And coming in just under the wire (literally two hours before the Oscars), I can finally say I've seen every Best Picture nomination, finishing up with Room.
Holy cats this was an intense film, based on the 2010 novel of the same name written by Emma Donoghue (who also adapted the script), the film follows a young boy named Jack (played amazingly by Jacob Tremblay) who lives in a room with his Ma (played by Brie Larson - who I will be shocked if I can't say Oscar-Winner Brie Larson by the end of tonight - that was such an amazing job!)
I don't want to get too much into the plot, but if you have the chance, and can deal with some significantly dark material, it is well worth the watch.
Of the eight films nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars, Spotlight was the one I knew the least about going in. I was aware of the original story, but I hadn't seen any of the trailers or advertising, so I went in about as cold as I'm likely to with a movie I've gone to see. Nominated for six awards, Spotlight follows the deep investigation team at the Boston Globe in the early 2000's as they uncovered and reported on the child abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese which opened up the topic for much of the world and ended up getting the series of articles a Pullitzer for public service. The story, considering it largely takes place in offices with people reading and/or talking on phones, moves a a really great pace, and the acting is pretty amazing. Having just one more Best Picture nomination to see, I feel pretty confident in saying Mark Ruffalo definitely deserves the Best Supporting Actor award for his work in the film.
A really great movie, and one I'm likely to see again.
A little preamble; this is my fourth China Miéville book (King Rat, The City and the City, and Kraken), and with Embassytown, and a big part of what I love about each of these is how he plays with genre and concepts in his faction.
In Embassytown much of what we look at is alien and language. Considering how tricky human languages are here on Earth (for example, did you know that there is no term in French for cool (as in temperature?) - just take a second and think of how much that alters the average francophones world view in terms of temperature), imagine how tricky it would be for a language with absolutely no shared points of interest.
The novel follows a woman named Avice Benner Cho, a child raised on the world of Arieka in the city of Embassytown who grows up to become an "immer", someone able to travel through an area of space around the world called the immer. The world itself is shared with an alien species called the Ariekei (also referred to as The Hosts), who have a concept of language that take a while get your head around.
The novel follows some key events in the city throughout the life of Avice and focuses largely on how different cultures work to understand each other without many shared reference points - for example the aliens don't really view most humans as sentient.
Although this wasn't my first experience with SF focused on questions of language, it was definitely the most immersive one I've ever come across.
Considering how most people view the business of espionage, either as a grim and dark job done (hopefully) well by our side and (hopefully) poorly by theirs, or as a backdrop for action adventure films like the Bond franchise, compelling stories about spies that also work to show a moral high ground are few and far between.
Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, however, does just this, but shifting the focus from the actual spying to the aftermath and it's complications, by looking at two historical events; The Hollow Nickel case and the 1960 U-2 Incident, and their legal and political consequences.
Following lawyer James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), the film does a remarkable job of showing a man doing a thankless task to the best of his abilities. In the first half of the film he works to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in a system where the judge, jury, and public opinion would all like him to work against his own client, but he simply focuses on the job he has been given and works to see it through.
In many ways the film feels like a Frank Capra picture, with the little guy standing up to the system to do what's right no matter how many times he's pushed down. Coupled with the eerie feel of Cold War Berlin (watching the Wall go up was a lot more affecting than I thought it would be) and the intricacies of political maneuverings, the film also works quite well as a thriller.
So this year, five years after finishing my Bachelors degree, I was feeling a little nostalgic for my favourite elective courses at Athabasca University, Ancient Greece, and Rome and Early Christianity I and II. Yup, we're talking Classics, and for me, a guy who majored in communication studies, I was just surprised to see how often a little knowledge of early Western Civilization would pay off in courses on Communications Theory, History, and specific communications mediums (Radio, TV, The Internet, etc.).
The first two novels on the list were both by an English author I had never heard of, Mary Renault, and focused on a retelling of the life of Theseus (Greek Mythological Hero, sent to Crete, put in a labyrinth, fought the Minotaur), The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull From the Sea (1962).
These two books, told directly from Theseus' perspective, were incredibly immersive and painted a pretty clear picture of Bronze Age Greece. The look at the cultures displayed was fascinating, seeing the story-behind-the-legend was enlightening, and although I'll be the first to admit that historical fiction is not a fair replacement for history, it can give a flavour and context to what otherwise can come across as a series of dates, events, and names.
The first of the two books was a little better than the second, but to be fair Theseus does most of his best stuff early on, and then a lot of terrible things happen so the second book had to work within that constraint.
A fascinating beginning to the a list of books I'm looking forward to reading over the next few years.
So back in 2014 I did a book review of a novel called High-Rise by J.G. Ballard - sort of a class struggle/lord of the flies mashup set in the UK and maybe a little more speculative than science fiction. Either way, I was a pretty big fan, and now look here - not only are they making a movie, but the first trailer has got me pretty interested...
Man, reading all that 70s-era SF has got me excited for all sorts of stuff!
Moving towards the end of the 70's in my reading of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books, Brian Stableford's The Walking Shadow (1979) takes a look at issues of time travel, futurism, and the question of destiny.
The book focuses on Paul Heisenberg, the author of a book called Science and Metascience and a scientific celebrity who, in front of thousands of people, appears to have been replaced by a perfect silver statue of himself. The statue is actually a sort of placeholder, and over a century later is replaced by Heisenberg again, who hasn't aged a day.
He now finds himself in a dystopian future, one in which many others have discovered how to jump forward in time, and who now view him as a sort of prophet. Upon awakening different factions of the government attempt to bend him to their cause while revolutionaries work to set him free.
The novel follows Heisenberg through his jumps across time and go to places few of us would expect to be waiting in our planet's future. I really don't want to go into specifics as part of the novel's structure works to have him figure out his new surroundings and attempt to find his place in it.
A fascinating read, and not likely to be my last from Stableford.
Continuing my yearly trek through the various best picture nominees, my latest film was the Adam McKay directed The Big Short, which was an incredibly entertaining, and turn hilarious and heartbreaking look at the financial crisis of 2007-08.
The film is made up of three and a half interlocking stories about various investors who predicted the housing crisis ahead of time, and worked to find a way to beat the system. The movie is narrated by a trader named Jared Vennett (played by Ryan Gosling), who brings the three main stories together and helps the audience along with the trickier bits of exposition necessary for a film like this; by using celebrity cameos and analogies which are both highly disturbing and entertaining.
This was a movie I was a little sure of coming into, but left feeling pretty amazed; unlike character driven movies this year like Brooklyn, The Martian, and The Revenant, this film is focused largely on an event most of us affected by, but few of us fully understood (me included).
This was actually the second Adam McKay-directed film about economics I've seen the last few years, the first being The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas, for the the online series We The Economy. That film was also pretty great, animated, and much more educational than expected. Check it out here!
Along with Brooklyn, this film may have been the most surprising to me from the nominees, as it's not my usual fare, but was an incredibly engaging film.
Working my way through the best novel winners of the World Fantasy Awards (WFA), I've discovered a lot of pretty great authors and rediscovered a few I hadn't read in a while. Tim Powers, for instance, wrote both a great fantasy novel I read years ago called The Drawing of the Dark (1979) and The Anubis Gates (1983) a pretty amazing time travel story as well.
So I was happy to return to this list after a few years and check out his 1993 WFA winner for best novel, Last Call.
The novel mixes card games and magic in a similar way to Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (1953), only in that one it was magic mixed with the academic world of Post Secondary Instructors and their spouses.
The book focuses on Scott Crane, a man with a complicated past, the origins of the city of Las Vegas and a magic system strongly tied in with games of chance and Tarot cards. Part of what I've loved about all of Power's books I've read is the fact that his fantastic elements seem to have so much work behind them; not only is the magic in Last Call well defined, but different characters understand it to different degrees and find it works (or doesn't work) in varied ways depending on what they are doing.
The story also ties in with the legend of The Fisher King, includes ghosts, questions of destiny, and family relationships. Although it did take me almost a week to read, I found the book to be quite engrossing and plan to check out the sequel Expiration Date (1995) later this month.