating my lack of success at dating has been—but someone whose psychic real estate is largely occupied by thoughts on that subject. It’s been getting worse and worse now that I’m twenty-nine and have spent the entirety of my life single and without romantic love. I worry every single day that I will never have the things I want the most—despite trying as hard as I can to meet someone who will help me get those things.

It’s very hard not to wonder what is so wrong with me and to come up with things that are wrong. I am by far the least attractive girl in my group of friends. When I was on vacation in Florida back in August, I had a hard time looking at myself when I was on the beach with three much thinner friends. I’m not getting any younger. And I am, as I’ve mentioned before, not a very nice person, and my success at disguising that fact varies. I’ve always wished I could be one of those people whom EVERYONE likes, but I’ve already failed at that—there are more than a few people who actively dislike me, maybe even hate me, and I have to take responsibility for that. I’m not even sure why I still have any friends at all.

And I guess this has all been a roundabout way to this realization: I’m not always sure that I deserve love. I know nothing productive can come from this way of thinking, but there it is. When trying to find someone has been this discouraging, I find myself thinking—what do I really have to offer a potential boyfriend that no other girl can? With so many awesome single girls out there, why would anyone ever want to be with me? Do I really deserve that kind of love?

Maybe I don’t. But maybe no one does. Because this brings me to my final association with the words “love” and “deserving” –a quote from the young adult novel Driver’s Ed by Caroline B. Cooney. In the book, two teenagers have confessed to stealing a stop sign, which resulted in a fatal accident. At the very end, one of them says to his father that he doesn’t think he deserves love. His father says that he’s right—he doesn’t deserve love:

“That’s the thing about love,” said his father, wrapping a Christmas arm around his son. “Nobody deserves it. Love just is.”

 

I think that might be closer to the truth about love and deserving than anything else.

2012 Movies

This makes three posts in a row about movies. What can I say? I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately.

2012 was a great year for movies. I saw quite a few excellent movies in the past year. I told you a bit about what I thought of some of them in my Oscar post, but here’s a more in-depth look.

The Sessions

Wow, I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did. But I was shocked to find myself in tears at the end of the movie, which is based on a true story. John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a writer who survives in an iron lung after being paralyzed as a child by polio. Since his physical condition makes sex extremely difficult, he hires Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), a married mother who works as a sex surrogate. Ty Burr’s review in the Boston Globe points out, rightly, that there are a million ways it could have gone wrong and that the premise sounds like a bad joke. What makes the movie work is the great work of John Hawkes (I am shocked that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination) and the compassion the script has for Mark.

One really refreshing thing is the treatment of religion. Mark is a devout Catholic who consults with his priest (William H. Macy) before hiring Cheryl. While the priest mulls over the morality of it, he ultimately concludes that God will give him a pass on the sex-outside-of-marriage part. It’s really unusual in the movies to see a clergy member, particularly a Catholic priest, demonstrating empathy instead of judgment, and I greatly appreciated it.

My one big issue with the film? Helen Hunt’s terrible Boston accent. (It takes place in California, but Cheryl is originally from Salem.) Her performance is great other than that, but it’s an especially noticeable problem since she keeps talking to a guy named Mark.

Silver Linings Playbook

Awesome, awesome, awesome. I loved this movie.

Bradley Cooper’s had such a weird career path. I didn’t watch Alias much, but I remember him as Sydney’s sweet-but-dorky friend Will. Ten years later, he’d reinvented himself as a studly leading man, and now with this movie, he’s made himself into a serious actor who, I hope, will be given more challenging parts in the future. He plays Pat, a man with bipolar disorder and anger management problems who’s just gotten out of a mental institution. He landed there after beating up the man his wife Nikki was cheating on him with. Now he’s lost his teaching job, is living with his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver), and is obsessed with getting back together with Nikki, who has filed a restraining order against him. When he meets his friend’s widowed sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has a lot of issues of her own, he lets her into his life, reluctantly at first. He agrees to be her partner in a dance competition if she’ll deliver a letter he wrote to Nikki. But as they spend more time together, we see Pat’s priorities changing and both Pat and Tiffany’s issues improving. Meanwhile, Pat’s obsessive-compulsive father is trying to make money by betting on Philadelphia Eagles games.

One thing I really appreciated is how it portrays mental illness and psychiatric drugs—realistically, Pat, who isn’t taking his meds at the beginning of the movie, does see an improvement in his symptoms but not an end to all his issues once he starts taking them regularly and seeing a therapist. Also, the acting is superb all around. Bradley Cooper captures Pat’s insanity so well that you don’t even think about how hot he is. And not to get all hipster about it, but I loved Jennifer Lawrence before The Hunger Games—specifically, since Winter’s Bone—and she does not disappoint. I want to be Jennifer Lawrence when I grow up…even though she’s younger than me.

Speaking of which, that’s actually my one issue with the movie—J. Law looks waaaaay too young to be playing Tiffany. She says at one point that she was married for three years, and although I don’t think they said how long her husband had been dead, I think it was at least a year—was she, like, sixteen when she got married? Bradley Cooper even said recently, while denying rumors that the two of them are dating in real life, something like, “I could be her dad!” But Lawrence is such a good actress that it’s not too bothersome.

Argo

I can’t think about this movie without shaking my head in disgust over Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director. This is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper, where the CIA freed six Americans in the Iranian hostage crisis who’d escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s house by disguising them as a film crew, although there are some liberties taken for dramatic effect. It says a lot about how well-done it is that even though history tells us how the movie will end, I was still nervous watching it!

Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is a weird movie. Not bad, but weird. It takes place in a bayou community called The Bathtub cut off by a levee from the rest of the world. A little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in a little wooden house by herself, while her ailing, sometimes harsh father lives in another one next door. A storm is moving in and threatening to destroy everything. Oh, and there are these creatures called Aurochs that come out of the melting polar icecaps running around.

Yeah, I told you it was weird. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. But I can tell you for certain that Wallis is adorable and very talented, and hopefully she’ll be in a lot more movies in the future.

Life of Pi

Another movie I liked more than I thought I would. All I knew about it before I saw it was kid-on-boat-with-tiger, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s what we see of the kid, nicknamed Pi, and his life with his family in India before he is shipwrecked with the tiger. There’s the framing device, the adult Pi telling his story to a writer. There are parallels drawn to religion, which I always find interesting, and there’s the possibility that the tiger is metaphorical. But aside from the writing, this movie is just gorgeous visually, even though most of it was created by CGI.

Lincoln

I did like this movie, but it did not, by any means, knock my socks off or blow me away or have me jumping out of my chair or any other idiomatic phrase conveying supreme enjoyment. It is very well-acted—Daniel Day-Lewis does a great job bringing a historical figure we’re all familiar with to life. But while it’s about a major event, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, the road to that passage was paved with a lot of partisan bickering, not unlike Congress today. At times, it seems like the movie is just a succession of long, poignant speeches. And while I can certainly admire the direction and acting in this movie, it didn’t move me, and a movie about something as big as the abolition of slavery really should.

Pitch Perfect

One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. How has there never been a movie about college a cappella until this one? I do have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by most of the music, but it’s funny and unpredictable enough (well, as unpredictable as a comedy can be) to make up for that…and for the fact that everyone looks way older than 18-22. Weren’t Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson just playing older characters in Up in the Air and Bridesmaids, respectively?

The Hunger Games

I’ve heard very little criticism of the adoption of this book to the screen, and given what a big following the book series has, that’s a huge compliment. Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as Katniss (actually, I probably could have ended at “Jennifer Lawrence is perfect”), the movie is very well-cast in general, and it mostly stays faithful to the book. I liked the first book in this series but wasn’t as crazy about the second two, but I am interested to see how the movie adaptations of Catching Fire and Mockingjaygo.

Moonrise Kingdom

I had never seen anything by Wes Anderson before this, but I LOVED this movie. It takes place on a fictional island in New England in 1965, where Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), two misunderstood twelve-year-olds who have been pen pals for a year, decide to run away together. While much about it is surreal—a gigantic treehouse at Sam’s scouting camp teeters precariously in a very narrow tree, Sam gets struck by lightning but springs back up unharmed almost immediately—it’s also very sweet in its depiction of young love. That they care about each other in an innocent, pre-teen way doesn’t diminish their relationship. And aside from being very funny, it’s also appealing in the way that it captures the feel of spending summer on the New England coast.

The Dark Knight Rises

I am not a superhero-movie person, so it says something that I like these movies enough to see them in the theater without anyone making me. The last installment in this series was, frankly, a bit too long, but not bad. The Dark Knight actually made me think with the questions it raised at the movie’s end, but when this one ended, I kind of shrugged and said, “Huh. Not bad,” and then went home to walk Juno.

The Master

Ehh…this was a decent movie, but I kind of doubt that anyone who saw it loved it. It takes place in 1950, and Joaquin Phoenix plays an alcoholic veteran with PTSD who falls in with a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose religion is a thinly-veiled version of Scientology. It’s definitely interesting, but feels unfinished—like the writer decided to make a movie about L. Ron Hubbard but couldn’t think of a good enough plot, or at least a good enough ending.

Flight

Interesting character study of a movie. Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic pilot who, despite discreetly consuming vodka orange juice in flight, manages to land a malfunctioning plane with the loss of only six lives. Initially hailed as a hero, he becomes desperate to preserve his reputation as his intoxication comes to light. Washington is great as a morally ambiguous man whose actions keep us guessing up until the end, and Kelly Reilly adds a lot as a heroin addict he meets and bonds with in the hospital.

Zero Dark Thirty

Intense and very well-done. Jessica Chastain is excellent as a CIA agent named Maya (reportedly based on a real person) who dedicates her whole career to finding Osama Bin Laden. It’s nine years of false leads, missed tips, bad information, and tragedy (Maya survives the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott and loses friends in the Camp Chapman attack) before she finally tracks down Bin Laden’s compound. While the movie doesn’t hit us over the head of this, it’s clear that she also faces struggles being heard as a woman working with a lot of men. Even with her assertion that she’s 100 percent certain that Bin Laden is in the compound, it takes a long time for any action to be taken. For over four months, Maya writes the number of days it’s been since they found the compound in dry erase marker on her boss’s office window. In one awesome scene, she’s told to step back as the CIA chief briefs everyone on the compound. When he asks her who she is, she’s quick with the response: “I’m the motherfucker who found this place!” We don’t get much background on Maya—she’s single and a workaholic, but the movie doesn’t focus on it—but Maya’s dazed reaction upon seeing Bin Laden’s corpse, and then her silent tears upon leaving Pakistan in a private plane, speak volumes.

Amour

Quiet, elegant, devastating. And very effective. It’s about Anne and Georges, an elderly married couple in Paris, dealing with Anne’s stroke and subsequent decline in health. While the inciting incident—Anne suddenly going silent during breakfast one morning—is shown, and very well-done, a lot of the big moments happen off-screen. Unlike so many movies nominated for Oscars, it’s not about anything big like fighting terrorism or ending slavery, but about something that people around the world go through every day, and about the small ways that love shows itself.

Django Unchained

I’m not a big Tarantino fan, so I wasn’t excited to see this movie, but I liked it much more than I expected to. However, while it was mostly enjoyable, it was also a lot longer than necessary and not something I thought about once it was over. Jamie Foxx is Django, a former slave traveling with German bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) helping him kill people and trying to find his wife Broomhilda. It’s entertaining, and kind of amazing that Tarantino can still think of new ways to show blood spatter, but one thing that really bugged me was how little personality Broomhilda had. Especially since Django’s want to reunite with her is what propels most of the plot.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I adore this book—in fact, when I first read it at age 19, I went on and on about it in my journal. I was really excited to hear that the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky, was writing and directing the movie as well. I was very pleased with it. Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, and Ezra Miller as Patrick were all great—although I definitely never would have imagined that the same actress would play both Sam and Hermione Granger! The book is so much about Charlie’s inner life that I did feel like some of it was lost in translation to the screen, and there’s a lot less about his family in the movie. But those are minor quibbles—this was a great movie.

Oscar Thoughts and Predictions

I love awards shows. I really do. I’ve been an awards show junkie since middle school. The Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the SAG Awards, and of course the Oscars are big television events for me. I DVR not just the ceremonies, but the red carpet on E!. I buy the issue of People that comes out after the Oscars, showing everyone all dressed up. I check off the winners as the awards are given, and I try to make predictions and see whether I’m right.

Every year before the Oscars, the two Boston Globe film critics list, for each category, who should win, who will win, who was robbed, and who shouldn’t be in the category. I think it’s coming out tomorrow.

This year, I’m doing my own version of that post. It was a great year for movies, so I’m especially excited this year. I’ve seen all of the movies nominated for Best Picture and all but one of the movies that have acting nominations, so here are my thoughts on this year’s Oscars.

Best Picture

Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

 

Should win: Les Mis. Duh. I will admit that I am a bit biased.

 

Will win: I’m going to go with Lincoln. It’s rare for Best Picture and Best Director to be split and even rarer for a movie to win Best Picture when the director wasn’t nominated. So that rules out Les Mis, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty, although I would have said that all three of them had good shots before the nominations came out. Lincoln was nowhere near my favorite of the nominated movies, but seeing as it has the most nominations, I’d say it has the best shot at winning. I don’t think Best Picture has been this wide open in years.

 

Was robbed: Moonrise Kingdom! WTF? That was such a great movie. I can’t believe Best Original Screenplay was its only nomination. I also would have nominated The Sessions, a really underrated movie that I found deeply touching. (Uh…no pun intended.)

 

Shouldn’t be here: All nine movies are good movies that I enjoyed, which doesn’t always happen. If I had to drop one, it would be Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was decent but very weird and, for the most part, overrated.

 

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Denzel Washington, Flight

 

Should win: Hugh Jackman, and that’s not just my Les Misbias speaking. Although, like I said, he doesn’t sing the role as well as most of the stage Valjeans, he does an amazing job carrying the whole movie while embodying a complex, heroic character and singing live on camera.

 

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis. I think what Jackman accomplished was harder, but Day-Lewis does a great job capturing the essence of a historical icon. He’d definitely be my second choice.

 

Was robbed: John Hawkes for The Sessions. He plays a man in an iron lung who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity, and it’s an incredibly appealing, moving performance. I didn’t expect to like that movie as much as I did, and he was a big reason why.

 

Shouldn’t be here: They were all pretty good, actually. If I really had to pick one to drop from this category, I’d say Joaquin. Although it is nice to see him move on from that whole fake-rapping-career fiasco.

 

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts, The Impossible

 

Should win: J. Law wins at life and should be my new best friend, but while I really wanted to say her, I think I have to go with Jessica Chastain, who was just riveting in Zero Dark Thirty. She’s the very smart, driven CIA agent who has to fight to be heard but whose hard work eventually leads to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. She clearly has lots of emotions pouring through her, but she never overplays the role. The scene where they’re briefing everyone on the compound and the CIA director looks at her and asks who she is, as if seeing her for the first time, and she retorts, “I’m the motherfucker who found this place!” was awesome.

 

Will win: Toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, two actresses whose career trajectories have really shot up in the last couple of years. I would be fine with either of them winning.

 

Was robbed: Hmm…I don’t know. I can’t really think of anyone, actually!

 

Shouldn’t be here: Hard to say. I haven’t seen The Impossible, so I have no idea about Naomi Watts. The other four should definitely be here, though.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Argo

Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

 

Should win: This isn’t a category I have a strong opinion about, but I’m actually going to go to with a less popular choice. I thought Robert DeNiro was pretty great in Silver Linings Playbook, although at this point in his career he certainly doesn’t need any more awards.

 

Will win: Tough call, but I’m going to say Tommy Lee Jones. Every single nominee in this category already has an Oscar, which is another reason I don’t care much about who wins.

 

Was robbed: Eddie Redmayne! If you can make me like and sympathize with a character I didn’t think I could ever like, you definitely deserve an Oscar nomination.

 

Shouldn’t be here: Alan Arkin. He was good comic relief in Argo, but nothing Oscar-worthy.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master

Sally Field, Lincoln

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Helen Hunt, The Sessions

Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

 

Should win: Anne Hathaway. No one else in this category comes remotely close. If I really had to pick a second choice, I’d say Sally Field.

 

Will win: I will be shocked if anyone other than Hathaway wins. She’s won basically every other Best Supporting Actress award this year.

 

Was robbed: SAMANTHA BARKS. Arrgh! My standards for Eponine were pretty high, and she surpassed them. She actually DOES come remotely close to Anne Hathaway.

 

Shouldn’t be here: Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver. I feel like the Academy got it in their heads that they need to nominate Amy Adams for every movie she’s in—she was great in Junebug but just average in Doubt, The Fighter, and now The Master. Also, a pet peeve of mine with this category is how many roles nominated for Best Supporting Actress are “wife-of” roles for characters defined almost solely by their relationship to the leading man. This year, Amy Adams and Sally Field are nominated for “wife-of” roles and Jacki Weaver, who definitely didn’t impress me as much as everyone else in Silver Linings Playbook, is a “mother-of.” And Helen Hunt, like so many actors do, totally butchered the Boston accent in The Sessions. Basically, they should have just handed Hathaway the award and not bothered with everyone else.

 

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour

Ang Lee, Life of Pi

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Stephen Spielberg, Lincoln

Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

 

Should win: Honestly? Ben Affleck should win, but he inexplicably wasn’t nominated. I don’t know if the Academy’s still holding a grudge over Giglior what, but hopefully he’s satisfied with winning basically every other award out there. I don’t have a strong preference among the actual nominees.

 

Will win: Since I think Lincoln’s going to win Best Picture, probably Spielberg.

 

Was robbed: Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper, Kathryn Bigelow. Seriously, it’s like they threw the Best Picture nominees in a hat and randomly picked five to nominate for Best Director. I’ve heard criticism of Hooper’s directing of Les Mis, so although I’m disappointed that he wasn’t nominated, I’m not surprised. But Kathryn Bigelow? She won for The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty is a much better movie.

 

Shouldn’t be here: Michael Haneke.

What do all of you think? Who would you say should win, will win, was robbed, and shouldn’t be here for all of these categories this year?

That’s a Chick’s Movie

“A movie! That’s your problem! You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m not going to write about love. I’m going to write about love in the movies.

This is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect, but I adore romantic comedies. Or, rather, I adore good romantic comedies. Sadly, there haven’t been a lot of good ones since the 90s, and most of them were written, directed, or both by the incomparable Nora Ephron, whose death last summer saddened me immensely.

So what makes a good romantic comedy? Well, the “comedy” part is important- if you’re not laughing, it won’t work. But the humor, in most romantic comedies, needs to be more character-driven than situation-driven and more verbal than visual. Obviously, the two leads need to be likeable, and you need to believe that they will work as a couple. And while the ending is a forgone conclusion (or it better be- I’ve already blogged about what I think about movies that end in breakups), there need to be enough plot twists and suspense to keep things interesting. Sadly, most romantic comedies fall short of these standards.

Also, just to be clear on what we’re talking about here, a romantic comedy must be primarily about a romantic relationship and the prospect of two people getting together. This disqualifies movies like Juno or Bridesmaids, where the romance is more like a large subplot, and movies like Love Actually, Crazy, Stupid, Love., He’s Just Not That Into You, and even 10 Things I Hate About You, which are ensemble movies about multiple romances.

Without further ado, here are my favorite romantic comedies. Would you be surprised to hear that the majority of them are from the 90s and late 80s? And that two of them have ellipses in the title?

Sleepless in Seattle

This is the movie the quote at the beginning of this post is from. Nora Ephron herself described this movie as being not about love, but about love in the movies.

More concretely, it’s about Sam (Tom Hanks), a man in Seattle raising his eight-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger) alone after his wife’s death. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Annie (Meg Ryan) has just gotten engaged to a nice but somewhat awkward man named Walter (Bill Pullman). On Christmas Eve, Jonah calls a psychologist on a national radio show and says that his dad needs a new wife. Sam gets on the phone and, after overcoming his initial resistance, opens up and talks about how much he loved his wife. Annie hears the radio show and is deeply moved by it. She becomes obsessed with the idea that falling in love with Sam might be her destiny. Unfortunately, she’s not alone- women across the country write to Sam after hearing the show, and Sam is adamantly opposed to meeting any of them.

I don’t know what it is about this movie- there are just so many things I love about it. It’s funny, but in a very gentle, subtle way. The characters are written well enough that it’s never really bothered me that Annie is borderline-stalking Sam- if she’d had more resources than the extremely basic 1993 Internet we see her using, she would have found out all that information faster. And Sam is such a great character that I don’t doubt for a minute that all these women would fall in love with him. He’s sad, but has a sarcastic sense of humor that keeps him from being too depressing and is also a great dad— I love all his scenes with Jonah.

One self-aware motif in this movie is how men and women watch movies differently, and one of the most famous scenes is this one. Sam is talking with his married friends Greg and Suzy (played by Victor Garber and Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson), and when Suzy gets teary-eyed describing the plot of An Affair to Remember, Sam says dismissively, “That’s a chick’s movie,” and proceeds to get emotional over The Dirty Dozen with Greg. (In college, for a class on screenwriting, I wrote a paper on this movie based on what I’d read in the shooting script, and most of this scene wasn’t originally in it!)

You’ve Got Mail

“Don’t cry, Shopgirl.”

Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Nora Ephron reunite, and this time, the two leads meet before the end of the movie! Ryan plays Kathleen, the cheerful owner of a small children’s bookstore she inherited from her mother, while Hanks plays Joe, who’s about to open up a large chain bookstore that threatens to put Kathleen out of business. In real life, they can’t stand each other, but unbeknownst to them, they’re carrying on an online romance the way people did in 1998— with lots of dial-up Internet and AOL. It’s maybe a little less sweet than Sleepless In Seattlebut a lot funnier. Watching it now is kind of weird because of how much is dated- aside from the old-school Interwebs, it makes me long for the days when big bookstore chains were the bad guys rather than e-readers.

While You Were Sleeping

“I’d say that she gets under your skin as soon as you meet her. She drives you so nuts you don’t know whether to hug her or, or just really arm wrestle her. She would go all the way to Europe just to get a stamp in her passport. I don’t know if that amounts to insanity, or just being really, really…likable.”

This is a movie that always makes me smile. Sandra Bullock plays a nice woman named Lucy who works in the Chicago subway system. With her parents dead and no siblings or significant others, she’s lonely and has no one to spend holidays with. On Christmas, a subway rider named Peter (Peter Gallagher) whom she has a crush on but has never spoken to, is mugged and falls onto the train tracks, hitting his head, and Lucy drags him away from an oncoming train. She saves his life, but he’s still in a coma, and when a nurse at the hospital overhears her saying out loud that she was going to marry him in a moment of wishful thinking, Peter’s entire kooky family ends up believing that she’s his fiancee. Fearing disappointing them and possibly giving his grandmother a heart attack, as well as longing for a family of her own, she’s unable to give up the charade. But while Peter is still in the coma (which his loving family seems weirdly unconcerned about), Lucy starts falling for his brother Jack (Bill Pullman). It’s all a bit implausible, but it’s so sweet that it’s hard not to love. And speaking of love, unlike most romantic comedies, this one is as much about familial as romantic love.

When Harry Met Sally…

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

No list of romantic comedies would be complete without this one. Meg Ryan (yep, she did a lot of rom-coms at the height of her career) and Billy Crystal play the titular characters, who share a ride home from college after they graduate and can’t stand each other. Years later, after Harry is divorced and Sally’s long-term relationship has ended, they meet again and become friends. But, as Harry says, men and women can never really be friends, because sex always gets in the way. And the end of the movie doesn’t disprove that idea. (Although my dad, who also loves this movie, disagrees with me on that. He was like, “But they were friends! They were friends for a long time!”)

If you’re going to make a guy watch a chick flick with you, I’d pick this one. (Like I said, my dad loves it.) That’s mainly because it’s really funny- more so than the average romantic comedy, and the humor is all character-driven and verbal. Billy Crystal is so natural that it’s hard to believe he didn’t make up some of his lines himself.


Say Anything…

“I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”

Oh, Lloyd Dobler, how I love you. John Cusack’s boombox-holding romantic has become a bit of a pop-culture icon, with good reason. Despite being an underachieving recent high school graduate with no plans for college or a career beyond kickboxing and knowing that he doesn’t want to sell, buy, or process anything, when he decides to ask out the valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye), he follows through. His friends see her as out of his league, but Diane, who’s pretty but a bit of a loner, says yes for a simple reason: he makes her laugh. Their relationship is threatened by Diane’s fellowship to study in England at the end of the summer and Diane’s father’s indictment for a white-collar crime, but of course love conquers all in the end.

Lloyd really stands out as a character for a number of reasons. Unlike a lot of male characters in movies, like this one, he doesn’t see the hard-to-get girl as an object, and it’s clear that Diane’s intelligence is one big reason he likes her. Once they’re together, he’s kind and thoughtful without being paternalistic, like when he makes sure she doesn’t step on broken glass in a parking lot and comforts her on an airplane, knowing that she’s afraid to fly. His two best friends are girls for whom he doesn’t have romantic feelings (yes, When Harry Met Sally…, sometimes that does happen, although it’s really rare in the movies), and he’s very sweet to them as well, at one point telling off a guy who treated his friend Corey (Lili Taylor) badly. And finally, lacking ambition of his own, he’s content to stand by as Diane chases her own dreams, like women in movies too often do for men.

Actually, you know what? If you have to watch a romantic comedy with a guy, watch this one instead of When Harry Met Sally…. All men could take some lessons from Lloyd Dobler.

Pretty Woman

“In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight.”

I know I just went on about the feminism in Say Anything…, but here’s where I destroy the feminist goodwill I’ve just built up. I do love Pretty Woman, but only if I don’t think about it too much. This movie, about a businessman and a prostitute who fall in love after he pays her to accompany him to meetings for a week and pays for a new wardrobe for her, doesn’t exactly portray an egalitarian relationship. But if you don’t dive too deep into its messages, this is a really enjoyable movie.

Okay, that was a lot of negativity. So what’s to like? Well, Richard Gere’s character, for one thing. The first time I saw this movie was at a sleepover in high school, and I thought he was so kind and loving. Julia Roberts, in one of her earliest movie roles, is as entertaining as she’s ever been- there are a lot of small comic moments with her, like singing off-key in the Jacuzzi and defending her use of dental floss with, “Well, you shouldn’t neglect your gums!” And despite the oddness of this pairing, the relationship never seems unbelievable- the moment where she whispers, “I love you,” to him as he sleeps is simple but touching.

Notting Hill

“Happiness isn’t happiness without a violin-playing goat.”

Another romantic comedy with Julia Roberts, but in this one, she’s the one with all the power. She plays Anna Scott, a movie star as famous as, well, Julia Roberts, whom British bookstore owner William (Hugh Grant) meets when she comes into his shop. Her being an internationally famous star constantly followed by paparazzi (it’s hard to imagine anyone but Roberts playing this part) and his being a nice, regular guy with a business, quirky friends and family, and a weird roommate present a lot of obstacles. But we progress to the inevitable happy ending with a lot of heart and quintessentially British humor. Incidentally, one of William’s friends is played by Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey!

As Good as It Gets

“You make me want to be a better man.”

Okay, this one barely qualifies as a romantic comedy, since it’s as much about Melvin (Jack Nicholson) overcoming his misanthropic ways and becoming a kinder person as it is about his relationship with Carol (Helen Hunt), the waitress who puts up with him every day. But although taking care of his neighbor’s dog is initially what starts his change, Carol is the one who makes him want to be a better man, and their relationship is too big to be a subplot. I remember the Boston Globereview, when the movie first came out (yes, I remember weird things), described the movie as being like a great, character-driven sitcom, and that’s pretty accurate. Aside from the loveliness of watching Melvin soften as he realizes that his dependence on Carol might actually be love, we see him getting attached to the dog and overcoming his prejudices to treat the gay neighbor he used to antagonize with more kindness. Impressive acting all around is what takes this movie to the next level.

What are your favorite romantic comedies?

Katie Recaps The Room, Part II

Previously, there was this post. Let’s continue.

In the next scene, Lisa is calling Mark again, who responds to “I miss you,” with “I just saw you. What are you talking about?” Blah blah blah Mark doesn’t want to see her again, but we all know how long that will last.

AND THEN WE HAVE AN ABSOLUTELY AMAZING PIECE OF ACTING. See for yourself.

Uh, yeah. Also, we never find out HOW Johnny found out about Lisa’s lie about him hitting her, but we do get this random Chris-R scene? WTF?

Anyway, Mark wants to know if girls like to cheat like guys do. He knew one girl who had a dozen guys, and when one of them found out, he beat her up so bad she ended up in a hospital on Guererro Street. Johnny’s response to this? HE LAUGHS. Even though that’s not the least bit funny. When Johnny says Mark needs a girl, Mark says, “Maybe I already do.” He also comments about women, “Sometimes they’re too smart. Other times they’re just flat-out stupid. Other times, they’re just evil.” In another movie I might find this misogynistic and disturbing, but because everything else here is so ridiculous, it’s best not to think about it too much.

After Mark leaves the roof as Johnny throws a football in the air (drink!), Denny comes up. They’re going to see a movie that night, but when Denny asks what kind of movie, Johnny says not to plan too much, because it might come out right. As they throw a football around, Denny confesses that he thinks he’s in love with Lisa, who “looks beautiful in her red dress” (drink!). Johnny takes the news amazingly well, telling Denny not to worry about it and waxing philosophical: “If a lot of people love each other, the world would be a better place to live.” Also, Denny has apparently been seeing some girl named Elizabeth and after some thought, Denny says he wants to marry Elizabeth once he graduates, which earns him a, “That’s the idea!” (Drink!) The scene ends with Johnny saying, “Let’s go eat, huh?”

In the next scene, Lisa repeats the Johnny-hit-me lie to Michelle, who reacts more appropriately than Claudette did. Lisa also confesses her affair with Mark. Michelle warns her that someone will get hurt, but agrees not to tell anyone about it. Then Johnny comes home, and Michelle leaves, warning Lisa to remember what she said. Johnny confronts Lisa about her hitting lie. Lisa warns Johnny that she might change her mind about him, and when Lisa says she’s going upstairs, Johnny gets upset and ends up saying…

Lisa asks him why he’s so hysterical, and he says, “Do you understand life? Do you?” They sort of awkwardly make up as Lisa goes upstairs for the night, and Johnny says, “I still love you!” I know the movie has reminded us a million times that LISA IS HOT, but I still can’t quite see why Johnny seems to love her so much.

Next scene. Johnny is in the hallway when Mike shows up (drink for “Oh, hai Mike!”) and retells, for some reason, the story about Claudette seeing him run back into the apartment to retrieve what he refers to as “me underwears” [sic]. Then Denny shows up with a football (drink!) and they throw it around in the hallway while standing about three feet apart. Then Mark shows up (drink for “Oh, hai Mark!”) He joins the conversation and comments, “Underwear, what’s that?” Mike doesn’t want to talk about it, and Mark very lightly nudges Mike, who somehow crumbles and falls dramatically into a metal trash can. Everyone is way more concerned about THIS than about Claudette’s breast cancer. Then they all decide to go home. No, there was not, in fact, a point to this scene, but that’s true so many times in this movie that it’s not even worth mentioning anymore.

In the next scene, Claudette is complaining to Lisa about how Johnny wouldn’t help her friend with something with her house because “it’s an awkward situation.” Claudette and Lisa have the same conversation again (drink!) except that this time, Lisa confesses that she’s seeing someone else. AND, dun dun dun, unbeknownst to them, Johnny is listening on the stairs. Claudette is also apparently psychic because, apropos of nothing, she comments, “If you think I’m tired today, you should see me tomorrow.” After Claudette and Lisa leave, Johnny indignantly (or as “indignantly” as Tommy Wiseau’s limited acting abilities will allow him to get) vows to “record everything” and sets up a cassette tape to record phone calls. Which…must be a pretty long tape, if it’s continuously recording.

Next scene. Johnny complains to another friend, a psychologist named Peter, about Lisa being unfaithful to him. Despite being a psychologist, Peter doesn’t have much useful advice except to confront Lisa, which Johnny won’t do. Then Mark comes over (two “oh hais”) and tells everyone that he’s seeing a woman who’s married and that it’s an awkward situation. Johnny talks about how Lisa is saying she might not want to get married, and Mark inserts two non-sequiturs, first about how he’s thinking of getting a bigger place because he’s making some good money, then to ask them if they’re doing Bay to Breakers. Peter says he’s not, to which Johnny responds by calling him a chicken and cheep-cheeping (drink!). Peter asks how Johnny and Lisa met, and Johnny says that it’s an interesting story. That phrase in this movie is a bit frightening, but it’s…not that interesting at all. Johnny had just moved to San Fran with a large check from an “out of state bank” that he couldn’t cash…despite being a banker. He saw Lisa in a coffee shop and thought she was so beautiful (drink!). Mark echoes my thoughts by asking what the interesting part is, and it’s that…Lisa paid for their first date. Okay then. Speaking of the devil, Lisa comes in with Denny, and Mark says he has to leave, despite Lisa wanting him to stick around. Denny asks Lisa about the wedding and why Johnny doesn’t seem excited about it, but Lisa blows him off and Denny leaves.

Peter goes up on the roof in the net scene to find Mark wearing a Canadian tuxedo and smoking pot. Maybe Chris-R is his dealer, too? He offers some to Peter, who declines. Mark is feeling guilty about something he’s done and feels like running and killing himself or doing something crazy. Peter confronts Mark about having an affair with Lisa, and Mark responds by…trying to throw Peter off the room. For like two seconds. Then he apologizes, Peter says he’s fine, AND THEN THEY GO ON AS IF MARK DIDN’T JUST TRY TO MURDER PETER. Peter says Mark shouldn’t see Lisa again and that Lisa is probably a sociopath. Mark whatevers him, and they both get down off the roof.

Oh, we’re in for a great scene next. Johnny is wearing his tuxedo and on the phone with someone. When he gets off, Denny comes in…also wearing a tux. Wedding? Nope, they just felt like putting their tuxedos on today. Don’t ask, because you will not get an explanation on this. The doorbell rings and in comes Peter, also in a tux. And then comes Mark…and while he’s also wearing a tux, the weirdest part is that there’s dramatic music and a close-up on Mark’s newly shaven face. Denny suggests playing football. Peter’s not so sure about it, but after they cheep-cheep him (drink!), he agrees. So they go outside and throw the football around while wearing tuxes and standing about three feet apart from each other. Then Peter trips and falls flat on his face, causing Denny to remark, “Gee, Peter, you’re clumsy.” Despite them only having played for about ten seconds, Peter says, “All right, that’s it. I’m done.”

And he is. Peter completely disappears from the movie after this scene.

More San Fran, then a coffee shop scene in which someone is ordering cheesecake and bottled water. Johnny comes in holding…one manila folder. I guess that means he’s just come from work? He and Mark sit down at a table, and Mark vaguely complains about relationships again. The waitress brings their drinks and suggests they order cheesecake, but they decline. Mark asks Johnny how work was, and he said that the bank just got a new client. However, he can’t tell Mark about it, despite Mark’s protestations, because it’s confidential. He badly attempts to change the subject by asking Mark, “Anyway, how’s your sex life?” Uh…okay. Mark doesn’t want to tell him, and Johnny asks, “Why not?” as if randomly asking about someone’s sex life is a completely normal thing to do. Johnny gets up and leaves (neither of them ever pay for their drinks) and they make plans to go jogging.

In Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, Lisa is seducing Mark AGAIN, and we DRINK! for another awkward sex scene and slow jam. Mark somehow seems really surprised by the whole thing, EVEN THOUGH HE’S BEEN TALKING ABOUT IT CONSTANTLY.

So when that’s finally over, we see Johnny and Mark at some park, running and tossing a football around. (Drink!) Why? Who knows?

But somehow, Mark is ALSO back at Johnny and Lisa’s. You know what? I think I’ve figured this out. Claudette can see the future and Mark can be in two places at once. THIS IS ACTUALLY A SUPERHERO MOVIE.

Before long, Mark and Lisa have taken their shirts off and Mark has told Lisa she’s beautiful (drink!). But Michelle knocks on the door before they can get too far and teases Mark with the XYZ (x-amine your zipper) joke that you thought was hilarious in second grade. Lisa and Michelle discuss the affair and how Lisa still hasn’t told Johnny, blah blah blah.

AND NOW MARK IS BACK WITH JOHNNY AT THE PARK. WTF? Now they’re just running like they’d talked about.

After some more stock San Francisco shots, Johnny leaves and says goodbye to Lisa as Claudette comes in. THEY HAVE THE SAME CONVERSATION THEY ALWAYS HAVE. Drink! Claudette opines that “marriage has nothing to do with love.”

That night, Johnny returns home to Lisa’s surprise birthday party for him. All their friends are there except Peter who, as I said, has disappeared from the movie.

There’s San Francisco footage in between scenes at the party, which makes no sense, but neither does anything else. Anyway, everyone is talking at the party when Lisa suggests going outside for some fresh air. This, of course, is just an excuse to make out with Mark…and what could go wrong with that? How about some random guy, who’s probably taking Peter’s lines, walking in on them? (The credits say his name is “Stephen,” so I’ll call him that). He asks them why they’re doing this, and Mark indignantly responds with possibly the best line in the movie: “You don’t understand anything, man. Leave your STUPID comments in your pocket!”

I need to start using that line more.

Johnny comes back in and says to Lisa, “You invited all my friends. Good thinking!” as if that’s not what you normally do for a surprise party. Then they all go back outside. Johnny suddenly announces to everyone that he and Lisa are “expecting.”  After some congratulations, Michelle and Stephen confront Lisa about the cheating thing, and Lisa admits that she’s not really pregnant—she told Johnny that to “make it interesting.” Uh…okay? You think he won’t notice in nine months when the baby’s not there? Stephen says, “I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb waiting for it to go off!” Lisa is unmoved and still doesn’t want to tell Johnny or do anything about the situation, and eventually she just tells everyone to go back inside for cake.

Inside, some completely random guy we’ve never seen before says his one and only line, “Lisa looks hot tonight.” (Drink!) Mark asks Lisa if the baby is hers, and Lisa ends up slapping him, which leads to Mark and Johnny briefly fighting. Cut to a bit later, when Lisa and Mark are basically slow dancing to no music. Johnny asks what they’re doing, and Lisa and Mark both say to leave them alone. Mark indignantly tells Johnny that Lisa’s changed her mind about him, and then echoes what many of us are thinking by saying, “Wake up, man! What planet are you on?” Johnny yells, “Don’t touch me, motherfucker!” and they end up fighting again. Johnny “cheep-cheeps” at Mark, which enrages him for some reason, and Johnny eventually stomps out yelling, “Everybody betray me. I’m fed up with this world!”

Later, Johnny has locked himself in the bathroom. Claudette says goodbye to Lisa as if everything is normal, and then Lisa asks Johnny when he’s coming out. Johnny: “In a few minutes, bitch.” Lisa: “Who are you calling a bitch?” Johnny: “You and your stupid mother.” And Lisa decides to take this opportunity to….call Mark. Great timing, that girl has. Mark no longer cares about being Johnny’s best friend and tells Lisa, “I want your body.” Johnny comes out of the bathroom and indignantly checks the magic tape recorder. You’d think he’d have all the proof he needs at this point that Mark and Lisa are having an affair, but for some reason the tape is what makes him go totally crazy. He and Lisa argue, and after listening to more of the tape, Johnny throws the tape recorder and moans about how he doesn’t have a friend in the world. Unmoved, Lisa tells him she’s leaving him and goes to be with Mark.

Then Johnny starts yelling and knocking things off shelves and breaking things as he flashes back to happier times. The pictures of spoons remain intact, but the TV he throws out the window isn’t so lucky. Then for some reason, he rubs Lisa’s red dress all over himself and then tears it up. Finally, he takes a gun out of a box (is it the same one he took from Chris-R?) and says, “God, forgive me,” before sticking the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.

Lisa and Mark run in. “Wake up Johnny!” yells Mark, while Lisa asks, “Is he dead?”

…Um, really? I’m not sure which one of those stupid comments is deeper in the pocket.

Lisa cries and Mark kisses Johnny’s forehead. But that doesn’t last long. Lisa says to Mark, “I’ve lost him but I still have you, right?” Mark retorts, “You’ll never have me.” He calls her a tramp and says she killed Johnny, followed with, “GET OUT OF MY LIFE, YOU BITCH!” Then Denny comes in, also crying, and Mark says to Lisa, “As far as I’m concerned, you can drop off the earth. That’s a promise.” Lisa and Mark start to leave, but eventually come back to comfort Denny. As we fade out, sirens wail in the background, and in a nice touch, we hear voices, one of them being a random woman who says, “Call 911!”

So that, my friends, is the glorious, awful wonder that is The Room. If you’re in Boston, Coolidge Corner does screenings about once a month. If you’re not in Boston, there’s probably a theater somewhere in your area that does them, too.

Either way, meet me there, as I hope I’ve convinced you to see it by now. Bring spoons, but leave your stupid comments in your pocket.

Katie Recaps The Room, Part I

If you have talked to me in the last six months, chances are you have heard me mention two movies. One, of course, is Les Mis. The other, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, is a movie called The Room.

If you’ve heard of it, well, you’ve heard of it—Julie had when I mentioned it to her. If not, it is a movie that is so bad that it’s actually a masterpiece of bad filmmaking.

The Room, which came out in 2003, was basically the giant vanity project of one Tommy Wiseau, a weird-looking middle-aged dude with long black hair and an accent that sounds kind of Eastern European, although he won’t tell anyone where he’s from. Some people have speculated that he’s an alien, which…actually would explain a lot. He financed the movie himself, by importing leather jackets from Korea or something, and for years, the movie had a billboard in a prominent place in LA. Eventually, people started going to see it in the one theater where it was playing, and when some famous people started spreading the word about it, it really took off. Now they do midnight showings, Rocky Horror-style, in theaters across the country. People throw plastic spoons whenever the movie’s framed pictures of spoons come onscreen and yell out lines.  Julie and I went to a screening back in October and it was a lot of fun!

Julie and I have been trying to get more people to see it, but, funny thing, people don’t generally react with enthusiasm when you say, “I just saw the worst movie of all time! You should definitely see it!”

So I figured I needed a better way to convince people to see it. And what better way than by doing a blog post recapping the movie in all its laughably bad glory? So, without further ado, I present:

Katie Recaps The Room

First, we get vanity production studio graphic for “Wiseau Films” and some dramatic music that sounds like something from a video game.  Then we open with some establishing stock footage of San Francisco. There will be a lot of this throughout the movie, although it doesn’t really matter that it takes place there—it could take place anywhere. This movie stars, is directed by, is produced by, is executive produced by, and is written by Tommy Wiseau.

Who’s Tommy Wiseau, you ask? Why, he’s this guy.

He sounds as strange as he looks, too—weird, vague Eastern European accent that sounds even weirder saying the lines you will soon hear him say.

And here comes the first line.

“Hi, babe. I’ve something for you!” Tommy Wiseau’s character Johnny, you see, has just arrived home to give his future wife Lisa a gift. (I say “future wife” because this movie is, for some reason, allergic to the word “fiancée.” It’s always “future husband” and “future wife.”) It turns out to be a red dress, and Lisa goes upstairs to try it on, then comes down the spiral staircase wearing it. Johnny: “Wow! You look so sexy , Lisa.”

OKAY. Now, before I get any further with this, I need to introduce….THE ROOM DRINKING GAME. The rules include drinking any time any one of these things happen:

  • One character says to another, “Oh hai ______.”
  • Johnny says, “That’s the idea.”
  • Someone comments on how hot Lisa looks
  • Any characters throw a football
  • A plot thread is dropped
  • There’s an awkward sex scene
  • Lisa and her mom have the same conversation they just had in the last scene
  • Johnny poorly imitates a chicken by going, “Cheep cheep cheep!” instead of “Bawk bawk bawk!”

So we’re less than a minute in, and already we’ve had one drink. We’ll have another in two seconds when their neighbor Denny, who’s about eighteen, enters and Johnny greets him with an “oh hai Denny.” Denny compliments Lisa on the dress, then asks how much it costs. They tell him not to ask a question like that, but if you think that’s socially awkward, just wait until the next scene.

Johnny says he’s going upstairs to take a nap. Denny asks if he can come, too, but Lisa says she’s going to join him. So Denny stands there eating an apple for a second before deciding to, uh, come upstairs and join Johnny and Lisa in the little pillow fight they’re having. Why? “I just like to watch you guys.” Rather than get creeped the fuck out by this kid who likes to watch them, they just laugh and tell him that three’s a crowd. When it dawns on Denny that they want to be alone, Johnny says, “That’s the idea.” (Drink!)

So Denny leaves, and next we have a really long, awkward sex scene (Drink!) that goes on for about four minutes and involves some terrible editing in which Lisa’s hair goes from up to down to back up. Meanwhile, some obscure slow jam plays on the soundtrack.

The next morning, Johnny wakes up and quite literally smells the roses before we get a completely gratuitous shot of his naked ass as he gets up. Johnny says goodbye to Lisa before leaving for work.

Then Lisa’s mother Claudette comes over and after saying hi to her daughter says, “Let’s go to the couch and we will sit down,” which is not the kind of thing you normally say out loud. Lisa then complains that she’s tired of Johnny because he’s…boring. Because he….buys her things and is going to buy a house, apparently. Claudette, who is apparently not much of a feminist, tells Lisa, “He supports you, he provides for you, and darling, you can’t support yourself.” She reminds Lisa of all the things Johnny has bought her, that his position is secure, that he’s getting a promotion, etc. This is the same conversation Lisa and Claudette will have a zillion times throughout the movie, so…Drink! Then, as quickly as she came, Claudette has to leave.

Lisa then sits in a chair next to, uh, framed pictures of spoons (yeah, that’s not even the weirdest thing in this movie) and calls someone who we later learn is Johnny’s best friend Mark. She complains about how her mother wants to control her life, then says, I kid you not, “I’m gonna do what I want to do and that’s it. What do you think I should do?” Mark doesn’t know what she should do, but they do make plans to see each other the next day.

More San Francisco. Then the doorbell rings and it’s the next day, apparently, and Mark comes over. He sits down and Lisa starts caressing him and pouring wine. She says it’s hot in there before taking off her sweater to reveal a strapless dress. Mark: “I mean, the candles, the music, the sexy dress…what’s going on here?” Uh…there are no candles, the only music is on the soundtrack, and the dress ain’t that sexy. Lisa replies, “I like you very much, lover. Boy.” That’s exactly how she says it, too, with a pause in the middle. Mark reminds her that Johnny is his best friend and he and Lisa will be married the next month, but while Mark resists, Lisa’s declarations that she loves him and not Johnny eventually lead to them having sex on the spiral staircase as another random slow jam plays. Which looks…really uncomfortable. And, drink!

Afterwards, Mark reminds us AGAIN that Johnny is his best friend and asks Lisa why she did this to him, as if he had no choice in the matter. He reminds Lisa how beautiful she is (drink!) but says he can’t continue it.

And then, the best twenty seconds in the history of film. I can’t adequately summarize it, so I’ll just show you the video:

Another drink there for the “Hai, doggie.”

In the net scene, Lisa is ordering a really complicated pizza, “Half Canadian bacon with pineapple, half artichoke with pesto and light on the cheese,” when the doorbell rings and it’s Denny. He’s looking for Johnny, who’s not home yet, but he tells Lisa how great she looks (drink!) and…asks if he can kiss her. Lisa’s reaction, “You are such a little brat!” is only slightly more understandable than their reaction to Denny liking to watch them. Denny leaves, and just a bit later, Johnny comes home with the dozen red roses he bought in the super-rushed flower shop scene where the florist somehow didn’t recognize him until he took off his sunglasses.

Lisa: Did you get your promotion?

Johnny: Nah. (goes to sit on the couch)

Lisa, who was apparently not listening: You didn’t get it, did you?

Johnny complains about how much money he saves the bank. “They betrayed me, they didn’t keep their promise, they tricked me, and I don’t care anymore.” Uh, I think you do care, dude, or you wouldn’t be so upset right now. Lisa says that at least he has friends—she didn’t get any calls today because “the computer business is too competitive.” Lisa asks if he wants a pizza, and to his “whatever,” she says, “I already ordered a pizza. Johnny: “Lisa, you think about everything!” Although Johnny doesn’t drink, Lisa eventually convinces him to have one that seems to be…vodka and scotch. Okay then.

Cut to a bit later, when Lisa is wearing Johnny’s tie on her head and the remains of that complicated pizza Lisa ordered appear to be… plain cheese. They’re both drunk and laughing, or as Johnny puts it, “I’m tired, I’m wasted…I love you, darling!” Soon we have another long, awkward sex scene on our hands (drink!) that looks like it’s made up of recycled footage from the last Johnny/Lisa scene.

In the net scene, Lisa is telling her mom about the surprise party she’s planning for Johnny as Claudette complains about real estate problems with her brother. “Everything goes wrong at once. Nobody wants to help me, and I’m dying.” Lisa contradicts that last statement, and Claudette says, “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” Yikes! But Lisa…takes the news disturbingly well and tells Claudette that she’ll be fine. AND THEN THEY MOVE RIGHT ALONG AS IF SHE NEVER SAID IT. WTF? How is Lisa getting bored with Johnny, which is the same conversation they had before (drink!) more important than FUCKING BREAST CANCER?

Seriously. This may be the one and only incidence in film where breast cancer is funny. It will never come up again for the rest of the movie, so DRINK!

Anyway, after Claudette says to Lisa, “At least you have a good man,” Lisa says forcefully, “You’re wrong!” and that last night Johnny got drunk…and hit her. Claudette’s reaction to that? “Johnny doesn’t drink!”

DUDE. Did you  miss the part about him hitting her? (Which isn’t true, but still!)

After more Johnny-is-your-financial-security talk, Lisa says she has to meet with a client and kicks her mother out.

And then, things get even weirder when two characters we have never seen before (we later learn that their names are Mike and Michelle) sneak into Johnny and Lisa’s apartment to…have sex. And say things like, “Did you know that chocolate is the symbol of love?”

Why is this happening? Your guess is as good as mine. Is their apartment being fumigated? Is “computer business” code for renting the apartment out for people to have afternoon quickies? Does one of them have some weird disease where they’ll die if they don’t have sex for too long?

Whatever the reason, in the next scene, Lisa and Claudette come back in from shopping as Mike and Michelle try to get their clothes back on and look natural. Lisa is laughing as she tells her mom that these two like to come over to “do homework.” Just a bit later, Denny comes over to pull the whole neighbor-cliché of needing to borrow sugar, except he also needs butter and flour. After Denny leaves, we get some exposition about him. As it turns out, Johnny wanted to adopt Denny and is paying for an apartment in the building and Denny’s college tuition. Then, suddenly, Mike runs back in to get the underwear that he forgot to grab before leaving.

AND THEN IT GETS WEIRDER. In the next scene, Denny is standing on the roof with a basketball when this menacing-looking guy comes out. His name is Chris-R, written exactly like that. That hyphen is so badass, y’all. Anyway, Chris-R, who might be the best actor in this whole film (which certainly isn’t saying much), is looking for his money from Denny, who assures him that it will be there in five minutes. Chris-R: “Five minutes? I don’t have five FUCKING minutes!” And then he’s holding a gun at Denny’s head and screaming at him for the money. Out of nowhere, Johnny and Mark are on the roof, wrestling the gun away from Chris-R and then dragging him downstairs. Lisa and Claudette soon follow, and when he tells them that he owes Chris-R some money, Lisa demands no less than three times, “What kind of money?” as if the most important thing here is whether he owes yen or pesos. Claudette starts lecturing Denny as if she didn’t just meet him, and Denny assures them that Chris-R is going to jail, which…he couldn’t possibly know. Denny admits that he bought some drugs off Chris-R, but doesn’t have them anymore. He won’t say what kind of drugs, though, despite Lisa’s screaming at him. Apparently, he needed money to pay off some things, so…he was buying drugs to sell them? Is Chris-R some kind of drug wholesaler? Claudette keeps yelling at him until Denny yells back, “You’re not my fucking mother!” Then Johnny and Mark come back, and after a lot more screaming and apologizing, they all decide to go home. DROPPED PLOT MEANS DRINK!

(Still with me? Stay tuned for more awful awesome-ness in Part II!)