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It almost makes L.A. look pretty.

LA Light from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Thanks to Brad for the linkage

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Every year I set myself the goal of seeing all of the Best Picture nominations before the Oscar ceremony. Usually I fail and since the number of nominees was increased from five to ten last year, the task has become that much harder. Well this year I can announce… that I still failed. I did however see eight of the ten nominees which is pretty good going. The two I haven’t seen yet are The Fighter, which I plan to see this week and 127 Hours, which is in limbo between cinema and DVD release and therefore I’ll have to wait to see when it comes out on DVD. I have to say, 2011 is a good year for Best Picture noms, all of the movies have been “very good” to “excellent”. Thankfully no awful “down and out people overcoming adversity”  movies *cough* Precious *cough*… except perhaps The King’s speech but that’s uplifting rather than depressing.

So, here are the Best Picture noms in reverse order of preference:

 

10. The Fighter – I finally got around to seeing this movie and to be honest, I didn’t think it was all that great. It started out strong but it never lived up to it’s potential. It was a good movie, but not best picture good and I didn’t think Melissa Leo’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar was that deserved, Hailee Steinfeld or Helena Bonham Carter should have taken it. That all said, Christian Bale was awesome, definitely well deserved for the Best Actor statue.

9.The Kids Are Alright – An enjoyable movie with some good performances and a refreshing take on gay marriage/family that avoided the usual cliches, but not really BP material. This wouldn’t have made the cut two years ago with only five nominations.

8. Toy Story 3 – A really well crafted movie that’s a lot of fun and hard to fault. My own personal stigma against animated movies and the fact that they have their own category (which TS3 will undoubtedly win in) pushes this down the list for me.

7. Winter’s Bone – Another solid movie. A somewhat bleak and gritty story with some intense performances, specifically from Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes who are also up for Best Actress and Best Actor in a Supporting Role respectively. It’s a long shot, but it deserves the nominations and probably has the least Oscar buzz/commercialization surrounding it.

6. Inception – I really enjoyed this movie and it further showcased writer/director Chris Nolan’s cinematic style and great imagination that have made all of his movies so good (seriously, has he made a movie that wasn’t great?!) The movie unravels a little toward the end with the “assault on Hoth” mission, but it’s so refreshing to see an original take on action/thrillers and something not based on a comic book or child’s toy!

5. Black Swan – Great movie, fantastic performance by Natalie Portman and real edge of your seat directing and story. I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed the movie and I came out of the theater feeling pretty drained but I definitely appreciated it. Arguably it’s not the kind of movie that you’re supposed to “enjoy” anyway.

4. 127 Hours – This is classic Danny Boyle, true film making, not a minute wasted. What was an infamous event is turned into a gripping movie and manages to avoid over commercializing or “Hollywood-izing” the story. Boyle turns an hour of not much plot with a guy stuck in the bottom of a canyon into a truly inspiring and captivating viewing experience. The climax of the movie, although intense and gruesome avoids becoming gratuitous and is just the right amount of hard to watch. Having subsequently done some reading on the actual events and watched some of the real life video shot by the protagonist, Ralston, it’s amazing how close to reality the movie is, only dramatizing a couple of scenes early on. Very good.

3. True Grit – Great movie, certainly one of the best of 2010 and one of my favorite Cohen bros. movies to boot. Top level performances from Jeff Bridges and newcomer Haliee Steinfeld who both deserve their acting nominations and a great addition to the western genre, which has fallen out of favor for the last few decades. Jeff Bridges should win Best Actor

2. The King’s Speech – This movie has everything you want in an Oscar nomination. Uplifting story based on a true events, historical setting, royalty, nazis, physical disability… the list goes on. It’s solid all around and a fantastic cast as well. Geoffrey Rush should win Best Supporting Actor and although Colin Firth is great, I would probably pick one of the other noms for Best Actor, but I think the safe money is on him. The only thing that pushes it to #2 for me, is it’s a little too Oscar friendly (although I’m sure unintentional).

1. The Social Network – This is my favorite movie of 2010, Oscar nomination or no. Great acting, great directing, great screenplay from Aaron Sorkin, great music. It was a tough choice between this and The King’s Speech, but I think Social Network take the prize for it’s originality and enthralling story. When I first heard they were making a movie about Facebook staring Justin Timberlake I mentally added it to my list of things to avoid in 2010… who knew. For reasons I probably can’t quantify in a paragraph, I really enjoyed this movie.

So there you have it. I have to say, the obvious winner would seem to be The Kings’s Speech and it’s certainly well deserved. I can’t imagine being completely upset if any of these movies took home the statue frankly, but certainly the top three are very close for me.

I will aim to see the remaining two movies in the nest week or two and update the list accordingly.

UPDATE: I finally saw The Fighter and have updated the list accordingly. Only one (127 Hours) to go.

UPDATE: I just finished watching 127 Hours, marking the completion of the Best Pic. nominations. List updated again.

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Earlier this year at E3, the video gaming trade show, Microsoft announced a new and updated version of the Xbox software that would heavily overhaul the tired and cumbersome interface and provide a new experience. Appropriate then that they call in the New Xbox Experience (NXE). The new software will be automatically downloaded for all Xbox owners on November 19th, but last weekend I heard that Microsoft were running a preview program to allow a couple thousand selected owners to receive the update early and allow them to play around with the software before official launch. I signed up and was luckily picked from the, I would imagine, huge list of applicants. 

I got the update tonight and decided for the benefit of my fellow Xbox owners (and of course to make them jealous!) to upload a few photos and first impressions.

The update itself only took 2 or 3 minutes to update and then after a restart it was complete.

The first step is to create a Avatar. This is brand new to Xbox and obviously is heavily influenced by the Wii. The interface to customizing your avatar is really simple and pretty comprehensive. You can create and save wardrobes and you can bet special outfits will be available to download in the future (Halo Spartan armor anyone?). The whole avatar concept might seem a bit silly, but it does make the interface a little more fun and personalized. You can also see your friends avatars in the new 3D friends list.

The actual dashboard itself is much cleaner, easier and most importantly faster! moving up and down switches between menus such as “My Xbox”, “Video”, “Friends”, “Marketplace” etc. Moving left and right in each of these menus gives you more specific options. It feels a lot more instinctive and much easier to find the options you want.

Now we come to the cherry on top. The major new feature of this update, is the ability to watch your Netflix movies over the internet. This is a huge bonus if you are a Netflix subscriber and probably a good reason to become one if you’re not. Netflix has for a while offered the ability to watch movies on your computer, but this new feature allows you to easily watch your movies on your TV. Setting up couldn’t be simpler. A code appears on your screen, that you enter on the Netflix webpage. That’s it! After a couple of seconds, your queue appears in 3D on your screen. Not every movie from Netflix is available to stream, I think currently they have library of around 12,000 titles, but this will grow. The movies that appear on your Xbox are just those from your queue that are available to stream. Coming soon are HD movies! Once you select a movie to watch, it determines your internet connection speed and starts playing. This took around 10 seconds for me. The quality is definitely sub DVD, probably around the same as SD television, but again I am sure this will improve with time. Skipping ahead in the movie forces the stream to buffer and this only takes 3 or 4 seconds. Overall a very impression feature and even more impressive when you consider that this is all free with your standard Netflix subscription. 

Lastly is the new screen that comes up when you hit the Xbox button on the controller. Again this is much easier to use and has several option that allow you to access features without exiting the game or movie and going back to the dashboard. One of the cool new features here is “Party” mode allowing you to invite friends into a party and move from game to game and stay together, This is a cool feature as those who play a lot of online games with friends will testify, it can be annoying when you get disconnected and separated!

Overall this is definitely a welcome refresh of the Xbox and addresses a lot of the issues and improves the experience. I’m sure that this will help to keep the Xbox fresh and competitive!

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Remember this classic Lynx (Axe if you’re American) commercial from back in the day. It became stupidly popular and the song shot up the charts.

Ahh…nostalgia!

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Last Sunday was my Birthday and as chance would have it, I was in Seattle on business for a Microsoft conference. My colleagues Perigil and Bill took me for dinner at a very good restaurant on the waterfront. A good time was had by all.

And so begins the final year of my twenties….

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