2014 Best in Cinema: Features.

2014 Best in Cinema_Features_ATG FINAL

I can’t say with conviction that 2014 will go down as one of my favorite years in cinema. Of the nearly 70 films I saw this year at theaters across Los Angeles, there were very few times I walked away with that “wow” feeling. It’s that awareness that spending two hours of your life with a film, eventually become countless hours, because you can’t stop thinking about the lives and stories of the characters long after you’ve left the cineplex. As I think about it, my last “wow” came as the screen faded to black during Steve McQueen’s masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave. More, I can’t say that I saw many films this year that made me want to delve further into how I felt about them, to try to rationalize what I saw on-screen by dedicating a one-off blog post as I did for 2013’s Fruitvale Station.

This doesn’t mean 2014 wasn’t a strong year in cinema. What 2014 certainly did was create a space as one of the more memorable times in the industry, as the art of filmmaking continues to push itself harder. Through films like Boyhood, Locke, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – it’s clear that the intricacies of physical production when it comes to telling a narrative is changing. Filmmakers are becoming more and more aggressive and innovative in the craft of storytelling.

Sometimes this aggression and innovation helps a story (i.e., Boyhood), other times it might hurt it (i.e., The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), but as the saying goes: “you can’t blame a guy (or girl) for trying.” Naturally, there is some nobility in that.

Here are my top 10 picks for the best feature films of 2014…


Boyhood_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_10Film: Boyhood
Date: 07.11.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Director Richard Linklater holds a very special place in cinema. He’s responsible for what I personally consider to be one of the best trilogies of all time, the “Before” series. Unlike nearly every sequel ever created that often falls into the trap of becoming one big diluted and uninspiring cliché; the “Before” films, like fine wine, get better and better with age. Five minutes after I sat in the chair to watch Jesse and Celine’s 20 year love story continue in 2013’s Before Midnight, I knew I was in for something exceptional…and it was. Before Midnight was my favorite film of 2013. Taking a moment to preface this, I went into Boyhood with extremely high expectations, that weren’t wholly fulfilled. Ultimately, why Boyhood is deserving to make any top 10 list is because Linklater experimented with the genre of film itself in one of the most unique and innovative methods in film history. Filmed over the course of 12 years, this is a coming-of-age tale more rooted in reality, for a fictional narrative, than ever seen on-screen. Every year Linklater and the same core group of actors would gather to further Mason’s tale of Boyhood. My biggest complaint about this film was that outside of the gimmick, while extremely commendable, the film wasn’t conflict-driven enough. Sure there were scenes capturing difficulties at any given point of Mason’s 12-year story-line, but given that we’re following a young boy into the complexities of manhood – it was surprising how little actually happens to our protagonist. One might argue that compared to your average human being navigating the journey of growing up, that Mason had a rather easy, uncomplicated life. Due to this weakness in the script, the audience doesn’t emotionally connect to, or cheer on or our “boy” with solid investment because of the inherent lack of true conflict. That being said, the dedication and commitment to see this film to completion, coupled with outstanding chemistry among the actors skillfully maintained over a 12 year period, rectifies its weaknesses. Undoubtedly, it must have been a labor of love for everyone involved given the demands of making it, and should be applauded, rightfully. It’s a delightful film to watch.


Abuse of Weakness_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_9Film: Abuse of Weakness
Date: 04.26.2014
Location: Director’s Guild of America, Hollywood

Solely because this film is based on Director Catherine Breillat’s own true story, does Abuse of Weakness seem even the least bit fathomable. And yet, the more you examine it, the more all too human it legitimately becomes. Breillat recreates her story through Maud, portrayed by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, as a filmmaker who suffers from a life-altering stroke. Maud desperately wants to continue her work despite her newly acquired physical limitations, resulting in her having to re-learn even the most basic of human functions. Though she eventually learns to adapt to her physical restrictions, albeit it with much struggle, what becomes all too clear as you follow her journey toward building a new life while focusing on her work – is how much Maud hasn’t accepted or adapted to the emotional ramifications of her situation. She knowingly pursues an admitted con man, Vilko, to play her main character in her new film. The result of this choice creates one of the most maddening narratives of the year. Vilko’s timely and charming presence, spent making her feel important, while being of help through the difficulties of adjusting to her handicap, sets the stage for the con to come. Vilko swindles Maud out of all of her money over the course of the film. The caveat here is that though she’s aware of his history, he still manages to build trust with her in such a way that she willingly writes checks to support his questionable endeavors. The complicated part about their relationship is that Maud is clearly an intelligent, successful woman. As such, it’s hard to believe that she cannot see the outright manipulation taking place before her eyes. One might question whether or not Maud let it happen for the sake of having his presence in her life, and therefore, purposely continues to turn a blind eye as she loans him money to the point of bankruptcy. Alternatively, it’s possible she considered it a genuine loan and simply wanted to help out a friend in need, who helped her. When it comes to what took place in reality, Catherine Breillat asserts that she was purely taken of advantage of due to a “diminished mental state” at the time, which is also entirely possible. However, I interpreted Maud’s actions to be more gray. By virtue of how intelligent and strong, yet vulnerable and lonely Maud is characterized throughout the film, it’s hard to truly ascertain her motives other than that she seems to appreciate the attention. Abuse of Weakness is a remarkable exploration of how much and how low one will go to feel valued, and to hold on to a human connection, even as the ugly truth is staring you in the face.

 


Two Days, One Night_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_8Film: Two Days, One Night
Date: 11.07.2014
Location: Egyptian Theater, Hollywood

Marion Cotillard gives a stellar performance as Sandra, a Belgian woman who spends her weekend after an extended medical leave of absence for depression, convincing her co-workers to forgo their bonus checks so that she can keep her job. Upon learning that a majority of them voted for her dismissal in favor of their bonuses, the film follows Sandra as she swallows her pride and personally visits each co-worker, petitioning them to re-consider their stance. It is a portrait of a woman desperately seeking not only monetary, but emotional security as they seemingly continue to slip away from her over the course of Two Days, One Night. What a complicated, yet delicious predicament, when you consider that most not only relish bonuses, but that her co-workers are in dire financial straits themselves and can certainly use it. It’s an examination of a modern-day version of Darwinian theory, rooted in the foundation of what provides both physical and emotional self-preservation, our jobs. It speaks to a variety of themes: the survival of the fittest and stepping on others to get ahead; humbling oneself to ask for help when needed; but more so, having the capacity to help our fellow-man by making the responsible choice, even as it comes as a personal sacrifice.


Enemy_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_7Film: Enemy
Date: 03.26.2014
Location: Laemmle Theaters, Santa Monica

Adapted from José Saramago’s 2004 novel “The Double,” Enemy takes on the arduous task of creating two characters and two worlds that brilliantly merge together toward what has to be one of the most mind-blowing endings in film history. Enemy introduces us to Adam, an off-beat history professor, who one day finds that there is another person in the world who looks exactly like him. Determined to meet his doppelganger, named Anthony, Adam eventually locates his double and is immediately transfixed by the life Anthony leads. What ensues is a rather complicated and hard to describe narrative that forays from a well-executed mystery, to an intense thriller, leading toward an almost science fiction-like finale. Incredibly, as much as this film takes the audience on a perplexing, hallucinatory journey with the incredible Jake Gyllenhaal at the wheel; it does an impressive job of balancing your interest enough to keep you invested. The duplicity, and eventual mergence, of Adam and Anthony’s world is unlike anything seen on-screen this year. Enemy’s unusual plot-line, unique premise, strong performances, and phenomenal cinematography all lend to its success, but what must be its core strength is how much it can brazenly confuse the hell out of its audience, yet still produce a top 10 film!


Obvious Child_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_6Film: Obvious Child
Date: 06.13.2014
Location: Landmark Theaters, West LA

On the surface, Director Gillian Robespierre’s first feature-length narrative may appear to be your typical, quirky, small-scale, independent film. Surprisingly, what she created was a prototype that illustrates how a typical, quirky, small-scale, independent film can still cultivate finesse and substance. Obvious Child follows Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, an up-and-coming comedienne who learns she’s pregnant after a one-night stand. Unlike most films that would then accompany Donna as she agonizes over what to do about her unplanned pregnancy, this film breaks stereotype by immediately making it known that Donna has already made a firm decision to have an abortion. The film subsequently escorts our protagonist over the next few weeks as she waits for her procedure, not once doubting her decision, but certainly doubting where her life is going. The unique thing about Obvious Child’s narrative structure is that after she’s made the decision to proceed with her abortion, her one-night stand reappears during those weeks, interested in pursuing a relationship. Again, Donna maintains her decision about the abortion, but takes the risk of letting her one-night stand and the father of the baby into her life. What both Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate create through Obvious Child is in effect, the backwards romantic comedy, more comparable to real life. Not all women necessarily agonize over unplanned pregnancies knowing their station in life isn’t right for a child. Not all women meet their Prince Charming, fall in love, get married, and then start a family. Sometimes it happens the other way around. Unlike the formulaic romantic comedy, Obvious Child, takes a regret-free and often crudely hilarious exploration at life, love, and sex with refreshing authenticity.


Skeleton Twins_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_5Film: The Skeleton Twins
Date: 9.13.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

If there was one film of 2014 that did a near-perfect endeavor of inviting the audience to a familiar portrayal of a place, time, and relationship, it’s as a result of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s seamless stint as bother and sister in The Skeleton Twins. Estranged twins Maggie and Milo reunite after each attempt suicide on the same day, using rock bottom as the foundation toward mending their broken relationship. Writer/Director Craig Johnson creates a realistic version of fiction through the struggles plaguing Maggie and Milo, both as individuals and as a unit. On some level, we can relate to their problems, and see hints of our own inadequacies and insecurities in them. Further to that, the film’s setting during the nostalgia of the fall season, not only forms ornate visuals to carry the story, but somehow feels symbiotic. We watch our protagonists literally “fall” from grace in many areas of their life throughout the course of the film, but also “fall into” each other, effectively returning to what they know, what’s always been there. Maggie and Milo find home in each other in such a way that becomes more than just the basis for a feel good film, which it undoubtedly is, but an illustration at how core relationships, particularly between siblings, ground us in a way that no other relation can.


Love is Strange_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_4Film: Love is Strange
Date: 09.02.2014
Location: Private Screening, Culver City

When it comes to romances, a 40-year love affair is ideally expected to have already been sealed through the bonds of marriage, living and growing together, happily ever after. When Ben and George, played by the delightful John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, consummate their fate and finally marry once the state of New York recognizes gay marriage; a joyous occasion ultimately becomes yet another obstacle. George loses his job soon after exercising his right to marry, causing the newlyweds to have to look for alternative housing options in New York’s highly competitive market. Sadly, after decades spent together under the same roof, our newlyweds are forced to separate and move in with others as they seek a permanent solution. Love is Strange couldn’t be a more quieter film in terms of execution. Outside of the daily relational conflict, as a result of their separate living situations, not much else happens in terms of plot point apart from the beginning and end of the film. And yet, it’s because of the natural chemistry between Lithgow and Molina that make it such a treat to watch their story unfold on-screen. Somehow between the daily nuances that erupt from living apart, their commitment and relationship remain the most normal part of the film, cultivating a loving silhouette of a same-sex couple. Love is Strange paints a believable portrait of the many facets of love and our relationship to people because of it, suitably referring to “love” as “strange.”


Locke_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_3Film: Locke
Date: 04.29.14
Location: Landmark Theaters, West LA

One might say that Tom Hardy’s assignment as Ivan Locke is this year’s All is Lost. Locke receives a phone call that a one-night stand is about to give birth to a child he never knew about. On the night before an important career highlight takes place, Locke gets into his car to make the long journey to the hospital to meet the woman he thought he’d left behind months before, but not before having to make the difficult phone call to his wife while on the road. Locke is one man, one location, and one phone call after another that skillfully details the destruction of a life carefully built. Hardy’s impeccable performance within the mere confines of a car for 85 straight minutes, unwaveringly captivates the audience. This stems from the sharp narrative structure, savvy direction, and stunning camera-work, that instantly pull you in for the ride…literally. Like Robert Redford, Hardy alone carries the weight of a story that on paper would come across as extremely difficult to pull off. The risk was worth it. With every conversation, we watch Locke’s personal and professional life fall apart in one of the most unique manners ever told on-screen. Simply put, Locke takes the practice of filmmaking to a whole other level, leaving behind a cinematic masterpiece as the perfect thumbprint.

 


Selma_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_2Film: Selma
Date: 12.22.2014
Location: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Selma couldn’t be a more timely film given the continued and growing animosity that took center stage between urban American communities and law enforcement in 2014. It speaks to how far we’ve come, yet how far we have to go. Selma’s uncommon approach to what might have otherwise been conceptualized as a traditional biopic, effectively bypasses the core traits of a historically based film. Essentially, it avoids the typical chronological engagement of its subject from childhood through death. Instead, it intelligently enlists its audience by thrusting them right in the middle of King’s fight against oppression; assuming, rightly, that King really needs no introduction. The accomplished work of David Oyelowo as King brought by far, the most formidable performance on-screen this year. Director Ava DuVernay, along with writer Paul Webb’s dialogue-heavy script creates a sophisticated snapshot in time, following three short months of his life in 1965. Therefore, what Selma does do with extreme grace is re-acquaint audiences to King’s legacy through the turmoil and specific actions of the preeminent march from Selma to Montgomery, without diminishing the established intellect of the audience. It trusts its audience to know everything they need to, to appreciate this work of art, the man, and the message. Unanimously, we do.


Whiplash_Best Films 2014_ ATG FINAL_1Film: Whiplash
Date: 12.02.2014
Location: Laemmle Theaters, North Hollywood

Definition: to “jerk or jolt (someone or something) suddenly; to affect adversely, as by a sudden change.”

Miles Teller gives a redeeming and phenomenal performance as Andrew, a student at a music conservatory that will go to no end to become one of the greatest musicians of all time. To get there, he craves the approval and tutelage of Terence Fletcher, played with staggering and nail-biting intensity by J.K. Simmons; whose career goal is to find the next best Charlie Parker. The battle that ensues between teacher and student is arguably one the most ruthless, complex, and inspiring stories captured on film. It explores the lengths one will go to in pursuit of being “the best.” When thinking about the definition of “Whiplash” along with the errorless execution of this masterpiece, I cannot help but be more and more impressed by writer/director Damien Chazelle’s mere second feature film. Every single aspect of this film is as succinct and apt as its title. From the razor-quick editing, to the sharp dialogue, to the physical demands of Andrew as he strikes the drums with tireless energy to prove his worth, to Fletcher’s enduring need to not give it to him. The inexhaustible intensity that continues to build from the first frame to the last, comes at the price of authentic transformation to everyone involved with this film, even as a viewer. You certainly don’t leave this film the way you came into it. As a viewer you walk out of this experience with a physical and emotional case of Whiplash, unable to fully let go of Andrew’s harrowing journey. Four weeks before the end of the year,  did I finally find my “wow” film of 2014.

A look back at my thoughts on the best films of 2012 and 2013, too.

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*Header image credit: My DVD Library by snkhan used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: cropped, filtered, and text added to original.

*Movie poster images sourced via IMDB.

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2014 Best in Cinema: The Documentary.

2014 Best in Cinema_The Documentary ATG FINAL

I’ve said it before, so I’ll simply quote myself again: I don’t think there’s a genre I’m more fond of than the simplicity of a well-made documentary film. I suppose it’s because it embodies what I think makes this particular aspect of cinema a force unlike any other – and that’s the synergy that comes from telling a story rooted in and based on reality, fused with the artistic ability to capture that moment in time through one of the most powerful mediums ever created.

2014 brought great new additions to the documentary genre, stories that satiate that part of myself that’s always curious and hungry to know more about the world and the people who inhabit it. Interestingly, all of the films on this list share a common harmony: they immediately captivated me by providing an intensely voyeuristic look at the life of complex and all too “human,” human beings. As I reflect back over why these films spoke to me so much, I realized that it’s not entirely about the subject being explored outside of the people themselves. Of course, the idea that the government is watching us (which is arguably problematic) or the body of work that a person leaves behind (albeit admirable) is of immense interest, for me it’s really about spending time in another person’s existence that often engrosses me as a viewer. Ultimately, what I find appealing is the how and the why of it all when it comes to the human condition set against a film’s circumstances.

With that, here are my top 5 picks for the best documentary films of 2014…


CitizenFour_ATG FINAL_5Film: Citizenfour
Date: 11.25.2014
Location: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood

While in the middle of making a film about post-9/11 surveillance, Director Laura Poitras starts receiving encrypted messages from “Citizenfour,” requesting her assistance in educating the public about the amount of covert monitoring taking place from top U.S. Government agencies. “Citizenfour” eventually identifies himself while holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room as Edward Snowden, a systems administrator. Poitras refocuses her energies on documenting Snowden and the journalists responsible for placing the spotlight on the government’s highly questionable surveillance of everyday Americans,  birthing the film, Citizenfour. The film spends much of the time in that Hong Kong hotel room, examining Snowden as he remains in hiding while the information he’s provided leaks…and the world reacts. You can literally feel the risk and the danger involved not only to him, but everyone involved in the making of this film. Essentially, it’s exposing exactly what we shouldn’t know. The unfathomable amount of surveillance taking place is the premise of the film, however, one cannot help but be drawn to the seemingly fearless, and somewhat arrogant, protagonist. As a viewer watching Snowden literally threaten his liberties as an American citizen by blowing the whistle on these operations, I questioned repeatedly what his true motives were in connecting with Poitras. Was it simply to expose these programs for the sake of the people as a genuine gesture? Was it for fame, or perhaps revenge? It’s difficult to say when walking away from this film. Snowden maintains a rather nonchalant attitude toward the entire situation. What this film does well is cleverly and unabashedly manipulate its audience through creating a real-life behind-the-scenes thriller, unfolding just as it happened in 2013, before our very eyes. Poitras takes the much-feared “Big Brother” concept and subsequently spits it back at the U.S. Government, who have coincidentally been tracking her movements for years as a documentary filmmaker as her work continues to gain traction. With access to Snowden’s information and the production of this film, she’s now in effect watching them. You have to admire the ballsy poetry in that.


Elaine Stritch_ATG FINAL_4Film: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Date: 03.12.2014
Location: Laemmle Royal, Santa Monica

Four months before her passing, opened the film that would be one of her very last times on-screen. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me comically and movingly follows the legendary actress in her late eighties as she moves through a seemingly endless work schedule and busy life, just before she’s set to retire near her family in Michigan. It eloquently re-acquaints those familiar with her seven decades of contribution to the art of performing, while introducing those to the highlights of her life who may not have known much about her body of work. What’s emblematic about this piece, is not only the intimate look at life as you age, but knowing that you are near the end of it and looking back with intensity and honesty. Stritch does a phenomenal job of letting us see her: the good, the bad, the funny, the sad…and the pant-less. She is simply being herself and taking the viewer along for the 81 minute ride. I saw this film in March of 2014, and stopped and gave a heavy sigh when I heard of her passing in July 2014. I have to admit, knowing she’d had nearly 90 years of life on earth to take with her, I instantly smiled, remembering this film. She got it right and lived an incredible and complicated life to prove it. This is the tale of an entertaining woman, born to entertain.


Finding Vivian Meyer_ATG FINAL_3Film: Finding Vivian Maier
Date: 04.02.2014
Location: Landmark Theater, West LA

Finding Vivian Maier is a mysteriously beautiful and complicated portrait of a woman who would have rather remained unseen, yet devoted most of her life seeing others through the lens of her camera. After a box of negatives is sold at an auction, a young filmmaker eventually uncovers over 100,000 photographs taken during her lifetime. Though many around her often saw a camera on Vivian Maier, they never knew what talent was behind an otherwise ordinary Chicago-based nanny. Since the discovery of her archives and exhibition of her work, she’s quickly become one of the most celebrated street photographers of the 20th century. While her photographs undoubtedly evoke emotion and artistry, and captured the human essence with unassuming grace, it was the woman behind the lens that’s the real story. I cannot think of a more complex character I’ve been introduced to on-screen in recent years than that of the portrayal of Vivian Maier. She is depicted by those who knew her as a series of contradictions. Some described her as “Mary Poppins-like,” while others alluded to her as being abusive. What there seems to be no question about from anyone who knew her, was that she was slightly strange and treasured her privacy immensely. Those closest to her had never even seen her photographs. It begs to question not only how Vivian, who died in 2009, would feel about her posthumous fame, and whether or not she might have lived her life differently knowing the world would eventually respect her talent; but also if we ever truly know a person, even if they’re standing right in front of us.


life itself_AtG FINAL_Film: Life Itself
Date: 07.06.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, Encino

What Life Itself did best was honor the final days and life story of the legendary film critic, Roger Ebert. It shares the 40 year career of Ebert’s hand in bringing the art of film criticism into the mainstream, ultimately influencing how and what people might see at their local cineplex. In other words, he created a voice so strong, that film criticism became a form of entertainment in and of itself. Beyond that, it’s an homage to a 70-year life, lived thoroughly. The film energetically paints the intricacies of the man: his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel during their wildly successful television show; his steadfast and loving relationship with wife Chaz; his battle with alcoholism; and the battle he would never overcome, cancer. I can think of no better person to bring this tribute to fruition other than director, Steve James, whom Ebert championed for his 1994 film, Hoop Dreams. Ebert famously wrote, “It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime.” To this day, Hoop Dreams is still widely considered the best documentary film of all time. It’s only appropriate then that James return the favor…and he did. Masterfully. He created a film that championed the life and career of Roger Ebert.


Rich Hill_ATG FINAL_1Film: Rich Hill
Date: 08.17.2014
Location: Laemmle Theater, North Hollywood

When thinking about what makes documentary filmmaking an unparalleled style of storytelling, it’s when the film does such an effective job of pulling the viewer into the world of its central narrative figures, that it’s hard to let go as the screen fades to black. The realization that unlike fictional features, documentaries are designed to encapsulate a real moment in time. The knowledge that these true-to-life stories continue even after the camera stops rolling, adds another level of depth to the medium. Such is the case with Rich Hill. It is an expressive profile of three young boys and their families as they live day-to-day in Rich Hill, MO – population: 1,393. The irony is that its inhabitants are far from “rich” in every sense of the word. The film subtly enters Andrew, Appachey, and Harley’s world sharing the harsh socioeconomic conditions plaguing small town America, and how our youth is navigating the journey. It sheds light on how our surroundings shape us, and therefore, our place in the world, our future. While there are certainly exceptions, it sparks debate on whether or not those born into poverty can ever truly gain footing in life and become more than their circumstances. Sadly, it suggests how this struggle simply passes onto the next generation, forcibly creating an unbreakable cycle. And yet, the resiliency of the human spirit, despite circumstances, takes center stage. It’s a narrative told so beautifully, so elegantly, it leaves you wanting more. You get to know the boys in such a way that you care about what happens next, having become invested in their lives and their stories. You cheer them on, hoping they break the cycle – knowing that it is more the exception than the rule. I personally encourage you to see this film. It’s 2014’s best.


A look back at my thoughts on the best documentary films in 2012 and 2013, too.

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*Header image credit: My DVD Library by snkhan used under CC BY 2.0 | Modifications: cropped, filtered, and text added to original.

*Movie poster images sourced via IMDB.

Best of Everything 2014

1-Happy-New-Year

New Year’s Eve, 2014. Where did the time go?

I distinctly remember where I was this very day last year. In bed. Sick. I had caught some sort of horrible stomach virus that literally took months into 2014 to fully recover from. I was so disappointed because my boyfriend and I had made reservations for dinner at a quaint little Italian restaurant that I was beyond excited for. At the time, however, food and I weren’t on speaking terms. He ended up ordering a pizza that I basically watched him eat. What a bummer…and a terrible way to ring in the new year.

I’m determined to get 2015 off on the right foot. Essentially, the plan is to finally get to that dinner reservation, one year later – and I have absolutely no intention of watching him eat. I plan to dig in with the best of them at that quaint little Italian restaurant tonight, but not before heading out to catch, A Most Violent Year, opening today. It’s the last film of the year that I want to see before I officially write my top films of 2014 post, forthcoming. As such, this post won’t go into narrative or feature-length documentary films.

The last day of the year is perfect for reflecting back on where you’ve been and where you’d like to go as the year comes to a close. Today, I want to reflect on where I’ve been with a look back at a little bit of everything that made 2014 memorable. From books I’ve read, to music I’ve rocked out to, to products, and experiences – here are new discoveries, things that stuck, and lessons learned worth mentioning.

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L.A. Discovery: Bottega Louie.
{Perfect for brunch or dinner…and macaroons.}

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Only in L.A. Experience: Broadway Theatre District Walking Tour.

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Thing I Did For Myself: Recommitted to a consistent yoga practice…though admittedly I’m currently on the market for a new studio.


Beauty Find: Mullein & Sparrow’s Facial Detox Kit. It’s giving yourself the spa experience at home, on a budget. I discovered this small Brooklyn-based herbal apothecary just weeks ago and if I could, I’d buy everything! Love them.


New Addition to the Hair Regimen That I Can’t Live Without: Macadamia Healing Oil Spray.


New Addition to the Skincare Regimen That I Can’t Live Without: Clarisonic Mia.

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Indulgence: Iced vanilla lattes from The Sycamore Kitchen (or Hot Tamales).

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Accessory: Gosia Meyer’s 14K Gold Filled Initial Necklace.

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Guilty Pleasure: The Wendy Williams Show.


Splurge: Madewell’s Transport Tote in Saddle.


Travel Experience: My Birthday in Ojai.

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Fiction Read: We Are Water by Wally Lamb.


Non-Fiction Read: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche.


Lesson Learned: Be extra cautious when driving down a windy road just after a fresh rain or you’ll lose control and your car will swerve and hit a curb so hard it takes weeks to fix! This isn’t rocket-science but for some reason I still managed to screw up majorly…and it cost me thousands. Ugh.


Gadget: Kindle Paperwhite.

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Blog Post: Journey of a Dress: From Princess to Fashion Legend.

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Tune to Rock Out to: Defeated No More by Disclosure.


Album: It came out a few years ago, but “4” by Beyoncé was in heavy rotation this year after I finally sat down and actually listened to the whole LP. Fantastic.


Discovered Artist: Lana del Rey.


YouTube Video: Taylor Swift’s incredibly contagious “Shake it Off” song synced to the 1988 National Aerobic Championship Opening Number.


TV Addiction: Scandal.


Addition to The Home: Paper Source’s Foil Desk Calendar. It dresses up your desk space with subtle elegance. (2105 is now available!)


Wardrobe Piece: A classic dark washed denim jacket, it’s my go-to year round staple for instant California casual chic.


Image Featured on the Blog: The moment I captured the sunrise over the ocean as I geared up for a long day of shooting in San Francisco.Srunrise ATG FINAL


Memorable Day: Taking myself to the LA Times Festival of Books Fair at USC. It was the perfect day: sunshine, books galore, great music, and the grilled cheese truck responsible for the photo below. Fun fact: it was my most successful blog post of 2014!

Grilled Cheese ATG


Biggest “Ah-ha” Moment: Reading The Daily Love’s beautiful post in the wake of Robin’s Williams untimely passing. As I read it, I had the biggest “ah-ha” moment, and wrote the following post, Words that Gave Me Pause, to share it.


The moment I Saw Growth in Myself: When I got my first parking ticket in years and rather than get upset, I laughed with the universe. Full story here.

Life Lately ATG FINAL


Biggest Blogging Achievement: Completing the 100 Happy Days Challenge. It was a powerful reminder to always look for the beauty in your day and I went strong for 100 consecutive days. Statistics show 70% don’t complete the challenge. I was in the 30% who made it to the finish line!

Day100ATGFINAL


Words: This piece of poetry by William Henry Channing.

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Thank you for reading along with me this year. Cheers to a 2015 lived beyond our wildest dreams! x

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Happy 2014! Inspiration to Get You Started.

1-Happy-New-Year

Back to life. Back to reality. Back to work. Today.

2014 has been off to a rough start largely because I got sick with a really bad stomach bug/flu/poisoning/I-don’t-exactly-know-what-the-heck-happened that had me resting for much of my holiday vacation once I got back to LA. Unfortunately, New Year’s Eve didn’t find me in a sparkly party dress sipping champagne over a delicious meal while conversing deeply about how 2014 will be best year yet. It actually found me in bed around 9:00pm – where I woke up just before midnight and heard my neighbors downstairs yelling the countdown to midnight. I smiled to myself, said “Happy New Year” to my boyfriend lying next to me, and went back to sleep. How exciting, I know.

Despite a not so ideal start to the year, I’m comforted that I was able to spend a bulk of my holiday vacation exploring the charms of Northern California; and when I was feeling better, to get organized at home with a little New Year’s purge and cleaning of drawers and cabinets in my bathroom. I got an incredible new jewelry box for Christmas and it spawned a need to go through years of jewelry to clean out the less nostalgic treasures I bought on a whim at Forever 21 that’s essentially tarnished crap now. The purge sessions and spending that time at home made me feel productive, as if clearing the way for better things to come.

Speaking of better things to come, I came across this incredible message from Aaron Paquette that I saw yesterday in my Facebook feed that a friend shared. It literally talks about the power of our words. I can’t think of more compelling language to inspire a new beginning for an extraordinary new year. I’m looking forward to sharing it on All That Glitters with you. Happy 2014! Here’s a little inspiration to get you started…

Your Words Create Worlds

We wait.  We say we aren’t ready. We say it’s not yet time. We say “One Day.” And all of it is true. Because what we say is what we create. Our words form our fate.

I am guilty of this. I have held myself back from where I know I should be in life. I have always said that I am working toward the man I want to be, and this is true.

But you know what I have never said?

I’ll tell you in a moment.

First let me share my challenge…OUR challenge.

We have this incredible light inside of us. We have all this strength and goodness and fire. But we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know how to use it.

Sometimes we’re not even sure it’s even there.

When we are young it almost tortures us with its presence but because we have no idea what this thing is we get angry. We label it pain and because of all the pain we’ve already experienced we use that power to lash out. At ourselves, our own bodies, our own thinking, telling ourselves terrible things. And we lash out at others. We hurt and hurt and hurt.

We carry it into adulthood and stop believing we can make the world a better place. We start believing the world has dealt us a bad hand, that it’s dangerous and so we get frustrated easily. We get mad at other drivers, we stress out about time, money and relationships.

But that’s not who we are. That’s who we become when the setting is on autopilot. Our light is so buried under all the garbage that we mistake as life that when it does shine it’s shocking! And embarrassing because it makes us different.

Others would tear you down because of your light.

How dare you shine!?

Our words are so powerful it’s almost a magic. Maybe it is some kind of magic. I prefer to see it as a gift we have all been given. A piece of the Creator in each of us.

Our Words Create Our Worlds.

We bring something out of nothing. We say we are going to do something, we take action and the thing exists!

I am an artist. I love to paint. My paintings are just imagination, but with my hard work, with my effort and with my love they form and become real. If they speak to others, then I get energy back, sometimes as money and I can buy more paint!

It took me many years to realize I could paint my life into existence. The kind of life that would be meaningful to me and provide value and service for others.

You have the same power.

And it starts with the things you think and the words you speak. You are singing your reality with every breath, with every firing of your synapses.

We are free to make choices. We are free to decide what our lives will be. You may have heard that before and not believed it.

Believe it now.

You are stronger than you can ever imagine. You are more beautiful than any society can define.

But you have to believe. You have to act. You have to become aware of your own truth.

The truth is you can change the world. No matter who you are, what you are doing, how old or young…you can change this world!

You can become the greatest leader for good in our time. Nothing can stop you, Everything is pushing you forward.

But there are some things you have to leave behind.

Self Judgement. You are only as good or bad as you think. If you are defining yourself right now on past actions then you are deluded. You don’t exist in the past. You only exist RIGHT NOW. Whatever you did means nothing. What matters is what you choose to do NOW.

Judgement of Others. You don’t get to judge. And no one gets to judge you. Other people are just as lost and scared and angry and troubled and awesome and beautiful as you!

Nothing is Good or Bad. This is a higher form of non judgement. Only the Creator gets to decide what’s good and bad and even then, the jury is still out. There is fear and there is love, that’s all.

Stop trying to judge and just start walking the path of love. That’s the path of a true being. Fear is the path of a person who can’t see their own light.

If you are judging these words as bad right now, you are afraid. If you are judging them as good, you are seeing light…but now be the light. Then the words will simply BE.

That last part is a big thing to ask. For now just smile.

And trust that G-d, whoever that is for you, whatever form, whatever expression, from faith to science, trust that all things are working the way they are supposed to.

Trust that you are here for a reason. Be it some cellular connection that woke you into awareness or that a higher power has a plan for you – you are here for a purpose.

That purpose is to serve. Serve with all your heart, mind and strength. Serve your fellow being, serve the planet, serve the universe.

Serve by being authentic. Serve by being joyful. Serve by being YOU.

Which brings me to my earlier thread.

Here is what I never said to myself, and today is the day. Now is the time.

I am no longer working toward the man I want to be:

Today I am that man. Today I will be the person I was always meant to be.

Mom, today I move past the clipped wings, the manatee, and the dolphin.

Today I embrace the White Buffalo.

I don’t know what it’s going to look like, I know there will be stumbles and falls, but I am taking on the responsibility and the burden and transforming it with light.

Maybe one day I will walk with the others in your dream, I don’t know yet. Time will tell.

And my prayer is that others are inspired to speak the words that make their worlds.

If we give voice together we transform this humanity, we start the process of taking away the stuff that binds us and instead reveal our true light.

The light we would shine if we had no fear.

As angels sang to poor shepherds:

Be not afraid

I say to you: shine.

Your light isn’t little, so don’t shine a little.

Your light is brighter than the sun, it’s bigger than you dream, it’s an extension of the Creator and all creation.

So Shine. Glow. Explode with light!

Speak the words that your soul has been longing for.

Say that you are awesome and feel the liberating humbleness that accompanies it.

Be your best self. Speak your truth but care for your words so that they don’t harm others. Your best self is ready.

You are just waiting for you.

And not only is it time, but you really are ready.

Speak your Words. Create your World.

And be the light you were always meant to be.

By Aaron Paquette

Source: https://www.facebook.com/AaronPaquetteArt


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