Favourite Films of 2013

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, and with me being stuck at home with the flu, I thought it was a good time to do a roundup of my favourite films of the past year. I was originally inspired by my friend Natalie's great review of her top films of 2013 for S Magazine. While I was staying with her in Berlin, she also introduced me to the podcast Filmspotting, which has been partly to blame/thank for the recent rekindling of my love for film. 2013 was really a great year for films, or maybe it's just been that my hibernation method of getting through the winter was more conducive to watching them. In any case, here is my list. 

1. Her -  I already mentioned how much I liked this film. Spike Jonze and his art direction team did an amazing job of creating an entire aesthetic for these characters to live in, which makes it so much more believable. It's the perfect mix of nostalgic and futuristic, a pastel version of a Jetson's like world. Scarlett Johansson's performance really surprised me since I've found her style of acting often jarring but here her rawness worked so well as the voice of Samantha, the operating system that Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with.  As someone who spent a long time in a long distance relationship, the movie definitely struck a chord about how connected yet separate we can be. It felt especially fitting to be watching this on my laptop with my headphones on while Mark was next to me working away at something completely different on his own computer.

2. Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coen brothers can do no wrong in my opinion. This film is especially great, with all the characters so well written and flushed out - even the John Goodman cameo character. Like most of their films, this one is darkly funny and often painfully honest and bittersweet. It's such a classic and timeless story, of the starving artist looking for creative fulfillment and authenticity in a commercial world. The soundtrack and the gritty, melancholic cinematography adds another layer of depth to the work that leaves an almost haunting impression. It's also fitting in some ways that this was so obviously overlooked for an Oscars nomination this year... 

3. Mud - I liked this film way more than I was expecting. As someone who is mostly known for taking his shirt off, Matthew McConaughey has been hitting it out of the park lately with his acting. This film has a nice mix of themes, but is mainly a coming of age story that brings up questions about masculinity and loyalty, as well as the nature of good and evil. The slow unravelling of the story fits so well with it's setting on the Mississippi river, and has just the right touch of Southern Gothic that I love so much (which is probably also the reason why I am already hooked on True Detective).

4. Before Midnight - I had been meaning to see the Jesse and Celine trilogy for ages, so before the last one came out I took the time to watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. This film doesn't have the same rosy glow as the first two, but it is just as beautifully earnest, if not more so. I love that the connection between these two is so specific and visceral yet their dialogue is at the same time so universal and relatable. I often find films that deal with the topic of marriage to be either bitterly pessimistic or in the Hollywood vein of romantic so it was nice to see this one strike a much more realistic balance. 

5. The Stories We Tell - I already wrote a little about this one here, so I won't repeat myself too much, but I'm still really enamoured by it. I've noticed a reoccurring use of metanarrative in a lot of films coming out recently, and I think this documentary is a great example of working within that successfully. It's as much a story about stories, and filmmaking, as it is about family. 

6. Blue Jasmine - This film felt like a really refreshing departure from Woody Allen's usual repertoire to me. No matter what your views are on the resurfaced controversy, his voice is so strong that I often find it overpowers the characters in his films. Cate Blanchett is more than able to hold her own in this one though, the rest of the film is almost just a nicely constructed frame to support her incredible performance. There were a lot of obvious parallels to A Streetcar Named Desire, which is one of my all time favourites, and probably just made me like this modern version even more. 

7. Nebraska - I am so, so glad this film was shot in black and white. The Midwest landscape plays such an important part of grounding this film and gives that background of the contrasting values of humbleness and hard work versus the American Dream. Bruce Dern as a aging, slightly demented man who thinks he has won the sweepstakes was just the right blend of heartbreaking and aggravating. I had a bit of a hard time taking Will Forte seriously in his role as the son though and felt like he was a little out of place. I heard rumours that Casey Affleck was being considered, which I would have loved to have seen instead. 

8. Cutie and the Boxer - This is a documentary about contradictions. The artist couple it follows are at once quiet and loud, loving and hateful, humble and egotistical. I loved the mix of footage, from cinéma vérité style scenes, old family videos and Noriko's soulful comic book-like illustrations. Similar to other movies I've already mentioned, it's a meditation on art and how creating can consume you. 

9. The Hunt - This is one of the best Danish films I've seen in years, about a wrongfully accused man living in a small town. It's easy to draw parallels to The Crucible, which also plays with the themes of mob psychology, albeit as an allegory as McCarthyism. It's also especially fitting for use in a Danish context though, with the cultural tradition of homogeneity and Law of Jante. Plus, Mads Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor and the Danes always do dark, moody cinematography so well. 

10. Room 237 - This is another film about a film; or specifically a documentary about The Shining. It mainly details various theories and/or conspiracies about hidden meanings in the original film, some more outlandish than others. While it is in a way exploring film geekery itself, it's also about the Indiana Jones-esque feeling art historians, film critics and others get when unpacking symbology and metaphors as well as the importance of architecture in creating a psychological sense of place in a film. 

Raw Truffles

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What else are you supposed to do on a Monday evening when you have a craving for chocolate? I kept seeing similar ones pop up on the food blogs I follow and in local raw cafes (Karen and I recently went to this one which was especially good!), so I decided to give it a try. I was really impressed with the results! These are seriously so easy, they took just a few minutes in the food processor, and taste so good while still being good for you. Also, just in time for Valentine's Day, if you don't have anything else up your sleeve. Other years I have made peanut butter cups (also great with almond butter) and decoupaged jars of infused sugar, if you need more ideas for sweet treats.

Raw Truffles 
Adapted just slightly from Sprouted Kitchen's Almond Date Truffles

Medjool dates (about 15)
1/4 cup raw cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until they are finely ground. Add the dates and blend until the two form a paste. Add the rest of ingredients and pulse until blended. Roll a heaping teaspoon into a ball and roll in extra cocoa powder, coconut, sprinkles or chopped nuts. You can also play around with the flavours, adding extra vanilla, mint extract or coffee. If you'd like them sweeter, you can also add a bit of raw honey. They keep best if they are refrigerated. Enjoy!

How to Cure the Winter Blues, Pt.2

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Before I moved to Denmark, I had a hard time understanding why so many schools and workplaces had a scheduled winter break already in early to mid February. After living here for a few winters now, I totally understand it. The winters can really get to you here. The low light levels, grey skies, freezing wind and snow, biking through the brown slush - it's just not all that romantic. The first winter I moved here I wrote about the winter blues already in November, then each year after that. This year it hasn't really bothered me until this last week, where it seemed to all catch up with me at once. I just had no energy or motivation to do anything but lie in bed. After trying to push through for several days and just feeling miserable, I decided to take a mental health day. I've done this for years and find that it really helps me to feel recharged instead of burning out more. So I spent the day reading, knitting, drinking tea and baking cookies. Since she was having a similar week, Nicola and I decided to take a break from our pity parties and visit the Botanical Gardens on Friday afternoon. It's one of my favourite places to go in the winter, since you feel like you are instantly transported to somewhere warm and tropical. I even went there for my bachelorette, I like it so. Of course because we are goons, we arrived after the closing hours (3pm, for anyone living here) so instead had to make do with a walk around the grounds. Luckily it was still gorgeous, all filled with fresh snow at dusk. Winter, you aren't bad all the time. I also resolved to do more to help combat the doldrums, and thought I would revisit and add to the list that I made years ago with some of the things that have helped.

1. Light, light, light. This is still the biggest one for me. We have both the Philip's energy light and the wake up light and I use them every day, as well as candles, string lights and my new salt crystal lamp (you can read about the benefits here, although Dr. Mark thinks it's total bogus). Even though I bike to school every morning I'm not really getting any real light, so I still take my vitamins religiously after getting pretty sick from being seriously vitamin D deficient a couple of years ago. You can read more about it here on Tina's great blog.

2. Exercise. Since I'm not biking as much as I used to (yay for a ten minute commute!), I've had to get more serious about fitting in exercise elsewhere. I've been going to hot yoga regularly for a while now and find that it really helps during winter. I also go to a candlelit restorative yoga class once in a while which is lovely on these dark nights. This weekend, I'm going to go swimming, which I haven't done in ages but I hope to do it more. Plus, you guys know how much I love saunas. I'm sure that it's all about finding whatever exercise you like, but I've found that being warm is a big bonus for me in the colder months.

3. Getting up early. I never, ever thought I'd be able to be a morning person (and I'm still not), but I can say now after months and months of trying, that I really love getting up a couple of hours before school and having lots of time for my morning routine. I usually crawl back into bed with a cup of tea after having breakfast with Mark so that I can read for a while as the sun comes up. It's quickly becoming one of my favourite parts of the day. It also helps the days seem longer, since you are awake for all the sunlight hours. Of course this means going to bed fairly early, but I promise you will start liking that too.

4. Eat warming foods. I wrote a little bit before about how I have been getting more interested in Ayurvedic cooking, which suggests to eat warming foods through winter like soups, curries and herbal tea. Some of my favourite recipes lately are: chai banana smoothie, baked oatmeal, african yam and peanut soup, coconut red lentil soup and gold rush soup. I've also been drinking hot lemon water and spicy herbal teas by the gallon. And although I think it makes so much sense to eat warming foods, since that is obviously what we crave during winter months, sometimes I find that I really miss lighter, fresh flavours too, so once in a while I will make something like these summer rolls with peanut sauce.

5. Staying inspired. I'm still figuring out what this means to me, but it's been a bit of a challenge since being in a program where you are expected to be constantly creative, and often on demand. So I think it's just important to make time for whatever it is that you enjoy, and to seek out new things as well. Checking out books from the library, watching documentaries, going to exhibitions or for a walk - all these things are on my list to try to make more time for. I find that when I am feeling low on energy or uninspired I resort to filling my time with more 'junk food' type entertainment which I enjoy in the short term but doesn't really do much in the long run.

What do you guys do to survive winter? Help a cold buddy out.

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