Posts tagged yearly_report

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.


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.


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.


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.


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), 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.

I find this diorama by Lori Nix a fitting image what comes to mind when I think about last year. Could be much worse — the light is still on.

Two out of five

Almost eighteen hours into 2011, I think it’s time to finally time to look back at the last 365 days. I’m going to steal Daily Meh’s idea and rate 2010. With stars, as if it was a movie. Which it felt like, in some (not so good) ways.

The good things about living through 2010:
- Had all basic needs fulfilled: food on the table, clothes, decent housing and hot water. Plus some money for drinks and entretainments.
- Found myself surrounded by a group of friends who where kind and treated me right. No personal dramas.
- I did finish my Master’s Degree with a pretty good thesis.
- Felt pretty eager to learn most of the time: took up computer programming with renewed interest (I previously though I was pretty finished with that); while being engaged in co-directing a performing arts (another new thing).
- Enjoyed a proper holiday for the first time in years.

The bad thing I endured through 2010:
- Anxiety made its ugly appearance, with a few terrifying psychosomatic episodes.
- A persistent acute feeling of inadequacy, with consequences.
- While I don’t feel at liberty to write about the specifics, something happened that put the brakes on my post-Master expectations. I wish for once I could build something nice without anyone immediately pissing on it.
- Creative bankruptcy: I didn’t shoot a single video besides the camera/editor-for-hire stuff, didn’t write anything either (besides the thesis, that is). But still, 2010 was a good learning year, so I’ll consider this phenomenon as part of a brain tide cycle.
- A bad crop in arts and entertainment. I can’t name much in the way of outstanding movies, or plays, or music or books. I’m sure there were, but fell under the radar.

2010: (two out of five). A pretty mediocre year, then.


It’s that time of the year yet again: My favourite (and not so favourite) films of 2009, chosen among the sixty-one features I watched in a movie theatre (picking up from my last year’s dismal less-than-weekly film-going).

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married felt unique among all the films I’ve watched in 2009. It didn’t feel like a movie at all, instead I left the theatre feeling I had attended that wedding and met all the characters. Demme’s use of improvisation and Anne Hathaway’s performance gave the film a truer feeling than perhaps a documentary about a real misfit attending a real wedding could (and there lies the genius of it). And then there’s the soundtrack. Loved that soundtrack.


Ursula Meier’s Home was a film with a simple concept. A family lives next to an unfinished motorway, and have all the fun people do when they’ve got a large area of asphalt all for themselves — eg. playing hockey. But one day the motorway opens for traffic. What used to be one kind of paradise became traffic noise hell, and slowly the family falls into madness and despair. It’s a simple idea that proves you don’t need sophisticated situations and villains — a family fighting against the lack of silence will do for one of the most engaging films I’ve seen.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. A prime example of the stupidity of portuguese film distributors is that I had to go watch what is perhaps the prime contender in the coming award season in a shitty screen in an expired mall in the suburbs of Gaia (itself a suburb) because it was the only screen in all of northern Portugal showing this movie. But it was perhaps appropriate I watched The Hurt Locker in a shithole I had last went to watch Starship Troopers (that was twelve years ago), because this is no glossy picture. It’s a raw depiction of the daily life of a bomb squad in Iraq, and a soldier-centered portrait of war addiction. Parts of this film are so unexpected that I honestly felt as watching some kind of bizarre Wile E. Coyote cartoon, except the characters are real people and that ACME stuff is massively deadly. I disagree with the Slashfilm critic that said Avatar was a far superior (metaphorical) film about the Iraq War. James Cameron knows very well Avatar’s audience is very wide-ranging so he did make not-so-subtle points about war and imperialism, which is fine by me. But The Hurt Locker is another kind of movie, presumed to be watched by people who know all that and appreciate a movie that skips the too-obvious criticism. This is Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket territory.

Between watching RocknRolla on January 1st and Sherlock Holmes last Saturday (the two Guy Ritchie films being nice-but-not-great bookends to my film-going year), there were many other films I found great in 2009:

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler made the 1980s feel like an entire lifetime ago. Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a fun pleasant surprise. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen didn’t disappoint in its adaptation of my favourite comic book. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino felt like a perhaps-somewhat-premature farewell to Clint-the-actor, and could perhaps do without the singing in the end credits. Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity was a good caper — and I do love capers. Steven Soderbergh’s two-volume fighting diary of Che delivered some great filmmaking while showing the man in your t-shirt did kill people, demistifying the argentine revolutionary. Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control was a cool film — and that’s all I wanted, really. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s little film about revenge Five Minutes of Heaven delivered exactly what its director set out to do. Public Enemies showed yet again how much we as an audience tend to assign meaning to a movie’s technical medium, and that Michael Mann’s a genius in the way he teaches us to stop envisioning the past in black and white, documentary truth in handheld video, night time in saturated blues. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was an orgasm of alternative history. Gianni di Gregorio’s Pranzo de Ferragosto was a lovely little comedy, and perhaps the best I’ve seen all year. James Gray’s Two Lovers was a solid drama to start the Fall season. Tom Hooper’s The Damned United was a pretty unique sports film — a real story about a 1970s English football manager — which I still can’t tell whether I really liked it that much. I found Duncan Jones’ Moon among the best science fiction films of the decade, and surely the best of the year. I welcomed Tetro as a good comeback from Francis Ford Coppola after his last film’s utter debacle. And finally, James Cameron’s Avatar, despite being a very predictable Pocahontas in space (the Disney version), is well worth the (3D) ticket price, just for the visual gorgeousness of it.

There were unfortunately not many portuguese films of note. I did like the austere visuals of Sandro Aguilar’s A Zona and Manuel Mozos’ emphasis on simplicity in his 4 Copas.

Finally, in a year I didn’t catch many bad or mediocre films, there was one undisputable Champion of Suckiness, with the potential to start a flame war just for saying so: J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Let’s just say that I can warm up to blue natives riding dragons over floating mountains. But time-travel and parallel universes (exploited by writers that show no guilt in weaving Deus Ex Machinas into the story) make me mad!

Visions of 2008

So what can be said about 2008 in the arts and entertainment?

Well, the films I enjoyed mostly during 2008 were the following:

P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Technically a 2007 film, but only released in Portugal on Valentine's Day (now, this is a date movie)! Anyway: One of the Best Movies Ever. I repeat, Ever. Fuck the Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men is just good enough, this years' How Green Was My Valley, a pale effort in comparison to Citizen Kane. Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece kills God, and like the proverbial t-shirt, God may one day kill P.T. Anderson, but There Will Be Blood lives forever. Its final act satisfies the viewer's lust for blood in a way even Stanley Kubrick fell short of.

Alain Resnais' Coeurs / Private Fears in Public Places. Despite the annoying defacement of the original stageplay's title (what the hell is the ideia with Hearts?), Alain Resnais is proof that not all old masters of French cinema descended into hypocrisy and critic-pandering. It's the movie about relationships made with such class, like a carefully handmade watch to Nora Ephron-esque Chinese Casio knock-offs. It has some of the best photography seen this year, and also shows the critics how careful use of CGI (as also seen in James Gray's incredible chase sequence in We Own the Night) can enhance a film rather than End Cinema.

Jonathan Levine's The Wackness. I was expecting a Sundance standard film when I went to watch Jonathan Levine's debut, instead I felt the Giant Hand of the Mighty Spirit of the Universe (or whatever) pointing at me and ennumerating the ways I suck. The right film at the right time, even if it has its weaknesses, so what can I say — even Ben Kingsley performance dialled down his creepiness factor by a few notches.

There's also another film I must mention, even if it'll mean nothing to the non-portuguese readers:

Miguel Gomes' Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto. Up until the day I watched this, I thought of Miguel Gomes as a symbol of what's rotten with portuguese cinema. Although I only knew his short films, they allways struck me as futile, publicly financed exercises in intellectual masturbation of the most serious kind, the kind of shit you just have to endure in film festivals while you wait for the short film you actually want to watch. But Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto is actually good... better than that, excelent. Its director is now a puzzle, this film being in my view the exact opposite of everything Miguel Gomes did before. It's a documentary about a movie being made in the Portuguese interior, and it is at the same time that movie, without conforming to the movie-within-a-movie formula. But what makes it special is that it is very enjoyable and not for one moment does the audience cease to identify with what the film presents — and that's what makes this movie so strange and up to a point an indictment for what's wrong with portuguese filmmaking, coming from the unlikeliest of sources.

Like 2007, I felt 2008 was a weak year for cinema, and probably that's why I only went 48 times to a proper theatre, by far my lowest amount of film-going since... erm... I became a film-going adult. And as usual, I saw half the year's movies from January to March — because that's when all the good For Your Consideration pictures come out in Portugal, and not just the American releases, European movies too. The usual spike in very good late summer releases (Portugal-wise, meaning films that appeared in Cannes or whatever) was once again nowhere to be found (with the exception of Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto and perhaps a movie I unfortunately missed, Abdel Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain).

Anyway, other films I enjoyed to a five star level were Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton and Jiri Menzel's I Served the King of England. Not much, even though I would rank many of the films I watched during the year at four stars, so I still enjoy my time at the theatre a lot more often than not. There were a few stinkers, though: the remake of 3:10 to Yuma was as necessary as a kick in the butt, Indiana Jones IV raped a lot of childhoods, including mine, Juno was a overrated piece of crap, a misleading anti-abortion pamphlet disguised in self-conscious coolness stolen from the likes of Ghost World, Youth Without Youth felt like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone, and Gomorra was yet another overrated — and badly directed — piece of shit, this one raping the one book it was supposed to adapt. Of course, I did refuse to go see things like Speed Racer (seriously, you can't get me to watch a film that looks like an unplayable Megarace — already one of the worst computer games I ever played), or else this list would be a lot bigger.

Television-wise, 2008 was the year of The Wire. I watched every single bit of every one of the sixty episodes, and it must be told that if this was a 60-hour movie, it'd be up there with There Will Be Blood, one of the best movies ever, with a storytelling scope such that regular feature films, at 3 hours or less, can only dream of.

And that's it for now. Check again soon for my thoughts about books and music.

Some closure

During 2006 I saw 65 different movies at the theatre, excluding festivals. 2005 was an interesting year in which my favourite three movies included a Hollywood film (which would then go to win the Oscar for best movie of the year — perhaps the first time a favourite of mine ever won), a French film and even a Portuguese film. The same thing didn't happen in 2006 though. There were many good American movies, but the European production I got a chance to see here was disappointing when compared to previous years. Here are the three movies I enjoyed the most in 2006:

Me and You and Everyone We Know, by Miranda July. It's such a rich film it's hard to describe in few words, but had me taken by the second minute, in a scene in which the kids are doing ASCII art in front of their computer. In its skeleton, is a simple boy-meets-girl story, but rendered in an delightfully artistic way. Exhibit A in the case to prove narrative and Art in film aren't — and can't — be mutually exclusive.

Children of Men, by Alfonso Cuáron. I believe it'll be seen as the Blade Runner of the next twenty years. Once you get past the somewhat silly main premise you'll see it's just a pretext for one of the most nightmarishly believeable visions of the future ever shot on film. Because it's about now.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, by Tommy-Lee Jones. In contrast with the other two, here's a straight simple story about a cowboy's quest to bury his friend. But done so very right, touching at times, outrageously funny at others.

Other great movies of 2006 include:

- Match Point, by Woody Allen;
- Munich, by Steven Spielberg;
- Breakfast on Pluto, by Neil Jordan;
- The Departed, by Martin Scorsese;
- Inside Man, by Spike Lee;
- Volver, by Pedro Almodóvar,

So as you can tell, it has been a good year for big-name directors (Spielberg, if you recall what I said last year, once again proves his carreer is one sinewave alternating between genius and utter shit), with an exception of note I'll write further down. But it was also a very good year for some people who are bound to also join the Pantheon of Directing Niceness:

- Good Night, and Good Luck, by George Clooney;
- Marie Antoinette, by Sofia Coppola;
- The Secret Life of Words, by Isabel Coixet;
- Babel, by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Therefore it seems 2006 is the year of Mexico Triumphant. Don't forget that The Three Burials... is also written by Guillermo Arriaga, Babel's screenwriter. Interesting that the two Spanish movies I did see during the year got both my personal five-star rating.

What about the worst? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Da Vinci Code, Unknown, Dejá Vú, and The Black Dahlia were the year's canned turds. Let's not forget, these are movies actually worse than X-Men III. I never expect anything good from the likes of Brett Ratner or Ron Howard, but Brian de Palma is 2006 equivalent of Terry Gilliam in 2005.

An aside, I saw Catwoman the other day on television. I couldn't take my eyes off how bad it is. The editing is perhaps the worst I ever seen in a movie.