Going On Holiday – At Last!

OMG, I can't WAIT to get away, relax and recharge!

Will be travelling a long distance again, after 2 short trips to nearby countries last year. Counted a total of 11 separate flights ( yikes! ), but will be covering places I've always dreamed of visiting. Might as well cross them off the list while I'm still young and able. :)

First stop: Hawaii. I'm not a big fan of sand and surf, but the islands offer lots to do, the tour includes accomodation at gorgeous resorts, and activity options range from surfing / hula dancing / lei and cocktail making lessons, to snorkeling, nature trail hiking and helicopter rides.

I'm especially interested in paddleboarding, snorkeling and learning to play the ukulele ( also on the lesson list ), as well as some spa time. Going to get a good dose of sunshine, walk around barefoot and sip LOTS of cocktails. Aaaahhhhh... :D

Next is Washington, DC - another destination I've wanted to see for a very long time. Recently, House Of Cards rekindled my interest, and an added bonus is the cherry blossom season, which we may very well hit during peak bloom, woohoo!

There's LOTS to do but I've narrowed my options down to a manageable few - the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and US Capitol can't be missed, Arlington Cemetery is a must for a JFK fan like me, and weather permitting, lengthy strolls along the Mall and Tidal Basin, with a possible day trip to Georgetown for some food and window shopping.

We'll be on our own after Hawaii, but being alone in the US has never been a problem. I love map reading and navigating, and Americans are very nice to tourists. :)

Last but not least, New York City - my 2nd favourite city in the whole world, so far. ( #1 is Paris - very tough to beat! )

This will be our 3rd visit but activities will be completely different. Previous trips included a lot of sightseeing, while this time, I'm getting the most out of Broadway.

Through some unbelievable stroke of good luck, the spring 2014 season is jam-packed with celebrity casting, from Denzel Washington to Zach Braff and Daniel Radcliffe.

However, due to schedule constraints and expected fatigue as we near the end of our travels, I could only pick 6. These were chosen for one simple reason: I would KICK myself if I missed any of them.

First is Cabaret, a revival directed by Sam Mendes ( Oscar-winning director of American Beauty and Skyfall ), starring Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming.

Yes, I realize Williams is the headliner and probably the main draw, but I'm much more eager to see Cumming, whom I LOVE in The Good Wife!

Second: The Realistic Joneses, a dark comedy with a jaw-dropping cast, gah! Toni Collette ( The Sixth Sense, In Her Shoes, Fright Night, Hostages ), Marisa Tomei ( Oscar winner from My Cousin Vinny, also acted in Someone Like You, The Ides Of March ), Tracy Letts ( actor from Homeland, writer of Killer Joe and August: Osage County ), and Michael C. Hall ( Six Feet Under, Dexter ).

Having followed Dexter through 8 seasons ( = 8 years ), seeing Hall in person will probably give me palpitations, haha. And Letts' Killer Joe ( movie adaptation starred Matthew McConaughey and also gave me palpitations ) is astounding. If I get to meet them at the stage door, I will pass out... :)

I'm not particularly fond of James Franco, but have a soft spot for Chris O'Dowd ( Bridesmaids! ). I gave up Denzel Washington and Daniel Radcliffe for these two, so please don't disappoint! I'm mostly interested in seeing how they do on stage, after Franco bombed as Oscars host. Could go either way.

Next on the itinerary is All The Way, with Bryan Cranston as American president, Lyndon B. Johnson. Cranston's enjoyed immense accolades as Walter White on Breaking Bad, and I leapt at the chance to catch him in this. Will be in the 4th row, and the play lasts a whopping 3 hours. In my world, that's the equivalent of heaven. :)

The day after that, I will see Tony Shalhoub in Act One at the Lincoln Center. Covers material that's foreign to me ( something about an American writer's life from childhood to old age ), but I spent 8 years watching Shalhoub play a brilliant OCD detective in TV series Monk ( he also won Emmys for the role ), and can't wait to watch him 'live'.

The grand finale is another revival: Les Miserables, with an excellent cast that includes Ramin Karimloo ( West End star of Love Never Dies and Phantom Of The Opera's lush 25th anniversary performance ). I've never seen this on stage before ( Hugh Jackman movie, yes ) but am familiar with the music, and couldn't be more pleased about the prospect of listening to Karimloo once again ( after swooning in Tokyo at the 4 Stars concert a year ago :)). That voice of his can kick planets out of orbit!

Side-tracking a bit with tickets to a gala tribute to Kevin Spacey, organized by the Museum of the Moving Image. Stumbled upon this on Playbill and couldn't believe my luck, because it takes place the day after we arrive in New York.

Promises a star-studded lineup which has not been confirmed yet. We'll be sitting with 8 other strangers at the table, but I don't care. And I reaaaally hope there'll be an opportunity to speak to Mr. Spacey that evening. Must prepare my thick skin mode. :)

Currently unconfirmed: possible tickets to a Late Night With Seth Meyers taping, and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon's monologue rehearsal.

These two are the HOTTEST guys in NY right now, and I'm a huge fan of both. Cross fingers!

Looks like by the time I get back, I might be even more exhausted than before I left. But at least I'll be super happy, and that's all that matters. :D

Review – Jamie Cullum, Singapore Jazz Festival, 27 February 2014, Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre

Writing this review is making me feel really old, for the following reasons:

1) I realize that 10 years have passed since I first saw Jamie Cullum perform.

2) Reading my previous blog entries about him, it's become apparent how my memory isn't what it used to be.

3) I no longer have the energy to write lengthy, gushy blog entries. ( Maybe some readers are happy about this haha. :))

Nevertheless, last Thursday evening was still incredibly awesome - yet another high-octane show from the little dynamo, and the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when reunited with someone you're immensely fond of.

And speaking of reunions, before I launch into the review proper, here're 2 flashbacks for those of you who're interested:

My very first encounter with Jamie in 2004, and

My favourite Jamie concert in Singapore in 2010.

I'll be making a few references to each event later on.

Jamie kicked off the set list with a trilogy of uptempo songs - 2 from his latest album, 2013's Momentum ( opener The Same Things, and 3rd piece Everything You Didn't Do ), and 1 from way way back ( Get Your Way from 2005's Catching Tales ).
Aside from showing off his skills on the piano, he also spent a considerable amount of time on the drum, at one point whacking it so hard the drumstick flew out of his left hand. But in trademark Jamie Cullum form, he didn't bat an eyelid and carried on until a suitable interlude presented itself, allowing him to stroll over and pick it up before continuing.

The crowd, which had remained sedate throughout opening act James Morrison's set, immediately roared its approval and woke up. THIS was the star we'd all come to see! :)

The next 90 minutes seemed to go on forever, as Jamie powered through 18 songs in total, featuring selections from all his albums over the past decade ( excluding Pointless Nostalgic which was released before his meteoric rise to stardom ). Personally, I was quite surprised and just a tad disappointed, partly because this was the 4th time I was seeing him in concert and had already heard quite a few of the old songs 'live', but mostly because I consider Momentum his best album to date and was eager to hear as many tracks from it as possible.

Still, Jamie delivered beautifully on every song, especially What A Difference A Day Made ( from 2003's Twentysomething ), which was performed with only the piano, and sung flawlessly.

He also whipped the audience into a frenzy with inspired covers of Blackbird ( The Beatles ), Royals ( Lorde ), Get Lucky ( Pharrell Williams / Daft Punk ), I Could Have Danced All Night ( My Fair Lady ), Don't Stop The Music and Diamonds ( Rihanna ).

In between songs, Jamie bantered with the crowd, sharing tidbits about what he did during this latest trip ( "spent time on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, taking pictures of myself and posting them on Instagram" ) and expressing horror over his inexplicably super-tight jeans. The latter occurred within the first 15 minutes of the show, and to his credit, he didn't let the discomfort affect his performance in any way, even as he climbed onto his Steinway ( he ships the piano everywhere when he's on tour ), pounded the instrument like a drum and plucked its strings, and leapt off it multiple times ( I was on high alert to assist if he injured himself :)). Of course, I'd seen these antics before and never tire of them, but at age 34, it was obvious that he'd toned the stunts down considerably these past few years, something I support because hey, I care about the guy okay? :)

During Love For Sale ( Momentum ), he jumped off the stage and walked up the aisle to get close to the audience ( also a well-known Jamie move ). And luckily for me, he grabbed my hand as he strolled past, not just slapping my palm or limply holding it for a second, but actually hanging on tightly for a few seconds, which I never expected. Brought back memories from our 2004 encounter ( read blog entry ), and his hand is still as clammy as ever! :)

The crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, so he wasn't mobbed as he stood in the aisle for the next few minutes and finished the song. Really envy a pair of young ladies sitting right in front of him - he focused his attention entirely on one of them and bent down to sign an autograph before returning to the stage. Ahhh, such a nice chap. :)

One of my favourite songs from Momentum - When I Get Famous - sounded phenomenal 'live'! This is another trademark of his - the concerts ALWAYS surpass the studio recordings. Not because of the physical stuff or repartee, but rather, the simple fact that his musicality shines most brilliantly in person. The sound system is nowhere as great as what's available at the Esplanade ( my favourite Jamie gig so far ), but he had us all hypnotized.

My choice for magical moment? Hands down, an extended version of Save Your Soul ( also from Momentum ). I'd heard this many times but never quite connected with it ( When I Get Famous is much catchier ). But that night, Jamie started off with a drawn out acoustic intro, before the rest of the band gradually joined in. The percussion sounded amazing, pulsating throughout the theatre and hitting you right in the gut. And when they reached the chorus and full backup kicked in, the effect was anthemic.
I love it so much I've started blasting it on constant repeat mode on my car stereo.

Towards the end, Jamie asked those seated at the back to go forward. Not sure if people right in front were happy about it, but nobody was going to complain! The good part is, everyone stood up 'cos that was the only way we could see him, and this changed the overall mood tremendously. We grooved to the beat, sang enthusiastically, even jumped up and down in unison on Jamie's cue.

When he closed the show with Mixtape ( from The Pursuit ), the crowd's cheers were deafening, and Jamie looked very pleased indeed. Wish he could've performed a couple more pieces, but he had to fly to Jakarta for another headline event the next day, so he couldn't stay any longer.

Getting back to the 2004 blog entry about my first encounter with him - it's really great that he hasn't changed these past 10 years in terms of audience interaction and overall friendliness. Jamie's actually played a huge part in my life, because he's the very first celebrity I ever had any physical contact with, and broke down barriers by showing me that international stars can be nice and approachable. After that experience, I lost all inhibition where celebs were concerned, and as a result, have managed to find ways to meet many artists I greatly admire. It's entirely possible that if I'd never shaken Jamie's hand that night a decade ago, my existence would've taken a very different turn.

So thank you, Jamie, for the simple yet profound gesture which transformed your fan's life forever. Also thank you for your continuing contribution to the music industry, the songs that lift our spirits and the shows that leave such awesome memories. I know there will come a day when you'll have to stop leaping around - for your own safety! - but your talent is more than enough for us.

Wishing you a long and successful career ahead, and please come back to Singapore as soon as possible.

p.s. Also, please consider moving the show back to the Esplanade Concert Hall - much better acoustics and a gorgeous venue which I love - and omit the opening act completely ( we're not interested ). :)

More Reviews

The awesomeness continues. :)

Saving Mr. Banks was deemed an Oscar front-runner, but for some reason ( like Inside Llewyn Davis ) was snubbed in the nomination process.

Still, it is a lovely and immensely moving film, and once again, where 12 Years A Slave failed ( i.e. in affecting my lacrimal ducts ), SMB succeeded effortlessly.

Tracing Walt Disney's 20-year-long attempt to secure film adaptation rights to P.J. Travers' Mary Poppins novel, the story may seem rather simple at first glance, but is anything but. What transpires during the 2-hour run time spans 5-6 decades, tracing Travers' troubled childhood through flashbacks, interspersed with present day scenes, mostly at the Disney studios where she oversees script, songs and other tasks.

In the wrong hands, this movie could have gone completely south. Instead, thanks to the best leading cast anyone could've possibly hoped for, a fabulous script from Kelly Marcel ( who also adapted Fifty Shades Of Grey ), and great directing from John Lee Hancock, the result is a roller coaster ride of surprises, mixed with tidal waves of emotion.

Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the charming and affable Disney, while Emma Thompson's portrayal of Travers - reticent, cynical, bitter - truly deserves an Oscar nod. Together, they light up the screen, initially sparring before gradually settling into a comfortable partnership and friendship.

Special mention goes to Colin Farrell, who plays Travers' father with subtle sensitivity.

There're a couple of tissue moments, but I won't spoil it by revealing them. I think it's much better to sit through the film and experience them for yourself.

However, I will point out my favourite scene - involving a conversation between Disney and Travers, during which the former describes his own imperfect childhood to the latter, explaining how he became the man he is, and why he made certain choices when others seemed much more obvious.

Definitely makes me see the Disney franchise ( and all the Disney theme parks I've visited ) in a completely new light. :)

Next is The Wolf Of Wall Street, which has garnered Oscar nominations in major categories, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture.

My feelings about this are mixed - there's no doubt WOWS is immensely enjoyable and superbly acted and directed, but nominating a film that gives the impression it's celebrating debauchery of the highest level for Best Picture is rather dubious.

However, I have no argument with the acting nod for Leonardo DiCaprio, whose time has finally come after years of outstanding performances. I recall reading about him being blacklisted by the Academy many years ago when he boycotted an Oscar ceremony after being snubbed for Titanic. Not sure if this is entirely true, but it did appear as if he never quite got back in their good books, despite laudable turns in The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can and Django Unchained.

In WOWS, we see Leo as we've never seen him before - unhinged and totally psychotic. The closest to this was in Django, where he played a sadistic plantation owner whose slaves fought to the death for his pleasure.

As Jordan Belfort, he's a hundred times worse - not cruel, but equally insane in a different way. Consumed by greed, incapable of reining in his multitude of hard-core addictions, culminating in a humiliating display of motor and cognitive impairment after gulping down a massive dose of Qualuudes. That scene alone is worth the Oscar win for sure! :)

And let's not forget the sublime Matthew McConaughey, whose brief 10-minute cameo is so memorable, a restaurant scene featuring humming and chest-thumping has inspired countless YouTube videos.

Clocking in at a whopping 3 hours(!), WOWS certainly perpetuates the overriding theme of excess, and you'll find your eyebrows leaving your forehead as each new sin is presented. Prepare yourself for lots of nudity, sex orgies, pill-popping, cocaine-snorting and vulgarity-spewing, until at some point, you'll actually stop noticing any of it. I personally feel it could've been 30 minutes shorter, but hey, who wants to argue with the brilliant Scorsese?

A standout scene takes place in Belfort's firm, after he announces his departure following an incriminating FBI investigation. As his fervently loyal employees protest, he starts thumping his chest and humming the tune his mentor taught him, and the entire office joins in. Faces contort, grown men climb onto their desks and dance, as everyone enters a trance-like state, a cult worshipping their revered leader with no regard for all the wrong he's committed.

I may object to the Best Picture nomination, but if it ends up winning, THAT is the moment that clinched the trophy.

More next time!


Only into the first month of the new year, and my mind continues to be blown away every few days. :)

As awards season continues - leading up to the Oscars in early March - I finally managed to watch Inside Llewyn Davis.
Directed by Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen, whose previous films have been memorable, hilarious experiences, their latest effort received huge critical acclaim but was glaringly snubbed by the Academy. Nothing for Best Picture, Best Actor or Best Director. Not even a mention for Best Original Song?!

But you know me - I don't always agree with the panel ( or the list of winners, for that matter ) - so I watched it anyway, and found it pretty good. Though to be honest, its lack of Oscar nominations wasn't entirely unexpected.

The Coens have never been known for conformity - Fargo was probably their most accessible / mainstream work ( little wonder it won for Best Picture ) - and nothing declares this more loudly than their choice of protagonist: a super-mopey, down-on-his-luck and rather unpleasant folk singer. He knocks up his friend's gal, borrows money from the same friend to pay for the gal's abortion, says nasty things to those who help him, and writes TERRIBLE songs ( e.g. one about Anne Boleyn's execution, and another titled Hang Me, Oh Hang Me ).

This is all deliberate, of course. The Coens are practically OCD in their manipulation of movie content, from writing to filming to editing. Everything is calculated, and anyone who doesn't appreciate their analogies can go to hell.

I don't consider myself one of those artsy-fartsy types. It either connects with me or goes right over my head. Llewyn Davis sits somewhere in between - I can identify with the poor guy's troubles and absolutely love the soundtrack, but the ending ( "abrupt" is a nice way of describing it ) really pissed me off.

But like I said, it was all planned.

Oscar Isaac, who plays the tragic lead character, is hypnotic. He drifts from scene to scene appearing to do very little, but never bores. He speaks in a monotonous drone and appraises everything with disinterest, yet I desperately want to see what happens next. And those verbal barbs he flings when you least expect them are like snowballs wrapped around rocks - seemingly harmless on the outside, but boy do they pack a huge wallop!

I especially enjoy the cat subplot - a little bizarre but sticks in your head way after the movie ends.

However, it's Isaac's musical virtuosity that glues it all together. The Coens have said in interviews how they struck gold when the actor auditioned for the role. Already an accomplished musician with a beautiful voice, he embodies Davis perfectly, giving an otherwise odd story its heart and soul. Those are the moments that turn the film into something truly magical. And no matter what the Academy voters think, you should give Inside Llewyn Davis a chance to cast its spell.

I'd been anticipating BBC's TV adaptation of P.D. James' Death Comes To Pemberly for months, but somehow missed its late December premiere by a few weeks.

Based on a novel which wasn't a very nice read ( though I still managed to plough through it ), I'm happy to report that the small screen version is far superior. Lengthy descriptions from the book have been omitted in favour of better character development, plus a few dramatic scenes which I believe were added by the scriptwriters.

My main reason for watching this mini-series is none other than Matthew Rhys. I've seen him in American shows like Brothers & Sisters and The Americans, in which he plays American characters with perfect American accents. But he's actually Welsh, and was cast as Darcy - the object of affection of every female Jane Austen fan in the whole universe, myself included. :)

My mother, who also watched DCTP with me, didn't like Rhys as Darcy at all, because he "doesn't look the part". I, on the other hand, think he's wonderful. Rhys exudes an intensity which suits the role extremely well, from dagger stares to purposeful strides and ferociously whispered admonishments.

I do wonder how viewers responded to the bedroom scene though, complete with bare chest and exposed stockings. Doesn't it violate a sacred rule? Not that I mind, of course. :)

Next on the list is Lone Survivor - also sorely overlooked in the Oscar race. But I don't think anyone cares because it's making loads of money in the U.S.

Directed by Peter Berg ( whose early career was spent playing a hot-headed surgeon on ER ), this is based on a true story about a group of Navy SEALS who were ambushed by the Taliban during a covert mission to assassinate a high-ranking al Qaeda figure.

Here's the thing: I don't usually enjoy films about the military, especially if there's a lot of shooting / blowing things up / male bonding. Notable exceptions include The Hurt Locker, Saving Private Ryan and Jarhead, mostly because of the terrific casts.

That's what happens here as well. The 4 leads: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster are incredible.

I'm most familiar with Wahlberg's work - all the way back to his Marky Mark Calvin Klein underwear modelling days. One of his early movies - The Big Hit - showcased his immense likability factor and effortless ease with the camera. After that, his career took off and he never looked back.
Kitsch, however, has been a source of annoyance for me these past few years. I never found him particularly good-looking ( even Aaron Johnson looked 10 times better with weird hair and scruff when they acted together in Savages ), and it's quite amazing how his career managed to survive after John Carter and Battleship, which sucked big time.
Hirsch, IMHO, is an immensely gifted actor who just needs to make better choices. After a heart-wrenching performance in Into The Wild, my respect for this young man has not diminished despite his various missteps.
As for Foster, I think he was in one of the X-Men films?

Anyway, background aside, all 4 guys are terrific here, especially Foster, who stands out a little more than the rest.
Kitsch fails to irritate me for the first time, and Hirsch is back in his element.

Wahlberg, being the top-billed cast member, gets more screen time and the juiciest storyline. I don't want to spoil it for you, but look out for a scene involving a dramatic evacuation and a tearful farewell to his rescuers. I did NOT expect to shed tears, but it happened.
I didn't cry at all during 12 Years A Slave. Is there something wrong with me?!

On to my choice for actor of the month: Matthew McConaughey.
I've seen many of his movies, starting from 20 years ago when he burst onto the Hollywood scene as Jake Brigance in John Grisham's A Time To Kill. After that, he specialized in romantic comedies ( The Wedding Planner, EdTV, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days ) before venturing into darker territory in recent years, most notably Dallas Buyers Club, for which he's picked up his first Oscar nomination.

With HBO's original series, True Detective, he continues his winning streak, playing a tormented small town detective on the trail of a serial killer. Co-starring Woody Harrelson ( another underrated talent ) and bearing some resemblance to TV crime dramas like The Killing, The Fall and Hannibal, True Detective's main advantage is its star power.

McConaughey is mesmerizing, utilizing his Texan drawl and mellow voice to full effect, spewing philosophical musings which annoy his partner severely. Like The Killing's Sarah Linden and Hannibal's Will Graham, Rust Cohle is a deep thinker with an uncanny ability to get inside a murderer's twisted mind. 2 episodes in, I'm hopelessly hooked, not so much by the script or body count ( nothing beats Hannibal's gory creativity ), but by McConaughey's restrained yet brilliant portrayal.

But even this doesn't come close to his jaw-dropping turn in Killer Joe, released in 2012 but which I only caught 2 nights ago. The synopsis gives very little away so I won't say too much, but trust me when I say it is SUPERB. Just make sure you have a strong enough stomach for a few spine-chilling scenes.

Also stars Emile Hirsch, who does a great job here. And Gina Gershon gives quite possibly the best performance of her life during the explosive finale.

McConaughey steals the show playing a character who's equal parts evil / violent and charming / gentle. There's a kitchen scene which any normal person should find revolting, but ends up being erotic instead.

While credit goes to the cast and director William Friedkin ( The Excorcist, believe it or not ), I'm especially awed by Tracy Letts, who wrote the original play and also the screenplay. How does a man who looks so benign write such a toe-curling tale? ( By the way, he also wrote August: Osage County, which has earned Meryl Streep her umpteenth Oscar nomination. )

All I can say is, Letts is now one of my writing heroes, and I can't wait to see him on Broadway in April, when he stars with Dexter's Michael C. Hall in The Realistic Joneses.

That's all for today. Here's wishing all my Chinese readers a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year!

I Love Awards Season!

My first entry for 2014 is dedicated to the major award contenders for the upcoming Oscar race.

And before I begin, a big thank you to various Internet users for making it possible for those of us outside the U.S. to catch many of these wonderful films long before they make it to Singapore. And uncut - that's the best! :)

Captain Phillips was first on the list ( p.s. the order is determined only by the movie's online availability ), and truly lives up to all the rave reviews I've read. I'm familiar with director Paul Greengrass' work, but am an even bigger fan of star Tom Hanks, whose career I've closely followed since I was a kid ( Splash, The Money Pit, Joe vs The Volcano and Big, all the way through Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Sleepless In Seattle and You've Got Mail, to Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, the Toy Story trilogy, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons ).

Although I didn't think he fully deserved his previous 2 Oscar wins ( for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia ), his performance in Captain Phillips is definitely a career best. It is, of course, easy to root for a man whose likability factor is off the charts, but Captain Phillips is also a nail-biting thriller with tense dramatic moments. 15 minutes into the film, the action grabs you by the balls and never lets up until the credits roll. The fact that it's based on an amazing true story adds further to the adrenaline rush. ( But let's not forget John Powell's pounding soundtrack, which I recognized immediately. :))

12 Years A Slave was the 3rd movie I saw ( I've left #2 to the last because it's my favourite - more later ).

Also a recipient of high praise, directed by Steve McQueen and featuring his good pal, Michael Fassbender ( both also worked together on Hunger and Shame ), I had VERY high expectations early on.

Unfortunately, for some strange reason, I failed to be moved despite the harrowing material ( slavery ) and violence ( major flogging ). For a better recent example, Django Unchained packs a bigger punch. And where persecution / oppression is concerned, nothing beats Schindler's List.

Also, comparing 12 Years with McQueen and Fassbender's previous collaboration, Shame, the latter is much much more affecting ( trust me, I'm shocked ). If you really think about it, both focus on men who're trapped in terrible situations ( i.e. slavery and sex addiction ), but Shame does a far better job in conveying the character's desperation and pain.

Another grouse I have about 12 Years is the lack of solid connections between the actors ( as stellar a cast as you could wish for ). Good performances abound ( Fassbender's, however, soars ) but feel isolated from one another. A major irritation, but oh well, that's just me.

Next is Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

I'll leave you to read the synopsis online. Yes, Matthew lost almost 50 pounds for the role, and Jared steals every scene he's in as a transgendered woman ( he's in his 40s but has flawless skin, and looks absolutely gorgeous as a female :)).

This isn't an easy film to sit through - slow-paced, set in a redneck town, populated with flawed and sickly characters who say and do disgusting things - but the 2 leads make it worth every second. Matthew burst onto the Hollywood scene in A Time To Kill almost 20 years ago, before proceeding to act in an endless string of romantic comedies ( to his credit, they're actually very good ). But in recent years, he's truly blossomed, taking on sleazy, villainous parts and knocking them out of the park.

There's a standout scene in Dallas Buyers Club which I hope you'll look out for. Without giving too much away, it involves a supermarket and an awkward encounter between Matthew, Jared and a homophobic acquaintance whose rude behaviour incurs Matt's wrath. How he handles the scumbag, and how Jared reacts, is amazing to watch. I love it. :)

The Book Thief is considered an underdog this awards season. Glowing reviews, yes. Major award nominations, no.

Still, it touched me far more deeply than 12 Years A Slave ( apologies for making it my punching bag ). Set during WWII, it traces the tragic life of Liesel as she weathers one hardship after another.

I don't recommend watching this if you're tired. The film moves at a leisurely, subdued pace, but offers so many treasures when you pay close attention. Clocking in at 130 minutes, it takes its own sweet time with plot and character development, yet never bores. While there's a slight dip near the mid-point, a series of events quickly lifts everything up a few notches, and my tear ducts started shifting into high gear.

It's important to understand that while the story is set during the Holocaust, the lessons it teaches extend far beyond that. Anyone who's ever suffered, or knows someone who's in pain, or offered a helping hand to those in need, will find something to love in this movie.

Next is Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen, starring the ethereal beauty and acting powerhouse, Cate Blanchett.

I've been a fan of Blanchett's since Elizabeth, and agree with most who predict she's a shoo-in for the Best Actress Oscar this year. Her portrayal of a rich socialite whose perfect life crumbles after her husband's indiscretions is a masterclass for all thespians. Yes, Jasmine is somewhat unhinged and positively vile at times, yet Blanchett's expertly nuanced turn succeeds in winning your sympathy, even when she spews venomous criticisms and lies without compunction.

Allen - whose work I only began to appreciate after the most excellent Match Point - has written a wonderful script and infuses the movie with a light touch. He probably didn't have to do much to elicit fine performances from his lovely cast ( Peter Sarsgaard is charming as always, and looks more delicious than ever :)), but has edited the scenes in a way that conveys just enough without drowning in melodrama.

Now, on to my favourite so far - American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell.

My relationship with Russell has been rocky. I enjoyed The Fighter, but HATED Silver Linings Playbook ( even more so when Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for I-still-have-no-idea-what ). Anyway, that's all in the past now that I've seen American Hustle. It is FREAKING INCREDIBLE.

Being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar is a sure thing. Maybe for Best Director and a couple of acting categories as well. Winning is a long shot, but since I don't always agree with the final results, so far this is my personal choice for Best Picture.

Revolving around 2 con artists who're forced to work for an ambitious, conniving FBI agent, the plot sounds straightforward enough, but the end-product is far from simple. The group dynamics change at blinding speeds, with twists that hit you when you least expect them.

The performances are nothing short of fantastic. Whether it's due to perfect casting or actors at the top of their games - or both - is anybody's guess. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie with such a large and accomplished cast, and found everyone equally terrific.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence ( who also acted together in Silver Linings Playbook ) are tonnes better here. If they're not nominated for Oscars again, something is seriously wrong with the Academy.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams also deserve recognition. The former is practically unrecognizable with a giant paunch and thinning hair ( fake, thank goodness! ), while the latter scorches the screen with her sexy confidence, slinky attire and sizzling scenes with Bale and Cooper.

What I enjoy most about Hustle is how every character has at least 2 completely opposite facets, one of which always pops up when you least expect it.

An AMAZING film. I can't stop raving about it!

I have a few other award frontrunners on my to-watch list, but Inside Llewyn Davis is right at the top. Haven't acquired it just yet, but hope to do so soon.

Oscar Isaac, who plays the title character, has been winning lots of fans with his performance, but I already spotted him ( singing, guitar and all ) in Won't Back Down. He played a music teacher, and the scene that literally made me sit up involved a music lesson where he strummed a ukulele and sang a little ditty with the high school kids.

Later on, I also realized he was in The Bourne Legacy, in a short but memorable sequence with Jeremy Renner.
( And he was King John in Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. Time to watch it again. :))

I'm also a fan of the directors of Inside Llewyn Davis - Joel and Ethan Coen. The first Coen brothers film I ever saw was Raising Arizona, and I've been a fan ever since. I'll be sure to review ILD as soon as I see it.

In the meantime, I have to be contented with its beautiful folk-themed soundtrack, on which Isaac sings multiple songs, often with just a guitar. The Death Of Queen Jane has me spellbound. Wow... :)

My best wishes go to Dana Brunetti and Kevin Spacey, producers of Captain Phillips, for today's Golden Globes ceremony. And thank you, Mr. Brunetti, for favouriting my tweet! :D

Epilogue – New Year Resolutions That Will Make Me Happier ( and which I probably won’t keep :))

Nag my junior doctors less.

You're right, I should stop caring so much. About poorly taken history, dodgy medication orders, the inability to interpret basic test results, and abominable ( lack of ) documentation. Most of the time, nagging doesn't work. It only gives me a dry mouth, lengthens each review by a few minutes, and the entire cycle repeats itself the next day because most of it doesn't sink in.

Besides, for all I know, even Talley O'Connor also gave up long ago and the textbook's Cardiovascular System now just says, "Who the hell cares?" ( or maybe every chapter says that lol ). Because Talley O'Connor wants to live long and prosper too, you know.

Ignore ugly Singaporeans.

They'll only get uglier. Locals these days like to fight over the smallest things, especially Hello Kitty dolls from McDonald's. At the hospital, they kick up a fuss over "long" waiting times ( 30 minutes to see the doctor, 2 hours for a bed, 4 hours for a specialist consult - the last one's not our fault okay? Who knows why XX doctor isn't answering his phone, or running clinic when an emergency activation occurs? ).

Anyway, where was I again? Ah yes, ugly Singaporeans should be left to their own devices. Don't bother to tell them off or your photo will end up on STOMP. If you're driving, at least make sure your car is bigger and faster than your opponent's if you're still keen on putting up a fight. But watch out for speed cameras and traffic police perched on overhead bridges - no point getting fined for being a righteous dude / dudette!

As for my pesky upstairs neighbours who think dragging furniture and bouncing balls at 7am and midnight is great fun, I have 2 words for them: ear plugs. :)

Be a social butterfly.

Conforming can be a good thing. Like Dexter Morgan - my favourite fictional serial killer - acting like "the rest of the gang" is superb camouflage. You blend in with the crowd, become quite popular, and no-one suspects you when dismembered body parts are found in a barrel in your backyard.

"It can't be Dexter Morgan - he's such a swell guy! Someone must've GIVEN him those body parts. You know, for RESEARCH!"

Note to self: instead of clearing queues during shifts, set aside an hour or two to chat up my juniors and peers. Ask about their holidays, their kids, their collections of rare pebbles / board games / laser discs. Develop a system of engagement: make constant eye contact, smile, nod every 5 seconds, and pay attention to every 3rd sentence so you can respond with a vague yet convincing comment.

Group activities are also good options. Paying for everyone is guaranteed to draw excellent attendance. :)

Win a Service With A Heart award.

Because that's the ONLY thing every doctor wants. That gold-lettered name tag! Out of the hundreds of thousands of patients I've seen throughout my career, I can't believe I haven't received enough rave reviews to help me secure this once. Instead, patients prefer to mail me thank-you cards or write me via Google mail or Facebook, like bloody stalkers. Next time, I'm putting a stack of forms in my pocket and handing them out personally. Some grovelling might help as well.

Watch less TV.

I sometimes wonder if it's reaching addictive proportions, but do you actually expect me to do anything productive after a shift kills half my brain cells? TV helps my cerebral tissues regenerate - scientifically proven... somewhere... - so asking me to stop is the equivalent of turning me into a blathering moron. Which is NOT what you want on the clinical floor of a busy ER.

But think of all the other fun stuff I'm missing out on! Enjoying Nature ( stepping on dog poo that someone didn't pick up, getting caught in a storm that came out of NOWHERE, or being hit by a crazy cyclist ), hanging out with friends ( see "Be a social butterfly" ) or heck, maybe even doing some research once and for all.

Err, I'll think about it.

That said, if you took any of this seriously, I hope your New Year resolution will be to develop a better sense of humour. :D

Happy 2014, dear readers!