Thursday, February 24, 2011

Addendum: Natalie's Black Swanning

Kudos to The New York Times' Carpetbagger, who in predicting the Oscar winners called Natalie's accomplishment what it is. I quote: "Ms. Portman, who spent a year learning to do swan arms and shedding weight, has won some important precursor prizes."

Thank you. That's right. She dropped weight and learned to do swan arms, as I mentioned yesterday. She did not - I'm looking at you Darren Aronofsky, among others - she did not "become a prima ballerina" in a year. Jesus.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Home Oscars Stretch

The Oscars are almost here! Well technically, the Oscars are almost there - since I'm over here in Asia. But although for me it will be Oscar Monday morning instead of Oscar Sunday, I am still excited and still only a few days away.

So, I know what you're wondering: have I had a chance to see all of the nominated flicks? And the answer is - no! Gaaaah. I have done terribly this year. I suppose some people would not consider it terrible to have seen 8 out of 10 Best Picture noms and anywhere from 3 to 5 of the noms in the acting categories ... and that should be up to 9 out of 10 once I see True Grit this weekend. But I have only gone to one movie since being in Asia this year. (I've also watched a few DVDs and movies on television, so it's not that I've stopped watching movies, fear not.) Why the difference from when I went to an English-language-movie-a-week in 2005-06? Well it's just one of many things different this time around for me in the R-o-K. It's slightly different living in Andong and it's totally different being here with Brian. The whole planning-things-with-another-person means I get less done.

Anyway, I also seriously need to figure out what's up with my computer's virus protection issues so I haven't been watching the nominated flicks by any devious routes. (Last time I was here I had a cheap desktop computer that I bought for $100 from a departing English teacher and didn't really care what happened to it. I should probably do that again.) The point of all this is that - well, there are several points. Here they are:
  • I simply can't say whether Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman or Michelle Williams deserves to win in the Best Acting categories, because I haven't seen those flicks. (Biutiful, Rabbit Hole and Blue Valentine, for those of you out of the loop.)
  • Apart from them, I can unequivocally say that Annette Bening is the best and she should win Best Actress. This is no offense to Natalie Portman in the usual "ugh" sense, but just in the "you-must-be-kidding-me" sense. Natalie certainly gasped and sniffled and starved and freaked out through Black Swan but come on. As for the ballet jabber, you will note that most of the shots you see of Natalie dancing in the film involve her arms and upper body, and the long shots en pointe etc. are her double. Which, yes, she had one even though all you hear in the media is that she "learned ballet" in a year for the movie.
  • And by the way, the film itself is a tad overrated and I'm pretty much astonished Darren Aronofsky stole Danny Boyle's directing nomination.
  • Because 127 Hours was astonishing.
  • And I would love to see James Franco win, although I can get behind the Colin Firth thing too. He certainly did a lot, subtly and otherwise, for his performance in The King's Speech.
  • I don't know what to think about the Best Picture win. The King's Speech? The Social Network? Both were good, but frankly 127 Hours was better and Inception was strikingly better - I'm so surprised it's not in the discussion more. Maybe people will vote for it since Christopher Nolan was robbed of his directing nomination. Maybe True Grit will win, which I find fun even though I haven't seen it yet. It could be this year's Shakespeare in Love?
  • Sometimes I just sit here and think, "Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone got nominated for Best Picture? Really?" Out of those, Winter's Bone is the one I am least skeptical of, but Best Picture? Those are such ten-nominations-not-five nominees.
  • But Annette Bening should still win. Because her performance was inspiring, amazing and I daresay flawless.
  • I haven't seen the animated nominees (fact: I haven't seen ANY of the Toy Stories, ever.) Nonetheless, I am so passionately in love with The Triplets of Belleville, and have been since 2003-04, that I am rooting for The Illusionist by that association alone to upset Toy Story 3 (which, btw, is also a ten-nominations-not-five Best Pic nominee).
  • I love documentaries! But I've seen only Exit Through the Gift Shop and Inside Job. Both were great and either could win and make me happy. I'm not counting out Restrepo, which I was planning to watch instantly on Netflix until I learned you can't watch instantly overseas. Which is pretty much my last Netflix straw.
  • Christian Bale was phenomenal and is entirely deserving of his frontrunner status for Best Supporting Actor and an eventual win.
  • Melissa Leo was great too, and I will be happy to see her win but there are other possibilities there. The most fascinating in that category, even more than the 14-year-old, is Jacki Weaver, who was obviously great in Animal Kingdom, which we saw at our awesome theater in Chicago for which I am nostalgic. Jacki Weaver made the film a couple years ago and has since been doing her theater thing in Australia and now suddenly everyone in the U.S. is discovering something from which she had totally moved on! So funny.
  • If Black Swan wins cinematography over Inception and all the rest I might throw things at the TV.
  • This has been known to happen before, but is still depressing: I haven't seen ANY of the makeup nominees! Sorry, Paul Giamatti! I'll update my virus protection, for reals.
  • I loved the 127 Hours music (duh, I loved everything about that movie), but is Gwyneth going to sing? I'm into that.
  • More than I am into, for example, Anne Hathaway singing, or doing anything. Which brings me to my biggest ugh of the whole thing. GOD DAMN WHY IS SHE HOSTING? Grrr. That announcement almost ruined my entire Oscar season. Why can't she just go away? Why does everyone fawn all over her? If she makes a single "Oh-my-god-I'm-so-fat-tee-hee-let's-encourage-Ana" reference (as she has managed to improvise or get written into all her movies like The Devil Wears Prada and Rachel Getting Married) I will throw something at the TV. Shut up shut up shut up. You are not fat, but you certainly are annoying. Why don't you get that written into your scripts instead?
  • James Franco is so awesome that his awesomeness just may be enough to cancel out her annoyingness. Here's hoping.
  • The Visual Effects and Sound categories, always a source of movies that would not be Oscar nominees for any other reason, are good this year: the latest Harry Potter (and I've actually seen it!), Unstoppable (ha!) and even TRON: Legacy. Good times.
OK. Even though I am not totally ready, I am ready. As soon as I see True Grit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I have totally not been blogging enough (at all) about our time in Korea. I am now going to remedy that by, um, blogging about Japan. Sorry, Korea! I will get to you eventually. (Meanwhile, if you're really hankering for Korea bloggage, feel free to click the Korea label on the left side of my blog page for all the 2005-2006 Korea ramblings your heart desires.)

So, Brian and I traveled to Japan from February 2 - 5. What an amazing taste of an awesome country that quickly catapulted to a high ranking in our lists of world destinations. We were both Japan first-timers, unless you count the layovers I had in Tokyo Narita airport a few years back, lying around for hours and buying water in the international transit zone with my U.S. dollars and getting change in yen. But we all know layovers don't really count. This, then, was my proper introduction to Japan.

Hurrah for Japan! It's a totally interesting, pretty, historic, convenient, delicious, clean, awe-inspiring, lively, relaxing country. We spent time in Hiroshima and Fukuoka (aka Fukuoka-Hakata). Both of those cities are in the southern/western half, not up top and not next to Tokyo. We took the ferry from Pusan, Korea to Fukuoka, Japan, a delightful three-hour hydrofoil adventure. It's fun to take a boat and then go through customs! But the actual boat trip itself is pretty much like being on an airplane, as you go into an inside part, sit in assigned seats in rows, and watch cheesy en route entertainment. You can't go outside because it's a high-speed ferry and you would fall off and die.

Going to Hiroshima was essential. It was basically a pilgrimage for me: to see the sight where such destruction was unleashed, and to see how the city has channeled its rebirth into a true commitment to peace on earth. "When will we ever learn..." We stayed in a fantastic hostel about five minutes' walk from the peace park and peace memorial museum. The museum is one of the better museums I've been to in the world, with history, photos, dioramas, recorded testimonials from survivors, tattered school uniforms that burned through to children's flesh, a watch that stopped at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, etc. Everything there is super-interesting, like the twists of fate and clear weather that made Hiroshima the target.

There is also a display of copies of the telegrams sent from mayors of Hiroshima to world leaders every time a country tests another nuclear weapon. Year after year, the Hiroshima mayors ask the world to please seek peace and a world free of atomic bombs. There is a letter to (Nobel peace prize recipient) Barack Obama as well. And yet, the nuclear tests march on.

I cannot recommend the city of Hiroshima highly enough. It is sobering and bizarre to think you are walking around where the entire city was flattened and people were incinerated. On the other hand, it is an amazing city with a fabulous rebuilt downtown area and, I might add, tons of delicious restaurants. Hiroshima's specialties are oysters and okonomiyaki, and we definitely had our share of okonomiyaki (minus the seaweed flakes, for me). Happy hour, a used English bookstore, a sushi party at our youth hostel, a karaoke room with fellow travelers, a walk around a Japanese garden, a hike up to the peace pagoda ... I want to go back to Hiroshima again and again and again.

To cap off our lovely Japan trip, we stayed a day in Fukuoka before catching our return ferry to Korea. Fukuoka is so lively! That's the best word I can think for it. Among the amazing things they have are this great system of street food/drink stalls. They're basically little benches around a bar/grill, with plastic tent-like "door"/walls, so you can pop into one of these street stalls and drink on a Friday night and have a snack and chitchat. We passed by tons of them, but we actually had our sights set on hitting up an izakaya for our Friday night drinking and snacking. I'm so glad Brian was on top of that, figuring out that we needed to go to an izakaya, because we found one and ate yummy food and met the coolest people in the world everywhere we went. Japan totally has it all going on, and have I mentioned how clean and convenient everything is? And efficient. The efficiency is something to behold. We got to take the famous bullet train between Fukuoka and Hiroshima, and of course I am now in love with the bullet train. Fast and fabulous.

In short - we will be going back to Japan, and I now totally understand all you Japan people I've known over the years who are in love with/obsessed with that country. It is a great place to be. I have a new language to learn, clearly...