Behold, it is Oscar time again. Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting the 89th annual Academy Awards, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Mark Rylance, and Alicia Vikander – last year’s winners in the acting categories – will be among the presenters.
The nominated films this year run quite the gamut. Arrival, which finds linguists decoding an alien language, is out of this world – literally! Fences, about the literal and figurative fences we erect in our lives, is a powerhouse of emotions. Hacksaw Ridge inspires and mortifies with its gory depictions of Pacific Theater heroics in World War II. Hell or High Water, a western disguised as a heist movie, sets the film’s stakes by the title alone. Hidden Figures, revolving around a trio of African-American female NASA scientists, makes math cool again. La La Land, an old-fashioned musical set in modern day Los Angeles, aims for the stars…of the Griffith Park Observatory, if nothing else. Lion, about an Indian boy who has lost his way, hearkens back to 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire…which won eight Oscars. Manchester by the Sea sounds British but is as American as movies get, detailing the five stage of grief. Finally, Moonlight shows what it must be like to grow up poor, black, fatherless, and gay.
Which movies will Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters choose to honor? Continue reading for my predictions…and enjoy the show!
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Asia is the largest continent and home to 60% of the world’s population, according to UN estimates. If you visit worldometers.info, you can literally watch the population “uptick” by one person per second. Despite these statistics, however, I have spent less time in Asia than I have in most other regions of the world. This needs to change.
One Asian country that I have had the pleasure of visiting is Thailand. The country, a peaceful monarchy east of Myanmar and north of Malaysia, is famous for its warm waters and sandy beaches, often backed by towering cliffs. There is so much more to see, however. Elephant camps, jungle villages, steamy urban cities…and temples. Lots of temples. I was particularly taken by the Buddhist temples of Bangkok.
Last year wasn’t a good year for movies. It seemed that every other weekend saw the release of a second-rate animated film, or of yet another superhero sequel. I still haven’t seen Moana (which, as it happens, garnered strong reviews) or X-Men: Apocalypse (which did not).
There were several bright spots, however. Most of them came late in the year, and by the usual troupe of go-to writers, actors, and directors. Robert Zemeckis teamed up with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard for Allied, a throwback to classics like Casablanca. (If only it was shot in black-and-white.) Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks worked together for the first time on Sully, one of the shorter – and better – movies of the year. Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Amy Adams, Jeff Bridges, Emma Stone, and Michael Keaton all showed up…some of them (the five-times-nominated Ms. Adams) more than once!
Two trends revealed themselves as the nominations were announced: films starring minorities, and films based on actual events. Hidden Figures introduced us to the black women who worked, unheralded for many years, in NASA’s computing team, while Loving showed us what went down when a white man married to a black woman was told that he and his wife could not live in Virginia. Both movies took place in the same state, and around the same decade, and the events depicted in them really happened. Stylistically, however, they couldn’t be more different.
Hidden Figures and Loving each earned slots on my top ten list for the year. They are joined by eight other worthy films…three of which, like the two mentioned above, are based on actual events!
GringoPotpourri’s Top Ten Films of 2016:
León is the longtime liberal stronghold of Nicaragua, and the nation’s second-largest city. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, León, 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean, has for centuries battled with older Granada, on the western shores of Lake Nicaragua, for ruling supremacy. They took turns assuming the role of capital of Nicaragua for centuries, until neutral Managua, somewhere in between the two cities, took over the role permanently.
But the León of today is different than the Leon of the 16th century. Modern León, in fact, sits 20 miles east of León Viejo (Old León), destroyed by an earthquake less than 100 years after its founding, and subsequently buried under layers of volcanic ash by nearby Momotombo, the still-active volcano that sits across another lake, Lago de Managua, from the ruins.
It has been four years since I made a year-in-review post such as the one you’ve just started reading. But 2016 has been an interesting year. I was promoted twice, took a few day trips, and bought a car. On the other hand, my mom passed away, as did countless artists and celebrities, all of them before their time. Additionally, my general stress level seemed to increase tenfold. There have been times, during these last two months in particular, when it seemed as if 2016 would never end.
2016 highlights and lowlights
What a year it’s been!
Nuremberg, Germany recently celebrated its 950th birthday. (Eat that, Dubai!) My love affair with the Franconian capital and home of sausages, lebkuchen (holiday gingerbread cookies) and Nazi War Crime trials began when I was still a child. My father spent three years of his life (“The best three years,” he sometimes claimed) in the U.S. Army, stationed on a base just a short train/bus ride from Nuremberg.
Although my dad’s Army time was during the height of the Cold War and his station was less than 60 miles from the border with Communist Czechoslovakia, his time in the Army went without incident, the Cuban Missile Crisis call to arms notwithstanding. My dad raved, throughout my childhood, about how much he loved Germany, the German people, and medieval Nuremberg in particular.
There is nothing quite like the Christmas markets of Europe around this time of year. Cities like Chicago, with its Daley Plaza Christkindlesmarkt, do a fair job recreating the atmosphere, but the surrounding skyscrapers don’t quite carry the same ambiance as the centuries-old brick homes and cobblestone squares of Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and elsewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Below is a series of pictures taken from my visits to various European Christmas markets during my travels. Bundle up, sip some mulled wine, and enjoy!
Well, another year has come and gone without me having traveled anywhere of note. For the first time in my post-college life, I will end the calendar year with almost three weeks of unused vacation days. I had better check with Human Resources to make sure they will roll over into 2017; I know that days accrued this year will roll over, but I still have days that I earned last year, too!
I hope, early in 2017, to visit some place warmer than East Tennessee, where the high for today is 37. I have friends in both Nicaragua – a country I have never visited – and Mexico – a country I lived in for almost two years. In addition to those places, I am also Jonesing to visit Cuba, sooner rather than later…and certainly before Donald Trump presumably sends our country’s burgeoning relationship with post-Castro Cuba back to the Stone Age. Ugh.
What do Nicaragua, Mexico, and Cuba have in common? Warm weather! Historically, I have enjoyed spending the holidays in such snowy climes as Stockholm and Copenhagen, but it’s been almost four years since I last set foot on a tropical beach. Here, in continuing my blog tradition of sharing my favorite holiday season travel memories, is one such story…and a tropical one at that.
Winter came late to Tennessee this year. Although it is December, there are still leaves on the trees in my front yard. Two days of moderate rainfall hearkened the start of the cold season, and, wonder of wonders, aided in efforts to combat the nearby Gatlinburg fires.
But it has definitely turned cold. And speaking of fires, I wish I had a fireplace of my own to curl up in front of, perhaps with a glass of red wine in one hand and the dog by my side while we listen to some of my favorite holiday carols. And with that, I present, for the third year in a row, my ranking of ten (more) favorite Christmas songs.
Ten More Holiday Songs (with YouTube links):
I think I speak not just for myself but for many people I know when I say that 2016 has been a tough year. Locally, over 700 structures were recently destroyed in the arson-fueled fires of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains. The 14 distinct blazes, which are still less than 20% contained, have taken seven human lives, as well as the lives of countless bears and other animals.
Community response to the Gatlinburg fires has been phenomenal. People have opened up their homes to the displaced, and more canned foods and sundries have been donated to the city than it even has room for! It seems that Thanksgiving, which formally starts the holiday season, has brought out the best in almost everyone.
On a personal note, I left the smoky air of East Tennessee for a few days and visited my sister in Memphis for Thanksgiving. It was good to spend time with her and enjoy a good meal; the last time we were together was for our mother’s memorial service.
My sister had to work the day after Thanksgiving, so I took the opportunity (after sleeping in, of course) to do a bit of self-guided exploration of urban Memphis.
And by “urban Memphis,” I mean “the hood.” Continue reading