My Favorite Movies of 2014

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  1. Boyhood (Director: Richard Linklater)

Richard Linklater, who through an impressively long and diverse career has shown his talent for making everyday experiences for believable regular folks feel universal particularly because they’re grounded in specificity (Dazed and Confused, the Before 1trilogy), proved that Boyhood became so much more than just its fascinating premise and production history. What could been have simply yet another coming-of-age narrative about the trials and tribulations of a somewhat directionless straight, white male, is instead told as much through what we don’t get to see, what happens in-between. Adding further nuance, much of the movie is about parenthood – and motherhood in particular – even as it chronicles Mason’s tentative steps into a life of his own.

2. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)

Speaking of mothers who struggle mightily to make a good life for their sons, let’s talk about Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s fourth feature, a well-deserved prize winner at 2014’s Cannes Film Festival. . His first two films, I Killed My Mother and Heartbreaker were both impressive, but they ultimately felt a little hollow to me. Laurence Anyways signaled that Dolan was aiming higher, and 2014 was the year when he came fully into his own as a filmmaker, with two great, wildly different films. A frenetic melodrama, Mommy is a great vehicle for Dolan’s visual ambiotions, but it also betrays his growth both as cinematic realisateur and as a storyteller. Together with leads Olivier-Andre Pilon and Anne Dorval, he’s not afraid to introduce us to two immediately sympathetic and relatable protagonists, but we spend more time with them, we understand their special, strained co-dependency on a deeper level. The result is an untraditional, gorgeous piece of humanist cinema.

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)

In another unintentionally segueway, we turn to Llewyn Davis, a folk singer just below the star level, and a proud representative of the not immediately likable protagonist.

  1. The Better Angels (A.J. Edwards)
  2. Short Term 12 (Destin Creton)
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
  4. The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki)
  5. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
  6. Two Days, One Night (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
  7. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
  8. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata)
  9. Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs)
  10. Ida  (Pawel Pawlikowski)
  11. Her (Spike Jonze)
  12. One Night in Oslo (Eirik Svensson)

***

My pick for #1 is utterly unoriginal, but no less sincere. Thankfully, Richard Linklater relieved itself to be so much more than a fascinating production history. Boyhood earns its claim for universality from steering completely clear of the going-through-the-motions nature of many other coming-of-stories, up to and including Patricia Arquette’s hauntingly poignant emotional reaction as Ellar Coltrane’s prepares for Adulthood.

The biggest story on my list may be Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. Mommy and Tom at the Farm are impressively differently in style and tone, but they’re both excellent. Mommy is an intensely emotional, visually epileptic tale of a tight-knit mother-son relationship that’s better seen than haltingly described, whereas Tom at the Farm is the result of Dolan finally sitting down to Hitchcock. With Dolan’s trademark confidence it’s not derivative for a second, a slow-burning thriller.

Elsewhere on the list, a group of veterans delivered some of their most compelling work in a long time, maybe ever. After a couple of richly detailed but ultimately kind of lifeless period dramas around the turn of the millenium (Gangs of New York, The Aviator), Martin Scorsese has found a lighter footing of late, and rarely more so than with the depraved Wolf of Wall Street. A heroically scenery-chewing Leonardo DiCaprio delivers the performance of his career,

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About Last Night

It happens every Oscar night: The winner in one of the acting categories professes undying love and admiration for his or her nominated colleagues, usually with some reference to the “incredible journey” (or something similar) that they’ve all been through. This year it fell to Julianne Moore when she accepted her award for Still Alice, and while a gracious gesture, it also underscored the nature of the race this late in the game. All involved have basically been shadowing one  another in an endless stream of interviews, promotional tours and oher representational duties for months now, giving ample time to get to know each other, and to get a little dismayed of the entire process. You have to campaign for an Oscar, or else you don’t even get nominated. Continue reading

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The Year in Norwegian Cinema

I watch an unhealthy amount of movies every year, but despite a very manageable total annual output – 20-25 films – I’m not always fully updated on Norwegian cinema. The quality of our local movie industry has improved vastly over the last 10-15 years, both in terms of acting, writing, directing, international acclaim and even when it comes to diversity of genres and the experiences depicted. Continue reading

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“Maybe all this history has taught me some things”

I’m not the kind of person who follows through on things. I’m much better at complaining about the many opportunities I never took, the projects I never fully committed myself to, the blog posts I never wrote. This year, however, I actually achieved a very long-standing goal of mine. After several years of setbacks due to bad health and more or less chronic loss of self-esteem, I can now call myself a master of the humanities (in history). I wrote my masters thesis on the recent historiography of the British Labour Party (“All that is solid melts into Blair? A historiographical study of New Labour”), completing a project I started all the way back in 2008 (!). If you wanna geek out about Labour’s organizational reforms in the 1980s or the rise of  New Labour in the 1990s, have a go in the comment section.

In the grand scheme of things, one masters thesis is not much. The amount of insightful writing and research on this part of the Labour Party’s history is formidable, and I hold no illusions of my own breaking much new ground. The great thing about history as an academic discipline, however, is that the slow and steady accumulation of new knowledge and continuously putting accepted truths to the test in order to judge their validity and assess how the history has been shaped and told, is an integral part of the field. In that sense, I feel that I have made a contribution, if only a minor one. I would have included a link to my thesis, were it not for the fact that, when I decided back in 2008, I opted to write it in Norwegian. I didn’t feel that I mastered English well enough to capture the necessary nuances of academic discourse, and perhaps I still don’t. On the other hand, by writing in Norwegian, I hope that I can provide some insight into the intricacies of British politics to the few Norwegians who stumble upon it in the university archives and prefer to read their first language.

Immediately after I submitted my thesis, I was deeply unsure about how good it was. I knew it was thorough for a masters thesis, with a comprehensive bibliography and an unusually broad and close reading of several older and never classics in the field of Labour Party history. My thesis adviser assured me that she thought it was both well-written and well-researched, but I was nevertheless prepared for the possibility that it could fail the standard criteria of how a historiography thesis is supposed to be. And I was right to do so. When the time came for me to make an oral presentation and defend my conclusions, I was given a grade that I have to admit I was a little disappointed by. The process itself was a little frustrating, too: I think I did reasonably well on my oral exam, and we had a productive discussion about what constitutes a proper historiographical thesis, but there were a lot of things about my thesis that I would have liked to discuss that we simply didn’t have time to delve into. A paradoxical thing is that although I think I made a reasonable defense of my overall approach to the subject and its methodology, I knew what I’d written well enough to point out weaknesses in my own conclusions that could have been probed further, even though it might have made my conclusions slightly less convincing.

The end of the year is supposed to be a time for humility and introspection, but I realize that what I’ve written so far may come of as humble-bragging, at best. But believe me, it’s not the thesis I’m most proud of (if I  had chance to do it over again, I probably would have focused on some different books, just to name one possible flaw); it’s the fact that I finished it at all. My health has been unpredictable, if not to say just plain bad for the last several years, which has set me back again and again. In addition, I am relentlessly critical of my own work. Even now, when I have a stamp of respectable academic approval on this work, I still haven’t dared to re-read it. One thing is that I’m so damn tired of the subject, but I’m also afraid I might discover even more glaring flaws than the ones I already know of.

As for the rest of 2014, it’s hard to say whether I’ve done my best to be a good, productive person. I have a loving and understanding family that’s done more than its share to help and support me when my health has failed me, but in dark moments I can’t escape the feeling that I demand too much from them, or that I depend on them too much. These thoughts aren’t necessarily rational, seeing as I can’t really do much to change my situation (some of my problems have been with me since I was born), but they’re there nonetheless.

One thing I do plan to change in the coming year, though, is my productivity as a writer. Compared to most previous years, I’ve been neglecting this blog in 2014. I hope to rectify that, starting in January. I write semi-regularly about politics and pop culture for a Norwegian group blog, but there are certain things I’m more comfortable writing about on this platform, particularly when it comes to personal and gay stuff. I also want to write more about politics. After many years of inconsistent blogging and aversion to finishing things, I’ve realized that making promises is pointless. But ’tis the reason for resolutionns, so my ambition for 2015 is to work to become a better, more consistent (less verbose) writer on a broader range of topics.

First, however, I’m planning a couple of posts to sum up the year in music and movies.

To any readers who are somehow still following along, thanks so much for reading.

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Looking Back At My Favorite Movies Of The 2000s

I love making end-of-the-year lists. They force me to take stock of the year in movies, what I’ve loved as opposed to merely liked or even just tolerated, but as I mentioned in a previous post on the pleasures and pitfalls of listmaking, it’s also like opening a can of worms. Lists are supposed to be a “statement” of some kind, but that immediately triggers my vanity and insecurities. Whenenever I begin to assemble a list, I have to grapple with issues of representativity and “balance”, and whether a wish to highlight an underseen gem or to strike a balance between, say, serious drama and the uproariously funny dopamine injection, on some level contradicts the main criteria: That these movie are supposed to be my definitive favorites of any given year. Continue reading

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I Have To Admit It’s Getting Meta, Or: Eight Years And One Day Out Of The Closet

Even though yesterday was my eighth coming out anniversary, I didn’t repost my coming out story this year, as I have done for the past several years. The reason is simple: Instead of republishing it in English, I decided to translate it into my native Norwegian and post it on another blog I’m running. As such, yesterday probably saw a greater addition to my online legacy as a bearer of gayness than many other anniversaries. Continue reading

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“The icing, not the cake”: Gazing Gayly at the World Cup

The World Cup was decided weeks ago – and as my previous post should attest to, it was decided to my definitive satisfaction – but I’m not quite done with it yet. When the tournament started, Amanda Hess wrote a piece in Slate on the pleasures and potential pitfalls on objectifying the male physique at display. I’ve been doing rankings and listicle on sexiness on this blog for years, and have occasionally tried to discuss whether through that I might be contributing to a sinister sexualization of our popular culture, so I read her piece with interest. Continue reading

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