Pity film critics that dislike most movies they see, for I enjoyed most pictures I watched throughout 2016. Of course, watching movies in a theatre is one of the things I like best in life, and I have the benefit of choosing what I am likely to like, an attitude that may be criticized as unadventurous, or as choosing to inhabit a cinematic echo chamber, but well — life is too short and Cinema too big for my time to be spent on movies I’m not much sure I’d like. I won’t rank these few movies I particularly liked in 2016, for I think comparing works of art is often like comparing eagles to motorcycles — absurd.
Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! proved that the Texan director is American cinema’s master humanist. Whereas teenage movies often requires the protagonist to be an underdog and sports jocks to be one-dimensional antagonists, in this movie Linklater revels in an earnest admiration of jock-ness and the constant insecurities and competition that come with it. Of course, Adam McKay’s The Big Short, then, seems to throw jocks and underdogs together long after they graduated, presenting Big Finance’s excesses and Finance-jocks comeuppance as entertainment for the proles, but McKay’s film based in Michael Lewis’ investigation succeeds in explaining the 2008 Financial Crisis very very well, even if aided by blunt cinematic devices, which is no ordinary feat. That it didn’t have a political impact is shocking but unfortunately was quite expected.
Of course, jocks’ community does approach meritocracy (that guy did manage to slice the baseball with an axe while others watched), but away from sports that meritocracy is but a practical joke the privileged under neoliberalism inflicted upon the proles. The sick consequences were eloquently presented in Cannes winner I, Daniel Blake, but I found Ken Loach’s film a little bit too straight and tidy. In the same vein I’d favor the messier La Loi du Marché / The Measure of a Man by Stéphane Brizé, which replaces Loach’s tale of martyrdom by a scarier tale of conformity, in which the protagonist ends up accepting a job as guard labor rather than keep on fighting for his rights to the bitter end. Which is worse? Both movies are masterpieces about neoliberal awfulness.
People sometimes push back though, by all means including violence, and David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is probably among the finest examples of what might be a justified return of the Western, as the 21st century is shaping to be like the 19th. All the ingredients were there: ghost towns, bank robberies, concealed guns, moral ambiguity — people taking the side of the robbers rather than the banks’, confounding Jeff Bridges excellent sheriff character; only the horses were replaced by automobiles.
There was an oscillation between bleakness and levity in the movies I chose to watch in 2016. The Coens’ Hail, Caesar! was, along with Everybody Wants Some!! perhaps the most fun I had in a theatre all year, even if it relies too heavily in its viewers’ knowledge and fondness for 1950s film. But Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship was also a joy to watch, by the relentless pace and wit of his Jane Austen adaptation. Some movies did marry the bleakness and the levity, though — Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups was both grim and pleasurable, one of the most L.A. movies I remember watching, as if Malick took the entire Bojack Horseman series and made a two-hour movie. And nobody films like Terrence Malick.
A note also about Isabelle Huppert, who shined through 2016, not only starring and making Mia Hansen Love’s Things to Come, but also making Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a probable masterpiece which I’m still deeply perplexed about.
There was also a number of movies I now consider masterpieces I didn’t get to watch until 2016. Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show is an incredible picaresque set in an isolated town, whereas another picaresque, Whit Stillman’s Barcelona has that quality I admire so much about Stillman’s early work, which is that it feels like watching Peanuts comics with an adult cast. Then I also watched Orson Welles’ F for Fake for the first time, and can’t really believe how long it took. It’s the perfect movie for 2016, a year in which nothing was real, all was fraud, fakery, deceit, and rooms full of mirrors.
(That last one is from Lady from Shangai, actually.)
I would also like to write a few lines about television: I’d say Bojack Horseman was the Best Show on Television (or at least on Netflix), an animated treatise on existentialism unmatched by much of what passes for Serious Cinema.
Halt and Catch Fire has also been one of my very favorite shows after its second season put an end to its early Mad Men, but in the computer industry intentions and allowed it to become its own show — an incredible study of creativity and its conflicts. Mr. Robot, which had a peerless first season in 2015, may had had a very slow start to its second season, marred by the troubles of writing to audiences that, since watching Fight Club, know and expect too! damn! much!, but once the last few episodes get going, delivers what will be one of the greatest twists in television — one that once again sets the bar even higher for Mr. Robot’s next season. In the meantime, Louis C.K. made a break from his great namesake show to sell us his and Steve Buscemi’s Horace and Pete, well worth the price of admission, in what I hope is a new trend of high-quality indie television.
And then there was Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. I can’t really say I was that fond of its third season, finding most episodes revisiting ideas better explored in earlier seasons. But there was Episode #4, San Junipero: with an unrelentless positive vibe, it presented a twist on Black Mirror itself, and it presented a twist on 2016. Overall, perhaps, my favorite moving image piece of the entire year.
I didn’t read much in proper book form during 2016. I would highlight Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s examination of the Western canon All Things Shining, J. A. Baker’s beautifully thorough observation of (of all things) hawks The Peregrine (so I guess I’m a member of the Werner Herzog Book Club now), and, as my hard sci-fi fix, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. I’ve only recently started Richard Fariña’s picaresque Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me but, oboy, ain’t it a cool read.
Mostly, though, I’ve been carrying my Kobo Aura (an ereader which I do recommend) around and reading articles saved for later online. Here’s a list of those worth a mention:
On our anarcho-capitalist society:
On art, film and media:
On design and technology:
In retrospect, quite a large proportion of articles are too 2016, weltschmerz and outrage inducing texts. Not that they aren’t thoughtful — or, should you disagree, representative of my particular filter bubble — but perhaps I should stop reading so disproportionally much about politics and economics. No good sleep lies that way.
It took me forever just to write this short sentence about 2016, such a year it was. Surely it wasn’t the worst year in human history, as many hyperbolic posts on social media would have me believe, but it wasn’t just a fine year in which, by coincidence, too many esteemed celebrities died. For 2016 was a year of horrible politics, the kind of hair-raising, chilling politics one thought was in the fringe; remote ideas unable to overcome a common sense shared by a large majority. Brexit and the election of Donald trumped whatever confidence one could have that our neighbors in Western Civilization (if such a thing ever existed) wouldn’t send the Gestapo on us just because.
2016 shattered the belief, even in a faraway corner such as Portugal, that the nicest people one knew wouldn’t become racist, classist, sexist trolls once they opened Twitter or Facebook or a newspaper’s website. I really started to question the benefits of hyper-connectedness, much before I even heard a friend, hooked on confirmation bias, state that vigilance against ‘fake news’ is all about censoring the 'real news’ fake news sites provide. To which I say, it’s all real for all I care, because real or fake, local or international, it’s all horrible. The comments do feel real and make me wonder: should I drop dead because I’m from Southern Europe in a country where they have a Socialist government? Should I drop dead because I’m in academia? Am I an insect, a leech, because I was for a couple of months on benefits before being a public servant with a meager paycheck and a temporary contract?
In 2016 it often felt as if harassment was being legitimized, then vindicated by politics. And as a cis-hetero white male, what to do? Speaking out with the best intentions is often framed as illegitimate _splaining, a ridiculous way to frame things in a year in which we found out arguments don’t matter, much less the writer. I’ll just leave this here:
Judging people whose lives and actions you don’t know anything about is wrong.
(Except in traffic. Tailgating assholes deserve judgement.)
In Portugal in 2011 we had a very nasty election in which the prevailing right-wing turned old against new, public workers against private workers, rich against poor. Our current government is, against all odds, managing to heal these divides bit by bit, against all the fanaticism of a media thirsty for some kind of war. However in 2016 all those rifts exploded everywhere, across every single line that could become contentious — race, nationality, gender, sex, religion. That Dark Enlightenment which openly articulates a desire to go back to absolutism, as recently as a couple of years ago was just a lunatic twinkle in some solipsists’ eye (long live King Thiel I). Then comes 2016 and it seems to have become public policy from the United States to Brazil, from Hungary to Russia, from Turkey to the Philippines. Can we trust each other? It’s as if while our societies were made deeply afraid of the Islamic State, our own next door neighbors became as radicalized, only about things other than religion, and mercifully still only wielding tweets and votes rather than explosives.
Is this social media’s endgame? Filter bubbles and confirmation biases so heavy they implode into black holes of hatred?
Is that why we haven’t found alien civilizations? They go extinct because they invented nuclear weapons, poison their climates, and then invent Facebook? That which extra-dimensional archaeologists call the Technological Sandwich of Doom?
Then fuck social media.
Fuck it. Fill social networks with bots and IFTTT recipes, feed Facebook and Twitter back to themselves until they too implode in a blackhole of bullshit that vacuums all the fake news, along with a few media conglomerates just for safety.
Hence the despair, often feigned, but often real, at the deaths of beloved celebrities like David Bowie, Prince, or Carrie Fisher. Those were artists and performers of The Future, therefore a literally dying Future, crashing our old but reassuring collective belief in a Whig sense of Progress. Without Bowie or Prince, who or what stands for A Better Future?
So it was bit weird to be living in Portugal while 2016 happened. Internal politics were the opposite of whatever happened in international news: in 2016 we had a Socialist government supported by Communists and Trotskiites in parliament and by a hyperactive right-wing President (and former TV personality!) who has so far been doing the utmost to be decent and respectful of differences. Such good karma visited Portugal that its football national team even won the Euro, in the bestest! imaginable victory (winning < against France < in France < without Ronaldo < with a goal scored by Éder, who has the footballing ability of Ronaldo’s right kidney).
Not that everything was rosy. Job precarity remains the norm, salaries remain miserable for the bottom 90%, and the government’s left-wing peers are still focused on employment rather than what comes next. Porto is being Disneyfied and Disrupted beyond recognition by an unholy alliance of AirBnB, speculators local and foreign, and, again, a local citizenry more than happy in screwing over their neighbors whenever the time comes to renew a lease, or to price the food in their artisanal gourmet tapas bar restaurant bistro. But hey, at least we’ve got a brand new city centre which the tourists and the petty bourgeois can enjoy mostly free of locals, as the city lost 10% of its inhabitants in just these last four vigorous years. That an untold number of businesses in the periphery had to close is something almost nobody notices.
Yay for growth!
May the tourists never cease touring the brand new hotels standing on the ruins of our heritage. Nobody can make a living here, but those TripAdvisor rankings are unmatched.
Happy Holidays everyone!
(Photo credits: Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo / Walter Blum at Flickr Commons)
This is an old one, but entirely appropriate, either as a celebration of things done, or as a celebration of what just feels right in times that feel so, so wrong. The Most Satisfying Video in the World, as compiled by Digg editors. Beware that searching for The Most Satisfying Video in the World on YouTube opens a Pandora’s box of endless satisfaction. Do that at your own peril.
Update, Dec. 6: So I kinda consider the redesign process closed, as much as these things are ever finished. There are too many updates to mention, so if you're interested my best advice is to just start exploring what's on the menu (chuckles). Happy browsing!
It seems incredible it had been more than five years since I last deeply redesigned this website. I remember that back when I first designed its percursor, the blog If Then Else, the web was young, I was eager, and the iterations were monthly. That was April 2001. Now social networks take so much away (and this website, for all its independence, does aggregate posts off Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr) that this notion of having a personal website, having YourName-dot-com, seems as oddball as it was in the 1990s: the eccentric hobby of a technophiles, like ham radio or DIY electronics. I can say I do own my online persona and that's the entire point. Or I may rephrase that as something cool and say I'm contributing to the Indie Web.
So welcome to the new 2016 iteration of my website, now featuring some the typical expectations of a 2016 website — responsive design (as if people would surf the Indie Web on their cellphones! Ha!), higher resolution images, bigger font sizes. And finally, the homepage design recognizes how far less blogging I do nowadays, but won't ever bury the more exquisitely crafted posts (ahem!) under a bunch of forgettable tweets and Instagram pictures.
The site was you are looking at is yet very incomplete — many of the projects & portfolio pages are still missing and some of the previously existing links will still throw 404s for a while. I'll update this post as I go along. 😊
Our need for quiet has never fully gone away, because our practical achievements, however spectacular, never quite fulfill us. They are always giving way to new wants and needs, always requiring updating or repairing, always falling short. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied. The late British philosopher Michael Oakeshott starkly called this truth “the deadliness of doing.” There seems no end to this paradox of practical life, and no way out, just an infinite succession of efforts, all doomed ultimately to fail.
I Used to Be an Human Being, by Andrew Sullivan. Read it, now. Forget about your cellphone, close all other tabs and turn off your notifications and read it. Better yet, print it. We do too much.
Hyper-Reality by Keiichi Matsuda is an oldie but goodie. Just earlier I saw this mass of people by a downtown square, all peering into their phones trying to catch Pokémon, like asocial angler fishermen or, if one chooses more terrifying metaphors, like extras in a Black Mirror episode or future Matrix human batteries.
I’m not saying Pokémon Go is a harbinger of the End of Times. Not only there are far better candidates for that, but I also think one shouldn’t actually give a fuck about how others spend their afternoons and choose to enjoy the sunset. Still, I think Pokémon Go highlights just how powerful software developers are and how it’d be perhaps wise to reason about software companies as some kind of Fifth Estate. Just imagine, as I was talking to friends yesterday, if Pokémon Go had some kind of scarcity game mechanic in which rare monsters could only be caught by one player (I actually thought the game worked like that so I wondered aloud why there were no reports of street fights breaking out, among all the news of people crashing into police cars or walking themselves off cliffs).
Thing is, someone may well create such a game. I mean, just watch old concept demos of what became today’s technology, and then look at Microsoft explaining how Augmented Reality assists scientists in exploring Mars, designers in designing motorbikes or dads in playing Minecraft with their kids. And then consider the actual history of the web, from banner ads to ransomware, from Flash to government sites that only work in Internet Explorer 6. And then rewatch Matsuda’s video. Just rewatch it and try to debunk it.
And then ponder whether software should be regulated, like cars or houses or public infrastructure are. Ponder whether such regulation is feasible, or desirable (for it would be the death of general-purpose computer, thus the ultimate authoritarian wet dream). And wonder: are we fucked? Even if we escape authoritarianism, climate change, terrorism, cyberwar (meaning the large scale use of malevolent software)… can we also handle plain ill-considered, misdesigned software?