A Decade of Films, 2014

So 2014 was a great year for films, to the extent that I have 10 favorites and 44 honorable mentions. And of course a handful of films I haven’t seen.

And I’m still trying to catch up on 2019’s films. Three films over this past Friday-Saturday-Sunday, which means I’ve watched about 50 of last year’s films. I also did some OCD research last night to see how much I felt I should see before committing to my list of favorites- that would be 32 films still to see. I won’t get through them all, but I can try.
It’s not like the Oscar voters watched all of last year’s movies anyway.
In fact, I’ve probably seen more than Stephen King. (Why does he get to vote for Oscars anyway? He’s a writer. The one great film that was made from his work (The Shining) is one that he’s essentially disowned because it’s too far from his novel. And that’s because his writing sucks isn’t good.)
If you’re not sure why I’m picking on Stephen King, he’s said some questionable stuff about the Oscar nominees’ lack of diversity. And he hasn’t reflected very much on the issue, apparently.

OKAY, SO MY FAVORITES MOVING ON!

In no particular order:

  • John Wick: I’m not in love with the sequels, but the original film is an original concept executed electrically.  And sneakily deep for a film that explores how many deaths it takes to avenge a puppy (dude, if you’ve ever met/seen a puppy you know it’s A LOT).
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Again, not a huge fan of the sequel, and there are definitely some moments in this that give me serious pause, but on the whole it’s a great time.  Like, the kind of good time where you want to use the word “rollicking”.  An excellent secret agent film for a post-Bond world. With a sprinkle of class conflict examination.
  • Ex Machina: I’m a bit conflicted on this one because while I quite like Ex Machina, it does feel like it tries a bit too hard to be deep.  There’s a whole lot of navel-gazing going on.  But the performances are all excellent, Oscar Isaac’s dance scene is the most disturbing thing I could ever imagine, and the message is interesting.
  • Fury: It’s an excellent ensemble war film about the crew of a tank, focusing on the newest and youngest member.  Bloody, dramatic, and tragic.
  • Whiplash: I’m not the hugest fan of Damien Chazelle, but this is my favorite of his films so far (the others being La La Land and First Man).  But I’m always into stories of obsession and the clash of disturbed personalities, so there you go.
  • Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, early Saoirse Ronan, and many more exciting faces, plus a pink hotel and Andersonian hijinks. I’ve been feeling a bit deflated about Anderson post-Isle of Dogs, but this was back in the good old days. And I watched it with my family over Thanksgiving break. Anderson has another film coming out next year, so maybe that will get me back on the train?
  • Nightcrawler: Brilliantly chilling thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who sells grisly camera footage to news outlets.  Rene Russo is also great and similarly distressing to watch.  Examines the ties between unethical journalism and consumer demand.
  • Big Hero 6: Completely different from the preceding film, Big Hero 6 has a very big heart and watching it is like receiving a very big hug.  I remember it was very popular when it came out but it doesn’t get talked about as much anymore, which is a shame.
  • Ernest & Celestine: A French animated film based on a children’s series, depicting the touching friendship between a big bear (Ernest) and a little mouse (Celestine).
  • The Book of Life: So I guess 2014 was a big year for animation, for me.  To save the love of his life, Manolo sacrifices himself and must journey through the Land of the Remembered, meeting his ancestors along the way. Stop comparing it to Coco. Do you know how many Christmas movies there are? We can have more than one film about the Day of the Dead and Mexican tradition. Thanks.

Honorable mentions: The Wind Rises, Gone Girl, Edge of Tomorrow (good film but if I see poor Emily Blunt do the sexy stretch one more time I’m going to break something), Imitation Game.

I have not seen: Boyhood, It Follows, Highway, or The Lunchbox.

A Decade of Films: 2013

This is a short list, in large part because I’ve missed a large number of films from 2013.

But I did enjoy…

  • From Up on Poppy Hill: It’s a cute anime!
  • Blackfish: A devastating documentary about what captivity does to orcas!
  • The Conjuring:  A great modern horror film that has since created an expanded universe of lesser modern horror films. Excepting Annabelle: Creation. That sh*! was nasty.
  • Her: Joaquin Phoenix falls for disembodied AI Scarlett Johansson. Relatable.

I have not yet seen (but do intend to see): Room 237, In the House, The Hunt, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years a Slave, Oldboy, and The Past.

On the Oscars

I’ve seen a lot of takes mentioning how this is the second year in a row that no women have been nominated for best director, as though this were the exception and not the rule, as though this has been a troubling new trend and not the actual modus operandi of the academy. Because yes, while Greta Gerwig was nominated two years ago for Lady Bird, you have to go back to 2010 to see another female director nominated (Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”). The Oscars have existed for 92 years, and in that time only 7 women have been nominated (and 6 black people, all men).

The Oscar nominees this year are overwhelmingly white and male, despite a number of excellent films featuring/created by women and POC.

It goes without saying that women and POC face challenges breaking into The film industry (and many many other industries) that aren’t present for white men. And even beyond that, the work of these creators is then judged against a conception of art established by the work of an overwhelmingly white and male canon of classics and an overwhelmingly white and male body of critics. So we call it great art when Scorsese does the same thing as usual but for 40 minutes longer (ditto for Tarantino) but struggle to apply the term to the story of a Chinese-American who returns to China with her family to visit her dying (but unaware of it) grandmother (Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”).

I recently watched a review of Little Women in which the reviewer said that he most enjoyed the parts featuring Timothée Chalamet (sad boy extraordinaire) and Tracy Letts, because, having not had sisters, he couldn’t identify with the rest of the film. I’ve never had a sister. And while Little Women maybe ostensibly, on the most superficial of levels, be about sisters, the film itself is about so much more. It’s hard to understand how anyone could fail to see this. How anyone who can readily identify with a race car driver, a hitman, or a superhero would draw the line at ‘sisters’.
I wish it were only a lack of imagination, because the more sinister (and also more likely) option, is that there are a lot of people who (whether consciously or subconsciously) who don’t want to identify with women or POC, who don’t want to put in the effort to interest themselves in their stories.
So is it lack of practice? You can learn empathy. It’s frightening to think of people with more power not wanting to recognize themselves in people “below them”, not wanting to confront evidence of the humanity of people relatively lacking in that power.

Another reviewer called the inciting incident in Queen & Slim (which, full disclosure, I haven’t seen yet, it’s not out here), in which a black couple on a first date are pulled over by a cop (for no discernable reason) and face the threat of police brutality a “contrivance”. That, with The Hate U Give coming out a year before, Queen & Slim was “redundant”. Police brutality, something that threatens the lives of African Americans every single day, a contrivance. A trope. I clearly have a lot of words, but none can describe how this makes me feel. A black story told more than once is more than enough. A white story told more than once is a classic. Forget that there are people fearing for their lives, people dying. If telling these stories isn’t at least part of what art is for, then what good is our art?

So I know I’m not a critic, and I know no one cares, but I’m rooting for Bong Joon-Ho and Parasite. But neither of those are bets I would place. Todd Phillips shouldn’t have been nominated, Lupita Nyong’o being passed over for her dual role in Us is a disappointment, but they would have just kicked out Cynthia Erivo (the only black best actress nominee, “Harriet”). I would have liked to see Eddie Murphy nominated, and would have been happy with another Best Director nomination for Gerwig, although my personal choice would have been Céline Sciamma (“Portrait de la jeune fille en feu/Portrait of a Lady on Fire”).

By all means do some research or do a quick Google, but here’s a short list of films directed by women that I think should have gathered Oscar consideration, that I enjoyed, that told different stories, and/or that I’m hoping to see:
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Farewell, Hustlers, Little Women, (and the following which I haven’t seen) Atlantics, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Birds of Passage, Honey Boy, Little Woods, Queen & Slim, The Souvenir, Tigers are Not Afraid.
And I’m sure I’m leaving some off.

The logistics of searching for directors based on race is harder, but the main additions to those listed above are Parasite and Us, as well as a number of the international films. Partial credit to Dolemite is my Name for telling a black story with a lot of input from Eddie Murphy, even with a largely white team.

I understand that focusing on this in a world shared by bushfires in Australia, political assassination in the Middle East, earthquakes in Puerto Rico, late capitalism, etc. is… questionable, but despite my ongoing efforts to educate myself, I still feel more qualified to talk about films than retaliatory violence against student protestors in India (for now). I also feel that if the work of women and POC continues to get less praise and make less money (in any sphere), the fewer opportunities these people will get. People will be less willing to support their work when it does get made. And back to the beginning, ad infinitum.

Best Movies of the Decade, 2012

2012 was a much better year in terms of movies than the one that came before.

My favorites as follows, in no particular order:

  • The Secret World of Arrietty: An excellent Studio Ghibli animated film based on the book The Borrowers. A good watch if you, like me, are someone who likes imagining what you would do if you were very very tiny. I blame a childhood spent watching George Shrinks.
  • 21 Jump Street: I don’t usually enjoy modern comedies, but this is one of the few exceptions.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are great together, the premise is good, and performances are good all around.
  • Moonrise Kingdom: Moonrise Kingdom was my first Wes Anderson movie and one of the first movies where I really realized how amazing the theater experience can be.  It’s an aesthetically beautiful movie, a musically beautiful movie, and my enjoyment of it was certainly aided by the freshness of never before having seen Anderson’s particular style of quirk.  That all said, it’s one of his best and is probably one of the more important films in my movie-viewing history.
  • Rise of the Guardians: This is an underseen, under-rated animated Christmas film that takes place around Easter.  Long story short, a group of magical mythical heroes (The Tooth Fairy, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and Jack Frost) must team up to protect the children and the hopes and the dreams from Pitch Black/The Bogeyman.  The Easter Bunny is Hugh Jackman.  Santa/North looks like a very Daddy version of Auguste Rodin. Jack Frost is also hot. Wholesome content.
  • Skyfall: I very much like Daniel Craig James Bond and this is one of his better ones (Second to Casino Royale).
  • Django Unchained: I used to think I couldn’t stand Quentin Tarantino but have come to a change of opinion, largely through Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained.  I was thinking recently about how some of Tarantino’s movies seem to show a desire to retcon history, to take injustices and rewrite them.  I like him best when he plays in this sandbox.

I didn’t see: Monsieur Lazhar, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Magic Mike, Samsara, The Master, Looper, A Late Quartet, or Amour.

Favorite Films of the Decade, 2011

Fun fact, 2011 was a really bad year for films.  I only have two favorites.

  • Rango: Yes, the animated Western about a lizard (?) contending with a drought and a posse, featuring a cameo from an also-animated Man With No Name.  Rango is odd, charming, oddly charming and charmingly odd in all the best ways.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil: You know the horror trope where savage hillbillies hunt down and kill visiting city kids/people?  This horror-comedy upends that entirely- in that mild-mannered hillbillies Tucker and Dale only murder the kids through a series of unforeseeable accidents.  But maybe the kids are actually out to get them? Warning for excessive blood and gore.

I have not yet seen: I Saw the Devil, Point Blank, Warrior, Moneyball, The Skin I Live In, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin, or Pina.
So maybe those would round out my list? Because all in all, this is sad.

Favorite Films of the Decade, Part One: 2010

My favorite thing to do is start out a fairly obvious list with its own list of special disclosures that make everything much more complicated than it needs to be.
As 2019 and the 2010s draw to a close, I’m starting to think about favorites, namely my favorite films of 2019.  While I’ve seen a lot of movies this year (probably more new releases than any other year), there are still exactly 19 movies that I have not seen (many because they have not yet been released in France).  In order to buy myself more time to catch up, and to get myself in the movie-list-making mood, I’ve decided to do a quick look at the past decade, starting with 2010.
Disclosure: I know that technically decades go 1-10, 11-20, etc.  But that’s because some idiot who didn’t understand math/had never used a ruler decided to call the first year Year One, as opposed to Year Zero, as he should have.  That’s like saying your newborn baby is already a year old. Let’s stop with the nonsense. My decade is 10-19.
Disclosure: I haven’t seen all of the films from 2010.
This list is in no particular order.
Some films I saw too long ago to make a good call about. I’ll mention those after.

  • Black Swan: Black Swan was a big one for me, given my love of Natalie Portman and ballet.  And the depiction of destructive magical thinking really resonated with my little OCD heart.  The ending is a bit on the nose in terms of hammering home the ‘theme’, but I don’t mind.
  • The Secret of Kells: This is a brilliant and brilliantly strange animation by the same group that did Song of the Sea.  It’s beautiful, it’s intricate, and it’s magical. I do like Song of the Sea better but that may just be because it involves the ocean.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: I’ve enjoyed the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy right through to the end, and Hiccup (Harold, if you’re in France) has had a great arc over the course of the saga. I would still say the first film is the best.
  • Toy Story 3: It was a good year for animation.  Toy Story 3 was the first film I saw in the series as a more or less adult, and it carried some pretty dark themes.  It hit me pretty hard and I loved every minute of it.  I do think this was the natural end for the franchise, and while Toy Story 4 this year was nice enough, I found it largely uncalled for and, in the end, unearned.
  • Inception: Inception is one of those that I expect will go down as a modern classic.  It’s still very much appreciated and talked about, and I would say rightfully so.
  • Mao’s Last Dancer: While Inception is as much a people’s favorite as it is my favorite, this one is a bit more niche, what with the ballet and the politics.  It’s excellent.
  • Undertow: This I saw the most recently, which is to say only about a year ago.  It’s a foreign film about sexual identity, secrets, intolerance, and the fallout.  Would make a good triple feature with The Talented Mr. Ripley and Call Me By Your Name.
  • True Grit: Back when I didn’t have any idea who the Coen brothers were.  It’s a great cast and a great Western, a remake of a John Wayne film (which no, I have not yet seen). Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. and I believe also Matt Damon?
  • The Social Network: Facebook’s just gotten more and more shady as time’s gone on, hasn’t it?

Yes, that is 9 films, not 10. We’re leaving a space open for whatever film I haven’t seen/saw to long ago. Like the guy you leave a seat for at passover.
(Can you tell I’m not religious?)

I have NOT seen Never Let Me Go, Grizzly Man, Restrepo, The Fighter, and many others.

Things I saw a long time ago: The Runaways, Easy A, Ondine, and The King’s Speech. I have mixed feelings about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Shrek Forever After does not make the list.

The Best Vegan Pizza Places in Paris

You may remember two summers ago when I took it upon myself to find the best vegan pizza available in the greater Boston area (if not, here’s a link). From that arduous but also delicious process, I learned two things: 1) there’s some damn good pizza out there but nothing will ever beat ‘pizza a la my Dad’ and 2) the best way to really get comfy with a city is to explore its pizza joints.

I was already hella comfortable with Boston and its surrounding urbs, having lived there for the greater part of my twenty two years of life (exceptions made for institutions of higher education and that’s about it), but when I moved to France last September there was no way I wasn’t going to follow up my earlier research.  In part because I wanted to get to know Paris on the truly profound level of having a favorite pizza place, but mostly because I’m convinced living without pizza is intolerable and ultimately irreconcilable with the human condition.

And so here it is: The Best Pizza Places in Paris, in the order in which I discovered them.

  • The Best By the Slice: Hank Pizza
    18 rue des Gravilliers, Paris, France, 75003
    In my opinion, Hank is the best when it comes to set price meal formulas.  An individual slice of pizza comes in at 5 euros, but two slices of pizza, a drink, and a dessert or salad comes in at a very attractive 13 euros. Want the dessert and the salad? It will only set you back 15.  And the desserts are certainly hard to resist- like everything else in the restaurant they’re completely vegan.
    A few exciting new additions to Hank’s offerings include the Pepe Roni (with vegan pizza and oregano) as well as a gluten free crust option.  My personal favorite is Le Costaud, with grilled squash, eggplant, and artichoke.
    Located in the very happening Marais neighborhood, Hank is a bit of a Parisian hipster hangout.  If you want to blend with the locals, make sure you pronounce the name as ‘honk’ like a goose- or really ‘hawnque’ if you want to go the whole nine authentic yards.  What does it mean? It’s an acronym for ‘Have a nice kindness’!
  • The Best Hole in the Wall: Veg’Art
    123 rue Oberkampf, Paris, France, 75011
    I’m not going to pretend I’m completely impartial- Veg’Art is my favorite of Paris’s pizza places and the only thing convincing me to betray it’s ‘best-kept secret’ status is the fear that it may ever close due to lack of patronage.  It’s easy to miss even if you’re looking hard (both at shop signs and google maps) and the interior is limited to only six seats.  The pizza also takes a little while to come.
    So why is it my favorite?  The toppings are extremely generous, the prices are eminently reasonable, the menu options are extensive, and my gluten free friends will be excited to hear that they’ll be at least as well taken care of here as at Hank.  Apart from the classics, they also offer some very creative pizzas, both on the permanent menu (the Indienne and the Mexicaine come to mind) and on a seasonally rotating basis (the recent Autumn pizza included chestnuts and tofu as toppings!).
    On my most recent visit I got the Valentina, a pizza topped with vegan cheese, pistou, and roquette/rocket/arugula.  It was like a pizza with a salad on top, and also kind of like paradise.
    If you’re not feeling like pizza, they also sell salads, a vegan burger, a vegetable tart, and samosas.
    One warning- the complete vegan-ness of this restaurant is attended by some aggressive animal welfare decor and stickers. Apparently it’s been toned down a lot in recent years, but be cognizant if you’re planning on making your visit in mixed dietary company.  Still, one of the friends I took here still hasn’t figured out that his pizza was vegan, so I guess it can’t have been as overt as I felt?
  • The Best Personalized Pizza: Happiz Sablons
    23 rue des Sablons (at Place de Mexico), Paris, France, 75116
    Happiz is a vegetarian pizza place with a  a fun conceit, which is that you get to tick off your pizza desires on a white board-type menu with a dry erase marker.  In short, it’s the answer to every picky pizza eater’s dreams.  Though it’s not strictly vegan, vegan cheese and meat stand-ins are definitely on the menu, and you can specify a gluten free crust.
    Happiz has a very upbeat and sunshine-y vibe- in fact, it’s name is perfectly apropos.  Not only was there an adorable family with many young children there for a celebratory meal when I visited, but the restaurant is owned by some of the nicest food service people (Parisian or otherwise) whom I have ever encountered. Bonus: you order at a counter built and painted to look like a yellow truck.  Great place for kids young and old.
    Of course, the risk of the personalized pizza is drowning you crust and base in mountains of toppings, and I have to say it’s a trap I all too willingly fell into, which made for a slightly messy eating experience as my slices succumbed to the weight of my merguez, squash, and eggplant.
    There’s a beautiful park nearby, the Place Trocadero, and you can see the Eiffel tower just across the Seine.
  • The Best Upscale Pizza: Janine Loves Sunday
    49 rue Montmartre, Paris, France, 75002
    While my preferences generally run toward the most casual of restaurant settings, I make an exception every once in a while for a particularly promising place.  This bar qualified in part because of the exciting pizza options, but also because I wanted to scope out the prospect of a vegan banana split (affirmative!).
    Pizza is only one of the things on Janine’s extensive menu (please refer to the banana split).  There’s also kebab, pad thai, risotto, burgers, and a whole host of attractive desserts.
    So far as I know, there is no gluten-free pizza option at the brasserie, but there is a beautiful outdoor seating area (covered in the event of rain). Not a big help if you have celiac disease, but lovely nonetheless.
    Some bonuses? Because it’s a bar, the hours are also very forgiving for any late night eaters.  It’s also pretty close to the shopping and metro hub, Chatelet-Les Halles.
  • The Best Turkish Pizza: Bulldog Vegan
    83 rue de Rochechouart, Paris, France, 75009
    So here is where the secrets come out.  I originally wrote this post perhaps a year ago, never posted it, and am now adding this place as a last (but not least) addition before I hit ‘publish’.  In a way I’m glad the busy-ness of school made me wait.  This joint was established in 2019- just this year- and was perhaps no more than a glimmer in someone’s eye when I wrote the beginning of this post.  Bulldog Vegan offers burgers and fries, Turkish pizza, sandwiches, and calzones.  While Turkish pizza isn’t what many of us Westerners will feel qualifies as pizza (it’s kind of like a burrito with lentil spread and salad filling), I HIGHLY recommend the pide with no reservations.  The best way to describe pide is as a more emotionally vulnerable calzone.  Or a calzone undergoing open heart surgery.  Really google images might be your best bet here.  But whatever it is and however best to describe it, what truly matters is that it is delicious and there is some in my fridge right at this moment.  Bulldog Vegan also serves traditional pizza, but given the scarcity of vegan Turkish cuisine, why not go for a pide followed by a delicious serving of vegan baklava?

I hope I’ll be writing a bit more often, as I’ve very much missed it.  My tone is a bit off at the moment because I’ve been writing a term paper for a few hours, but that will wear off.  If you’re concerned that any of the above information has become outdated since I originally wrote it, have no fear. I have continued to eat pizza and my opinions still stand.
Much love and much pizza,
Mimsy