Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Perfect Week

I've gotta tell you, generally if I take vacation at work, I want to be going somewhere. I want to have plans. I want things to be happening. Even if I'm not travelling per se, I usually have some fun event I'm attending. On the rare occasion I take time off to complete projects at home. But this last week off -- greatly needed thanks to my giant, stressful undertaking at work finally coming to completion -- was just about the best unplanned time ever.

Every day Mike and I would send the kids off to school and then hang out the rest of the day. Sometimes we napped, other times we worked out. We watched a lot of TV, laughed at the dog, and made love whenever we wanted. Sometimes we went out, either to run the odd errand or to grab a bite to eat. Other times we holed up and cuddled on the couch. We thought about going to the movies, but never quite got around to it. It didn't matter. We were together, enjoying each other, and it was perfect.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Valentine's Day Massacre

I hate Valentine's Day.

This is not one of those posts where the angry single girl vents her frustration at being alone -- for one thing, I am not single, nor am I exceptionally angry. Instead, this is a call to arms for all the couples out there to reject the false and manufactured romance that is built upon this questionable holiday.

Honestly, I support the theory -- the spirit -- of Valentine's Day. I agree with cynics and naysayers that you should cherish and appreciate your loved ones every day, that you should always seek out and attempt romance, and that by and large an unexpected gift or loving gesture is much more powerful than an anticipated one, but I also acknowledge that, for most people, life gets in the way. It's hard to be romantic when the kids are fighting and nobody made dinner and you've run out of milk and the toilet's backed up. Bills and work and responsibility almost always take precedence over snuggling on the to-do list. That's why it's nice to have a day or two set aside, some time already marked on the calendar when you're reminded to make sure your partner knows how much he or she means to you. But frankly, Valentine's Day has gotten too big for its britches.

Instead of a reminder, it's a judgment:
Did you make plans? Reservations at the swankiest, most expensive restaurant in town? I hope you bought your wife the newest, biggest, 3-stone diamond-heart-forever-joined pendant design. Don't forget the KY-Intense! Do you have a babysitter? What if your babysitter has a date? DO YOU EVEN HAVE A DATE??

How many movies and sitcom plots have been built around the premise of needing a date for Valentine's? It's ridiculous, is what it is, and no fun at all. So boycott Hallmark, avoid the jewelry stores, cook dinner at home, and don't even think about buying a purpley-pink fuzzy stuffed animal of any kind. Say I love you. Write it on a note. Tell them a thousand times. Do something thoughtful. Spend time alone. Go somewhere nice if you want. Just maybe do it on January 29.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I'm having a hard time coming up with subject matter lately.

Well, not really. I have lots of things on my mind but none of them are things I want to delve into on a public forum. Because that's what this is, readers or no.

For those of you out there, following along like the good support system you are, I haven't forgotten you. I'll think of something soon. Or, you know, send me a suggestion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Oscar Nomination Day!

There was a time when I was much more up on my movie-watching than I am this year. Still, the Oscars are quickly approaching and I have been a fan of the Academy's highest honor for something like twenty-five years. Holy smokes.

Anyway, today is Oscar Nomination Day and I typically take this time to mull over the contenders, acknowledge the snubs, and perhaps offer up some predictions. So let's get to it.

Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Mo'Nique - Precious

This is pretty simple, really, because there's no way anyone but Mo'Nique is taking this home. Farmiga and Kendrick are completely fabulous in their roles, but it would be hard for me to argue the merits of one over the other. Maggie Gyllenhaal will certainly get her due in time, but while Crazy Heart is the one film in this category I've yet to see (perhaps today), I'm confident saying this year will not be hers. And Penelope Cruz is loved by the Academy so much that her adequate performance in an uneven and poorly structured film gets a nomination over the likes of, say, Julianne Moore in A Single Man. Mo'Nique, on the other hand, gives a stark, raw, gritty performance in a film that tiptoes along the line between gut-wrenching power and emotional manipulation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's precisely Mo'Nique's fully realized menace and veiled desperation that keep the film on the right side of that line.

Supporting Actor
Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

God love Matt Damon, but the inclusion of Invictus in any of these awards programs feels like filler, as if suddenly the male acting categories are afflicted with the same lack of viable candidates that have been plaguing the female categories for years. The good news is now movie marketers around the world are one step closer to being able to tout "Academy Award Winner Matt Damon" as appearing in their film without having to sidestep the white elephantine caveat that Damon's previous win was for Original Screenplay. Closer, of course, but not quite there, because Damon is not winning. Neither is Woody Harrelson -- a wild card the Academy is fond of nominating but who will have to completely blow a role out of the water in a year with weaker contenders order to win -- or Stanley Tucci -- an amazing actor who might have half a chance if nominated for Julie & Julia, in which he was delightful, but, as the villainous child-killer in the mildly-received The Lovely Bones, will likely be overlooked. Christopher Plummer could be a surprise, since, unlike the Supporting Actress category, which likes to recognize ingenues, the Supporting Actor likes to recognize lifetime achievers. But my money's on Christoph Waltz, easily the most dynamic performance in a movie that was nothing if not dynamic, who has been raking in statues left and right.

Lead Actress
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

I'll get to The Blind Side in a bit, but with regard to just Sandra Bullock's work in the film, I can get behind the assertions that it's the best of her career. She is transformed and so strong in this she might have her own gravitational pull. There's been talk that this might be her "Erin Brockovich moment", and I can't really argue. Like Julia Roberts in that role, Sandra Bullock is a well-loved actress with enormous romantic comedy chops and popularity who has stepped into a true-life story and the shoes of a woman as bold, brassy and fearless as she is beautiful, but with a protective, nurturing instinct that saves her from being "too aggressive" and therefore unlikable in the still-narrow view Hollywood has of women. Given Bullock has already taken home the Screen Actors Guild award for this role, and considering the fact that actors are the largest voting block of the Academy, I'm going against the grain and saying Bullock is the favorite to win over Meryl Streep's positively perfect portrayal of Julia Child. Two weeks ago I never would've said that, but that's the nature of this business. Helen Mirren is always strong, but up against this year's powerhouse battle of Streep vs. Bullock, her chances are very slim indeed. Sidibe was a breakout star in a breakout movie, but in my opinion was overshadowed by her supporting actress, Mo'Nique, and will probably have to settle for the honor of being nominated. Same goes for Carey Mulligan, whose role and movie were not nearly as breakout, leaving her a much steeper hill to climb if she wants to take home the gold, which is why she won't.

Lead Actor
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

Five strong performances here, or four strong performances and a default nod to Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela because it's Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela. Whichever. Colin Firth gets his first nod for what is, by all accounts, a quiet and nuanced work. While he is a sentimental favorite of mine and a well-loved actor, however, he probably doesn't have much of a chance here. The front-runners in this race are Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, with the edge going to Bridges since Clooney's character is a little too polished and perhaps a little too Clooney. Look out for dark horse Jeremy Renner, though, who is getting a lot of late buzz for his tense and electric turn in The Hurt Locker now that it's out on DVD. He could pull an Adrien Brody and beat out the better-known favorites.

Best Director
James Cameron - Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels - Precious
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air

I'm just going to go ahead and put all my eggs behind Kathryn Bigelow, because it's well past time for a woman to walk away with this award and Bigelow's movie has the strength and support to push her into the winner's circle. My personal favorite this year, though, was Inglourious Basterds, and a richly deserved Oscar going to Tarantino this year won't upset me at all. Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman both produced strong work, but neither of their movies have enough support in my opinion to secure a win for the director. That leaves Cameron's Avatar, and frankly I'm ready for some backlash in that department. Given the monstrosity of the Best Picture race this year, which I will address shortly, Avatar might just sneak through with a win, but I don't think Cameron gets the top prize as director. It might be wishful thinking, but I'm standing by that statement.

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Okay, so we all know this is a mess. Ten nominees is just unmanageable, truly. Where do I start? First and foremost, I'm confused as to how Up can land a Best Picture AND a Best Animated Feature nomination, because in years past the Academy has insisted on one or the other. I understand this year they wanted to open up the Best Picture nominees, but this is just ridiculous. It probably has the best chance outside the top 5 films, but I don't see it winning here when the Academy can award it as an Animated Feature. District 9, A Serious Man, and An Education hardly have widespread support, as evidenced by their overall lacking in other nominations (District 9 leads with four, in Screenplay, Editing and Visual Effects in addition to Picture, while An Education and A Serious Man have only Screenplay plus An Education's one acting nod.), which makes it hard to really stand by either film as a legitimate Best Picture hopeful. And The Blind Side, really?? Look, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Sandra Bullock was fabulous and could very well win an Oscar because of it. But this is not a Best Picture-caliber film, and everyone knows it. Aside from Bullock's nomination, it has exactly zero others to back up a Best Picture run and it doesn't deserve any. The writing is cliche at times and schmaltzy at others, the direction is heavy-handed, and the whole movie belongs to Sandra Bullock because the supporting ensemble is not strong at all. It's an enjoyable movie, without a doubt. I laughed and I cried and I had a great night out, but it's very simply not the best. Far from it.

So that leaves five. The five who would be here if this category were still limited to five nominees. Not knowing what would happen with the pool of ten nominees, I initially thought crazy amounts of vote-splitting could open the door for an Avatar victory, but given the split of nominations between five strong and five questionable, I no longer think it's all that likely. Avatar is a huge blockbuster, clearly, and it has a chance to win, but I don't think it's a runaway. Inglourious Basterds is getting a lot of renewed praise of late, as is The Hurt Locker. Meanwhile, the buzz on Up in the Air and Precious has largely waned, focusing almost exclusively on the performances instead of the films at large. So my thinking is that if the Academy goes the way of most of the critics' prizes and recognized Bigelow's directing, they'll recognize the film as well. If they don't and the rising love for Tarantino's Basterds continues, it takes home the gold. If neither of those things happen, then Avatar has taken over the world and we can all order our virtual reality headsets through Amazon in the coming weeks.

So those are my thoughts on the major races. Feel free to leave me yours in the comments. You can also view a full list of the 82nd Annual Academy Award Nominees here.

It's My Life

There was a lot I wanted to say yesterday -- quite possibly too much for this little blog. So I will sum it all up by saying that life is good. There are always things you wish were different, always things you want to improve. Try not to let yourself be overwhelmed with it all, and make the best of what you have. There is no need to dwell in the past when you can look to the future and all it has to offer. Change is possible if you want it, and people who love you are always willing to help.

So with that in mind, I will look to today ....