See those pictures above? They are of Mexico City, a teeming mass of humanity and my favorite city in the world.
It has been one month since I lost my best friend.
I am talking, of course, about Molly, the world’s best golden retriever, who died unexpectedly while supposedly on the mend from a bladder infection.
We mourn the passings of our beloved fur babies because they are in our lives for such a short period of time, and because they ask us for so little, yet give so much affection in return. I grew up with dogs from infancy, and, like my parents and sister, have always treated them like part of the family. They sleep inside, not out (and on our beds much of the time). They have Christmas stockings and receive birthday cards. They go with us on family vacations.
But Molly was even more special. She was the love of my life.
For the second time in a row, the Oscars will be host-less. Last year, original host Kevin Hart, whose name had briefly become associated with homophobia, dropped out, lest the Oscar broadcast become besmirched in controversy. The end result was a leaner show, still long at three hours, 23 minutes, but a full hour shorter than the longest-ever Oscars, 2002’s four-hour, 23-minute snooze-fest.
Aside from the “Oscars so white” outcry that popped up again this year with just a single major-category nominee of color (the excellent Cynthia Erivo of “Harriet”), this year’s pre-show drama was decidedly low-key. I expect a show with lower-than-normal ratings, considering that many fans of “Joker,” the year’s most-nominated film, probably aren’t the target viewing demographic for the Oscars, and that last year had a much more mainstream slate of nominees but disappointing ratings nonetheless.
Here are my picks for the winners. Interestingly enough, this year’s acting categories each seem to have all-but-guaranteed winners, which is unusual. That being said, there are always surprises; last year, I was wrong on both Best Actor (Rami Malek for “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and Best Actress (Olivia Colman for “The Favourite”).
Mark your ballots!
As I look back on the 2019 year in cinema, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that wow, I saw a lot of movies last year! The first few months of the year saw the release of “Us,” the sophomore film by “Get Out” director Jordan Peele, of “Captain Marvel,” straight out of the MCU, and of “Glass,” a miscalculated sequel to both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” if you can imagine such a thing. Later, we got the sentimental “Toy Story 4,” the ribald, “Superbad”-esque comedy “Booksmart,” and a quiet little think piece called “Avengers: Endgame.”
The second-half of the year gave us a few above-average horror films (“Doctor Sleep,” “The Lighthouse”) and a few below-average ones as well (“It Chapter Two,” “The Dead Don’t Die”). Finally, the end-of-year Oscar-bait bombardment gave us such diverse fare as “Richard Jewell,” a compelling true story by octogenarian Clint Eastwood, “Uncut Gems,” an intense thriller of sensory overload starring a better-than-usual Adam Sandler, and a slate of Netflix titles given the briefest of Oscar-qualifying runs, such as “The Two Popes,” which posited an imagined meeting between Popes Benedict and Francis.
Phew! I try to avoid seeing bad movies at the theater, and enjoyed most of what I sought out. A few films disappointed me, like the mis-marketed Mr. Rogers movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and the Brad Pitt-starring “Ad Astra.” Still, there was much to like, and I tried to catch up via Netflix or Amazon Prime on anything that I may have missed in the theater. Good thing for those reward cards – lots of free popcorn!
Here are my picks for the Top Ten Films of 2019:
2019 has been an interesting year both nationally – presidential impeachment, drought-like conditions for much of the country throughout the summer – and internationally – Brexit woes for the U.K., Chinese trade tariffs, and a hurricane-ravaged Bahamas.
On a personal level, it was a pretty good year. I explored more of Tennessee and the Carolinas, spent time with my precocious nephew over Thanksgiving, and ended the year with a bit of good financial news.
Each November or December, since this blog was created in 2012, I have waxed nostalgic about fond holiday season travel memories from years past. Some entries were about end-of-year trips to places far (Singapore and Malaysia, 2006), others about places not so far (Puebla, Mexico, 2003). Some entries were about time spent in cold places (Québec City and Montréal, 2008), others about places more tropical in nature (León, Nicaragua, 2016-17).
This year’s entry finds me thinking back to six years ago, during what would turn out to be my final trip back to the states for the holidays while a resident of Mexico City. While en route to Knoxville for a Smoky Mountain Christmas, I found myself “in transit” for four great days in Chicago, the city of my childhood. I grew up outside the Windy City, and have fond memories of school field trips and family car rides to the city’s museums, lakefront, ball parks, and shopping districts. Although I don’t regret my decision, circa 2000, to leave Chicago and move to Los Angeles (pre-Mexico and pre-pre-Tennessee), I find myself missing Chicago at times, and with fewer friends and relatives living in the city now than in 2000, I simply don’t get to return as often as I’d like.
Time passes and people move in and out of an individual’s life. It happens – and often without fanfare. I haven’t been to Chicago in what seems like ages, so this post is, in some ways, just the nostalgia trip that I need. In other ways, however, it is an exercise in catharsis. While the trip itself was great, one of the players who had a bit part in the story is no longer with us, and a second is in failing health. I hope you enjoy the tale…but as you read through to the end, know that it was written with a heavy heart.
Last month, my WordPress.com hosting fee auto-renewed for another 12 months. I wasn’t sure why my credit card statement was as high as it was, but when I reviewed my transaction history, there it was: $125.00. Chump change for many, and a cost that I can certainly absorb, but that I would rather have declined had I paid better attention to the auto-renewal reminders that had indeed been sent to my inbox. So, I have no one to blame but myself.
But here we are. It has been five months since my last post, and while I will skip the play-by-play of what I’ve been up during that time <SPOILER ALERT: not much>, I did take a mini-vacation this past summer that I feel is worth writing about.
I went to Charleston, South Carolina!
It was six months ago this month when I announced my intentions to more or less hang up my blog hat, so to speak. The post had a “goodbye-but-hopefully-not-forever” tone about it, and I did hint at the end that I may pop up every now and again with the occasional update. Aside from today’s entry, and from my February 18th Oscar predictions post – an annual rite of passage that began in 2012, all has otherwise been silent on the blogging front.
I still send the occasional Tweet courtesy of my @gringopotpourri feed, although ceasing production on the blog while simultaneously suspending my Facebook account all but derailed any substantial Twittersphere engagement.
All of that having been said, I thought I’d pop up from the void to let you know that I am still alive and well.
It would seem that this year’s Oscars broadcast is something of a mess. As I write this, the 91st iteration of the show is still without a host, following the decision by original host Kevin Hart to drop out following the revelation that one of his stand-up routines from years ago contained homophobic content that he has since apologized for profusely, and many times over.
The decision by Hart to drop out comes just a few months after the Academy decided, after much outcry, to drop the category “Best Popular Film,” which it had considered adding to account for movies like “Black Panther,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Die Hard,” two films of which received token Oscar nominations for Best Picture and two of which did not. <SPOILER ALERT: “Black Panther,” one of the best superhero movies ever made – alongside 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” of course – will not win Best Picture.>
If the above controversy wasn’t enough, the Academy decided to shorten the show’s running time to under three hours. Best intentions perhaps, but their solutions were poorly thought out: don’t allow the Best Original Song nominees to sing, and pick four categories each year beginning this year to hand out at a separate event. This year’s sacrificial lambs: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live Action Short, and Best Makeup & Hair.
Heads rolled. After outcry by actors and filmmakers everywhere, it was “clarified” (read: redacted) by the Academy that those awards will be handed out during commercials but the acceptance speeches presented in full on live TV.
If four paragraphs about pre-show drama seems excessive, it is just that the Academy appears dumbfounded in terms of how to increase ratings. That being said, the most obvious solution – nominating a more diverse slate of movies – has already been achieved. Nominated films “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star is Born” were all enormously popular, with “Panther” being the year’s highest-grossing movie. Foreign films such as “Roma,” road pictures like “Green Book,” and indie movies in the vein of “The Favourite” made the cut as well, so it would seem that, host or no host, three hours or four, there may be something for everyone at this year’s Oscars. Will the ratings reflect accordingly?
Here are my thoughts on the nominees, and my predictions on the winners. Although there is almost always one surprise among the winners, you should know that I correctly predicted all eight of last year’s major category winners. I hope to do so again.
2018 is coming to a close as I write this. I thought I would conclude the year – and this series – with a post that circles back to where it all began. This blog was created not long after I moved to Mexico City in 2012, a two-year experiment with numerous highs and lows, though certainly more of the former than the latter. My first photo locale feature, three years later, featured the city’s Chapultepec Castle. Twelve months after that, a follow-up post highlighted the visual wonders of the city’s Centro Histórico.
But there is much to be seen in a city this size that doesn’t fit easily into any single category. Like this blog, there is a veritable potpourri of eye candy throughout CDMX, ranging from dilapidated buildings to elegant roofcombs to market foodstuffs to haphazard graffiti to the Chilangos themselves, 22 million living, breathing human beings who give Mexico City its heart and soul. Enjoy this random Mexico City potpourri, Loyal Reader…and thanks!