Posts tagged yearly_report

Twenty sixteen views

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.

Everybody Wants Some!!

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.

La Loi du Marché

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.

Hell or High Water

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.

Knight of Cups

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.

Things to Come

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.

The Last Picture Show

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.)


Bojack Horseman

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

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.

Black Mirror — San Junipero

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.

Twenty sixteen readings

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:

Useful:

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.

Twenty sixteen ramblings

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.

One can try to frame those bad things that happened in 2016 as dark jokes, as Charlie Brooker does so eloquently in his 2016 Wipe end of year rant, but there is no entertainment to be had.

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.

Ahem.

Progress?

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?

Vaporwave? C'mon.


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.

The films of 2015

Since I started writing these film flashbacks, I never had any trouble picking my three favourite films of the year, ranked. Not for 2015, however: a year that had strong movies and a few strong disappointments, but overall felt like an average year as most movies basked in the afterglow of last year’s award season contenders (it must be noted that many of the movies on other 2015 best-of lists will only arrive in Portuguese theatres in a month or so). So, sorted chronologically rather than by rank, here are five of my favourite films of 2015:


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Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre. No other filmmaker that I know of has Nanni Moretti’s ability to walk such a fine line, making a film in which the protagonist (a filmmaker herself, because Moretti — he writes what he knows) must deal with her mother’s fading health as finds herself with already a lot in her plate (a terrible shoot, a separation, jealousy of her brother, etc) without either giving in to melodrama or to ‘dramatic comedy’. The film doesn’t demand the audience’s tears, but doesn’t give any kind of relief or 'silver lining’. There are no lessons here, only what happens. Mia Madre feels real in a way that very few films do.


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Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights vol. 1, the Restless One (and only volume 1). Gomes’ six hour opus may be the very definition of cinematic ambition: to weave documentary, drama and both literary and popular myth in a movie that is about the impact of this Long Depression in Portugal. Released in three parts, I believe the first part does justice to the whole enterprise. Pity then, that some macro-editing issues show in volume 2, and totally undermine volume 3. Perhaps a truly masterpiece exists in there, as a two-part, 4.5 hour movie.


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George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. When I went to watch The Force Awakens, I spent most of the time enjoying the movie, perhaps with a big grin on my 3D-bespectacled face, while at the same time taking note of all the obvious paralelisms with A New Hope; getting angrier and angrier at said paralelisms after leaving the theatre, realizing I’d been had. When I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, I spent most of the time enjoying the movie, perhaps with a big grin on my 3D-bespectacled face, while at the same time taking note all the things I hadn’t yet seen in such a straight simple action movie before; noticing more and more things as I replayed the movie in my head while leaving the theatre, growing more fond of the movie and realizing I had seen a classic.


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J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year. Proof that if you film it like The Godfather, even a story about some guy who needs to raise money to finish the purchase of a lot for his trucking company can be truly compelling. There’s a lot to be learned about cinema here.


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Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep. Chekhov in Cappadocia makes for a just recipient of the 2014 Palme d'Or.

There were disappointments, of course: I had high hopes for Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, for instance, but it ended far below Baumbach’s previous works (which is still good, but still…). I also felt promising portuguese filmmaker João Salaviza’s first feature Montanha was a dud, a kind of anti-Moretti (shoot about and over-aesthetize what you don’t know). In the pop side of things, Spectre brought back Mediocre Bond (and worse Blofeld), while The Force Awakens was, as I mentioned, the strangest of objects: a film that doesn’t disappoint while you’re watching it for the first time, but infuriates a couple of moments after the credits roll (and apparently I’m not the only one feeling this way — or the opposite).

I watched many other notable films in 2015. Alejandro González Iñarrittú’s Birdman and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash deserved their take during the last award season. Paul Thomas Anderson gave us perhaps the best Thomas Pynchon adaptation film as a medium will ever allow in Inherent Vice — but I still felt such a project was doomed to be slightly unsatisfying from the very start. Each episode of Damián Szifrón’s Relatos Salvajes / Wild Tales is perhaps destined to become a conversation classic (“that film in which the explosives engineer blew up the impound lot”, “that film in which the two guys killed each other in a road rage incident” & etc.), as well as Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (“that film in which a 17th century swedish king entered a present-day pub on horseback”). Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was perhaps the most interesting science fiction film I’ve seen last year, a kind of dark and claustrophobic counterpart to 2014’s Her. Ridley Scott’s The Martian was also a very solid piece of sci-fi and a welcome reminder that Scott can be a great filmmaker when working to preserve a script’s verissimilitude. I found Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation a great action film (from what I’ve seen in 2015, second only to Mad Max), the best M.I. at its fifth instalment, handily beating Spectre at its own game (and am I the only one to notice how weirdly similar — down to locations — both films’ plots are?). Finally, both Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth made the uninteresting — eg. the inner lives of affluent and undecisive expatriates in Switzerland — compelling and engaging. Sorrentino’s more of a baroque (for which some critics won’t ever forgive), of course, but masterful still.

Twenty fourteen: twenty thirteen part II

Like 2013, I think last year was a “year without qualities”. It was not a good year, not even an interesting year. At the very least, things didn’t turn out as bad personally, and whatever my problems, complains and sorrows were, they were the problems, complains and sorrows of someone privileged to be safe and healthy: I even made good on 2004’s (sic) New Year resolution of starting to exercise.

Still, looking outward, 2014 was a garbage year full of bad omens. That has been extensively covered, and both you and I would gain nothing if I were to relist all the tragedies, most still unfolding. If you must, Charlie Brooker, a clever and funny man, tries his best at a humourous recap and fails; there was little fun in 2014. Still, I may add that that something like the ‘Dark Enlightment' is even an idea proves the kind of thinking that produced ISIS is not the exclusive of any particular religion or country; I came to realize that the political Right is, for all its pretenses, a black hole: there is no point at which conservatives would be satisfied and say “society is as we want it”, for there would always exist a Right, pointing toward anarchy and despotic barbarism — the post-apocalyptic fantasies of gun-fiend survivalists, every man for himself against hordes of zombies, or perhaps immigrants, seeming more like a political programme than a genuine fear. 

How have things in Portugal been? Interesting, in a bad way. Late last year our former Prime Minister, José Sócrates, was arrested on vague charges, and is still in prison in order to be investigated for… some kind of corruption, or whatever. Such a situation presents us with two possibilities: A. Sócrates is a crook whom, like Al Capone, was finally caught because of something smaller like tax evasion and is now undergoing thorough investigation; B. Sócrates is a political prisioner, arrested at the airport upon entering the country, reporters of our local Fox News clone already at the scene, spinning stories for the naïve involving suitcases full of money. I truly prefer option A., even though one suspects B., and one will never ever know. Whatever the outcome in the courts, Sócrates will remain Schrödinger’s PM, such is the nature of our politics. At the same time, one of Portugal’s biggest banks failed and was bailed out by the government, its coffers were apparently robbed blind by the bankster family that ran it to the ground, and while nobody is arrested people are still told that socialism ends when the money ends and other assorted Thatcherite catchphrases, apparentely because people live in a paralel universe to that of finance.

There are multiple such universes though, and the media makes sure one never knows in which universe one currently resides. Charlie Brooker’s report I linked above includes a segment by Adam Curtis on how media is used to obfuscate, confuse and leave citizens in a state of anxious acceptance. But while right, I think Curtis is late to the premediation party: it’s not just Putin, it’s not just the British government learning some KGB-fu. It’s everyone, everywhere: societies became societies of actors and societies of artifice, reality has been vanquished. In 2014 we even found out that Facebook Inc. tampers with the information you are presented (as they were obviously going to do), so you can’t even trust the mediated representations of your ‘friends’. Take it away, Reza Farazmand:

Reality check

Reality has also been vanquished in my city of Porto, Best European Disneyland of the Year for a number of travel magazines, its votes rigged or its journalists handsomely treated by the local hostel industry. Disneyland Porto does seem like a nice place to live, but in this universe all I see are lots of new and somewhat pricier coffee shops, gourmet burger joints and gin & tonic bars that seem like good places to hang out with my friends, hadn’t most of them, even those with kids, been forced to look for a job abroad (a great way for a government to lower unemployment, by the way). But hey, the city’s rebranding apparently makes being a 35 year old living in a shared apartment all worthwhile.


Still, I can’t really complain much about 2014 on a personal level. My 2013 complaints about miscommunication (and miscommunity) in the connected age remain, so do my complaints about precariousness in work and in love. I had a health scare that fortunately turned out to be nothing, but made me aware of the realities of ageing, while hardly feeling like an adult yet. But still, I had a full year, in which I traveled, made an effort in getting to know people and engaging with different kinds of activities — from videography, both on the street and with a theatre company, to both visiting and selling at flea markets, from working up some of the required “benevolent anger” in thinking about software and citizenship to teaching at the college; all while neglecting my PhD, casting that dark shadow of guilt I’ll have to learn how to manage in to 2015.

One can’t but to look forward to a new year, it always feels like a fresh page. So, considering how long it took for me to start going to a gym, I think that one resolution — of balancing my PhD’s work and guilt throughout the year — will be enough.

The films of 2014

Phew! What a lousy year it was, 2014. After a great 2013 film-wise, either I chose my movie outings poorly, or 2014 had indeed a rather bad crop. I only went to a movie theatre about thirty times, and quite often I just looked at the listings, thought everything was so meh!, and went to do something else instead. There were however, amongst the superhero episodes (which at least create mythologies) and the forgettable dramedies, some good works of art and entertainment in the theatres in 2014. Unlike this critic’s, my picks for 2014 might even be very slightly better than my favourite movies of 2013.

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. I’m not one to jump on bandwagons and I’m usually suspicious of anything that has the degree of universal acclaim Linklater’s masterpiece achieved. Still, I am hard pressed to find any fault whatsoever with this film (well, maybe except for the use of Coldplay in the soundtrack at the beginning of the film), the result of an incredibly risky project that feels perfectly natural in the body of work of the guy who directed Slacker. In Boyhood, character transformation happens because it just does as time passes, not as a result of plot. Small episodes might have consequences, or might have not. People come into the life of Mason and his family and seem important, and than they’re gone elsewhere. Boyhood almost challenges what is meant by ‘fiction' because even though those are made-up characters played by professional actors acting made-up situations, there's no disbelief in the movie requiring suspension. It's a truthful fiction, showing the extraordinary (as it must be, as we watch it in a movie theatre and find it compelling) in the ordinary.

Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Without leaving Earth for mythological heights inhabited by aliens and superheroes, Nightcrawler is on the far opposite end of the placid Boyhood. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a rabid hungry coyote, perhaps more wolfish than di Caprio’s, perhaps more of a psycho than Bale’s. He is the endgame of anarcho-capitalism, only holding a camera rather than trading financial derivatives.

Nebraska

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and back to placid-er plains. Wheareas plot is probably the least important element of my other two picks, Nebraska, while not exactly a tightly-plotted film (leave that to something like Gone Girl), had the most satisfying story I’ve seen in a film all year. It’s veritable literature, coupled with Payne’s humourous deadpan Americana.


Some films of 2014 were genuine disappointments — I would say Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is as vast and as empty as space, while I found Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, which I had eagerly awaited since watching the first trailer, more interested with the bodily noises of J.M.W. Turner rather than his art. Still, besides the 2014 Top Three, I really enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, which, like Nightcrawler, I found a great observation of turbo-capitalism, this time as a farce. I also liked Spike Jonze’s Her as a thought experiment about emerging AI; as I wrote previously, even though I found its resolution quite flawed, it’s a film sure to occupy philosophers (and UX designers) in years to come. Another glorious but flawed film I really liked was Ari Folman’s The Congress, which I thought even trippier than Stanislaw Lem’s novel. Considering Boyhood, Steven Knight’s Locke is perhaps the most opposite kind of project one could imagine (just a guy driving his car for ninety minutes), but Tom Hardy does give the defnitive performance of Bluetooth-connected acting. And finally, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which I enjoyed as perhaps the definitive film of a long-missed subgenre, the Michael Douglas thriller (not starring Mr. Douglas).

I should also highlight David O’Russell American Hustle (a giant in the pantheon of cinematic hairdos), Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (no film ever made me want to visit Rome as much), Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (which I actually found manneiristic and lesser Wes, but still, Anderson), Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (its closing scenes becoming more shocking and poignant as marking the premature end of Philip Seymour Hoffman), João Botelho’s Os Maias (a very lively — and even fun — rendition of the novel dreaded by so many portuguese highschoolers) and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (a refreshingly humourous superhero flick to gorge on popcorn and coke).


Still, there are some interesting movies on the horizon for 2015 that are not Star Wars. And indeed, is there a better way to spend the New Year’s Day hangover than at the movies?

Last year's film (& etc.)

Even though a wee bit late as we enter the second day of the new year, I must collect some additional thoughts on 2013. I am not one to choose media over spending time with people, but books and film remain prime consolations. I even took up record colecting for a while, but lacking a proper living room environment (I have got the stereo hooked up at my office) made me slow down. The PhD put quite a dent on my reading for fun, even as I kept adding books to my anti-library, as Nassim Taleb, the harsh lebanese epistemiologist, would put it. And while I didn’t go to the movies as much as I would have liked, I saw some good movies in 2013.


Frances Ha

Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha was my favourite film of the year. As I wrote about it at the time, the greatest joy of Frances Ha is in how it manages to be a fully self-contained, soulful film about being a young adult nowadays. You get to know this carefree, hipster-ish young artist (as one reviewer I can’t recall put it, "the kind of person you want to hate"), and slowly you get to see the sacrifices, the heartbreaks and the immense dignity there are in actually trying to live one’s own life, and how what frequently passes for ‘responsibility’ is actually just an easy way out. Greta Gerwig’s great performance reminded me of more than one person I know. And I am happy she did.


Spring Breakers

I think Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a very sharp satire that perfectly captures the endgame of anarcho-capitalism, how a critical masses of want, greed, lust and desire collapse into pure sociopathic behaviour.


Gravity

The jawdropping technical gorgeousness of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is enough for me to consider it one of the best movies of the year. I must say I didn’t find it as Great a movie as Cuarón’s previous Children of Men (perhaps last decade’s only worthwhile entry into sci-fi canon), but I did go watch it in 3D three times. In a row. Even despite, in a film that works hard towards accuracy, the basic scientific errors that are like dark stains in a clean sheet. I’d still watch it again.


In addition, there are a bunch of movies I definitely recommend, such as Michael Haneke’s Amour, Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines and Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Vie d’Adèle. These are all worthy of a five star rating, and enough has been written about them. 

I will rather mention a few movies I think are a bit weaker (four star?), but have a degree of interestingness to them, such as Joseph Kosinsnky’s Oblivion, a Tom Cruise vehicle that feels a lost 1970s sci-fi classic. I found it a solid and enjoyable sci-fi flick, whereas I found Gilleremo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, despite the hype (giant monsters vs giant robots, had to be awesome), plain boring and even more lacking in soul than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and its trully endless fighting scenes (endless to the point of becoming funny — I am sure there’s going to be a Family Guy parody between Peter Griffin and the giant chicken). I would also highlight Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, a film with hardly any dialogue, a creepy and very wrong storyline, but pitch-perfect craftsmanship in the way it generates and sustains excruciating tension for 90 minutes.

Finally, a word about Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine: Like Greta Gerwig’s precise opposite, Cate Blanchett’s great performance as Jasmine reminded me of more than one person I know. And I’m unhappy she did.

Twenty thirteen, a year without qualities

Pardon the hyperbole. There were, of course, qualities to the year 2013, and most gripes I am about to complain about can be safely filed and tucked away as First World Problems. I am well-fed, don’t have to walk for half an hour to fetch a jug of water, and have wi-fi at home. Still, there’s this inescapable feeling of loss, of an unrealized — and one is afraid to suspect, unrealizeable — future.

A whole generation is losing love and friendship to whichever social and moral ills arise from financial insecurity — emigration, misunderstanding & strife, anxiety, shame. I had been naïve, expecting technology to help people become closer in a time people need each other most; instead, I have realized how swiftly social networking became the backbone of later anarcho-capitalism, reducing social interactions to the exchange of multimedia messages as specified by a bunch of appalling libertarian and sexist nerds living in affluent exhurbs of San Francisco, CA.

We are fully complicit in this, of course. A text message will never arise the kind of excitement one feels when receiving a postcard from a loved one. A Verdana asterisk will never feel like a kiss the way a hand-drawn star (or, if you are lucky, a smudge of lipstick) feels. Replying to a text, whichever the carrier (SMS, Facebook, Whatsapp, whatever), often feels like a chore and I too have to remind myself there’s a full human at the other end of such communication: that, no matter my guesses, motivations are unknown and neglecting a simple reply might be the thing to ruin that fellow human’s day. Needless to say, I’ve been often at the other end, feeling the full weight of the ways modern asynchronous communication turns one’s hellos into simple fragments of media to be lost in the stream like old newspaper pages or discarded brochures.

In an Austeritarian and increasingly unequal country like Portugal, the same complicity towards miscommunication also applies towards politics. I am not suggesting it is the same kind of complicity; I suggest it is exactly the same complicity. Crass obliviousness has people treating downtown Porto like a drinking Theme Park, wide-eyed at turbo-capitalist accomplishment while the BBC compares the greater city to illustrious destinations such as Havana or Detroit. Flea markets and antique shops multiplied in the last year, and while I am all for mature consumption in which things are resold and recycled or bought second-hand (sometimes I sell stuff at flea markets myself), there’s a definite feeling of chic despair in the air, as if the panzers are approaching and the new century’s midnight is nigh.

Class prejudices are key in miscommunication amongst people; Capitalism killed love, for how can anyone love someone who is looking for someone better, with a catalog at their fingertips (not specifying the metric, this was something someone once flat out told me)? Mass surveillance, as revealed by Ed Snowden, is not big news as we always, in a way, knew about it. What anarcho-capitalist tech makes us do to each other is worse: oppression became peer-to-peer, decentralized. It’s not the guys with the wiretaps, it’s us. Society’s ills, whichever one feels they are, are rebuilt every single morning when one wakes up and carries on not paying attention, not able to say hello, not able to send back an hi.


Twenty thirteen hasn’t been a good year personally. I have seen friends my age struggle with disease; and I permanentely lost someone to it. Single and almost thirty-five, it’s been hard meeting someone. I wonder if anyone else still wants to find someone to love, someone who makes one driven to full generosity. Working mostly by myself, it’s hard to get to know new people; even coffee dates are hard to arrange. Some people seem to be able to click their fingers and fix their loneliness. Not me. All that’s left is work and entertainment and (at best) something in the middle.

There have been some minor paradoxes. I’ve been doing some work as a freelance videographer, having done more in the last three months than in any moment in the last five years; all this when I had almost given up on videography. Interestingly, it all came about after my involvement with the RU+A project, a perfect example of the work-entertainment blend (at least for me), which took me to interesting places in the relationship between street artists and local politics. All this has been hard on my PhD, and working towards it must be top of my New Year resolutions.

I’m sure 2014 will be a better year. It has to.

Twenty twelve, thirteen

I’m late to write about my impressions of the year 2012, not because I’ve been busy but because I should be busy and somehow a sense of guilt about it prevents me from doing something as egotistical and pedestrian as writing my personal thoughts about those 366 days filed under 2012. Or perhaps I just feel that writing on my blog is just low-priority work disguised as leisure. Or perhaps I feel only twelve people will actually read this, and none of them will be any of the persons I enjoy imagining doing so.

And I’m annoyed I’m writing on my old netbook because my home computer died last weekend. Not a good moment because my PhD requires stuff done. The fucker.

But I digress. Even though it had its moments, 2012 was a shitty year. Even though I try not to mention it to my international readers, lest I be interpreted as belligerant and/or depressing, know this: the Long Depression — that is, structural socio-economical Crisis — got real here in Portugal. I’m actually lucky to have a part-time teaching job which requires me to take a PhD I’ll have to pay for. I’m lucky to be able to pay for a small studio where I can work and study, and that my parents can help with the other things I can’t afford. I’m 33, and like most of my friends my age I’m stuck with little perspectives. And the fear of unemployment and the little money due to frozen wages and rising taxation and the feeling one’s work became an auction won by the lowest bidder while empathy is rarer as selfishness, not selflessness, is generated by and feeds The Crisis, all that is on my mind as I wake up every morning. Lonely mornings. 366 of those don’t make a good year.

And why? Because of turbo-capitalism, because of Euro-banksters, and because of what can only be Northern/Central European governments’ climate envy and racism (an ugly word, I know, but how else to explain the beautifully orchestrated media campaign to convince Southern Europeans they brought this on themselves because they are lazy, when they actually work more hours for less pay, less perks and more taxes?). And obviously, because of those among ourselves (starting with our turbo-liberal — that is, Social Darwinist — government) who honestly or cynically believe such bullshit, that we must suffer for our sins, however factually unspecified those sins are. And there are lots of shit-believers, because The Crisis is actually a Cold Civil War, with external interferences and profiteering like all civil wars, therefore a Civil War indeed. Ongoing in 2013.

Fuck it.

In 2012 I fell in love; things didn’t work out but I loved!

I feel I’m a wiser person. Not always a good thing, but its own reward neverthless.

I made cool stuff: directed a film, released two shorts to the Public Domain. And I learned enough technical stuff to make my geeky self happy.

My friends were my friends and were my friends. That is incredibly important. And even though at my age it is getting difficult, I think I made new friends — and I’m not talking about Facebook.

In 2012 I watched some great, great films: Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist and what must have been my favourite Bond movie, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall. But my two favourite movies of the year came right at the end of the year: the powerful Detachment by Tony Kaye and Leos Carax’s fantastically charming weirdfest Holy Motors. Holy Something, indeed!

2012 was also the year I rediscovered music thanks to (advertising alert) Vodafone.fm, a radio station I got in the habit of listening to while driving and manages to have a playlist that doesn’t prompt me to switch channels every other song (something we in Porto had lost in the late 1990s and I thought would never come back). Here’s a beautiful automated medley of my favourite songs of the year, courtesy of This is My Jam.

And in 2012 I read David Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That book is a keeper.

A few hours ago I went to the movies for the first time in 2013. I watched Michael Haneke’s Amour, the 2012 Palme d’Or at Cannes and a wonderful film — one of the saddest I have ever seen. And yet another item that underscores my growing realization that being a busy person is worthless, working a lot on stuff is worthless, if you prioritize that over the people in your life, if you value the bustle above the building of relationships and friendship and love (and if you don’t want to just take it from me, go read Tim Kreidler’s The Busy Trap, who puts it a lot better than I do). I do want my PhD and I am driven to do stuff. But if I’m going to choose a future regret, between failing a deadline for a paper and failing to accept a coffee date, I know which regret I’ll choose. If this makes me a lazy Southern European, so be it: I choose love.

Twenty Eleven, Twelve

So we have come to this: twenty-twelve. That year.

In which the world is supposed to end (as pictured yesterday), the Mayan myth getting some traction here because the future seem pretty bleak in this old and impoverished southern European economy, a feeling opposite to the innocent optimism of the previous apocalypse, during the Y2K Belle Époque. The consensus here is there’s not much to look forward to in 2012, except for inflation, unemployement, crappy digitally-televised Olympics (the analogue TV blackout is due in a couple of weeks), emigration, government and citizens alike being dicks, a slightly higher rate of civil unrest, a slightly lower rate of meals to be had in restaurants, bond market bondage being equated with ‘freedom’: serious problems in the First World, in which percentage points, rather than orders of magnitude, mean the End.

Of course, none of this will go as planned, not even the Euro or Mayan apocalypses (apocalypsii?). So there’s no reason to bother making lists of resolutions or go about planning stuff (suggestion: listen to this). 2011 taught us that: it was the strangest year on record. I won’t even go and repeat last year’s mediocre excercise of reviewing a full 365 days as if they were a record album or a movie to be digested. But if I did, I’d rate 2011 with five stars. Despite having spent the summer in bad health, despite the precarity of my work and the freelancing troubles, despite the illnesses of close relatives and the troubles of close friends, despite the melancholy in the morning and the inadequate relationships and the heartbreaks. Despite the laziness, the many productive hours wasted on crappy computer games, the fear of being sincere in doomed romances, and all the times I didn’t even try. Because I’ll remember little of this as being 2011. What I’ll remember is the sublime, unscripted weirdness. Consider the evening of April 6th, a date I find easy to recall as it is my birthday, as a scale model for all of 2011:

While having dinner with friends in a restaurant downtown, there’s this sudden announcement the IMF is bailing out Portugal. People’s smartphones are produced out of their pockets (we had, and still have, smartphones, get it?), 3G internet used to summon the mobile webpages of newspapers, fact-checking — yes, Portugal is getting ‘help’ from the IMF (in the form of a big loan the economy — meaning us, the working people — won’t be able to pay). The girl I was seeing at the time had to wake up very early the next day and had to leave the restaurant soon after the meal was over (another crazy detail — I was seeing someone at the time), so I left the restaurant for a few minutes to walk her to her car, and as I came back to rejoin my friends I already sensed this palpable but yet-understated hysteria, as if a carnival would start to unfold later that evening. It was a very hot evening — about thirty degrees Celsius, in April! — and, as our party left the restaurant after a couple of drinks and went for further drinks in bars nearby, we all had this shared feeling of “let’s spend all our money today because we’ll all be poor tomorrow”, the drunken circularity of which you have to admire. Walking in the streets, our party wasn’t the only party not minding the sidewalks. It was a Wednesday. Later that night, I met a friend in an equaly advanced state of drunkeness at a club, and I spent a good deal of time listening to his awesome narration of the most disgusting and gory parts in A Serbian Film.

Just consider for a little while the following impressions, all co-existing in space, time and mind: a oral history of Serbian extreme gore, the IMF bailout, the heat (when I took a taxi home at about 5am, I was still in t-shirt, carrying my jacket as a twisted knot in my arm), the binge drinking. And the awareness that the Belle Époque was finally truly over, that job precarity (eg. my not having a contract despite working at the same place for seven years now) was not the past, the present, but the future as well, and that we might as well live that present evening — listening to fragmented accounts, voices like random radio chatter, of what the Finance Minister had said, if the PM had been contradicted & etecetera — and ask for a shot of Bushmills if one could still pay for it.

That day was hyperreal. Anyway, the next day it became pretty obvious things wouldn’t go as expected, either for better or for worse. People’s ways of life didn’t come to a sudden stop as the hot sun rose that morning. There are still dinners in restaurants (fewer — or far fewer) to be had, extravagant gadgets and other toys are still bought and sold, some people lost their jobs while others got raises. I have close friends who were forced to go back to their parents’, while others moved into a bigger apartments with their partners and their kids went to kindergarten. But still, the overall feeling of 2011 is indeed depressive, that injustice and overall stupidity were on the rise in this country. The expectation for 2012 is that the austerity forced from Above will do no good, and may in fact force good people into doing things they are not supposed to in a healthy society: leave the country or fight the power(s).

Then again, consider that week in November: I had been well down in the dumps, counting evey day until that Tuesday when I’d get my first paycheck of the school year. The day before, I was penniless and attending a meeting concerning a play I was going to make video for. As I search my backpack’s pockets for a scrap of paper in which to write a quick note, a 50 euro bill comes out. I had stashed it there for safety before the summer and had completely forgotten about it. I called a close friend and invited her for dinner that night. On me. I had had to share that good fortune, and taste a bit of luxury after weeks on a tight budget. The very next day, as some kind of karmic reward, my paycheck has a significant raise — which I had actually expected last year (as finishing my Master’s degree had brought me to a new carreer position), but after getting no pay increase then I became cynical about it and didn’t expect it in the current ‘austerity’ climate. Feeling pleased about myself (even if you think I’m a shallow person for letting pecuniary rewards influence my self-esteem, the truth is, they did), I invited a girl I had met a few days before to go out with me the next weekend, and she replied she’d be delighted. We started dating but things didn’t last, and we parted ways after a couple of weeks. But despite that, if I could just capture the feeling of hope, the knowing things were going to be all right and that we’d get through these troubled times, the expectant happiness, all the optimism I felt during that week in a bottle, I would take a sip of it every day.

Despite it being 2011. Despite the IMF, the troikas, the precariousness, the expensive rents, the price hikes. Despite the Arab Spring going bad. Despite the populist Eurocrats, despite the US Republicans, despite our new Prime-Minister, the old Prime-Minister, and the people who vote in hate of a candidate. Despite Islamic terrorism, despite right-wing terrorism, and the jornalists and politicians who blame both on immigrants. Despite Obama being a letdown, despite Merkel and Sarkozy. Despite the easily offended and the eagerly offended. Despite censorship. Despite the thieves, despite the police, despite the politicians who blame everything on authority and the politicians who blame eveything on the poor. Despite earthquakes, despite floods, despite the heat and the freezing cold. Despite oil, coal and gas, despite nuclear power, despite the villages flooded by dams and the birds killed by wind farms, despite solar power and the exotic materials, toxic chemicals and the energy wasted in building batteries and panels. Despite the infinitely regressive ecologists who will never be satisfied. Despite anxiety, despite fear, despite suspictions. Despite fashion, despite technolust, despite gluttony. Despite the hypocrites and despite those who are bad at simple math:

When you feel you are worth something, this all goes away. This is something all leaders and managers must know; this is something all lovers and friends must know.

For 2012, I expect the unexpected: the truly unexpected.