Oscar Death Race: The First 9

idolator oscar

Alice in Wonderland: After the supremely disappointing duo of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, I was pleasantly surprised by Alice. Mia Wasikowska is one of the least affected young actresses working today, and her performance grounded a film that is essentially one long, whimsical acid trip. I loved how strong this Alice was–this girl would never drown in her own tears. And while Depp’s warring accents were distracting, Stephen Fry as the Chesire Cat makes the whole thing worth it (not to mention Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar).

Black Swan: I was a bit underwhelmed by this movie, I have to admit, and I think the problem is Portman. The story was engaging, sure, and the costumes and effects were compellingly creepy, but her performance didn’t feel like it went beyond the surface, for all that training and drastic weight loss. While I was watching, I found myself rooting for Nina, but I can’t say her story stayed with me once it was over. The best movies of this genre will haunt you–this one was ultimately a lot of beautifully executed but forgettable parlor tricks.

Blue Valentine: Such a distressing little film this is. It feels so private that I almost wish I’d watched it at home rather than in a theater. Gosling and Williams live up to the hype surrounding their performances, as each are by turns charming and  horrible to one another. My one complaint is overuse of Indie Shaky Cam cinematography, but otherwise a wonderful little snapshot of everyday dysfunction. Essentially a big middle finger to every romantic movie that led you to believe the fairy tale.

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As close to being mad as makes no difference

Over at my beloved A.V. Club, Steven Hyden’s been writing a wonderful series called “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?”, a look back at the mainstream rock movements of the 1990s. This week’s entry is on Oasis and Radiohead, and predictably it took about thirty seconds before the snobbish bickering began in the comments thread (in fact, it started two weeks ago, when Hyden announced the topic of this week’s article). It’s such a tired debate that I almost feel like my generation continues to have it just so we feel that these passions we had as teenagers are still relevant. But really, reading through the comments got me thinking about being a hardcore fan of anything. The shame and defensiveness that goes along with loving something so much.

Now, when I say hardcore fan, I’m not talking about this dude. Or this batshit girlfriend over here. I’m talking about those of us who, while we might draw the line at a full back tattoo of Thom Yorke and his Lazy Eye, feel personally attacked when someone else hates something we love. As I’ve spent more time reading and writing criticism I’ve become progressively less offended by other people’s tastes, but boy howdy did I get into it with people in high school. I’ll still get into it with you in the Radiohead vs. Coldplay debate, but I won’t see your views as a moral failing if we disagree.

With a band as polarizing as Radiohead, you have to accept that haters exist. What I think’s so interesting is the number of people who feel the need to express their hatred of this band specifically to antagonize those of us who love it. I had friends who did this, I see it all the goddamn time on the interweb. This is not a case of spirited debate. It’s a case of people insisting that another group’s taste is wrong. And it goes back and forth in an endless, indignant circle.

I’ve got a number of strong opinions about art, pop culture and the like. I prefer it if you also have strong opinions. I f-ing hate the Doors, and you probably won’t convince me otherwise. But if I know the Lizard King is your personal hero, I’m not going to try and bully you into feeling differently. It’s a waste of time. With things like Radiohead or Tarantino or the Simpsons, I feel like half the backlash is the strength of passion they bring out in their fans. As if anything eliciting that level of adoration needs to be put in its place, as something not actually that wonderful.

I suppose it’s frustrating to feel like you’re supposed to love something that doesn’t do it for you, especially if you had to listen to a bunch of adolescents hyperbolize endlessly over that band/movie/show you just don’t get (and the internet tends to bring out this tendency in people). But at this point, why does the debate stay so personal? I’d like to elevate the conversation to another level, wouldn’t you?

Or maybe you just want to tell me I’m an idiot for hating Jim Morrison.


Lovely things

1. With the help of his daughters, Neil Gaiman made Narnia in his backyard.

2. Lasted, the most recent LP from Benoit Pioulard (aka Tom Meluch). Once upon a time, Tom was a very dear friend of mine, and though we’ve lost touch I’m still so proud to see him make such beautiful things. Even after all this time, I listen to this album and it’s just quintessentially the boy I knew. I can imagine this song drifting out of the speakers of his car as we drove up the highway to New York nine years back. More people should have Benoit in their lives.


Frugal Chariots

There’s this book I’ve had since I was ten, that I only read in the dead of winter, preferably curled up in bed with a cup of tea and snow falling outside my window. Never before Christmas. The pages are brittle and turning yellow around the edges. The cover has started to tear. I’ve read this book, this exact book (and the rest in the series) almost every year for nearly twenty years. Sometimes I’ll recommend the book to someone, but I’ve never had the urge to listen to an audio recording or see a film adaptation. This is a story that has felt intensely personal since the first time I read it–the world I’ve created in my head is a sacred one, that I don’t want to sully with anyone else’s interpretation.

I bought this book at a flea market in Oxford, England the summer before my senior year of high school. I’ve read it several times, and it gets funnier and more profound as I get older. More importantly I bought that book the same day as my first Radiohead concert, the day I met my friend Tom, and every time I look at it I think of that wonderful day, that perfect summer, and the friendship that bloomed out of it.

So while, as a voracious reader, I see the pragmatic appeal of an ipad or kindle or what have you, I find it hard to believe I’ll ever own one. Now, I said the same thing about an ipod, and when mine broke, I felt like I lost a limb. But there’s a sentimental attachment I have to books as objects and the sensuality of reading them that make me loath to trade them in for a flat, sterile piece of hardware, no matter how many 500-page tomes it might be able to hold.

My brother argued that you can make the same point about records, but I think the crucial difference is how music is experienced versus literature. Ultimately, reading is a private act–you can discuss a book, you can write reviews and doctoral theses, but the experience of reading something is uniquely yours. However faulty the logic may be, to me the book is what it holds, whereas the record or cd or mp3 file is simply a vehicle for the thing.

This isn’t to say that people don’t have personal connections to music–I’m the first one to start in on how Morrissey shares my pain, etc–but a lot of the time, at least for me, music is more about the collective experience. You send songs to your friends, listen to music at dinner or a party, go to concerts. I love music more than almost anything, but nothing gets inside me like a good book, which is intrinsically tied into the smell of old glue and the feel of pages between my fingers, the way my palm curves over the spine of a book I’ve been reading for two decades. It’s the familiarity of an old friend. And as uncharacteristically technophobic and sentimental as it may be, the idea of all that becoming a thing of the past breaks my heart.

Go find that book you loved when you were ten, and tell me that opening the cover doesn’t feel like coming home.