January 3rd 2014
As ever, the start of a new year can mean only one thing: the arrival of the Coddies. Well, two things: the arrival of the Coddies and the arrival of the annual Q&A retrospective thingy I do every year. Except I've not done that one yet. So it just means the Coddies. And, in the world outside this blog, fireworks and new calendars and improbable resolutions regarding weight loss.
Anyways, for those of you who aren't familiar - or have forgotten - the Coddies owes a lot to the Oscars (or vice versa) but with the added requirement that I must either have seen the film on DVD or at the cinema. If it's DVD then the film must have been released in the UK in 2013; if it's the cinema then it must have been on general release in 2013 but could have been released in late 2012. I have seen 27 such films this year (I'm not counting Upside Down, which was released on Region 2 DVD in 2013 but hasn't had cinematic or DVD release in the UK. It wasn't very good, anyway, so the point is moot), and all of them have received at least one nomination except The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jack Reacher, Man of Steel and Now You See Me. Overall 2013 has not been a stellar year in my book, with several films not living up to expectations, but there have been some jewels amid the dust.
Les Misérables - I must admit that I haven't seen the stage musical, but this wonderful adaptation is an emotional and adept telling of Victor Hugo's classic novel, packing in Jean Valjean's life story and how he impacts the lives of those around him. The direction and acting are first class, and the classic songs are performed superbly while taking full advantage of being on the big screen rather than the stage, e.g. in the intercuts for "One Day More".
Gravity - an astonishing feat of film-making that has been universally (ho ho) hailed as one of the films of the year.
Gangster Squad - an incredibly stylish gangster film with a strong cast and a zippy pace, this has been badly under-appreciated.
The World's End - the finale is a little jarring, but this is a very funny film and a fitting end to the Cornetto Trilogy.
About Time - a lovely and endearing film that doesn't contain a cynical frame in its running time.
Lincoln - I admired rather than loved this film, but there's no denying that it's a highly worthy effort with a first rate cast on form.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) - for the second year in a row I've plumped for the man who won the Oscar, but there can be no arguing with this towering performance. Watching this film, you forget within seconds that you're seeing anyone other than Abraham Lincoln himself, and the strength of the portrayal doesn't waver for a second.
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables) - probably the second best performance since I started the Coddies, he's unlucky to have produced it in a year that contained Daniel Day-Lewis. Powerful and wide-ranging.
Daniel Brühl (Rush) - it was marketed as a James Hunt biopic, but it's really a two-hander with Brühl's Niki Lauda stealing it.
Forest Whitaker (The Butler) - a good central performance in a film that generally tries a bit too hard.
Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines) - a characteristically intriguing role, sadly in a very poorly executed film.
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) - he blends natural leadership with helplessness in a typically strong performance.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock (Gravity) - even putting aside the constrictions she was placed under, where her every movement had been strictly choreographed well in advance, this is a wonderful performance from Bullock. For the majority of the film she is alone on the screen and is the audience's proxy in a disaster film that, though incredibly imaginative, has a storyline that barely fills two lines of A4. If the film were merely visually stunning it would not work; it needs a talented lead to hold it together.
Rooney Mara (Side Effects) - she plays a complex and changeable character in a complex and changeable film.
Rachel McAdams (About Time) - it can't be easy playing someone this adorable, or we'd all be doing it. In life.
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks) - not a great deal of subtlety here, but certainly a memorable creation.
Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) - last year's winner, in the same role, Lawrence performs admirably but possibly senses that the material is not as strong as last time.
Amy Acker (Much Ado About Nothing) - in an affable adaptation, she gives good Beatrice.
Edgar Wright (The World's End) - with Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Hot Fuzz, Wright has repeatedly shown himself to be almost certainly the best director of comedy in the world. While this film doesn't quite live up to the heights of the first two on that list, it it still probably the funniest film of the year and that is down to the direction at least as much as the performances of the cast. It is also thought out in incredible depth, rewarding repeat viewings in a way that most directors wouldn't bother with.
Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) - he provides a masterclass in building tension and maintaining lucidity.
Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) - after making such an astonishing and visionary film, he deserves a nice lie down for about five years.
Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) - he brings together all the strands of Les Mis in an epic and beautiful film.
Ron Howard (Rush) - his trademark of strong, character-driven films doesn't disappoint in this paean to speed.
Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) - the film has plot weaknesses, but it is beautifully shot in a distinct visual style.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad) - this category hasn't been as strong as in previous years, but Gosling is always worth watching and his supporting role here blends romantic hero with amoral coward with steely avenger. It sounds like a conflict on paper but he brings the character to life and is highly watchable throughout.
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) - a first-time actor, his conflicted pirate is something Hollywood hasn't shown us before.
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) - clearly relishing a meaty role and a good script, he sinks his teeth in well.
Sean Penn (Gangster Squad) - speaking of teeth, this is scenery-chewing villainy at its most enjoyable.
Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3) - an impressive dual role and possibly the funniest character to appear in a comic book film.
Tom Hanks (Saving Mr Banks) - playing Disney for Disney needs plenty of gumption, and Hanks has that. Gumption, you see.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Field (Lincoln) - not without reason is she Hollywood royalty, and this film brings out the best in Field as Lincoln's selfish wife, who rails against her husband even as he fights against slavery. If the script paints Lincoln and his wife with brushstrokes a little too broad, Field (as well, of course, as Day-Lewis) is more than capable of bringing life and complexity to the part.
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables) - Hollywood always overvalues actresses who dare to play unattractive, but this is still a mightily powerful performance that deserves to be definitive.
Mila Kunis (Oz: The Great and Powerful) - a surprisingly moving portrayal in a film that doesn't quite succeed in what it wants to be.
Samantha Barks (Les Misérables) - another incredibly moving performance from the least well known of the Les Mis cast.
Eva Mendes (The Place Beyond the Pines) - an unglamorous role, and one that could have been great had the script allowed.
Emma Stone (Gangster Squad) - she always brings more to a part than is on the page, and does so again here.
Best Visual Effects
Life of Pi - the tiger alone represents a great leap forward in visual effects. The film itself didn't offer enough to go alongside the stunning visuals, but they made it an incredible cinema experience nonetheless.
Gravity - a breathtaking film, quite literally, which is effect-driven (as well as actor-driven) from start to finish.
Thor: The Dark World - each of the several worlds shown is done well and feels more genuine than in the first film.
Star Trek Into Darkness - remarkable, even if many of the film's flaws are down to having too much money to spend on effects.
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Drew Pearce; Shane Black (Iron Man 3) - finally a script that matches up to Downey Jr's consistently funny performances, this is strong on humour (the Mandarin and the kid particularly), although lets itself down a bit when the action hits in the final third. Still, it is the strength of the script that makes this by some distance the best Iron Man film.
Joss Whedon (Much Ado About Nothing) - he can't complain about the source material, but this is a nicely intimate version.
Tony Kushner (Lincoln) - he refuses to dumb down the sometimes arcane legislative process. Well, mostly.
William Nicholson; Alain Boublil; Claude-Michel Schonberg; Herbert Kretzmer (Les Misérables) - an adaptation of an adaptation, this maintains a strong narrative thrust and maintains characterisation alongside the songs.
Best Writing – Original Screenplay
Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects) - twisting, turning and truly original, this script just stops short of being too clever for its own good.
Peter Morgan (Rush) - like the documentary Senna, this is a racing film that can appeal to people who don't like racing.
Edgar Wright; Simon Pegg (The World's End) - as I said above, the end is jarring; but otherwise it is clever and comic.
Daniel Gerson; Robert L. Baird; Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) - although it's pretty formulaic plot-wise, this prequel remains true to the main characters while adding a raft of new ones.
Best Animated Film
Monsters University - it doesn't disappoint, giving us a different kind of film to Monsters, Inc. but still one that is enjoyable and amusing.
Wreck-It Ralph - the premise (Toy Story for computer game characters) is promising, but is not explored as well as it could have been.
January 11th 2014
1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
Bought a house, fridge freezer, washing machine, door bell and car. And mats to go in a car. Drove a car on the road. Had a driving lesson. Took a driving test. Passed a driving test. Became a church treasurer. Applied (unsuccessfully) for a TV gameshow. Wrote a couple of things for the OUP blog.
2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year my stated resolution was to read all of Agatha Christie. I didn't read any, so that was pretty solid. This year my resolution - which I've already said here - is to update my blog at least once a week, and this entry represents my ongoing commitment to that resolution. You're welcome.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I was quite close to a maternity ward at one point, so yeah. But even if you take a non-geographical interpretation of the word 'close' then you've got Asher Clohesy, George Rawling, Josiah Lee and, as usual, no doubt many others that I can't remember. You better believe that's a-birthing.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
I went to Wales and, on my return, England. I'm thinking of taking on a job with Lonely Planet.
6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Last year I said I'd like to catch up with Tom, and I'm glad to say that I did that at last a few weeks ago. This year I'd like to visit California, which is fortunate given that I've paid for the plane tickets already, and I'd also like a lawn mower. That's probably something I can achieve, but then it's good to have achievable goals.
7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I hate to be obvious, but the two big occasions of the year have to be passing my driving test and moving into my new house. They're the two biggest changes in my life for a goodly while.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
See previous answer. Also, I switched to wet shaving.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Having my first car accident within a couple of weeks of having my first car wasn't a complete triumph. Also I failed to get onto Pointless, so perhaps this is the year to re-apply with Simon (instead of Dave) and hope that twins are still as exciting for TV audiences as they ever were.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not that I recall. Although my heart did break a little when Wolves got relegated for the second year in a row.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
It's the house, again. Associated: the worst thing I bought, in terms of value for money, was the services of lawyers who charge the earth to do very little. Slowly. At least they were probably slightly better conveyancers than the firm who spelled 'conveyancers' incorrectly on their website.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Tom & Catriona, Guy & Shona and Matt & Jenny, who got married (in separate pairings and on separate occasions; it wasn't one big six-person marriage); Dave and Victoria, who got engaged; Matt and Steve, who didn't get married or engaged but did help me move house; Michael J. Fox, who returned to the small screen last year playing a man with Parkinson's; Andy Murray. And, although it's going to be more a celebration for this year, let's not forget Simon almost became a doctor in 2013. Unless something fairly unprecedented happens, he'll be officially Dr. Thomas well before I write this next year. Oh, and the wonderful people behind the superb Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice through the medium of vlogging... I know I mentioned it last year, but it finished in 2013.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Mostly the Wolves team, who followed 2012's relegation with another relegation in 2013. I was also unimpressed by the folk behind Man of Steel, a mightily underwhelming return of the Superman franchise and possibly the most disappointing film of the year. Then there were my lawyers, who were fairly depressing - as I think I mentioned - but, on the other hand, I love saying "my lawyers". Finally, Vicky Pryce.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Driving lessons weren't cheap, but given that I put £75k of my own money towards the deposit for my house, it does rather win this question by a country mile.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
One of the things I'd been looking forward to for years was the publication of the final Wheel of Time book, and it didn't disappoint.
16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
Oddly, it could well be This Little Light of Mine, which was the song that Bruce Springsteen et al played to open and close his gig at the Millennium Stadium. That was part of the Wrecking Ball tour, before Miley Cyrus appropriated the title later in the year. The Boss kept rather more of his clothes on.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
I'm feeling a bit sad at the moment, but that's just about a thing that's going on at the moment... in general, probably about the same.
ii. thinner or fatter?
I think this might be the first time in years that I'm actually a bit thinner. Which says more about how much I ate in 2012 than anything else.
iii. richer or poorer?
In pure money terms I'm much, much poorer - but if you count assets then I'm probably richer. Especially if the housing market goes up.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
I want to make sure I keep in touch with Uni people, which still happened on plenty of occasions last year but could improve this year. Plans are already afoot to see Ant, Rich, Steve and others.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Who knows, I could be spending it at my house. But I won't be. At least until Dad retires, I rather expect to continue celebrating it at my parents' (and Sherpa's) house. And I'll be lustily singing the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful.
21. How did it take you so many years to notice that this thing doesn't have a Question 21?
Will you stop asking me that?
22. Did you fall in love in 2013?
I did not.
24. What was your favourite TV program?
As well as the staples from previous years (HIMYM, Doctor Who, Community, Pointless etc.) I got into the excellent Parks and Recreation, thanks to the combined efforts of my two most recent housemates. This was also the year that I realised The Graham Norton Show had become much better than The Jonathan Ross Show. Not only are the guests consistently a cut above, but it's almost always very funny and well-structured. The exception was when the cast of Man of Steel were there and the laughs flowed thin and slow - mainly thanks to Russell Crowe's long and boring stories - which perhaps should have served to lower my expectations of the film itself.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Donny Osmond. Just kidding.
26. What was the best book you read?
I'm currently reading the first volume of Mark Lewisohn's history of the Beatles, which is incredibly well-researched and manages to shed fresh light on the history of the most famous band in the world. Another wonderful book was Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, which Sebastian Faulks wrote so well that at times it was difficult to tell the difference between his writing and that of PG Wodehouse himself.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I can't really claim Bruce Springsteen as a muscial discovery, but I do recommend his album Wrecking Ball. Last year I mentioned Funeral by Arcade Fire, which has only risen in my estimation since then and might be, in my view, the best album since the 1970s.
28. What did you want and get?
A house. No facial hair.
29. What did you want and not get?
I'm wondering how much money I have to make before girls start wanting me for my money. Surely that should be happening by now? Maybe 2014.
30. What was your favourite film of this year?
You've already seen the Coddies, but if you extend the question to films released in previous years that I saw for the first time last year, the best films were Casablanca, Kramer vs. Kramer and Psycho.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old?
I was 28, and celebrated by going to a quiz at the Ship Inn where we won the lightning round. 28 is a perfect number, and that ain't happening again to me.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I think it was pretty satisfying, all round. It would have been better if I'd persuaded anyone to call their child Colin.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
My coat zip is broken.
34. What kept you sane?
Self-hypnosis on a monumental scale.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
As well as Neve Campbell and Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams really won my heart in About Time. She's adorable. I should write and tell her.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I didn't get that excited by politics in 2013, although I still took the time to defend the Tories when the chance arose.
37. Whom did you miss?
I missed Dave when he headed off to Suffolk and I began my life as a person living alone. The first time I've lived alone, in fact, which I forgot to mention above.
38. Who was the best new person you met?
Joining a new home group meant that I got to meet James & Mon and Sarah & Mark, which was excellent. Sadly I haven't really met my new neighbours yet (although I did get a Christmas card from a couple of them), so I'm hoping to get to know them this year. Oh, and my driving instructor was thankfully a good chap (and a Christian), which made it a lot easier to go through the driving lesson experience.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:
Flashing amber means give way to any pedestrians already crossing.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Now it seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table
Desperado - Eagles
January 18th 2014
Would you like the good news or the bad news first? The bad news? OK. The bad news is that my car wasn't accelerating properly up hills this morning. The good news is that I met up with my friend Matt, who correctly suggested that it might just be because my car mat had got wedged under the acceleration pedal. Apparently the same thing happened to him once. So, all in all, good news: the car's working fine.
But wait! There's more good news, and this time it isn't based on me being an idiot (because, if we're honest, the car mat story could accurately be summarised as 'neutral news', along the lines of my house not burning down and Michael Palin not being assassinated): I passed an exam. Long-term readers might recall that I qualified as an actuary nearly three years ago and so don't really have any business taking exams any more, but I assure you that I'm not just going through them all again; this was an additional exam called the Practice Module, which is mostly taken by qualified actuaries and is needed if I ever want any rather important jobs that I rather expect not ever to want. I took it, really, because it's a nice thing to have (and fulfils a few hours of the CPD I need to do every year) and, being an online multiple choice exam, wouldn't require too much preparation. Anyhow, this is probably the last exam I'll ever do. But I've said that before.
In other news, you might have spotted that President Hollande of France has been having an affair, and I must admit I'm somewhat bemused by the press coverage in this country which keeps telling me that the French don't really care about infidelity. The Times (which, sorry, is what I really meant by 'press coverage in this country') has clearly been stifling sniggers as it all but says that the bloke's a damned frog, so of course he's having an affair; the running theme in all the articles I've read is that the French care deeply about press intrusion and (more sniggers) a leader riding a pathetic little scooter, but give a Gallic shrug of the shoulders when it comes to a man cheating on his partner. Can this really be true? I mean, can a nation only a few miles away from ours really not care at all about marital (or, in the case of Hollande, non-marital) fidelity? About trust, honesty and love? Yes, love; no one is ever going to persuade me that you can love your partner and cheat on them at the same time, even if some contributors to the Times are claiming exactly that this week. I rather suspect that the French have a bit more decency than that, and the massive sales of Closer magazine - which broke the story - rather gives the lie to their supposed indifference, but they've still shown themselves to be a funny old country.
If David Cameron were rumbled having an affair, there would be national outcry and he wouldn't have any serious ambition of retaining office. To be honest, I'm not sure we're anywhere near having a prime minister who isn't married to their partner - that's why Ed Miliband tied the knot, isn't it? - but the idea of a confirmed adulterer trying to remain PM is frankly unimaginable. Well, there is an exception: it's Boris. He's always the exception. Anyways, you could argue that the skills and abilities required of a prime minister have nothing to do with keeping your trousers on, and it's probably a reasonable point, but quite simply I wouldn't want a national leader who was a cad. And an adulterer is a cad. I'm sorry to use such strong language, but it is something I feel strongly about; I don't know why the French feel any less strongly.
January 24th 2014
One of the things I learned this week is that there's a page on Wikipedia for famous fictional actuaries. It turns out that there are actually more fictional actuaries of note than there are non-fictional ones; in fact, I think David Wilkie is the most famous actuary I've ever heard of, and he's almost entirely unfamous. Dear reader, I am probably the most famous actuary you know. But I didn't choose this way of life the fame and glory; I chose it because actuaries are cool and sexy. I thought I'd make a good fit.
In similar news, there was an exciting day at work on Thursday as the generator in Basingstoke went kaput (I'm quite the electrical engineer, you know), casting us all into the darkness of not having a computer network. It's startling how much we rely on such things these days, and the lack of it meant there really wasn't any work I could do. So I went home, then spent the rest of the afternoon periodically trying to log on again (I couldn't) while watching Hearts of Darkness (I could). The good people of Community were right: it really is much better than Apocalypse Now.
In other news, I'm off to Suffolk this weekend to visit my old housemate Dave, and to see some top quality football at Portman Road. There's a first time for everything.
|what was I listening to?
Three to Tango soundtrack
|what was I reading?
Tune In - Mark Lewisohn
|what was I watching?
The Glenn Miller Story