Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations!

I watch the Oscars almost every year. Usually I haven't seen many of the films, so I watch it partly for celebrity spotting, partly to laugh at the crazy dresses, and partly to see what Jack Nicholson will do this year.

This past film year, I have already seen a large proportion of the films (6/10 nominated for best picture) and so I actually care more about who will win. Since there are a number of categories that I either know nothing about (Art Direction) or have seen none of the nominated films (Best Documentary, Short Subjects), I have left those out. I include only the categories I have an opinion on.

A quick note on my picks: they are exactly that. They have nothing to do with what will win, or even what I think will win (I hope The Social Network gets beaten in all categories, but I fear it will not) - they are simply what I thought were the best, given what I saw.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The King's Speech - 12 nominations total
True Grit - 10 nominations total
Inception - 8 nominations total
The Social Network - 8 nominations total
The Fighter - 7 nominations total
127 Hours - 6 nominations total
Black Swan - 5 nominations total
Toy Story 3 - 5 nominations total
The Kids Are All Right - 4 nominations total
Winter's Bone - 4 nominations total

My pick: Black Swan

Now, I really loved a lot of these movies. True Grit, Toy Story 3 and Inception were all very good, and a lot of fun. The King's Speech and Winter's Bone were both very powerful and had great dialogue and characters. But none made me feel the way Black Swan did. It was so repellent and attractive, so horrifying and funny, that it is simply a work of art.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Javier Bardem for Biutiful
Jeff Bridges for True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network
Colin Firth for The King's Speech
James Franco for 127 Hours

My pick: Colin Firth

Firth is always endearing, fumbling, and unconsciously sexy - but he has never before been so captivating. Playing a would-be king desperately trying to find his voice (literally), he made me want to laugh and weep, often at the same time. He and the other actors make this the one movie on the best picture list I want to see again right now.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

My pick: Natalie Portman

I thought Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely amazing in Winter's Bone, and up until last week, was my top choice in this category. Then I finally saw Black Swan. I can't even describe how good Portman was in that movie, you just need to see it for yourself.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale for The Fighter
John Hawkes for Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner for The Town
Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech

My pick: Christian Bale

I haven't even seen The Fighter. I thought John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner and Geoffrey Rush were all superb, but from everything I have heard - and everything I know about Bale - he blows them all out of the water. And, I'd so love to see him win.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech
Melissa Leo for The Fighter
Haliee Steinfeld for True Grit
Jackie Weaver for Animal Kingdom

My pick: Haliee Steinfeld

I loved Carter in The King's Speech - she is such a loving wife and commanding queen, and she mixed the two roles perfectly - but Steinfeld was fantastic. Not only is she only 14 (!), she played foil to both Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, and made them both look like fools. The characters, anyway. I may also be unfairly comparing her to the woman who originated the role, who was just appalling, but I do think Steinfeld was great.

Best Achievement in Directing

Darren Arnofsy for Black Swan
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for True Grit
David Fincher for The Social Network
Tom Hooper for The King's Speech
David O. Russell for The Fighter

My pick: Darren Arnofsy

Anyone who can create that story and get those performances out of those actors deserves any number of awards. I seriously cannot say enough good things about Black Swan.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Another Year: Mike Leigh
The Fighter: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Inception: Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech: David Seidler

My pick: Inception

Hands down. I wasn't really expecting Nolan to get a nomination for best director, but this screenplay is genius. The others are very good, don't get me wrong - the dialogue is great and the characters well rounded - but just the concept for Inception is so mind-boggling that Nolan should get an Oscar with an over-sized cranium.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

127 Hours: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
True Grit: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

My pick: Winter's Bone

I thought the writing in this movie was truly spectacular - Ree is a tough, uncompromising and at times, very funny character. Her interactions with her siblings were perfect, and she was the most real character in any of these movies. Also, I'd love to see a couple of women beat all those men.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

My pick: Toy Story 3

Without question - this would be the biggest shocker for me if it doesn't win. Not only was it an excellent movie (the best of the series, I'd say), it is a Pixar movie, and Pixar doesn't lose. How to Train Your Dragon was awesome, but not as awesome as Toy Story 3.

I know that 99.9% of the people reading this care not a jot for any of the technical awards, so I will only mention one. The fact that Black Swan did not get a nomination for best sound mixing or editing is a travesty. It is rare for me to actually notice anything like that, and I left the theater and actually said that it should get one of those awards. Seriously, go see the movie and just listen to it. The music plus dialogue plus ambient noise plus the sound of the dancers' toes cracking and the sound of birds' wings is unearthly. I have never even though about this category before, and this year I am angry that a movie didn't get a nomination.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Granola Cookies = Amazing

As it has been hovering around 0 for the past few days, and is currently -6 degrees, I wanted to bake. I also want to comply with the diet, so I found the healthiest-looking cookie recipe I could and added even more stuff to it. The result is pretty amazing.

Granola Cookies

1/2 C of butter, melted (1 stick)
3/4 C white sugar
2 eggs (1/2 C eggbeaters)
1 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt
1/2 C chopped walnuts
1/2 C dried cranberries
1 apple, peeled and chopped (a crisp, flavorful apple - one you would use in a pie)
1 1/2 cup rolled or old fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs until well blended.

Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt; stir into sugar mixture until well blended.

Fold in the walnuts, dried cranberries, apple and oats. Drop dough by spoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto an un-greased baking sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from baking sheet while still warm and cool on wire rack.

I was looking for a cookie recipe that kind of tasted good, and that I also felt good about eating. These are unbelievably delicious, and I feel good about eating them. Possibly all of them. Tonight.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unique Situation

I have recently had an utterly, to me at least, unique experience through my job. Due to the confidentiality issues that obviously go with my current profession (home care), there is only so much I am allowed to say. I probably should not be writing about this at all, but it is something I need to voice in some way, and hearing other opinions would help me understand my own reaction.

Through my job, I have a number of different clients, varying widely in age, gender, medical needs, income, etc. The only thing they do not seem to vary in is race - Maine is as white of a state as I have ever seen, which is odd for someone from New York. Most of the people I see are quite elderly, as one might expect, but one was less so. [From this point on, I will be intentionally vague in my story, which I am sure will be less than illuminating, but is necessary considering my job].

Morgan* is a very pleasant individual, who needs not much more than housekeeping help. I enjoyed the talks we had, and had looked forward to seeing Morgan for quite some time. I went to Morgan's house one morning to work, and my calls went unanswered. This is always worrying for someone in my field - as we see many people who are very elderly or in ill health, no answer automatically leads to some amount of panic.

As I was to learn, Morgan was in no personal ill health. Morgan's child, however, had been killed a few days earlier in a shooting.

This news was staggering. The last time I had seen Morgan, I had heard numerous stories about this child - how proud Morgan was of the child and other typical parental statements. Which is what made it so shocking to hear that this person had been killed, and more than that, killed by police after exhibiting threatening behavior.

I have since read numerous articles about the event, which are more or less informative, but the part that really got to me were the comments. As with news stories about a friend of mine who committed suicide a few years ago, the comments, 95% of the time from perfect strangers, were almost always damaging and cruel.

In the case of the friend of mine, comments ranged from "people who commit suicide will go to hell" to "glad they rid the world of one useless individual". These made an already tragic occurrence even more horrible. This was a person I had known for years, who I shared laughs with, who I had never known to be mean to another person, and who was, in death, slandered by people who had never had the honor of knowing them.

In the case of the shooting, there are two types of comments. Every single one I have read, and there have been many, falls into one of these two categories: 1) "People who try to attack police deserve to be killed/deserve what they get/can't suffer enough, etc." or 2) "The police shouldn't have shot to kill/they are gun happy/the police should be shot, etc".

In a normal case, and by normal, I mean one with which I have no connection what so ever, I would be more on the side of the first group of commentators: while I would not advocate the immediate execution of someone who threatens police, I am certainly of the opinion that one does not advance on them with weapons.

My connection with this person, however, gives my a more unique outlook. Rather than some wacko I am reading about in the paper, this person is someone's child, someone I have heard stories about, someone whose baby pictures I have seen. This connection changed the incident from an 'event' to a 'tragedy' for me. It is a slim connection, yes, but it is one, and that makes the comments from outsiders hurtful to me as well.

I do not expect to see Morgan again, as I have not since the incident. I think about the family often, and know there is nothing at all I can do to help. What surprised me the most was the way a random incident becomes very personal, even through the smallest of connections.

*an intentionally gender-neutral pseudonym

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Green Tea - Restaurant Review

Green Tea - Fine Asian cuisine & bar
1005 Main Street
Sanford, ME 04073

Haha, you say, fine Asian cuisine in Maine. As if. Well, your laughter is not incorrect. Green Tea was not a bad restaurant, it just wasn't very good, either. I don't think the word 'fine' is quite warranted. 'Asian', however, is spot on. Most of the items on the menu are Chinese (or rather, the American idea of Chinese), but it also includes miso soup (Japanese), pad thai (Thai) and pho (Vietnamese). The only thing lacking was a representative from Korea, but I guess 4 out of 5 ain't bad.

Dave and I were both feeling hungry, cold and sick, so we got very basic food - hot tea and a combo platter which consisted of pork fried rice, crab rangoons, boneless spare ribs and ironically, vegetarian lo mein. It was not the worst Chinese food I have eaten, but it was also by no means the best. The price was pretty unbeatable though - dinner for two (plus a few meals worth of leftovers) added up to $19. The tea, as with any Asian restaurant worth it's salt, was free.

There really isn't much else to write about, really. I feel I would have enjoyed the meal quite a bit more if the patrons at the neighboring table had not been quite so loud, drunk and obnoxious, but that is merely speculation. I did, however, enjoy all the stares we got for using chopsticks. We were the only people in the restaurant to do so. Incidentally, despite the place being packed, there was precicely one person of Asian decent - the maitre d'. I won't say definitely, but I am 65% sure he was actually raised in America, and was faking the accent. It was of indeterminate origin, came and went throughout the evening, and sounded like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Seriously.

What the restaurant did give us, though, was this amazing fortune. Made everything else worth it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Aunt Lydia's Sugar Cookies!

Technically, Lydia was my great, great aunt. She was the second of eight children born to Allison Henry Porter (whom I am named after) and his wife Joanna. Lydia's younger sister, Mary, was my great grandmother. As far as I am aware, this is Lydia's original recipe. They have always been hugely popular in my family, and are always referred to as "Aunt Lyda's sugah cookies" (with a Texan accent).
Making these cookies is my oldest cooking memory, and this is the first time I have made them on my own. I recently became the owner of a copy of The Porter Family Cookbook, put together in the late 80s by my grandmother. Not only does it have hundreds of beloved family recipes, it has a family tree dating back 150 years. One of my goals in life is to update this book and add some historical chapters to it, and have it actually published.

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 t baking powder
1/2 C Crisco
1 C sugar
2 eggs, beaten (1/2 C eggbeaters)
1/2 t vanilla
1 T milk

Cream the Crisco and sugar together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt and baking powder together.

To the sugar mixture, add the eggs, vanilla, milk.

Then add the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly and chill. The dough must be cold enough that the cookies can keep their shape, so a few hours in the refrigerator is best.

Roll the dough thin on a floured board - I use a large plastic place mat, as this makes clean up easier. Cut into shapes or rounds. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

I decided to make these cookies today because it was snowing. All. Day. Below is a photo of the result of one day of snow.

Also, making cookies gave me an excuse to use the awesome cookie cutters I got for Christmas.
Who wouldn't want cookies in the shape of a beehive or a pirate ship?


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sapporo - Restaurant Review

Saporro Restaurant
230 Commercial Street
Union Wharf
Portland, ME 04101

Friday was the first day Dave and I had had alone together in three weeks, so we decided to have a real date night. Both of us wanted Japanese food, and the movie we wanted to see, The King's Speech, was only playing in Portland, so to Portland we would go. Being a port city, any cuisine based in seafood is very popular, and there are quite a few Japanese restaurants. We had already been to one, Benkay, and while it was good, I wanted to try a new one.

Sapporo got good ratings on Yelp! and seemed reasonably priced, so we made a reservation for 7:30. The restaurant was full, but the layout makes it both private and quieter than it really is. There are half walls in between most of the tables, and cloth hangings on the walls and ceiling to absorb noise. The ambiance is lovely and lets you concentrate on (and hear) your own conversation.

The food was simply fantastic. The menu is extensive and has both sushi, noodle dishes, teriyakis and various other things. We got miso soup, shrimp tempura (fried shrimp and vegetables - 6 pieces), shumai (shrimp and vegetable dumplings - 8 pieces) and edamame for appetizers. That sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that seafood is light and portions aren't huge. I had never eaten edamame before (yes, I know, *gasp*, the horror!) and I loved it. I'm craving more right now, actually.

For the sushi course we got a spicy tuna roll (excellent), a Boston roll (good) and a California roll (good). I would like to try different ones the next time we go back. And maybe be more adventurous. Anything not eel. I don't do eel.

For dessert Dave got the ginger tempura ice cream (good, just not enough ice cream) and I had the mochi sundae. The latter consisted of chocolate ice cream (which I generally don't like, but I ate it anyway), fresh strawberries and, my favorite, mango mochi ice cream (small scoops of mango ice cream encased in mochi). I'll ask in the future if they can substitute some other flavor for the chocolate.

After all that (very good) food, our bill came to about $50, which is insanely reasonable for a Japanese restaurant. There is an extensive drink menu, but hot tea is free, which is a large bonus. All in all, a fantastic restaurant that I look forward going to again.