24 February 2013

Oscar predictions 2013

Well, I can't believe I'm sitting down to do this again considering I had so little interest in the Oscars this year. In fact, I thought at one point that I'd finally broken my addiction to this useless, shallow charade. Yet here I am, embracing the pomp and circumstance all over again--albeit at the last possible moment. I have seen probably a record-low amount of movies from last year (although still more than most, I feel) and so I'm ridiculously under-prepared to make any sort of educated assessment or defend my own choices (especially in categories where I've seen like one or two of the nominated films). With that in mind, let's get right into it! I'm marking down who I think will win in each of the major categories with a W, and who I think should/ deserves to win with an S. And of course it would be SWeet if me and the Academy are in agreement. Haha-ha-ha-haaa... ugh. And then I'll try to give an explanation of why I think that or if I felt someone else should have been nominated (cough-Best Director category-cough). Cool? Cool.

Best Picture

Amour S
Argo W
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

shoulda been nominated: Flight, Skyfall

I'm a huge fan of at least four of these, so needless to say I thought it was a good year. I really liked Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln (though I'm not on board with the consensus that the latter was the greatest thing since sliced bread), too, and Life of Pi and Django were good but not without some serious issues, while my feelings on Les Misérables are well-known at this point. For what I think deserves to win, I was waffling between Amour, Argo (which was atop my best of the year list for a while), and Zero Dark Thirty (ditto). But man, did Amour ever come out of left field and hit me like a tonne of bricks. Powerful stuff. Timeless, despairing, unflinching. Just great cinema. Argo, a huge crowd-pleaser as well as being hugely well-made and a deft balance of comedy and suspense, will ultimately take the cake, though, although a Lincoln upset may still be possible, although it will be more difficult than passing the 13th Amendment LOLOLOL I hate myself. Moving on...

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour S
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln W
Behn Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild

shoulda been nominated: Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Sam Mendes (Skyfall)

Seriously, this category is garbage. Ben Affleck should win, dagnabbit! Or at least be thoroughly in the race. His movie is going to win Best Picture and he's not nominated for director. Just... what?! Well, I'll play along within the parameters of this stupid, stupid category and still try and make my predictions with this meagre material. Obviously, I'm rooting for Michael Haneke for Amour, since I find it relatively difficult to separate my favourite film from what is the best directed film. This is a bit of a close race (except for Zeitlin, which is unfortunate, since I loved Beasts, but goddamn nobody is talking about him in this race), but I'm pretty sure Spielberg's got this in the bag, and for good reason, although I do feel like Lincoln had a better script, oddly enough, than direction.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln SW
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

shoulda been nominated: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour), since Amour wouldn't have been the amazing thing it was without Trintignant and Riva playing so well off each other and making you feel every moment of their love and pain; maybe Daniel Craig (Skyfall), but I guess that would be too action-y for the Oscars

Rock-solid category. I loved all of 'em except Hugh Jackman, although he certainly wasn't the worst thing about Les Misérables. But do I even need to say anything? Daniel Day-Lewis has this so hard it's curious why there even are other nominees here. He's astonishing. He makes Lincoln a legend, a myth, but also a real guy with real edges and ripples of personality. Everyone knows it, especially the Academy. Look, Bradley Cooper, you did go a helluva long way towards winning me over, and in Flight, Denzel Washington was as good and intense as he's ever been, and Joaquin Phoenix was just downright mesmerizing in The Master--you couldn't take your eyes off him. But Day-Lewis was legendary. It's his year. And he'll take it handily and become the first person to ever win Best Actor three times.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook W
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour S
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Well, as for who will probably win, it's between Chastain and Lawrence, two up-and-comers who were seriously on fire this year... and yeah, they were both tremendous. (I still have a lot of love for Wallis's brilliant turn in Beasts, don't get me wrong.) Lawrence all but burned up the screen in Silver Linings Playbook with the vitality she brought to her role and Chastain's performance of quiet determination and passion was downright heroic. I feel, if only because she also has a lot of momentum off her great work in The Hunger Games and because it's a bit of a flashier performance than Chastain's, that Lawrence has a very, very slight edge here. For me, though, nobody could touch the sheer power of Emmanuelle Riva's agonizing, impassioned, all-too-believable performance as an aging musician suffering from a slow shutdown of her body and mind from stroke. It's a performance for the ages.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln W
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained S

Solid category again. Almost uniformly solid, which makes this difficult to pick who I think will win. Like, all of them? I suppose Tommy Lee Jones seems like the safest bet but De Niro's return to actually being halfway decent in anything may win over enough hearts to be a possible upset. Christoph Waltz may be shunned because he won too recently, but for sheer entertainment value, he's who I will be rooting for. Just a joy to behold. But yeah... Hoffman was pretty brilliant too, acting straight from the gut with just a stupid amount of intensity (he'd be my runner-up if I was in charge), and Arkin was an absolute blast. I'll be happy for any of 'em, really. I didn't even like Jones that much, the more I think on it, but he'll probably win. Hmm.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables SW
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

shoulda been nominated: Judi muthafuckin' Dench, just blowin' it outta the water in Skyfall, feisty and witty and poignant as can be. A goddamn travesty she ain't in this mix.

Well, Hathaway's got the buzz here and while I disliked Les Miz, I sure as hell liked Hathaway, so I'd say it's pretty well-deserved buzz. I liked Adams too, as well as Weaver, but they were pretty much just blips on the radar. I wasn't a huge Sally Field fan, but that may just be because I didn't think she had much to do in the movie. I guess she was about as good a Mary Todd Lincoln as could be expected. I haven't seen The Sessions but I'm reasonably sure I don't need to. But yeah, Hathaway's got this.

Best Original Screenplay

Amour, Michael Haneke W
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola S
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

shoulda been nominated: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Yeah, I'm going there. Takes guts to adapt your own novel into a screenplay and Stephen Chbosky succeeded with flying colours. Movie was downright magical.)

As great as all of these were except maybe Django (which had pacing issues, in my book... although maybe that's more of a directorial issue... but in this case, they're the same guy, so my point stands), Amour stands out as a heartbreaking sure-thing, beating out the in-depth character study coupled with intensity in Flight, the quirky, imaginative charms of Moonrise Kingdom, and the rigor of Zero Dark Thirty. However, as much as I loved Amour... and it was a lot... I think, especially given the 'original' part of the equation, that Moonrise Kingdom was actually the most stellar here. Anderson and Coppola sketched a brilliant, unique, and contained little snow-globe of a cinematic world here that was just a marvel to behold. It pains me to choose against the thousand little details that added up to create the wallopping impact of Amour, but the beaut that was Moonrise Kingdom deserves mention somewhere, and I think this is the place. I'll still be cheering when Amour takes it, though, for sure.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar & Behn Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner SW
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

shoulda been nominated: The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies)... nobody's talking about this one and they really should be... the thing blew me away and should at least merit a script nomination, not to mention featuring assured direction and great performances from all involved

Argo was pretty marvelous but, besides Day-Lewis's brilliantly engaging disappearing act of a performance, where Lincoln really shone--and it definitely did shine, for the most part--was in the script department. A fine balancing act between mythologizing but also humanizing the legendary president, Kushner's sparkling script not only featured tremendous dialogue but also somehow made democratic procedure kind of thrilling to watch. It's a feat. Oscar will likely honour it, as he should. If Argo winds up sweeping the night, however, it could well win here too. Watch out.

In other races, Wreck-It Ralph seems like a safe bet for Animated Feature, but while I've heard good things, I haven't gotten around to seeing it, unfortunately. Life of Pi will probably win in many of the technical categories, especially Visual Effects, although Skyfall will probably take both sound categories and Original Song.

20 February 2013

Random stir-fry over quinoa w/ nutty orange-miso drizzle

Here's a very vibrant, light yet filling little fusion dish (a bit of quinoa from South America, a sauce that combines Southeast Asian and Japanese styles into an almost tahini-like substance, although not as thick, thus adding a Middle Eastern kick, especially when combined with the chickpeas). Yeah, I hate the word fusion too, but this is actually pretty tasty all in all. It's been very, ridiculously broadly adapted from this recipe at Vegetarian Times. It also doesn't take all that long to make compared to some of the stuff I've posted here. You can make everything else pretty much by the time the quinoa has finished simmering and cooling.

2/3 cup   quinoa
1 tbsp   almond butter*
2 tsp   peanut butter**
1 tbsp   orange juice
2 tsp   white miso paste
2 tsp   grated fresh ginger
1 tsp   powdered garlic (or 1 clove of garlic, minced)
2 tsp   canola oil
1/3 15 oz. can   chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp   diced white onion
dash   salt
dash   pepper
tiny drop   liquid smoke
~10   peeled baby carrots, chopped into half-moons
1/4 cup   frozen sweet baby peas
2 tsp   nutritional yeast flakes (pretty optional)

*I had some homemade stuff lying around for this, made in a food processor with almonds, canola and olive oils, salt, a bit of molasses, and icing sugar, and possibly more stuff I'm forgetting, but any brand of almond butter would likely work well. 
**I only added the peanut butter because I didn't have much almond butter left over. It tasted great, but feel free to substitute more almond butter for the peanut butter.

Bring 1 cup salted, oiled water to a boil. Stir in quinoa, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 15-18 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

While that's simmering, prepare your orange-almond-miso sauce. Stir together almond butter, peanut butter, orange juice, miso paste, ginger, and garlic until well-blended. Stir in about 1/8 cup water. Set aside for now.

Heat frying pan over high heat until a drop of water placed therein evaporates after one second. Add canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add onions, salt, pepper, and liquid smoke. Cook until onions are soft and ever-so-slightly golden. Add chickpeas and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add baby carrots and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add peas and stir-fry for--you guessed it--2 minutes! Remove from heat.

Empty the quinoa into a large bowl and fluff it up a bit, then top with the stir-fried veggies, drizzling orange-almond-miso sauce evenly over top. Stir it all together and enjoy. Feel free to season with further salt and pepper as desired, as well as nutritional yeast flakes.

11 February 2013

Baked mac 'n' 'cheese'

Here's a hearty dish that'll warm you right up and stick to your ribs on these long winter nights! It may even stir up some misty memories of childhoods long past, waiting anxiously at the table for a big casserole dish full o' mac 'n' cheese to emerge from the fiery depths of the oven, just begging to be greedily chowed down on. There's really nothing quite as wholesome or as satisfying as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Luckily, this dish is a far cry from Kraft Dinner, and the extra effort is ever so worth it for the delicate tenderness yet ever-so-slight crunch of the pasta after it's been baked and the thick, spicy, cheesy zing of the sauce, not to mention the swirls of nostalgia that run to the bottom of the bowl. Good to the last slurp.

This recipe is adapted, as are many of my culinary experiments, from a recipe in Chloe Coscarelli's Chloe's Kitchen. The buckwheat flour (which it turns out makes for an excellent roux), the maple syrup (instead of agave, which I do not currently possess), and most of the spices are my idea.

Baked mac 'n' 'cheese'

1/2 lb   macaroni
3 tbsp   dairy-free margarine
3 tbsp   buckwheat flour
1 tsp   whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup   almond milk
1/4 cup   nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp   tomato sauce
1 tsp   maple syrup
juice of 1/6   lemon
1 tsp   salt
1 tsp   garlic salt
1 tsp   pepper
1 tsp   paprika
dash   thyme
dash   red pepper flakes
crushed crackers for topping (I used Mary's Organic Black Pepper Crackers and it was divine)

Note: I would also recommend adding some greens in there if you're feeling extra healthy, like broccoli, kale, or spinach. Also feel free to scale back on the spices, especially paprika and red pepper flakes, as the dish was almost too spicy this way. Almost.

Preheat oven to 350 F. If you will be using a 9-by-13 pan, grease that up. (I just popped the saucepan in the oven; a little risky, I know, but it worked fine.)

Bring a large pot of salted, oiled water to a boil and add the macaroni, stirring occasionally until soft and tender.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the flour and margarine over medium heat, whisking/ stirring to create a roux. Add the almond milk, nutritional yeast flakes, tomato sauce, salt, garlic salt, pepper, and paprika, stirring occasionally until it's hot, bubbly, and thick. Reduce heat and simmer for a minute or two longer, still stirring, then add the lemon juice and the hint of maple syrup and swirl to combine.

Once the macaroni is cooked, drain the water and rinse the pasta. Add the macaroni to the saucepan and stir vigorously (but don't spill!) to thoroughly combine with the 'cheese' sauce. If you're using a 9-by-13 pan, transfer the dish to that. If not, sprinkle thyme, red pepper flakes, cracker crumbs, and some extra nutritional yeast flakes right over top of the saucepan and pop it in the oven. Bake as long as desired, up to 30 minutes. (I could really only wait about 10 minutes before it smelled so good that I had to chow down on it, but feel free to crispify it more.) Happy eating!