Top 5 Movies of 2014

15 Dec
La Dictadura Perfecta

La Dictadura Perfecta

It’s my favorite time of the year: yes, in addition to the holidays being in full swing, it’s also time to play Roger Ebert (R.I.P.), and list my favorite movies of the year. It’s a subjective list: these are movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. Why? I explore why below. Also, take a stroll down memory lane and recall my favorite movies from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. I’ve been doing this for five years now!

The Other Woman. This is the comedy I enjoyed the most this year. It was a revelation to see Cameron Diaz, after Bad Teacher, prove herself once again to be a talented comedienne. And speaking of revelations, Nicki Minaj! Who knew she could be so convincing as a sassy New Yorker?? The plot took twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, so it really wasn’t your typical romantic comedy. The ending was unexpected and satisfying, and all throughout, there were plenty of laughs.

Begin Again. I’ve already written about how this movie, about a young musician who partners with a grizzled music industry vet to produce a record on the fly, dovetailed nicely with my life this summer. So there is a personal reason why it finds a place on my best-of list this year. But beyond the personal, it is a good movie for anyone who enjoys good music but may not think of themselves as a fan of movie musicals. Like the movie above, this one has a feminist angle about striking out on your own. A lovely little gem of a movie.

Boyhood. This movie is currently ending up on many critics’ top ten lists. Will a backlash be inevitable? I think there already has been a bit of a backlash. Yes, the movie is innovative, but what makes it great is not just the way it was filmed- a few days each year for 12 years, chronicling one boy’s physical maturation- although that is certainly part of its charm. I found the first half of Boyhood to be more moving than the second half. The bits and pieces we see from each year of Mason’s life are the moments that anyone remembers from childhood, whether it be a memorable trip to the ballpark with Dad, or the first day at a new school. Boyhood strings together moments that together make up one young man’s youth, and the movie is made much better by the participation of the under-rated Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

Gone Girl. This is the rare movie that is just as good, if not better than, the very good book it was based on. David Fincher was the perfect choice to direct the adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s page turner. It’s got his trademark somber color palette, a moody soundtrack by Trent Reznor, and an amazing performance by Rosamund Pike in the title role. The movie is expertly paced, and even if you know what’s coming, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

La Dictadura Perfecta. If you’re outside of Mexico, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see this subtitled in your local arthouse theater. It may be available soon on Netflix; I saw El Infierno, by the same director, on Netflix last year. It’s a very Mexican film about a very Mexican subject: corruption. The plot is ripped from the headlines- a small-time governor uses the help of a certain major television company to boost his image. The audience here in Mexico chuckled along at the all-too-familiar plot lines, and the movie was well-plotted and well-acted. I also appreciated seeing telenovela staple Saul Lisazo as a smarmy TV news presenter. There’s a reason the movie was such a hit with Mexican audiences. It strikes a nerve.

 

The Girl in Purple

9 Nov
HONY

HONY

I saw a photo on Humans of New York this afternoon that touched me as no other photo from that series has. It appears to the left. A girl with both sadness and hope in her eyes expresses disenchantment with the loneliness of city life. She spends time alone doing what she wants, but her solitude seems less like a choice and more like a burden to live with. The last two sentences of her quote are: Everybody tells me: ‘You should do this,’ or ‘You should do that.’ But nobody says ‘Let’s do this,’ or ‘Let’s do that.'” And I think her words resonated with me because, although I love city life, I also recognize that the anonymity that comes with it comes with a price.

When I lived in San Francisco, I made friends, but I often felt like the girl in purple. People talk to you about cool things that are going on, and you wonder, “Why don’t you invite me?” In the comments, people advise the girl in purple to go out and propose activities to people instead of waiting for them to reach out to her. But I’m sure she has, and she doesn’t want to all the time. It can be exhausting to always be the one to make the effort.

Here in Mexico, I’ve adopted the same posture as before, as the girl in the photo. I go out and take long walks in the city, I eat at restaurants alone. It’s either that or stay home. And I want to soak up this great city, even though I don’t know a ton of people yet. I’ve only been here about 10 weeks. And when I have my weekly Facetime conversations with my best friend back home, I’m reminded that it takes time to make friends. It won’t happen overnight- I met this good friend back home after living in San Francisco for three years, and we’ve been friends for the last two. So I know I won’t have activity partners overnight. It takes time.

In general, the Humans of New York Facebook page is a joy; it’s the pleasure of travel in small vignettes. For the reason we travel is to get a glimpse of distant lives and realities. We see what is foreign to our experience and what is universal. I often wonder if the subjects of the HONY photos look themselves up to read the comments that people post. People send well wishes to those going through crises, they express their admiration for touching or inspiring stories. I hope that the girl in purple has seen the comments on her photo. She’ll see how universal her solitude is.

Being a Foreigner

18 Sep
Angel de Independencia

Angel de Independencia

Because I tend to have a general attitude of “I don’t give a fuck”, for the most part, I don’t mind being a foreigner. That’s not to say I go around playing music loudly at night, or littering in public places. I’m conscientious. But I don’t take myself too seriously, and I don’t like when others do. You only have one life, so why sweat it? If I have to smile and ask a waiter, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is. Can you explain?”, I don’t mind. I don’t blush and swell with excessive pride. I have done this being a foreigner thing before, and I know that sometimes you just have to accept that you look different, sound different, and generally don’t know your way around (at least at first).

I don’t want to be someone who feels especially special and unique by virtue of the fact that I am foreign. When you’re 20 years old and studying abroad during junior year of college, you content yourself with knowing that if anyone wants to know how that is said in English, or what it’s like in America, they can go to you. There were times when I studied abroad in Spain when I would be the only American in the room, and I felt special. One should absolutely accept that being a foreigner offers a unique perspective on things. But it is not all that is unique and special about you. That’s to say that when I go home to spend the holidays with my family, I know that there are aspects of my identity that are more important to who I am than my exoticness, my otherness. I think it is people who have difficulty separating the two who have a tough time readjusting when they go back home.

I also can’t forget that being a foreigner from any old country and being an American abroad are not the same thing. I’ve generally found that being an American in Europe and Latin America means being received warmly, perhaps with a sarcastic remark, and rarely as the first emissary of your kind to visit these shores. I have met maybe three people for whom I was the first American they had ever met. Being an American means you are never too far from familiar things; you turn on the TV and see the same actors with unfamiliar voices; you see the same junk food in the stores, the same golden arches and half-bitten apple at the mall. Here in Mexico, you see hamburgers offered at a lot of restaurants. Breakfast menus often include “hot cakes” (although it seems that someone came here in the 1950’s with that name and it stuck; nowadays we call them pancakes). I try to balance out consuming familiar things, such as the jar of peanut butter that I have at home, with consuming things that I know I’ll find only in Mexico, like eating a $5 lunch that includes soup, appetizer, entree (enchiladas, taquitos, fish), and a modest dessert. As I write this, I sit in a café where the soundtrack and the ambience could be lifted straight out of Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s almost too familiar. I want something disorienting, different, exotic.

But then again, I think about how much I stuck out like a sore thumb today at lunch when I ate at a fonda near work (one of these homespun restaurants offering a menu of the day that is typically only open for office workers during lunch hour). Sometimes it’s thrilling to not look like anyone around (although let’s face it, with my Lebanese Mexican looks I rarely blend into my surroundings), and sometimes it’s tiring. Sometimes you just want to go unnoticed. Again, you don’t want your identity to rely too heavily on being a foreigner, but sometimes you have to embrace the fact that you’re not from here. At the very least, I feel safe. I know that it’s entirely possible that I could wind up in the wrong neighborhood or the wrong taxi and all of a sudden being a foreigner is not cool, it’s an invitation to victimhood.

All in all, I mostly feel happy. Still a bit disoriented- I’m still learning streets in my neighborhood, and then I’ll work outward from there- and still a bit lonely, as I don’t know many people yet, but still very grateful for this feeling. Being a foreigner here makes me feel deliriously alive.

Crickets

24 Aug

A croak, a chirp

The rubbing of skinny legs together

Like bow on violin

Marks the steady rhythm of the night.

All around all is black, velveteen

Punctured by a thousand frosty dots

Just night, cricket song,

The moon and the stars

Peaceful evening far removed from the city

When the Lights Go Down in the City

21 Aug

Tilting at Windmills by the Sea

21 Aug

Windmill

Windmill

As I spend one of my last nights in the city I love, San Francisco, I can’t help but think of how this city has been such an integral part of my life for the last five years. In almost every neighborhood I walk through (thanks to Muni I visit all the neighborhoods), I see places with some special significance to me wherever I go. From the HiDive Bar on the Embarcadero, where I saw Hunter Pence whiz by on his scooter as I enjoyed beer on the patio, to Java Beach Cafe by Ocean Beach, where I would sit and sip coffee with my last boyfriend, who lived just blocks away. The city imprints itself on you, and you imprint yourself on it.

I think about how much the city will change while I’m away. Today while walking down Valencia, I passed a new condo development in the works. I have long been a proponent of adding more housing to San Francisco, but I fear that only adding housing for millionaires will only lead to increased inequality in the city. I fear that my friends who are successful professionals and would be able to afford a home in any other part of the country will either have to keep renting or move far from the city they love. My love for San Francisco remains, but I fear that it will only become a playground for the ultra rich, a simulacrum of a once thriving creative city. I hate to admit it, but part of me hopes that the bubble bursts, and soon (but enough on my thoughts on the sustainability of the sharing economy!).

Condos

Condos

The prevailing stereotype of San Francisco is that it has always provided a home to the searchers, the poets and dreamers who have reached the tip of Manifest Destiny and remake themselves here at the edge of the continent. From the Gold Rush to the Beatniks to the Hippies, this was mostly true. Is the city still a haven for dreamers, or is it becoming out of reach for all but those arriving with a Stanford degree in hand? I think San Francisco is lucky to have the enviable problem of having so much wealth; Detroit we are not. But there are undeniable changes afoot in the city, and my friends and I sense it. You feel lucky to not be unjustifiably evicted from your rent-controlled apartment. You breathe a sigh of relief when the car alarm outside your window turns out not to be yours (that one is the experience of a car-owning friend near USF). You feel increasingly lucky just to still be here, eking out a living.

And yet one should feel lucky, and feel enormously proud to live in a place that is still a city of unrivaled natural beauty, home to people who are by and large a kind and helpful bunch. It is not for nothing that San Francisco united last year to realize the dream of young cancer survivor “Batkid“. I found the response to be typical of San Francisco and its residents, coming together to help one of their own. I have witnessed countless small kindnesses here in the city. It is not Coit Tower, or Sutro Tower, or the Bay Bridge that make the city unique and worth living in. it is the people who come here from all over and make San Francisco their own. It is them that I’ll miss the most.

Begin Again

30 Jul

It is fitting that I recently saw the movie “Begin Again”,  a charming musical starring Keira Knightley and Adam Levine. The music stayed with me for days, but that title has really stayed with me. It comes at the perfect moment. I, too, am about to begin again.

Where to begin? In late April, I wrote the post How to decimate company morale, and two days later I quit my job. It was a scary thing to do, because although I had been looking for a new job, I never thought I would make that leap without the safety of a new one waiting comfortably for me when I departed. I was glad to be gone, but scared out of my mind. Did I have enough money to live on? What would I tell potential employers when I was no longer gainfully employed? More importantly- what would I tell my family? So initially, I freaked.

And then I remembered My own reasons to love Mexico City, and I began to think about moving there. Because, if not now, when? I hesitated…I continued applying for jobs in San Francisco, though I found my eyes glazing over as I read each new job description. Same old shit, I thought. The idea of living and working abroad began to appeal more and more. I kept thinking of a former colleague, a Mexican, who once assured me, “You’d get a job in Mexico right away.” Professionally, the idea of moving to Mexico City appealed to me.

Personally, it had its appeal as well. I have been happy in San Francisco these last five years; it took time for me to make friends, yet slowly but surely I made friends here. And yet I hesitated to buy a home or make other serious commitments to this city. All I could think was, what if I get a home and then get an opportunity elsewhere? There was always a part of me that didn’t want to be tied down to the city. I wanted to be able to leave, just in case. I have no mortgage, am not married and have no kids. Why not pick up and leave?

So, egged on by my friends, who encouraged me to go for it, I began contacting people in Mexico City in my industry. Sure enough, I got a bite or two. Potential employers who wanted to meet me in person. In the first week of July I went to Mexico to interview with them. During my brief stay there, I spoke with people who asked if I was sure I wanted to leave such a wonderful place as San Francisco. They asked if I really wanted to deal with the traffic, the noise, the pollution. I began to have doubts. But during my last days there I spoke to other people. Those who said that they loved living in the city, that they loved what it had to offer. I walked around, admired storefronts and restaurants and parks. And I saw myself living there and being happy. I was offered a good job, and I accepted it.

At age 33, I feel truly excited to start this new chapter. In these last few weeks in San Francisco, I am seeing the city as if with new eyes, enjoying its hidden (and not so hidden) gems. I am enjoying the company of dear friends, assuring them that I will be back to visit (and it appears I will have a lot of visitors when I’m there). I am excited about this new direction in life, and confident that I’ll be happy in my new country and city. And so I begin again.

 

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