It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

With apologies to the Christmas season (which I do love), the time of year when I typically experience the greatest and most consistent sense of well-being is the mid-to-late spring time period we are in right now.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. It’s warm, and the days are getting longer.  In case you care, here are my favorite seasons in order: spring, fall, summer, winter.  I like change as long as it’s regular, predictable change, so the seasons in which the weather, plant life, and day length are going through obvious transformation are my favorite.  Of those two, I prefer the spring for the obvious reason that everything is coming back to life.  It’s not just the symbolism; I actually feel physically and mentally healthier (aside from pollen allergies) when the world is waking and warming up after the seemingly interminable winter.
  2. It’s a time for celebration.  This is the most exciting time of year in my world of academia.  I’ve always loved graduations, probably because I’m secretly British and therefore really enjoy pomp and ceremony (also “Pomp and Circumstance,” the graduation song).  As a Harry Potter fan, I also appreciate long robes and funny hats.  So even though I’m not a fan of crowds or of wearing heavy black garments in the blazing May sun, I enjoy putting on my doctoral regalia (for which I paid a hefty price in both effort and actual money) and marching around as a symbol of intellectual weightiness.  Even more, I enjoy seeing graduates celebrate with their loved ones and anticipate the future with joy and hope.  (Crap, I’m starting to cry!)  I especially like the opportunities this time of year provides to see students share what they’ve learned and what they’re passionate about.  (See my post on this from a couple of weeks ago.)
  3. I’m about to be a lot less busy.  Another good thing about working in academia is that, for most of us, there’s not as much going on in the summer.  I don’t truly get the summers off because I’m also an administrator and therefore on a 12-month contract, but I don’t teach on campus in the summer (I’ll have one online class), and the cycle of department, committee, and student meetings slows way down.  So I’m looking forward to reading the backlog of books I’ve bought over the past few months, spending lots of time outdoors, going to bed early more often, and having adventures (or just passing time) with my favorite people, near and far (because I also have more time to travel in the summer). I got a little taste of that this past weekend when I had only a few children’s lit papers left to grade.  Friday night I read a little bit of Jurassic Park (the book I’m reading for fun right now) and then went to bed at 9:30, with my windows open and my Thomas Newman Pandora station playing.  Saturday morning I got up at 5:30, threw some clothes on, got an iced caramel mocha at McDonald’s, and headed to a local park, where I spent three hours.  I did some yoga on the lake pier, walked around the lake (it’s more of a large pond), read my Bible and another book, and did some journaling.  That may not sound like a fun morning to you, but I had a great time.  And I still had the whole day ahead of me when I was finished!  This is why I sometimes fantasize about being retired.  Anyway, although point #3 has been, strictly speaking, about summer, I still count this as a reason why I love spring, because right now I’m just beginning to enjoy–and still anticipating–all the delights of the coming season.

Do you enjoy this time of year, and if so, why?  (That feels like an essay prompt.  It’s also final exam time.)

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my thoughts on the Oscar nominations

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that most years, I have at least a bit of commentary on the Oscar nominations.  I don’t predict the winners–it’s too early to do that anyway, and I don’t have the magic formula–but I like to throw in my two cents about whom and what I hope will win.

  1. Best Picture: This is an unusual year in that I had already seen three of the Best Picture contenders before the nominations were even released.  I’ve already shared my thoughts on Hacksaw Ridge in this post.  The other two I’ve seen are La La Land and Manchester by the Sea, two excellent films that are polar (or at least West Coast/East Coast) opposites in setting, aesthetic, and topic, but that both deal with the theme of rebuilding a life from the ruins of hardship and disappointment.  I’d be happy if either of those won the top prize.  Hacksaw Ridge won’t win it–because of its subject matter, its director, and its fairly conventional story trajectory.  Speaking of conventionality, I was surprised to see Hidden Figures on the list because the trailers made it look like a standard feel-good movie.  Trailers can be misleading, though.  As for the other nominees, Fences looks like the kind of emotionally raw family saga that the Academy loves, Arrival looks like one of those surprisingly deep space travel movies we’ve been seeing a lot of in recent years (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian), and the other three I have nothing to say about because I know next to nothing about them.
  2. Best Original Score: This is typically one of my favorite categories, but this year, with the exception of La La Land, it’s a total snoozefest so far–I say “so far” because I’ve been listening to all of the scores on Spotify throughout the day, and I just (like 30 seconds ago) started the last one, Passengers.  (I have hope for this one because it’s by my favorite film score composer, Thomas Newman.)  La La Land, as we would expect from a movie about music, has a very good score–it’s peppy and poignant by turns in all the right places.  One film whose score I would have included, if I’d been asked, would have been Manchester by the Sea.  Maybe it was left out because some of the finest musical moments in the film were not original at all but from Handel’s Messiah and other classical works.  But the original portion of the soundtrack was beautiful and unexpected for this understated story (it’s mostly choral, which gives the film a sacred quality).
  3. Miscellaneous categories they sneak in near the beginning of the broadcast when I’m out in the kitchen getting snacks: Know what else had a really good score?  My favorite movie of the year, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  James Newton Howard didn’t get nominated in that category, but the film did get nods for Production Design (formerly known as Art Direction) and Costume Design.  I think it’s significant that it was nominated in these categories rather than in those where we often see fantasy/franchise films, such as Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.  This seems to be another indication that the Harry Potter franchise is growing up–the Academy sees Fantastic Beasts as a period piece, not a special effects blockbuster.  By the way, I was cherishing a secret hope that Eddie Redmayne would get nominated for Best Actor for his third year in a row.  Alas.
  4. Best Animated Feature: I’ll close with this: One of the best films I saw in 2016, categories be darned, was Zootopia.  It dealt with serious current issues in a complicated, far from heavy-handed way, and it was that rare animated movie that remained a kids’ movie even while appealing to adults.  It should have been nominated for Best Picture, but I hope it at least wins the animated feature category.

I’ll probably blog about my reactions to the winners on February 27.  Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the nomination slate?

My annual Oscar rant

Right on cue, here is my yearly collection of thoughts on the Academy Awards.

  • Gravity is clearly going to win a lot of awards.  One that it seems nearly guaranteed to win is Achievement in Directing for Alfonso Cuarón.  When people like me think of Alfonso Cuarón, we think of his darkly whimsical interpretation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Do you think he could find a way to work an Azkaban shout-out into his acceptance speech?
  • I was excited when I saw that my favorite movie music composer, Thomas Newman, was nominated for his beautiful score to Saving Mr. Banks.  But I was annoyed when I did my predication research this evening and saw that he isn’t even being mentioned as a possibility to win.  All I can say is that the Academy is going to owe Thomas Newman one massive Lifetime Achievement Award segment.
  • I never thought I’d see the day when a movie called Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was nominated for an Oscar.  I realize that the category is Achievement in Makeup, and I’m willing to concede that the nominee, Stephen Prouty, did a pretty good job on that guy’s face.  But I’ve vowed never to watch the Oscars again if this movie wins.
  • I have a plan.  The Academy should create some new award categories: Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress in a Genre Film.  That way, the people who do excellent acting work in films that aren’t “literary” (to borrow a term from the book publishing world)–e.g., science fiction, fantasy, and superhero movies; romantic comedies; “children’s” movies that aren’t animated–can be honored.  Because, let’s face it, they’re not going to be nominated in the traditional acting categories, except in very unusual cases like those of Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean (and there was no way he was going to win) or Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight–an extremely unusual case indeed, since he did win.  The only potential problem here is that creating such a category could further marginalize these types of movies and prevent genre-transcending films like The Dark Knight from getting the recognition that the Academy was actually prepared to give them.

So I’m curious: Who would you nominate if we had the Acting in Genre Films categories this year?  And what are your two cents, in general, on the 2014 Oscars?  Do share.

Movie score geekout

It’s that time of year when I write a lot of posts about movies! This will be a quick one. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this fact on my blog, but I’m kind of a movie score connoisseur. I’m the person who tells my friends, whether they care or not, that the same person who composed the score to Forrest Gump also composed the score to Captain America (that’s Alan Silvestri).  I have a favorite film composer, Thomas Newman, whose beautiful score was one of the many wonderful things about Saving Mr. Banks, a movie everyone should go see.

But for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Patrick Doyle, an underrated composer best known for scoring many of Kenneth Branagh’s films, although he’s done much more.  Although Doyle has composed a few quiet, subtle scores, such as the piano-driven Sense and Sensibility soundtrack, he is at his best when he’s in his joyful and triumphant mode.  For me, a movie score can be just as good as a rock concert for a fist-pumping, adrenaline-rushing  moment, and when I want that, I often turn to Patrick Doyle.  Here is a list of my top five life-affirming P. Doyle tracks.  In most cases, the track I mention is at the very end of the movie.

1. “Merida’s Home” from Brave

2. “Thor Kills the Destroyer” from Thor

3. “Strike Up Pipers” from Much Ado about Nothing (1993) Note: Spotify lists the composer of this soundtrack as “David Snell.”  This is base slander.  I have no idea who David Snell is.

4. something from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I couldn’t pick a favorite track here; they are all great.  I love “Hogwarts’ Hymn,” from the credits, but it’s not quite the “fist-pumping” experience I described above.

5. “Papa!” (starting about 1:30) from A Little Princess, which I only recently realized that Patrick Doyle scored.