January 1st 2013
Happy New Year! I rang in 2013 with folk mostly from work, eating possibly the most expensive meal I've ever had and guessing when midnight was, since everyone's watch said something different. That cheesecake at just gone midnight was quite magnificent... probably my highlight of 2013 so far. My lowlight is probably Wolves continuing their dismal run of form by losing 3-1 this afternoon. Anyways, it's tradition time here at Colin's Online Diary, with the usual bundle of questions to review the past year: 1. What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before?
Spoke at the front of Cairns Road (twice, now); became a church member; went to the Olympics; had a Brick Lane curry; drove a car; went to a Premier League match that didn't feature Wolves; voted for a mayor; got the letters 'FIA' after my name; managed someone at work; watched horse racing; bought a swede. 2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I improved my Bible reading, although I've not managed to make it every day yet. I've already said on Twitter - and if you're not yet following me on Twitter, then why not? I'm @colinjthomas - that I don't intend to disclose my New Year's resolutions, because that way no one will know if I fail... but, having said that, I'm going to break even that one resolution of sorts, by telling you that I intend to re-read/read all of Agatha Christie's novels this year. You will, no doubt, read more about this in the fulness of time. 3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
But of course. Welcome to the world Sophie Evans, Zebedee Gulliver, Nathaniel Watts (who shares my birthday) and no doubt others whom I've temporarily forgotten. They won't notice; they're babies. 4. Did anyone close to you die?
Terry Connor looked like he was dying for a few months at end of last season... but no. 5. What countries did you visit?
England; probably Wales. I don't think I made it to Scotland in 2012. You know, I've never been much of a traveller. 6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A Gryffindor tie to go with my recently-purchased Gryffindor robes; a driving licence (maybe... which is exactly what I said 12 months ago); the last Wheel of Time book, which was previously promised in late 2012 but should now be coming within the next couple of weeks; any idea whatsoever how much money I have in my Halifax account; a full year in which I want to go to work in the morning; more time spent with Tom, whose house I stayed at during the Summer but whom I barely saw while I was there. 7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
My three days spent at the Olympics will live very long in the memory; my actuarial graduation ceremony; the end of the world. Did that happen? 8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Most of my achievements this year have been quiz-related: I was part of the team that won the 2012 Bristol Actuarial Society quiz, and will thus help to organise the next one at the end of February. My quiz team also had a fairly incredible winning streak at the Deco Lounge, and - seven years after formation - Ricky and the Red Stripes had their first ever quiz victory, at a pub near Rob's Mum's house. Glorious. 9. What was your biggest failure?
Mediocrity. And I burnt some onions. 10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
There was a week when the skin was coming off the tips of my fingers a lot, and I wasn't sure why until I remembered that I hadn't worn rubber gloves to clean the kitchen floor... I had actually been blaming Head & Shoulders up until that point. Otherwise, nothing worse than a bit of a fever that kept me off work for half a day. 11. What was the best thing you bought?
I was pleased with the Christmas jumper that I bought for Simon - and, indeed, the one he bought for me, although that doesn't really answer this question. I bought some of my Olympics tickets last year, although the best ones were the front row seats in the Olympic Stadium, which I bought in 2011. I bought a new TV, which does the job very nicely albeit undramatically - it ain't a 50 inch screen or anything - but the best purchase of 2012 must be my Samsung Galaxy Siii, the first smartphone I've ever owned which has made me wonder why I never had one before. 12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
All those people connected with London 2012, whom I've written about before; Matt & Jenny and Tom & Kat, who all got engaged; Ant & Becca, who are expecting a little boy; the good people of Bristol, for voting to have an elected mayor when most of the rest of the country decided not to; Barack Obama; the cast & crew of the last ever episode of Hustle; Joss Whedon (director of Avenger Assemble); the Bootleg Beatles, whom I saw with Dad this year and who were awesome; Andy Murray. 13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Julian Assange; anyone still suggesting that gun laws in American shouldn't be tightened; many people connected with the Jubilee (not least Simon's neighbour, who decided that Union flags were too offensive to display); people who got excited by William & Kate's pregnancy (not least Simon... sorry, Simon. You know I love you really); Terry Connor; whoever thought it was a good idea to vote for Police & Crime Commissioners; whoever thought it was a good idea to give these people a job title that appears to imply that they commission crime; the Anglican House of Laity; anyone who bought 50 Shades of Grey. 14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent. This has just reminded me that I owe AXA £515, and have done for some considerable time... I should really get on and pay that. I'll do it this evening. 15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The Olympics! What a time. 16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
Muse's song for the Olympics, I guess. Perhaps the Weezer song that is played in the background of this video, but probably not, since there's no chance I'll remember that I watched it in 2012. Perhaps the few notes that accompany each episode of the excellent Lizzie Bennet Diaries. 17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
I can't remember how I was feeling this time last year... at the moment I'm feeling a bit miserable about the holidays ending.
ii. thinner or fatter?
Definitely thinner on top. Not so sure about the rest.
iii. richer or poorer?
Richer. I spent more on Christmas presents than I ever have in 2012, but I was astonished to learn that the average - average! - total spent on presents by people in the UK is £383. Maybe my family is just less extravagant than other families, and I know that I buy for only a few people, but that still seems crazy to me. 18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Last year I said that I stopped playing squash, so I'm glad I started that up again... now I need to do more winning at squash. 19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
I probably stayed in bed past 10am more often than is healthy. 20. How will you be spending Christmas?
The usual; but this time in a polar bear jumper from first thing. 21. How did it take you so many years to notice that this thing doesn't have a Question 21?
I noticed last year, in fairness. 22. Did you fall in love in 2012?
Only with Jessica Ennis... but who didn't? 24. What was your favourite TV program?
Simon got me into Happy Endings in 2012, and Dave got me into Community. I've also been watching Matthew Perry's latest sitcom, called Go On, with more tolerance than enjoyment, and my appreciation of The Big Bang Theory has increased. HIMYM is still a staple, and few things make me laugh as much as HIGNFY, which somehow remains reasonably fresh despite having run for donkey's years. There were some stellar Doctor Who episodes in 2012, and while the departure of Amy and Rory was sad, the new companion looks like a winner. Perhaps most of all, 2012 was the year of Pointless; the BBC quiz show of which I barely miss an episode... Dave and I are planning to audition this year. 25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Er... Haylor? That's what Twitter's telling me, anyway. 26. What was the best book you read?
The Hunger Games, by a country mile - a book hasn't leapt out at me like that for many years. 27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Because I'd bought very few CDs in 2012, I went on a bit of a splurge about halfway through the year. I was very disappointed by The Velvet Underground and Nico, which is supposed to be a classic but didn't impress me at all. The best album I bought must be Funeral by Arcade Fire, which I found out about through the TV show Chuck and which hangs together as a an album - as opposed to a collection of songs - in a way that you don't come across very often these days. I also loved the Rock of Ages soundtrack. 28. What did you want and get?
A hot sauce T-shirt. That's what happens when you buy a hot sauce T-shirt. 29. What did you want and not get?
A replacement letter U for my laptop keyboard (in fairness, I didn't really try); beautiful and eligible women to realise that what they really want to complete their life is a slightly (?) overweight actuary with facial hair and a receding hairline. Fingers crossed, 2013. 30. What was your favourite film of this year?
The Coddies are on their way, I promise you, so I won't pre-empt them. The best non-2012 film that I saw was A Few Good Men, closely followed by About Last Night... 31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old?
I was 27, and I went to work. I'll be honest, I've had better birthdays. 32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A proper manager to replace Mick McCarthy would have been nice, although I'm not sure that would have been immeasurable. I didn't go to any weddings in 2012, making it the first year for a long time that that's been the case, so breaking my streak was rather unsatisfying. 33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
I now own two Christmas ties. 34. What kept you sane?
Medical science. 35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
The lovely Emma Stone, who had already won me over with Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love, but really sealed the deal with The Amazing Spider-Man. Did you know that Emma Stone has a Twitter account (@stonenobrien) with over one million followers - including me - but she has never actually tweeted? Our breath is communally bated. 36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I got quite into the Bristol mayoral election, although I've curiously lost interest now that the man I wanted has got in. The USA presidential election was considerably less interesting, given that - despite what the commentators said - it was sewn up well before election night. 37. Whom did you miss?
It was a shame to see Jay & Becky leave home group, and I shall have to make sure to get in touch with them soon, but no one really departed my life in 2012. 38. Who was the best new person you met?
I need to meet more new people... I honestly can't think of anyone. There's a few people at church that I got to know better this year, so I'll count them, otherwise... Charlie Rawling, who became the first baby I've ever held, and also the first one who ever sneezed on me. That was lovely. 39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:
I'm going to duck under that one, otherwise my 2013 life lesson will be not to write down stuff about people that you might come into face-to-face contact with later, if they're unlikely to like it. 40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: And I've made up my mind / I ain't wasting no more time / But here I go again Here I Go Again - Whitesnake
Billy Joel lyric of the day: There's nothing in it for you / 'Cause I’m giving it all to Leyna (All for Leyna)
January 6th 2013
Back by popular demand (one person) is the annual quiz to see how much attention you've been paying to my blog this year. Not back yet are the 2012 Coddies, which have taken far longer to put together than I had ever imagined, and which will never, ever, take the same format again. Consider that a teaser, and feel free to check out someone else's top 10 in the meantime. Now enjoy some quizzing.
Billy Joel lyric of the day: And I ask her how she knew / To reach out for me at that moment / And she smiles because it's understood / There are no words to say (All About Soul)
January 13th 2013
The wait is over, and the 2012 Coddies (y'know, the Oscar-style awards from Colin's Online Diary) are finally here: for the first time - and, almost certainly, the last - in video format. The number of hours I spent doing this are not necessarily reflected in the quality of the final output, and I don't know why it squashes me so much or how to fix it... it's possible that I'll re-edit to remove a couple of the flaws I've just spotted (or my overly generous assessment of my curry eating) but, I'll be honest, it's highly unlikely. Anyways, I hope you enjoy anyhow. It might reward long-term viewers especially...
But let's do the traditional text version too. Warning: don't read this if you want to surprised when (yes, 'when', not 'if') you watch the video. As ever, films are eligible if they were released in the UK in 2012 or if I watched them on general release during 2012 - so, for example, The Hobbit hasn't been included in this list even though it was released in 2012, because I watched it in 2013. You'll have to wait a full year to find out if it's won anything. Anyways, I saw a record 24 films that qualify for Coddie consideration in 2012, of which only five (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Skyfall, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Expendables 2 & The Master) didn't receive any nominations at all; the first two of those I thought were good, though, and in another year they would almost certainly have scooped a few nominations between them. It just goes to show that 2012 was a rather good year for films, with plenty of tricky choices for the panel (er, just me) to make. Particularly strong this year were leading actresses; in previous years I've pretty much just plumped for any women I've seen in leading roles, whereas this year the likes of Keira Knightley and Kristen Stewart weren't able to make the cut. Anyways, let's get on with it.
Best Film Avengers Assemble - there were several reasons why it should have been impossible to make this into a good film, not least the vast number of characters involved, but Avengers Assemble is a total triumph. Significantly better than any of the individual films leading up to it, this combination of four superheroes and two regular heroes maintains a strong story with coherence and wit, focusing on character interaction with a number of fine actors in key roles, and a clearly enthusiastic director. Can't wait for Avengers 2.
The Hunger Games - great adaptation of a potentially tricky book, bringing the districts, the Capitol and the arena vividly to life and maintaining tension throughout.
The Artist - a film I perhaps admired more than loved, but it is much more than simply a novelty exercise in silent film.
The Descendants - more nuanced than I expected, this adaptation has a distinctive feel and a strong cast led by George Clooney.
Argo - from an incredible true story, this is a brilliantly directed and captivating tale of subterfuge and escape.
The Dark Knight Rises - once you get over its slight pomposity, this is a fitting finale to the imaginative and original trilogy.
Best Actor in a Leading Role Jean Dujardin (The Artist) - in a tough category to call this year, Dujardin's portrayal of a silent movie star fading into mediocrity in the age of sound is both enjoyable and moving, charting his collapse from genial self-confidence to reckless despair. Working in silence was naturally a limitation, but the performance is strong enough that it mostly feels natural rather than a gimmick.
Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) - taking over from Maguire, Garfield makes the role his own, showing Peter Parker's lighter side as well as his adolescent confusion.
George Clooney (The Descendants) - the best performance I've seen from him, Clooney plays a cuckolded husband and struggling father.
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) - it's a very odd role in a very odd film, but Cooper brings a kind of subtlety to his character's mania.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) - another good year for him, and he deserves to be on this list simply for making a believable younger Bruce Willis.
Hugh Grant (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) - Grant's foray into voice work is a great success, allowing him to extend his range from the standard bumbling Brit.
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) - she was never going to get an Oscar for this one, but it is a magnificent performance that holds together a film which could easily have derailed; like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I would happily watch her wordlessly interact with her surroundings. The role is actually surprisingly similar to her Oscar-nominated part in Winter's Bone, so it's no wonder that she brings Katniss to life straight from the pages of the book. Things will only get better for Lawrence.
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) - in an achingly average film, Streep is typically brilliant, portraying Margaret Thatcher both in power and in senile retirement.
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) - she's been Oscar nominated for playing a character whose mental problems are a world away from standard rom-com kookiness.
Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement) - another actress who had a fine year, she is by far the best thing is this meandering but well-intentioned rom-com.
Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) - improvising much of her dialogue in this indie film, Jones gives a realistic portrayal of the ups and downs of young love.
Charlize Theron (Young Adult) - the film's plot is eventually unsatisfying, but Theron's selfish and immature writer at a school reunion is refreshingly atypical.
Best Director Ben Affleck (Argo) - showing further maturity with each new film, this was light years away from Affleck's early career as an actor in the likes of Armageddon and Daredeveil. Some of the best parts of the film are the claustrophobic fighting in the embassy and the tense interrogation at the airport, which are masterfully handled without resorting to the shaky handheld camera that is so beloved of too many directors at the moment. The character development in general could have been better, but this bodes well for Affleck's future career behind the camera.
Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) - this came very close to winning: Wright's stylish and imaginative adaptation is just the right side of pretentious, and he coaxes fantastic performances from his supporting cast.
Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble) - at the helm of this superb film, Whedon barely puts a foot wrong, as director as well as writer.
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) - in his hands the silent film ceases to be a gimmick and feels like a natural way to tell a moving story.
Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) - he trusts his leading actress and moves the story along well, but there were a few too many cuts away from the action in the arena.
Alexander Payne (The Descendants) - giving us a realistic Hawaii rather than an island paradise, he directs an involving story of a believable family.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Mark Ruffalo (Avengers Assemble) - Eric Bana and Ed Norton have both demonstrated that this is a tough role to pull off well, but Ruffalo as Bruce Banner is the stand-out star of a great ensemble piece. Showing a calmness that is forever bordering on rage ("That's my secret. I'm always angry"), he digs into the true emotions of a good man who knows that he can wreak terrible destruction at the drop of a hat. It may have helped that he was the first actor to play both Banner and Hulk.
Jude Law (Anna Karenina) - confirming my long-held suspicion that Law is at his best with facial hair, he comprehensively out-acts Knightley's Anna in a marriage falling apart.
Matthew Macfadyen (Anna Karenina) - immeasurably better than his weak Darcy, Macfadyen produces a wonderfully larger than life performance in this relatively small role.
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) - his best performance in years as a madly superstitious father, he clearly relishes his scenes sparring with Jennifer Lawrence.
Josh Brolin (Men in Black 3) - he deserves to be on this list simply because of his astonishingly accurate impression of a younger Tommy Lee Jones.
Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages) - a completely different role to those he often chooses, Cruise flexes his muscles in a delightfully silly performance.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) - as the other half of the pairing at the heart of The Artist, Bejo gives a captivating performance of an actress on her way up at the same time as her idol is on his way down. Without straying into will-they-won't-they territory, she has good on-screen chemistry with Jean Dujardin and is at her most delightful in early scenes as a wide-eyed ingenue.
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) - moving from troublesome teenage daughter to almost co-parent, this is a mature performance that has rightly led to more high profile roles.
Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) - she is one of the finest, and almost certainly the funniest, young actresses in Hollywood and brings class to her biggest role to date.
Scarlett Johansson (Avengers Assemble) - showing a depth that is too often lacking in female characters in superhero films, she outperforms everyone except Ruffalo in this film.
Olivia Colman (The Iron Lady) - Colman makes a great Carol Thatcher and further demonstrates her range as an actress.
Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) - while the performance is a little inconsistent, she brings life to the film whenever she is on screen.
Best Visual Effects Avengers Assemble - it is spectacular in 2D, but astonishing in 3D: one particular scene, in which the action moves to each character in turn, is particularly breathtaking. The Hulk is worthy of note, too.
The Dark Knight Rises - the stadium collapse is one of the great scenes of the year (albeit overplayed in trailers).
Looper - while the supernatural child was a plot twist I didn't enjoy, it was rendered brilliantly alongside the rest of this dystopia.
The Amazing Spider-Man - I wasn't always convinced by the Lizard, but generally the effects were done well, particuarly for Spider-Man himself.
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants) - moving away from the shock tactics in previous Payne films (Sideways; Election), which I have always found rather infantile, this script realistically shows a family coming to terms with loss and learning to hold together; but somehow, despite this premise, it is never close to mawkish. The characters - rebellious teenager; annoying child; incapable father - are on-screen staples but never feel tired here. The secondary plot of selling land is admittedly less involving.
Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble) - funny without being too knowing; dramatic without being pretentious; exciting and intelligent.
Tom Stoppard (Anna Karenina) - while I felt that the climax is not done brilliantly, the rest of this adaptation is well scripted by a master of the art.
Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) - the brothers come up trumps again, with rather too much bombast but a strong conclusion to the trilogy.
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) - as he commented when winning the Oscar, it's nice that people recognise that script-writing isn't just about dialogue. The Artist is a very imaginative and truly original film, well paced and involving without hammering the premise down our throats.
Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets) - the script reintroduced the Muppets to the big screen in surprisingly sincere way, refusing to undercut the joy of the characters in any way.
Pablo Fenjves (Man on a Ledge) - the tension is built up well in this thriller, and - unusually for this kind of film - the third act doesn't disappoint.
Rian Johnson (Looper) - there's a bit of a mix-up of ideas, but by and large it works well and produces an original time-travel film with some neat twists.
Billy Joel lyric of the day: Paul is a real estate novelist / Who never had time for a wife / And he's talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy / And probably will be for life (Piano Man)
January 27th 2013
January has been quite a cinematic month for me, as I've already seen five of the year's new releases, the most recent of which being Les Miserables last week. I strongly recommend it: while the actors would not all have been able to make their careers in singing, there are no embarrassments, and the acting more than makes up for any troubles they have with the high notes. Apparently Anne Hathaway is a shoo-in (as our American cousins like to say) for Best Supporting Actress when the Oscars roll around, and it will take something impressive to knock Hugh Jackman off the top spot for a Best Actor Coddie. Yes, there's already buzz (exclusively contained within that last sentence) about next year's Coddies. Les Mis is not short, but given the amount of story that needs to be told - them French novellists didn't half like to ramble on, given a chance - it's length is justified and it doesn't drag at any point. I was left thinking, in fact, how much more - vastly more - it managed to achieve than The Hobbit did in an even longer running time. That is the difference between a artistically justified film length, and an "I reckon we can probably squeeze half as much money again out of this" film length; sadly I'm forced to admit that The Hobbit looks to have emanated from the latter. Anyways, it's a moving story with some great songs, only a few of which I already knew, which Tom Hooper et al have done real credit to on the big screen. Check it out. Other films I've seen this year include Life of Pi, which is exquisitely beautiful even if it runs out of ideas a bit; Jack Reacher, which does everything you could ask of it with reasonable aplomb; and Gangster Squad, which is a great, stylish film that is very well-acted, if a trifle unoriginal. Cancel your Empire subscription right now; for economy, you can't beat three film reviews in a sentence. A while ago, my friends Dave & Steve sent round a list of their favourite actors and actresses, with Steve suggesting that we write some up on our respective blogs (well, Steve doesn't have a blog, but I'm trying to encourage him to give it a whirl). I'm planning to take him up on his offer, but I don't want to try your patience with too much film-talk... and my hands are getting cold. So, maybe next time. Instead, here's a list of my favourite films for every letter of the alphabet - your own thoughts are welcome. I've even worked out a way of reviving the comments box, although, er, because Webs.com doesn't work brilliantly, I've had to re-use an old one from February 2011 and have been unable to remove the single comment that Rob made at the time. His depressingly prescient comment on the future for Wolves will just have to live on.
A: Avengers Assemble
B: Back to the Future
D: Doc Hollywood
E: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
F: Forrest Gump
G: Groundhog Day
J: Just Like Heaven
K: The King's Speech
L: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
N: Northanger Abbey
O: Ocean's Eleven
P: Pride and Prejudice
Q: Quiz Show
S: Spider-Man 2
T: Three to Tango
U: The Untouchables
V: Vanilla Sky
W: Walk the Line
X: X-Men: First Class
Y: You've Got Mail
Billy Joel lyric of the day: It took me years to write it / They were the best years of my life / It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long / If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit / So they cut it down to 3:05 (The Entertainer)
what was I listening to?
Greatest Hits - Poison
what was I reading?
Mere Christianity - C. S. Lewis