Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 Movies of 2011

I made a list of my favorite movies from 2011! My criteria is pretty broad, and I tried to include movies from a wide range of genres. The movies all had to have one thing in common: rewatchability. There is a place for movies that no one would ever want to watch a second time despite their critical acclaim, but this list is not that place.

I'm sure I've made some glaring omissions, and there are many great movies that I simply did not see, but all in all I'm happy with my list. Here are my top ten of movies from 2011 (in no particular order). Happy movie watching!

50/50 (drama, comedy, bromance). You may remember me talking about this movie endlessly, saying things like, "Drop what you are doing, and go see this movie!" I stand by that statement. This movie stars Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's about a guy who gets diagnosed with a type of cancer that has a 50% survival rate, and how he and his best friend deal with that reality. Next to Bridesmaids, this is the funniest movie I've seen all year. That said, I also sobbed more during this film than in any movie since the Lion King (Mufasa dying hit my 12 year old self pretty hard). I saw it twice in the theater (high praise). Although I did not put these movies in any order, if I had to pick my #1, this would be it. Hands down. So, again I say: drop what you are doing, and go see this movie.

Friends with Benefits (romantic comedy). Yes, I will give you that this movie is a predictable romantic comedy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is a comfort in the rom-com formula, and sometimes you want that comfort. This movie is the best out of the newly popular "friends with benefits fall in love" sub-genre of romantic comedies, and it's just generally the best romantic comedy I've seen in ages. Rom-coms have gotten lazy. Just because they have a predictable formula does not mean that things like on screen chemistry, good comedy, and a great "I love you moment" should be done half-assedly. And yet one need look no further than Something Borrowed or How Do You Know to see that this shoddy craftsmanship has become the norm. Not so with this movie. I laughed often, and I really wanted the two main characters to find each other. I was not disappointed.

Win Win (drama). Back when we were podcasting, my cohorts and I reviewed this movie here. I loved this movie, as has everyone I know that's seen it. The movie is about a down on his luck wrestling coach who finds himself looking after a down on his luck kid, who happens to be an amazing wrestler. They bond, and both their lives are better for it. While from that synopsis alone, you would have to drag me to see this movie, it was actually amazing. It manages to be heartwarming, but not cheesy in the slightest. It stars Paul Giamani as the lead. Listen to the podcast. See the movie. DO IT!

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol (action): This is by far the best of all the Mission Impossible movies. Adjectives I would use to describe this movie include: funny, suspenseful, surprising, entertaining, cheese-free, and heart pounding. Some of you may remember my eye roll inducing attempt to rewatch MI:2, and I have to say I was a little leery of the 4th installment after that debacle, but this was amazingly entertaining. I can honestly say, I hope there is a 5th!

Super 8 (drama, suspense, monster, family friendly): This movie stars a bunch of kids, a monster, and Kyle Chandler. The kids in the film are amerature film-makers, something I can identify with as this was the number one hobby of my brother and his friends growing up, While the kids film a scene in their movie, a train crashes and a monster is released. The rest of the town is evacuated, and the kids (of course) are the only ones who know the about the monster, and they set out to find out what's going on. While the plot seems silly, the acting (superb) and visual effects , as well as directing, make the movie one of the best of the year. I actually think my ol' movie reviewing buddy Pete reviews the movie perfectly here.

Bridesmaids (comedy): I saw this movie twice in the theater, and happily would have paid to see it a third time. Although I've complained that raunchy humour has all but completely pushed good-clean comedy from the movie reels, that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it when done right. This movie did everything right: it was both ridiculously (and sometimes disgustingly) hilarious, but it also had heart, and the characters, while exaggerated, felt like real people. I could identify with the main character, as I imagine just about any woman whose best friend got married before her might. while I cringed at many of her choices I could also see some of that stuff happening to me, which made it all funnier. Additionally, it was nice to see a "chic-flic" with some balls ovaries, and refreshing to see a movie focused on a female lead (Kristen Wiig) who was not on a mission to find love.

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen movie): I picked this movie mostly because the cinematography was gorgeous. No movie has ever made me want to go to Paris as badly as this one did, and I started planning a trip before the end credits rolled. The movie is basically about a writer who is on a trip to Paris with his horrible fiance & her parents. At midnight, Paris is somehow transformed to 1920's, and the writer is able to hob-knob with literary & musical greats, as well as influential artists, and in doing so he learns a thing or two. I have to admit, I love this time period, which may have a large part in why I loved this movie. It was magical, humourous, thought-considering, and all in all enjoyable. If you are going to watch a Woody Allen movie, watch this one.

Crazy Stupid Love (dramedy, romantic, bromance): I guess this movie is about family, friendship, and finding that special someone. Barf! No really, it's good. Cal's (Steve Carell) wife (Julianne Moore) asks him for a divorce at the start of the movie. Depressed, he starts hanging out in a bar where he meets the sexy Jacob (Ryan Gossling) who kind of takes him under his wing and helps him get his grove back. Meanwhile, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), and falls in love. So, the movie has elements of romance & family, and is both funny and dramatic, but in the end, I really classify this movie as a bromance between Cal and Jacob. Their relationship is what drives the movie, and their relationship is the one you are most invested in. I loved everything about this movie. EVERYTHING. I can't say one negative thing about it. Sexy people, love, romance, and a few laughs. Great movie.

X-Men: First Class (fantasy, action/adventure): I believe the word I used to describe how I felt during this movie was "rivited." I was. This movie was absolutely gorgeous to watch. I loved the sense of time created by the colors used in the film. The movie was also smart. It was not just another X-Men movie; it had much more depth and was much more interesting (as is often the case with orgin stories). The action scenes were both beautful and intense. I just loved this movie. My only complaint (and I have to say it) was January Jones' pathetic acting in the movie. Not since Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, has any one actor's performance done as much to ruin a movie. Ugh..she was dreadful, but if you can look past that, then you should be able to enjoy this movie.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts I&II (fantasy, action/adventure, family): I put both of these movies together because they are the same book, so really they are the same movie. I have long been disappointed with Harry Potter movies (the books are better), but I have a hard time finding fault with this one. It is truly Epic with a capital E. I believe my tweet after seeing this movie was something like, "As I was leaving Harry Potter, I thought to myself, "If anyone ever tries to remake this movie franchise, I will cut them." And, that's how I feel, mostly due to this last movie. It was larger than life, and I loved it.

Honorable Mentions: movies didn't quite make the list, but that I still recommend highly.

Drive - has a very low re-watchability, and it certainly is not for everyone, however I found it breathtaking. Caution: this movie has some incredibly violent scenes.
Adjustment Bureau
- I need to see this again, and I'll hazard a guess that when I do, I will regret not putting it on my top ten list. It was really interesting and an enjoyable ride. Also: Matt Damon.
The Future - okay, so I haven't actually seen this, but it's by Miranda July, so I'm sure I'll love it. It's in my queue.

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    weekend of fun (sentimental blog post warning)

    Last weekend I was in Portland for my friend Heather's wedding. It was awesome, not only because I was happy for Heather (or because I was in Portland), but because I got to see many friends I had not seen for 4 or more years. That is too long to go between visits, but what I loved was how seamlessly we fell back into conversations. Although catching up was delightful, what was most wonderful was that it didn't fell like any time had passed since our last seeing each other. Now, of course I miss everyone anew. Not to get all sentimental, but I really am blessed to have found the friends I have through the years. I know that not everyone is this lucky. I can only hope we don't go 4 years in between visits again. Here are a few pictures from the weekend:

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    my Lulu

    I love this picture of Lucy.

    i've said it before

    ...and I'll say it again:

    Grading papers blows!

    It is, without a doubt, the worst part of my job. Kids threatening to light me on fire? Bring it. Papers needing to be graded? NO! Erg.

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    and we're back!

    Okay, so I had to hit the archives, but I've been working like crazy, and have not been able to make taking photos a priority. :( But! I'm going out of town to places pretty, so hopefully I will snap some delights. In the meantime, check out the serious back-log of photos.

    the sky's the limit

    City Garden, St. Louis, MO

    summer evening in the loop

    St. Louis, MO

    Glacier Love

    Glacier NP

    end of summer

    Near Billings, MT

    hidden picture

    Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis)

    take over

    Klondike SP



    Although it seems so, I'm not actually obsessed with light houses.

    no trespassing

    Outside Congaree NP

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    where has the week gone?!!?

    Sorry I'm behind on posting. Work & life have been crazy busy. I will make up for all my days with out pictures starting Friday. For those of you who actually care: sorry! :)

    Saturday, August 20, 2011

    lighthouse 2


    oops! I didn't post yesterday, so this is for Friday. :)

    Thursday, August 18, 2011


    This seems a bit cruel...


    Well, hello 26 foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe in downtown Chicago. Psst...I think your drawers are showing! So, for this photo we are back in Chicago. My sister, mom and I stumbled upon this, and it is hilarious and random, but also a little awesome. I don't know that I would want to look at it everyday if this was my view from my cubical, but as a tourist, it was pretty funny, made all the more so when I went around to the back and saw the detail on her panties.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011


    I thought I'd take a break from Chicago photos. I stumbled upon this little guy in St. Louis. I just imagine him as a little alien or robot peeking his head out to say "meep!"

    blue chicago

    I took this while on the boat tour. I just love the hues of blue in it, and am happy that my flash didn't white everything out or that the lack of flash didn't blur it all. Again, the boat tour was awesome. I recommend it!

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011


    Alright people, I see a few skylines in our future (or many photos of one skyline to be precise). This one is a bit of a cheat because it's not really another picture, but simply a section of an earlier picture (Chicago Raindrop). I just think it's cool that the buildings are distorted. I can't quite get enough of this sculpture. I wasn't sure what the big deal would be, but when I saw it I knew: it's just immensely cool.

    the noble duke of chicago

    Do you remember that children's song, The Noble Duke of York? This photo get's that song stuck in my head.

    The noble duke of York, he had ten thousand men.
    He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.
    And when you’re up you’re up.
    And when you’re down you’re down.
    And when you’re only half way up you’re neither up nor down.
    He marched them to the left. He marched them to the right.
    He marched them almost upside down, oh what a silly sight.

    Monday, August 15, 2011


    The first word that came to my mind when I saw this photo was "ominous," While we had a lovely time at Navy Pier, the evening was not without dangers: we found ourselves on a party boat that played "Sweet Home Alabama" no fewer than 3 times (all to the excited "whoo!'s" of drunk girls), then had dinner wherein we were rained on and my "medium well" hamburger was raw at best (still alive at worst). These obstacles were not about to get out our way of our trip; however, we managed to escape with our good humor in tact. All in all it was wonderful trip; I had a great time with my mom and sister.

    chicago raindrop

    Millennium Park is awesome and gorgeous. While we were there, we stumbled upon a group of about 200 people doing zumba (not pictured). It was amazingly awesome - and free! Chicago is cool. Crowded, but cool.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    chairs about town

    My cat, Lucy, sitting anywhere but in one of the 300 chairs in this room.

    In other news, I will be out of town this weekend, so while my posting will be suspended, hopefully I'll snap some cool photos. I'll post when I get back.

    rainy day croquet

    Today I tried to take pictures of ordinary objects.

    I thought about cropping this a little differently, but kept going back and forth. I'm still not 100% sure I made the right choices, but I cropped it with a little more on the sides than I originally wanted because I've made the mistake in the past of cropping without taking into account the amount of space mats take up and have been screwed when going to frame something.

    happy national s'more day!

    I did not mean to have two S'more related posts so close together, but it was brought to my attention that today is National S'more Day. How could I let that go with out a word?

    Tuesday, August 09, 2011

    yeah, i'll keep him

    This is photographic evidence of one of the rare instances in which Cooper is worn out.

    Sunday, August 07, 2011

    sprouts of happiness

    While it's no Central Park, St. Louis' City Garden is a bright spot downtown, and a promise of how vibrant and inviting St. Louis could become if we commit to its development.

    Saturday, August 06, 2011

    two guesses as to how i'm spending my saturday night...

    Laundry sucks. Here's why:
    • The one good thing that can be said for doing laundry might be the fact that while it's washing and drying, you don't have to actually do anything. But you do. You have to wait. You can't leave the house - it might burn down! (that happened to a friend of mine) Sure you can do other things around the house, but you are still at the machine's beck and call. You are its bitch.
    • The washer and dryer do not take the same amount of time. It just seems so inefficient. I could wash two loads in the time it takes to dry one, but then I'd have wet piles of laundry hanging around, so there's no point.
    • The dryer buzzes and you are elated, then you remember you still have to fold/hang the clothes and put them away. Or: dryer buzzes, no elation, decide you'll get laundry at the next commercial break, forget about it, later find all your dry clothes wrinkled and your wet clothes mildewy, curse yourself for not just pressing "pause" on your TiVo, decide to rewash everything because you don't own an iron. This process may or may not repeat.
    • The dryer is now empty, everything is clean, put away, and your bed sheets smell like linen breeze (or fragrance free in my case), and you think "This was worth it," and you change into your pajamas, dropping the clothes you were wearing into the f'ing laundry basket; it's a viscous cycle.

    toaster oven s'more

    You all know how I feel about s'mores (I love them), but it's been too hot to even consider going camping around here, so I haven't had any all summer. Last night I decided to try to make a s'more in the toaster oven. While better than most people's attempts to make the treat, it still was not perfect, but it did satisfy my craving.

    water plants

    Last night I went for a nighttime stroll around my neighborhood, and I stopped off at the farmer's market. I know they'd go out of business if it was vacant all the time (which would be bad), but it was really peaceful to be there alone at night.

    I really like taking photos at night, but I don't really know how to do it well. They usually are out of focus, and lighting is problematic. I'm still learning how to use my camera, and I'm sure there are better settings I could use to get better shots, but I still need to figure that out. Any pointers?

    Friday, August 05, 2011

    the lucky duck

    if you take my cell phone, you will kill my child!

    Last night I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of the movie 30 Minutes or Less. I get these passes occasionally through a pretty awesome website (gofobo); it's a great way to see movies for free if you are willing to put up with some inconveniences (like arriving at the movie nearly an hour early to ensure your seat). I am willing to put up with minor inconveniences because I love movies, and I am cheap.

    Another inconvenience that free moviegoers sometimes have to endure is giving up their cell phones. The studio of the movie makes this decision, and it is a preventative measure against piracy attempts. When faced with this, you have three choices: you can either leave your phone in the car, check it (like a coat check for phones), or decide not to see the movie. Whenever this happens, people grumble. I can understand a little grumbling, especially if you are there alone and you have an hour's sit awaiting you before the movie, but what I can not understand is the sky is falling mentality that the world is going to end if you don't have your cell phone on you for 2 hours; that's insane. But what I cannot stand for is people being rude about it and acting as though saying "no cell phones allowed" is somehow taking away one of their inalienable rights. Last time I checked, the Constitution didn't say anything about cell phones. Unfortunately rudeness abounds, and last night was no different.

    I'm in line relinquishing my cell phone, and the woman in front of me becomes irate, yelling at the young phone check girl that, "It is absurd that you are taking people's cellphones when they have children at home with the babysitter. Something could happen!" To which I jumped in and said, "You know, there was a time when we didn't all have cell phones on us all the time." I'd like to think several people said, "YEAH! You tell her!," but really it was only one guy. She stormed off.

    Look lady, you are seeing a movie for free. It is your choice to be here, and if you really don't want to turn over your cell phone, go buy a ticket to see one of the other 16 movies playing at this theater. Do not take out your crazy sense of phone entitlement on this poor 19 year old who is just doing her job.

    Okay, so here's where all the parents chime in, "But what if there IS an emergency!?! This is crazy! I have to have my cell phone for my KIIIIIDS!" To that I say: hogwash!

    It shouldn't surprise you that not so long ago people went places - out to dinner, to a movie, to a play - without cell phones even though they had kids! Egads! How reckless! So, what did people do in these olden times (10 years ago)? Well, they hired reliable and responsible babysitters, and they left the location and phone number to the place they were going, as well as 1 or 2 other emergency contact numbers with that babysitter. If there was an emergency (a REAL emergency), then the babysitter would call 911 and then get a hold of the parents. As hard as this may be to believe, businesses still have phone numbers, and babysitters can still call these numbers in an emergency. This is exactly what your parents did when you were a kid, and somehow you are still alive to disregard the tale.

    Look, cellphones are great; I love mine, but the crazed dependence on them is getting out of hand. Everyone needs to chill out and learn to disconnect every once and a while. The world will not end, nothing will explode, and your heart will not stop when you hit the "power off" button on your phone. Try it; I dare you.

    Wednesday, August 03, 2011

    sunflower surprise

    Yesterday as I headed home from my downtown photo adventure, I was feeling somewhat defeated. Although I did take some pictures that ended up being not terrible (which I'll post at some point), I wasn't really happy with any of them; none of them were of something I loved. And then BAM! sunflowers. Seriously, I was taking a shortcut home, and what do I see but a gorgeous patch of sunflowers. A small patch in someone's yard, but sunflowers just the same. I love sunflowers! Naturally, I stopped the car and promptly trespassed to get some photos. I was really annoyed that sun was behind them, and vowed to go back at another time of day to have some better luck (which I still may do), but I actually kind of like this picture all the same.

    missoula path, 2010

    This photo makes me happy, so you all get a bonus picture! Missoula Path, 2010

    I was looking through old photos that I like to figure out what it was that liked about them, so as to capitalize on that, but I realize it may just be the subject material and not actually that there is anything special about them beyond that. Anyway, this photo is from a path that I spent a lot of time on when I lived (or now visit) Missoula. I would ride my bike on this path to reach tennis courts, or take it to reach the Mountain in the background so I could hike up to the M. So, I'm going to list some of the things I like about it, and I welcome you to tell me what you like about it and/or give me suggestions 0n how it could have been better.

    What I like about it:
    I tend to like paths, roads, train-tracks, etc, and they are prominent in many of my photos; this may stem from my love of travel, or I just like the lines, or both. Anyway, I like the path, and the idea of where it might lead. I also like the colors; the sky is a beautiful blue, and I love that the shades of green add dimension without being "showy." The benches, streetlamp, and the people on the path gives this place a sense of community and makes it feel alive. So Of course, I feel this way -in part- because of the memories affiliated with this photo; in other words, I'm biased.

    Summer Bay Resort

    My friend Billy said, "Take pictures of what you love," Well, most of the pictures I've taken and loved have either been taken in the wild or in Missoula, MT (otherwise known as the place wherein my heart lives), but today I could get to neither of those places,so I tried to love downtown St. Louis during a heat-wave. I headed downtown to walk around, and I stumbled upon this:

    This photo, admittedly, has problems. I'm not at all experienced at taking photos of urban landscapes, and hopefully I'll get better, but this was just too hilarious for me not to post. "Summer Bay Resort" in downtown St. Louis, um... what? Not surprisingly, it appears to be out of business.

    30 day photography challenge

    I had the idea that I should post a photo everyday. I am not a professional photographer, but occasionally I do take some pretty cool photos. I definitely need to get better, so I thought this would be a good way to motivate myself to try to take one interesting photo a day.

    I decided I needed a theme, and immediately the idea of "Place" popped into my head. I am generally drawn to photos that evoke feelings of time and place (great photos also hint at a deeper story that one has only glimpsed), so it seems natural that I should try to capture that with my own lens. Of course, when I say "place," that could mean a specific place, but it could also just mean a sense of place, so don't look for pictures of landmarks everyday (although there may be landmarks sometimes), and I can only hope that a few of my photos conjure up stories for people as they look at them; we'll see what success I have.

    Constructive criticism of the photos is welcome as I am learning, but please keep in mind: I'm learning. I'm not proclaiming that I am a great photographer or that I am a better photographer than you or anyone else. I just like photos, and would like to better be able to express myself through photography in a way that ends up being pleasing to the eye.

    I am not going to use PhotoShop or any other kind of photo-manipulation, aside from turning a photo black and white (I'd switch film, but we're in the digital age and I don't have film). Why no manipulations? Well, on Google+ I follow several photographers, and this has caused me to give quite a bit of thought to photo-manipulation lately. Is a photograph really a photograph once it has been manipulated with PhotoShop to get ride of "blemishes" in the landscape or to make colors more vibrant - or different all together? It's artistry, but is is photography? For me, it's no longer true photography. A photograph is a snapshot of time, place, emotions, etc, and as such is raw and truthful. Once manipulated, that truth is gone.

    I'm not saying there isn't a time and place for photo manipulation; there is, and those images can be breathtakingly beautiful (or just good fun if you want to make a photo look "retro" for a Facebook post), but they aren't really photographs anymore. Art, potentially, but not photography.

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts that have been going through my head lately. You may agree or not, but right now it's my story and I'm sticking to it. Meanwhile, I'm off to take a photo.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    beat the heat

    It's been so hot in St. Louis lately, so I thought Cooper could use some time at a lake. He loves to swim. I just wish the lakes around my house were as inviting to me as they are to my dog.

    warm fuzzy shout-out

    Today I stumbled upon a kindred spirit at Warm Fuzzies.

    my new obsession

    is this guy's photography blog, called Stuck in Customs. I can't get enough. Seriously. Check it out.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    i am from poem

    I just started my LAST master's class. I took a couple years off (that is to say the class I needed to graduate took a couple of years off), but I'm finally finishing up. Today in class our teacher had us write a poem, and as this was not an English class, I was a little perturbed. But as it turns out, it was actually pretty cool (albeit also a little cheesy), and although I by no means think I'm a poet, I thought I'd share the poem here. She got the idea from Mary Pipher's I Am From, and modified it a bit. Anyway, it was kind of cool, and I might actually try something like this with my kids as we embark on our immigration unit. Here is my I Am From poem:

    I Am From (as inspired by Mary Pipher)
    I Am From Tim, Jackie, Ester, Andy, Mildred, and Leo
    I Am From Ireland, Germany, and the farmland of Illinois
    I Am From Grandma G----'s rolls, lasagna, sweet corn, the perfect s'more, pizza, Dr. Pepper, Chinese take out, mashed potatoes & roast.
    I Am From trust that everyone is doing their best; see the world, but always come home; people in hell want ice water, but they don't get it; tell the truth; catch ‘em doing something good, and we love you.
    I Am From Christmas mornings, Easter egg hunts, and all the Sundays in between.
    I Am From teachers, farmers, and small business owners
    I Am From the Monster at the End of this Book, the Princess Bride, 500, Le Mutt, movies during thunderstorms, playing Tetrus until my eyes water, and Free to Be You and Me.
    I Am From hikes through the mountains; treks through the cities; I can’t believe we ended up at the beach, and mom told us not to pack a swimsuit; songs sung on road trips; and wait, wasn't that our exit?
    I Am From the Pride and Prejudice, Ishmael, and the Delicacy and Strength of Lace.
    I am me and those before me.

    Saturday, January 08, 2011

    website plug

    check out my friend's blog. He has some cool artwork and stuff.