Brexit Stage Left: A Tale of Unrequited Eurovision Love

Eurovision voting data could hold the key to unlocking the roots of the United Kingdom’s suicidal notions of exiting the European Union.


A topic that has been consistently in the headlines in Europe over the past few months has been the UK’s imminent referendum on whether or not to abandon the European project that has dominated the politics of this continent for the past seven decades. On June 23, citizens of the UK will vote in a referendum on the topic, and the result of this referendum could have a major impact on both the UK and Europe for decades to come. While a vote to remain inside the European Union is expected, the polls show that the result could go either way. This is despite the fact that evidence exists that a “Brexit” from the EU could have serious adverse consequences for the general UK population. Indeed, the OECD estimate that Brexit would equate to a loss of one month’s income for the average UK citizen by the end of the decade. The UK Treasury’s estimate is even worse, equating Brexit as a tax of two month’s income for every inhabitant of the country. US President Barack Obama said in plain terms that a Brexited UK’s bargaining position with regards to major trade deals would be put back by a decade. David Cameron has intimated that Brexit would invariably lead to war and genocide on the continent, while scientific researchers have protested that leaving the EU would inhibit their efforts to stop cancer spreading throughout the United Kingdom. Brexit won’t cause cancer, but it certainly won’t help either.

Despite this, the threat of taxation, war, genocide and cancer does not seem to bother the significant number of UK voters who intend to vote ‘leave’ in the upcoming referendum. The sheer audacity of such reckless abandonment of personal and global safety begs the question of what exactly the European Union did to the UK to hurt it so much to make it feel this way. The standard explanation of UK/British exceptionalism within the EU is that Britain still thinks of itself as an empire, and that this idea can never be resolved within a power sharing multinational bloc such as the European Union. While this narrative does explain the arrogance, it doesn’t explain the hurt. It doesn’t explain the deep wounds that Europe inflicted on the UK to push it to the point where it was willing to risk world peace, and an end to cancer, just to break away.

A main facet of economic theory is that in order to reach as valid a conclusion as possible, we must search for revealed preferences, rather than stated preferences. What this means is that we do not ask people what they think (stated preferences), but we search for things that might show what they think (revealed preferences), or possibly how they feel. Asking a UK citizen why they are voting yes/no in the upcoming referendum might provide insight into the issue, but it doesn’t reveal what we want to show: the hurt.

The best resource to show UK attitudes to Europe, and vice versa, is probably the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC, or more commonly ‘the Eurovision). Every year the UK provides an entrant to the competition, and other European countries award points based on quality and other factors (such as borders). In turn, the UK gets to award points for it’s favourite songs from other European countries. While throughout most of its existence the Eurovision’s voting procedure involved a professional jury dictating the merits of each song and awarding points where warranted, a significant change occurred at the turn of the century as televoting has been introduced, and democracy with it. By law the Eurovision must release all its voting data to the public, and therefore a rich dataset exists that perhaps can give us some insight into the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe, and perhaps some revealed preferences.


The UK & The Eurovision

In the time period 2000-2015, 48 countries have participated in the ESC. Most of them are European, while also countries such as the Caucasus nations (Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan) and Israel have been granted access, as well as Australia in 2015. This means that the populations of 47 nations (the UK cannot vote for itself) have had the opportunity to award points to the United Kingdom over the past 16 Eurovision Song Contests. Over this period, the UK received 635 points from these nations, out of a possible total of 4224 (Caveat: I didn’t feel like calculating this, but the formula would be something like {16*(12*(nt-1))}, where nt is the number of participating countries in the Eurovision that year. The minimum number in the data set is 23, so I am using that minimum.). The percentage share of each participating country in this total of 635 points is detailed in the table below.


If you weren’t bothered reading all that, then the graph below should do the trick.

bar received

Ireland and Malta obviously stand out. These are two very small countries, yet combined they are responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s total points in this time period. To put this in starker terms, the below graph shows the average points each country awarded the UK between 2000 and 2015. The maximum number of points awardable is 12.

awarded uk bar

Ireland will give an average of 5.5 points to the UK in each Eurovision, while Malta will give 4.3 points. Then there is a sizable drop in the level, and the average of most countries points awarded to the UK is too small to appear on the graph.

Malta and Ireland are obviously different than the rest of Europe, and that difference is not that they are both islands, but that they are very recent colonies of the United Kingdom. There is an obvious cultural heritage in these countries that the rest of Europe does not share, as well as the presence of a multitude of UK expatriates who can contribute to the televoting figures from these countries. An argument may be that Ireland and Malta are the only two other English speaking countries in the Eurovision Song Contest, however anyone who has seen the Contest knows that most songs are in English these days anyway.

How does Europe react to Britain if we exclude Ireland and Malta? The chart below separates these two countries from the pack, and groups the remaining countries into EU and non-EU designation. EU expansions in 2004, 2007 and 2014 have all been accounted for.


The UK this century has received an equal share of points from the EU (excluding Ireland and Malta) and Non-EU countries. 38% of its points have come from European Union member states that were not formerly under the rule of the British Empire.

While Europe (both EU and non-EU) have a balanced opinion of the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, with each contributing 38% of its total points haul, it is worth looking at things from the the other side: how has the UK voted in this period? Cutting right to the chase, and using the same methodology as before (grouping EU, non-EU and Ireland/Malta as three distinct categories), the results are in the pie chart below.

awarded total piiiiiii

Things are different here. Ireland and Malta receive just 14% of the UK vote, while the EU is substantially preferred, beating non-EU countries by twenty percentage points. At this point, it must be said that not every country can be awarded points in a Eurovision final, but merely those countries that proceed to the main competition. On several occasions in the time period, Ireland, Malta or both were absent and therefore ineligible for points from the UK. The chart below accounts for this, using only data for when both countries were present.

votes awarded irma

This does little to account for the discrepancy between EU points awarded to the UK, and UK points awarded to fellow EU nations.


The analysis of Eurovision televoting data showed that if we exclude the former British colonies of Ireland and Malta, EU nations have contributed 38% of the United Kingdom’s points total. In contrast, the UK itself shows a marked preference for the European Union, with 53% of its points going to the bloc, again excluding Ireland and Malta. What this suggests is that there is something going on underneath the surface of the relationship between the EU and the UK, and it is something that only can be seen in this data.

Britain/The Uk/Whatever is a small country in the world. It was big and popular once, but now is quite unsure of itself. It acts like it has confidence, and can succeed independently, but is really quite dependent on its smaller friends to provide an ego boost. The UK has sent gushing approval to the EU and Brussels over the past 16 years, and it has not received the same signals back. The UK clearly favours the EU, as is apparent from its voting patterns in the Eurovision data, yet the EU’s acceptance of the UK is far less clear. Perhaps Brexit is not about fantasies of lost empire at all. Perhaps it is but a tale of unrequited love, a call for attention from a secret admirer who only wants some tender loving care, but is far too proud to show it. Brexit is the political manifestation of a population that is accustomed to listening to Adele albums on repeat: they are ready to risk genocide, war and cancer just to seem relevant and loved. Maybe in this year’s Eurovision, we should requite some love: vote for the UK on Saturday. Before they set fire to the rain.

Leo, The Bear, and Other Nonsense


Opening Monologue

It’s that time of year again, and 8 movies have been chosen to fight it out for the grand accolade of Best Picture this Sunday in Hollywood. The 8 movies in question aim to join ‘whoever won last year’, and ‘whoever won the year before that’ in the grand pantheon of movies that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. As usual, I have watched as many of them as I could tolerate, and present them here, ranked in reverse order of how much I enjoyed the movie in question. It’s as close to a listicle as it gets around here, so let’s enjoy this departure from the usual long read, and get straight into the countdown. With regards to spoilers, I do go into plot details that I think are relevant to any discussion of the movies, but do not reveal endings or plot twists.


(Unranked) Room

Plot: A woman attempts to create a nice and pleasant environment to raise her son, despite them both being imprisoned for years in a tiny room by her abusive partner.

Discussion: Look, I feel bad enough about myself and the world as it is. I don’t need to watch stuff like this to feel terrible, despite what potentially hopeful message it has at the end. I tried to consider watching this, but failed each time.

Oscar Chances: Absolutely locked in in for Brie Larson as Best Actress.


7. The Revenant

Plot: Leonardo Dicaprio plays a fur trapper in 19th Century US wilderness who gets mauled by a bear and left for dead in the middle of nowhere by his colleagues. He summons the will to survive and attempts to wreak vengeance on those who done him wrong.

Discussion: Yes, the undisputed Oscar frontrunner is ranked at the bottom of my countdown. Westerns are my favourite movie genre, and I was expecting big things from this tale of vengeance and survival from director Iñárritu , but came away feeling quite bored and very, very cold. The Revenant is a perfectly serviceable movie and is extremely well made, with some great performances from Dicaprio, the bear, and particularly Tom Hardy. Despite all this, all of the talk in the media about the movie is centred on how difficult it was to make: how it was filmed in the middle of nowhere, with only a few hours of light available to film each day, and how poor Leo had to be cold a lot in order to show the desperation of his character to the audience, such as having frost in his beard. I understand that the movie was quite difficult to make, but that does not mean we all should necessarily care too much: no one asked them to make the movie, and we all would be doing just fine if they hadn’t made it at all. The fact is that if you take away the ‘nightmare shoot’ narrative of The Revenant, there isn’t much left to discuss. It’s a very simple story of survival, vengeance and protecting your family: there is nothing here we haven’t seen before. I would watch a documentary about the film shoot, however.

Oscar chances: The internet will explode if Leo doesn’t win Best Actor for this, and it will more than likely pick up Best Director and Best Picture too.


6. Bridge of Spies

Plot: Tom Hanks plays a lawyer in 1950’s US who comes up with the idea of saving a convicted Soviet spy from execution, and instead using him in a prisoner exchange to get a US spy back from the dirty communists.

Discussion: I don’t know about you, but I was expecting more bridges, and more spies. By the midpoint of the movie I had realised all we were going to get was just one bridge with just the spies we had seen already, and I was disappointed. It is Spielberg and Tom Hanks, so it is obviously well made, and mostly entertaining. Mark Rylance as the Soviet spy held by the US as a bargaining chip steals the show. Once again, it’s a perfectly serviceable Oscar-bait movie that is not out of place in a list of Best Picture nominees, but there were a few issues in it that left a sour taste in my mouth. While it may have been sold to us as spy thriller, what Bridge of Spies is really about is the glorification of US due process and the role of the American legal system in its victory over the USSR in the Cold War. We see the trial of each spy: one in the US, and the other in the USSR, and the verdicts are exactly the same, yet they are portrayed onscreen differently. They are both show trials, being undertaken for reasons of propaganda, yet only the USSR trial is portrayed on screen as such. Both verdicts dictate life imprisonment, yet the US version is seen as mercy while the Soviet equivalent is seen as a horrific death sentence. Similarly, we are briefly told in a throwaway line of dialogue that the Soviet spy has been interrogated by the Americans, yet we see explicitly how the US soldier is treated by the Soviets. I know it is probably impossible for a US movie, but it is about time we had a realistic, non-ideological movie about the Cold War. We can take it.

Oscar Chances: It could possibly win Best Supporting Actor, but other than that, it’s just here to make up the numbers.


5. The Martian

Plot: On a mission to Mars in the near future, botanist Matt Damon is left behind by his NASA crew and must use his wits to survive the long wait for a rescue team.

Discussion: The Martian is a very decent blockbuster, carried by a Matt Damon performance that probably deserves more credit. Leo was cold a lot, yet Matt is talking to himself for 99% of his scenes. The movie is also surprisingly funny, and the political nature of the NASA organisation was very interesting to see, particularly when it comes to releasing information on a possible life-or-death situation to the public. The problem with The Martian however was that it was unbearably light, it was a throwaway rescue mission movie disguised as science fiction and as a result, it fell under the shadow of Interstellar. Love or hate Interstellar, but you have to at least admit that it contained ideas within it that resonated long after the movie ended. The Martian had no such issues, and after leaving the cinema, I had a very empty feeling once the stimulation of 3D and special effects had worn away. I realised that I had been fooled into thinking I was watching an intelligent, pretentious science fiction movie, and it was really just an enjoyable, expensive, instantly forgettable popcorn movie instead. It’s rare that you will hear this, but the movie could have benefited from being a little more pretentious.

Oscar Chances: None.


4. Spotlight

Plot: The journalists of the Boston Globe newspaper undergo an in-depth investigation into the cover-up of child abuse within Boston’s powerful Catholic Church establishment.

Discussion: True story, important issue, great cast, great director: this is the most Oscar-y of all the movies on this list, and it is difficult to picture the movie getting funded at all without the explicit intention of competing for this year’s Academy Awards. Spotlight is a gripping movie, and benefits from staying with the journalist team throughout, rather than showing the perspective of the Evil Priests. Liev Schreiber gives one of the best performances I have seen as the aloof, quiet new editor who doesn’t see the big issue with going after Boston’s Catholic Church. This movie is set in 2001, and therefore some very interesting issues are brought forward, as the article is ready to publish in time for September 11th, yet all involved are then occupied by covering the aftermath of 9/11. There are hints that there is pressure from above not to publish such a depressing story after 9/11, so the journalists elect to allow Boston to have their Christmas without more bad news, and publish after New Year’s. This aspect of modern journalism was what I found more interesting, which is probably because I’m Irish, and priests abusing children just does not shock me.

Oscar Chances: Don’t be surprised if it wins Best Picture.


3. The Big Short

Plot: From the mid-2000’s we follow the separate stories of a disparate group of traders who each independently see that something is not quite right with the structure of US mortgages. Each party invests heavily in ‘shorting’ (betting against) the US Property Market at the height of its prosperity, and we follow all involved until the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

Discussion: The Big Short is a comedy starring Steve Carrell, by the director of Anchorman (who is also nominated for Best Director). The reason it’s in this list of nominees is that it’s a comedy in the Ancient Greek sense of the word, rather than jokes about cologne and the etymology of San Diego. The main joke of the piece is that we all know our protagonists are absolutely right, and that it’s the rest of the world who are wrong and blind to the imminent disaster. We, the audience, and the select excellent cast are in on the joke that is about to rip the world a new asshole, and both them and us are put through a lot in order to get to the punchline. You know it’s a comedy because, by the last act of the movie, you are actually wishing the financial crisis happens just to prove the unbelievers wrong.

Oscar Chances: It has about a 20% chance of winning Best Picture.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Plot: In a post-Apocalyptic World, a man assists some women in escaping the clutches of a powerful warlord.

Discussion: If I knew one year ago that Mad Max: Fury Road would be nominated for Best Picture at the 2016 Oscars, I would have gone to every betting agency in my neighbourhood with fistfuls of tenners, and beg them to take my money. Even 100-1 odds would have seemed stingy by the betting houses, and probably 1000-1 would be the odds I would look for. The movie is the fourth installment of a somewhat successful franchise, the equivalent of a future instalment/remake of The Neverending Story being rated as not just good, but among the best of the year. Yet this nomination has been coming since the world first glimpsed the Fury Road back in May last year, as anyone who saw this movie in a cinema will tell you that it is something they had ever seen before. Long distance races in the desert were possibly the reason why 3D was invented, and are definitely the only time I have watched a movie in 3D and thought the technology enhanced the experience. The level of inventiveness in every action scene, the practical special effects, and the insane otherness of what we all watched in those dark rooms across the world back in May 2015 are what make the inclusion of this movie in the list of nominees here so expected, however. The movie starts with a brief contextual sentence about the end of the world, and from then on, you’re on your own: if you don’t understand why someone is doing something, the movie has already progressed without explaining it and you just have to accept that this is a different society with different rules. This movie explains absolutely nothing about its world, and is all the better for it. It’s bleak, it’s brutal, it’s hopeful and it’s beautiful. The best action movie since The Matrix, and I would like to say that it’s a game changer, but it isn’t, it’s an anomaly. There is only one person in the world who could make a movie like this, and it took George Miller 30 years to do it.

Oscar Chances: Miller deserves Best Director.


1. Brooklyn

Plot: In 1950’s Ireland, a young girl realises that her only option for a decent future is to emigrate to New York. We follow her in her new home in Brooklyn as she questions her decision.

Discussion: Yes, it finally happened: I liked a movie with a female main character. It had to happen eventually. I may even have cried at the end, and in the middle. Brooklyn hits a few nerves with me as not only is it about Ireland, it is about migration. I am Irish, and am a serial migrator, so a lot of themes brought up here resonate and really hit home, and I would possibly go so far as to say it’s the best movie about emigration I have seen. This is not a story about someone fleeing war, destitution or persecution, it is a story of a normal person deciding to leave her country of birth because there simply was no room in her own country for any sort of successful life. She suffers no great hardships in New York: no crime, no corruption or no dilution of her values. Her biggest obstacle is her homesickness, and this passes eventually. After eventually fashioning herself some kind of life in New York, she visits her family back home in Ireland and is given the choice of whether to stay or return to Brooklyn. The choice she faces here is something all economic migrants face at some point, and I really don’t think I have seen it made so well as in Brooklyn. I’m crying again, so I’ll stop.

Oscar chances: Not really, but possibly could snatch a Best Screenplay award for Nick Hornby.


Closing Monologue

There you have it. I’ve been doing this for a few years now so if you want you can check out what I thought of the Best Picture nominees of 2013, 2014 and 2015 by clicking on the appropriate link embedded within the year! But enough about me, what did you think of this year’s Oscar bait? Vote for your favourite in the poll below. I’ll be back next year telling you what I thought of whatever crap Hollywood thinks we should appreciate then!

2015: Europe Awakens

It would be pointless to pretend that 2015 was not the darkest year in living memory. 2001 was dark, but that darkness was more America-centric than many would dare admit publicly. 2015 pulled the rug of complacency out from under European feet in so many different ways, the events of this year are likely to affect the region for decades to come. At the start of the year there was the calculated atrocity of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, followed closely by the seemingly random pointlessness of the GermanWings plane crash. While Europeans grasped the complexity of both these events, their currency was in jeopardy as the looming sovereign default of Greece edged dangerously over its precipice. As it edged closer, Greece was pulled back decisively, but at a cost that will be felt by the Greeks forevermore. As holiday season began, the Tunisia attacks took place, as European tourists were massacred on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. By August, most of these events were forgotten, and then the photograph of a toddler’s corpse on a Turkish beach was published, capturing in stark imagery just how desperate the migrant wave towards Europe had become. This, and the discovery of a van parked in sleepy Austria filled with the suffocated bodies of 71 migrants (who each had paid handsomely to be smuggled into the EU for protection from certain death) caused a monumental response in welcoming the newly dubbed ‘refugees’ into our borders. While some countries (the UK and some Eastern European nations) were decisively anti-immigration, the consensus was that this was an issue that needed to be solved, and solved together as a group rather than individual nation states. That was until the Paris Attacks on November 13, when Europeans were shown exactly how safe they really were.

These are dark days indeed, and they are not likely to lighten up anytime soon. That’s not to say the world isn’t getting better. Catholic Ireland voted in favour of Marriage Equality, transsexual people finally have a champion (even if she is a quasi-Kardashian), and Ireland qualified for the European Championships in 2016. None of the terrible things that happened in 2015 were solely manifested within that year, 2015 was merely the year that we all woke up to these massive threats and problems that we have ignored for so long. 2015 was the year that Europe awoke to the 21st Century, and finally recognised that the actions of our complacent community have consequences. 2015 will be known as the year that Europe woke up to its place in the modern world, as an actor rather than a passive journeyman. In this line of thought, there is a sliver of light to be found in the darkness of events this year, and this is as good a time as any to bridge into my usual annual review of entertainment nonsense that occurred this year. The connection I think is that this might be a hopeful year despite everything, and we all need cheering up in the meantime. I shall definitely clear all this up in the editing process before publication. As ever, I aim to make this particular post as interactive as possible, so there is clickable goodness available wherever necessary (all links open in a new tab), as well as some embedded content that drove me absolutely mental trying to get into WordPress. Anyway, enough paragraphs: enter the listicle.

 2015 europe


Movies of the Year (unranked): Whiplash, A Most Violent Year, Youth, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight*, Steve Jobs*, Black Sea, Beasts of No Nation.

*Big thanks to Hive-CM8

Biggest Let-Down: Aloha. Cameron Crowe is one of my favourite directors (I even liked Elizabethtown), but his past two movies suggest he is past it.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: Furious 7. Garbage, filthy garbage, but it knows what it is.

The “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Starred Up was the best movie this year about a teenager going to prison and meeting a father figure who is serving a life sentence. Son of a Gun, with Ewan McGregor, was most certainly not.

The Official Verdict On the new Star Wars (Spoiler Free): It was a good movie, and a great Star Wars movie. Undue pressure is put on Star Wars sequels, since its first sequel happened to be one of the best movies of all time. The Force Awakens, not The Empire Strikes Back, should be the new benchmark from what to expect from a new Star Wars movie. It took me a while to get here, and just for those who like clicking on arrows, here’s a(n interactive) history of my relationship with new Star Wars, through the medium of Facebook posts over the past three years. The movie script is in development.


TV Show of the Year: Mr. Robot. This let me down a bit in the final two episodes, but it still deserves it based on what went before. Watch an episode of the show, and then afterwards remind yourself that the story was mostly told through the voiceover musings of the main character.

TV Discovery of the Year: Halt and Catch Fire. A stylish 1980’s mash-up of Mad Men and Silicon Valley, this almost got TV Show of the Year (I had it typed and everything), but its second season this year (for all its female empowerment) just wasn’t as good as the first. In coming seasons this show will gain a stronger cult following and eventually break into the mainstream, just like Breaking Bad. I only wish I hadn’t discovered it so early, as now I have to wait so long for new seasons and episodes.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. One of the smartest sitcoms out there, animated or not.

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Man in the High Castle. A very interesting premise realised as a very dull mystery thriller. I got two episodes in, and am satisfied reading the plot synopses of the remaining episodes on Wikipedia.


Song of the Year: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Theme Song!

Yes I am old and have no clue about modern music, but that is not to say the greatest TV theme song since The Simpsons should not be recognised in its own right. Not only is it extremely inventive (the song is an autotuned remix of an interview from the very first scene of the first episode that explains the plot of the show), but it is actually impossible not to sing along to. Uuuuuun-BREAK-able…………………

Here’s some 2015 music that I actually listened to and liked. Note the brevity of this playlist: I’m getting old. Plus, two of the songs were added simply because they were popular: can you guess which two?

It is late, and the Spotify embedded playlist is not working yet, so it is available here should it not work for you:


Game of the Year: Ireland 1-0 Germany. Because f**k you, Germany! One Long ball punt up the field and that World Cup trophy has lost a bit of its lustre.

Goal of the Year: Shane Long, Ireland v Germany. Because f**k you, Germany.

Transfer of the Century: Anthony Martial, Monaco-Manchester United, €80m. This deal was so bad that Manchester United originally tried to conceal the full fee by proclaiming it as €40m plus add-ons. That these add-ons turned out to be playing for the club a few times and scoring a few goals for France implies United are quite embarrassed about the full fee. As well they should, paying €80m for an unknown French teenager. I don’t care if he ends up being their record goalscoring legend and captaining the club to successive Champions Leagues: the fee is still ridiculous, and has distorted the transfer market for the foreseeable future.

Sports Disappointment of the Year: Ireland in the Rugby World Cup. No further comment necessary.



App of the Year: Anything that can use the Chromecast. If you have a TV and wireless internet, just buy a Google Chromecast.

Meme of the Year: Confused John Travolta. Is it me or have good, long-lasting memes disappeared? Everything is a meme nowadays, and then vanishes after less than a day. Anyway, this one is just a month or two old and seems ok. Who cares anyway?

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Condom water balloon. Again, nobody cares, so why not?

“Grandpa Award” in recognition of a Youth Trend That I Don’t Understand: I’m kidding no one: I don’t understand anything anymore. To me, anyone under 27 is a baby talking nonsense.

Thing of the Year: European Borders. They’re back, and they are angry. Due to the Schengen Agreement, in mainland Europe we have come to take the free passage across borders for granted. This year was a rude awakening to the idea that when it comes to social constructs, none are better constructed than territorial borders.


People of the Year: The Heroes of the Thalys Train Attack. Failed terrorist attacks obviously do not get the same media attention as successful terrorist attacks. The attacks that succeed have thousands of stories, as thousands of lives were affected forever by what had occurred. The attacks that don’t succeed have only one story: and this one is a remarkable story of bravery, quick-thinking, and luck. If you haven’t heard of these guys, it’s because in the space of about 45 seconds, they reduced the amount of possible stories told about that train ride from thousands to just their one.

Idiots of the Year: Anyone, anywhere, who engaged in Tragedy Shaming. A dark year was turned into a stupid game in the wake of the Paris Attacks, as people online who read the news suddenly became offended that terrorism in France is worse than terrorism in Lebanon. I’m gonna put it out there: terrorist attacks in Paris are undertaken for very different reasons than those for terrorist attacks in Beirut. All people are equal, yes; all deaths are equal, yes; but this is an entirely different issue from treating all terrorist attacks as equal. The tragedy shaming sensation is part of a broader online trend of aggressive (and ignorant) political correctness, and this is set to increase in 2016.

Special Award for Billionaire Pornography of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg. In the birth of his first child, the Facebook founder this year found the perfect crux in his mission to rebrand himself as a real person following the release of The Social Network five year ago. That movie used verbatim legal depositions from Zuckerberg and others as the basis for its script, portraying him as more of a bitter, sociopathic monster rather than the cute, cuddly, Social Justice Warrior that we are now presented with on his Facebook Timeline. Mark is a nice guy because he has a dog. Mark is a good person because he looks after his baby. Mark is a hero because he pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to charity. I am not going to get into the controversy of the Charitable Foundation debate, but I will say that he had already pledged to basically do what he said in that letter, over 3 years before.

And Finally….

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: That Apparently Famous Australian Instagram Girl who Quit Instagram. I don’t know her name, and I am not going to google her. Please don’t google her. I don’t want to be responsible for more clicks for her new website. I should really just not mention this at all.

But What’s Next?

That’s all for 2015, but 2016 promises much. In Ireland, we will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which was the starting point for our nationalist movement, resulting in the Irish War of Independence and subsequently the Irish Free State and finally the modern Irish Republic. Other notable commemorations include the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moores Utopia, which is seen as the key foundation stone of our modern understanding of the idea of progress. Also celebrating its 500th Anniversary is the 1516 Purity Law, which has defined the craft of German beer brewing ever since. And if you think there isn’t a blog entry coming up of me trying to link German beer purity to Utopia, then you don’t come here too often. Happy 2016 everybody, and thanks for reading!

The Morality of the Eurozone

Despite many advances in the relevant technologies over the past decade, it turns out that driverless cars are a lot further away than we may imagine. Yes, Google will be testing their self-driving vehicle this summer on the roads around Silicon Valley, and yes, Uber have recently decimated the Robotics Department of Carnegie-Mellon by sweeping away their brightest researchers, but what you don’t read about too often is that developers at the forefront of the technology have hit an unforeseen problem: they have to encode their machines with a way to judge the value of life. I am not being abstract, I mean literally that driverless cars must actually be able to weigh the value of one life against another, and make decisions based on this, in real time. The most straightforward example I can give you is the case of a driverless car containing a single passenger that is about to hit a (n also driverless) schoolbus full of children. The car of the single passenger, ie his/her personal property, would have to make the decision to protect the many over the life of its single owner, and possibly swerve that car over a cliff, or any other alternative action to save the most lives. Therefore if you have a driverless car, there will be certain situations where it will decide that the logical decision is to kill you.

As I said, this fact has many of the best minds in robotics technology absolutely baffled, so much so that companies like BMW and Mercedez Benz have actually hired philosophers and ethicists as permanent staff members of their driverless car projects.  How to weigh a life is one of the most important questions in this next phase of technological advancement, and is one that we will see again and again as this century progresses. I can imagine a time not so far away when robotics engineers are convicted of murder for a glitch in a shoddy ethics algorithm. Weighing intangible assets against each other is new territory in quantitative analysis, however the ethicists and roboticists at these research departments could simply look to Europe for answers, and reason quite clearly that the best solution is simply to drive the weakest individual off the cliff, at any cost.


The case of Greece and the Eurozone is an important moment in the history of democracy in that what is actually happening right now is a weighing of the value of one democracy versus the value of another democracy. The Eurozone is a democratic institution, comprising of elected finance ministers and heads of state from all its member nations. Within that democratic institution is Greece, a sovereign democratic nation in itself that is being forced to do things it doesn’t want to do, by the more powerful democracy, to the detriment of itself and its people. The sovereignty of Greece is irrelevant (and questionable) in the situation, it is more important that the views of the majority in the higher democracy are served, whatever the cost to the smaller nation. Such an event has never happened in history between a sovereign nation and another actor, in any political system, except from times of war.  I want to state clearly here that I don’t feel very sorry for Greece, or feel that the actions of the Eurozone are justified. The two are different sides of the same coin, a problem that Europe has tried to ignore for almost 20 years: monetary union is absolutely unsustainable without further fiscal, political, and ultimately total, union.

The Euro, while long a dream in Brussels circles since the 1970s, was a product of the post-Cold War era of the mid-1990s, a time where anything was possible and the belief that the objective power of capitalist market dynamics was enough to stabilise the financial system. I had just started studying economics in high school in the mid-90s and was taught that the watermark for a safe financial system was an independent central bank and the limiting of government intervention in this financial system. This was trumpeted mostly by Alan Greenspan, a man who probably should not be allowed to walk down the streets unmolested by abuse. This, a booming worldwide economy, and the prototype successful reunion of West and East Germany was enough to convince decision makers in the European Union that the time was ripe for further union. And what better union to make than monetary union, based in the financial system, which was a completely objective and self-correcting entity that would basically take care of itself? The Eurozone was thus conceived as a harmless, subjective almost robotic entity that ran itself automatically, and had the steely gaze of the independent European Central Bank to make decisions should something go wrong. In effect, Eurozone members traded in their monetary sovereignty for the chances of deeper trade ties with their major European trading partners, and would save millions on transaction costs (exchange rates etc) while pooling their financial might to create one of the strongest currencies in the world. It was going reasonably OK until 2008.

You can really tell who your friends are during a crisis, and the House of Europe was not a happy one towards the end of the first decade this century. Suddenly there was a witch hunt going on in European media about the frugal, sensible Northern Europeans versus the lazy, tax-dodging Mediterraneans (and Ireland, a little bit). In truth, if everyone acted like the Germans claim to do, and save every penny while treasuring security above all, there would not be so much economic activity in that country. Yet it was fine, because the media and politicians who could say this sort of thing about Greece, Portugal and Ireland were completely unaccountable to the electorate of those countries. The important thing however was that those politicians could influence the monetary policy and bailout conditions on those countries due to their status as Eurozone members. The Eurozone, in a time of financial crises, was plucked from the realms of supposedly objective invisible-handed guidance, and plunged into the centuries old bickering of European petty politics.

It’s not that the Eurozone was a bad idea, or that it can’t work, it’s that it was never going to be enough by itself to ensure a stable monetary union. States gave away sovereignty, a possession long thought indivisible, and this has been proven right. By reneging on their monetary sovereignty, the only option was to further ties with other members of the union, ultimately leading to a Eurozone Confederacy. Only by coordinating monetary, fiscal and financial policy can a system such as the Eurozone ever work, balancing the growth of its richest members with the protection of and investment in its weakest members. West Germany reintegrated with East Germany knowing that it was an economic risk to take on such an economically backward region, and entered the Eurozone knowing that countries like Greece and Portugal would take generations to reach the same level. Within a country, you would call this the core-periphery model, where a high-growth region ultimately has to fund a weaker region that has nothing going on, with the hope that key investments will help the two converge economically. This is usually done through investment in infrastructure and education in the peripheral region, and rarely through tax extraction and austerity as has been seen in Eurozone bailout countries.

The Eurozone is flawed because it is programmed to throw our peripheral regions off the cliff, at any cost, and the real reason for that is because no one in any position of power really has to care about any other country’s wellbeing but his/her own, and this is fine as long as it goes along with the majority decision of the other members. A real union, of any kind, would probably require some kind of inbuilt morality to guide the final decision, something that in this transitory period where we can’t quite seem to let go of nationalism just yet, means that we would need to belong to the same political union.

Eurovision Drinking Game 2015!

It’s that time of year again, so get your drinking hats on and sit down in front of the cheesiest night in the European calendar. Before we start, there are two things that are completely irrelevant to this game:

  • If you like Eurovision music.
  • If you dislike Eurovision music.

Since that is out of the way, the following is a list of situations and directions where you must drink an alcoholic beverage of your choice while watching the live Eurovision broadcast. This is an updated version of a post from last year, which was itself a version of this. Enough chat: to the rules!

For those unfamiliar with the Eurovision: The Contest is split into two parts, The Performing Round, and The Voting Round. Phase 1 deals with the performances. Unless otherwise stated, you must drink whenever……..


  1. Every instance within a song:

I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Or, as Louis Walsh used to refer to it: “Stand up for the key change”. The song starts slow and restrained, but is clearly heading towards a dramatic key change into the chorus. Unsure of what a key change is? Here’s a primer.

I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only for every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.

  1. Once per song only:

I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if the pronunciation is far from perfect.

I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.

I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2.

I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.

I.B.5 The Wandering Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. One drink per fake instrument!

I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)

I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been supplanted by…

I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.

I.B.7b Putin’s Gamble. Russia sings about hope, peace and happiness.

I.B.8 We Blew Our Load Too Early. The performers lack the energy to go for it in the crescendo, and the performance peters out a minute early. They may scream and enlist help from the audience to clap and ‘make some noooo-ii.zzzzze’, but everyone knows the game is up.

I.B.9 The “Fire At The Disco”. Pyrotechnics. Any type of fireworks display.

I.B.9a Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse. Since this year there is an advanced background and floor to the stage, drink whenever the act interacts with the animations of the stage. You will know it when you see it.

I.B.10 The Hurricane. A sudden gale of wind engulfs the stage, forcing the performer to valiantly struggle against the elements. I mean a wind machine, of course.

I.B.11 The San Remo. Any occurrence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.

I.B.12 The White Suit. Self explanatory. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

I.B.13 Break It Down. The performance includes a rap segment.

I.B.14 We Can Dance If We Wanna. For any instance of ethnic dancing within a performance. Three drinks if the dancers are elderly women.

 (There is an intermission here of about 30 minutes. Perhaps drink some water? The next round can be brutal.)


II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits. So yes, during this game, each and every one of you will have to individually decide whether Conchita is male or female, and imbibe based on this choice.

II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives at least 8 points to Cyprus.

II.2a The Gastarbeiter. If Germany still gives at least 8 points to Turkey.

II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets nul points from France.

II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast at the end to any country which did not receive so much as a single vote.

II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.

II.6 The “We’re going Digital Next Year”. A voting countries broadcast feed is of noticeably lower quality than those which have gone before.

II.7 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to move it along (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”).

II.8 The Curse of the Green Room. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.

II.9 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.

II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.


W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it;
W1.b where the hell is Moldova (or any other participating country, for that matter)?

W1.c Who won last year?

W1.d Which country’s flag is this?

W2 Drink to any display of national resentment or self-pity related to the current Eurozone crisis. Pay close attention to Greece.

W3 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.

W4 Players must drink during the entire duration of any technical difficulties that plague the broadcast



CC1 The “Please Don’t Invade Us”. A country that borders with Russia gives Russia more than 8 points.

Participating Russian Border Countries: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan

CC2 The “We’ve Had Enough, Mr. Putin”. Finish your drink if Russia gets NUL POINTS from a former Soviet Republic. (Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia)


Instantly Disposable Rules for 2015 Edition!

I’m going to divide this into three sections: Conchita, Australia, and 2015 Wild Cards.


2015.1.a Daahling! Yes, you must drink whenever Conchita says the word ‘darling’,

2015.1.b Smooth Segway, Connie! Conchita is buzzing around the greenroom, and she bridges the gap between interviews by making a reference to the song title of her next victims as she walks towards them.

2015.1.c Your English Is Just The Wurst! Conchita’s interviewees don’t understand her question.

2015.1.d Wardrobe Malfunction. THREE drinks if Conchita is wearing the same clothes in two consecutive appearances (must be at least a five minute gap between appearances). Don’t worry, you won’t be needing this rule.


2015.2.a International Homonyms! Someone says Austria instead of Australia, or vice versa. FINISH YOUR DRINK If it is someone from Austria or Australia. (I am warning you, this happened in the first semi-final when the main hostess interviewed the Australian act).

2015.2.b Good Morning Sydney. The Australian voting studio has Sydney Harbour (Opera House) in the background. Two drinks if the Austrian hosts banter about there being no kangaroos in Australia.

2015.2.c Balkan Dream. Australian immigration since the 1960s has been pretty Balkan heavy, meaning that Australia really can be interpreted as just extra votes for the Former Yugoslav Republics, along with Albania and Greece. Two drinks for EACH and every one of the following who don’t get votes from Down Under: Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Cyprus, Albania. That’s right, it’s four drinks if two of them get null points from the Aussies.

2015.2.d Pleasure O’ her Majesty. We will finally get to see how Australia treat their former colonial overlords, the British. One drink if they give them anything. Finish your drink if it’s 12 points to the bloody PoM’s.

2015.2.e It’s an occasion. Since Australia are a special entry, and won’t be returning unless they win, a toast to Australia whenever they are awarded points.

2015 Wild Cards

2015.3.a geNOcide .Two drinks if a Turkish flag is shown waving during Armenia’s performance.

2015.3.b #VoteYes A toast if the winners give Ireland a shout out because of the marriage equality referendum result. Finish your drink if they don’t.

Return of the Rise of the Megafranchise

A lot has changed in the world of the megafranchise since I first wrote about the topic almost 6 months ago, so I think it’s about time for an update on where all these gigantic projects are headed. If you don’t know what a megafranchise is, you should check out my original post. Alternatively, you should just think of the current Marvel Avenger movies model, where lots of different characters have their own movies, and then all get together every few years for a ‘gangbang’ movie, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is released at the end of this month, and if I had any patience, I would wait a few weeks until then, as more people would be reading this. Anyway, if you recall, I previously divulged the plans of various movie studies to build megafranchises around X-Men, Spider-Man, Star Wars and DC Comics (Superman, Batman etc), as well as the already up-and-running Marvel Cinematic Universe (The Avengers. I’m going to run through what’s happening in each of those megafranchises, and then offer a brief conclusion.

Star Wars

The big development since I last wrote about the new Star Wars Megafranchise is that Episode VII isn’t called Episode VII anymore. In early December, a trailer for the film was released, simply referring to it as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I didn’t really get the true significance of this subtle change in subtitling until early March this year, when details emerged of the first spin-off movie of the new megafranchise. Last time round, I hypothesised that the spin-off movies would be centred around recognisable characters such as Han Solo or Yoda, but this is not going to be the case. The first Star Wars spin-off is called Rogue One, and will revolve around some minor characters introduced in The Force Awakens, as well as some new ones. What this means, in the grand scheme of things, is that this series of new Star Wars movies is not aimed at long-term fans, but more at creating new ones. By taking away Episode VII from the title of the first movie out this year, JJ Abrams is telling us that this is not a continuation of the Star Wars story, but a reboot, with a new cast, for a new generation. This is disappointing, but probably makes sense from a commercial point of view.


There hasn’t been much of a change in the release schedule of the burgeoning X-Men megafranchise, which is to say that it is still delicately poised between being a traditional movie franchise, and committing to the megafranchise model. The X-Men series currently has four movies on its production slate, with three of them (Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit) all set for release in 2016. The remaining movie is Wolverine 3, set for 2017, which Hugh Jackman recently revealed will be his last time playing the character. As Wolverine is the central character in the X-Men movies, this means that the people behind the potential megafranchise have a lot of work to do in creating a viable narrative going forward in the series. A further blow is that Jennifer Lawrence confirmed at the end of March that she won’t be doing any X-Men movies after next year’s Apocalypse. This is interesting, as it seemed that she would be the lynchpin of any future plot arcs, and also would inevitably get her own movie. With the necessary recasting of both Wolverine and Mystique, I would downgrade the possibility of a successful X-Men megafranchise, unless the potential X-Force TV show/movie project breathes new life into the franchise that can be translated into the main X-Men movie series.



See the entry for Spider-Man.


No Change.


If you read my original blog post about megafranchises in October, you may recall that I was very pessimistic about the movie universe that Sony were attempting to build around Spider-Man. Sony agreed, and have since scrapped all the plans I described back in October. At the time I was writing that megafranchise post, Sony were actually negotiating with Marvel to lease Spider-Man to Disney, who operate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the Avengers megafranchise. Negotiations weren’t going well, and had reached a stalemate. That was, until the Sony Email Hack occurred, and the North Korean government (I don’t believe it was them, but it makes for a more interesting click-baitable story if Kim Jong-Un is involved) released thousands of emails from executives at Sony Pictures. One narrative in the emails was the negotiations between Sony and Disney, which revealed that Sony weren’t happy with their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and were therefore exploring other options with the character. Once this information became public, Andrew Garfield’s position was untenable, and Sony’s bargaining power with Disney weakened considerably, meaning a deal was fast-tracked and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have Spider-Man in at least one movie in the near future. This is widely believed to be 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which will also feature Iron Man. The role of Spider-Man will be recast.

If you are confused by all this, you should be. Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics character, yet his film rights are owned by Sony Pictures, while most Marvel characters are owned by Marvel Studios, which is a Disney subsidiary. Sony gained the rights to Spider-Man during a period at the end of the 90’s when Marvel were going bankrupt, in a similar way to how 20TH Century Fox own X-Men and Fantastic Four (both are also Marvel). The details of these agreements require the studios to release a film version of the characters every 5 years, or else the rights revert back to Marvel. Leasing Spider-Man back to Marvel in the short-term gives Sony more time to rethink their plans for the character. They currently intend to release a new Spider-Man movie (with a new Spider-Man, and more than likely a different one from the guy who plays him the previous year in the Captain America movie) in 2017, and have not officially cancelled their Sinister Six movie, which will be the next of their Spider-Man movies, should any of this happen. I sincerely doubt any of this will happen however, and I expect Marvel to make Sony an offer they can’t refuse for full Spider-Man rights in the next year.

Universal Monsters

One thing I failed to mention last time was that there is another megafranchise in the works, based around Universal Studios back catalogue of monsters such as Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. Rumours had been spinning for a while about the potential megafranchise, but were only confirmed at the end of October 2014 (when I wrote the first post about megafranchisement), when producers at the premiere of Dracula Untold confirmed that the movie takes place in the same universe as the reboot of The Mummy, which is due for release in 2016. A reboot of The Wolfman is also being written, which takes place in the same universe. If you are wondering how they intend to bring all these guys together, the few people who saw Dracula Untold may remember Charles Dance’s character of The First Vampire, the vampire who creates Dracula. If you stuck around to the post-credits scene of the movie, you would have seen Charles Dance in modern day London following Dracula around, and seemingly intent on pulling him into a world of shady monsterdom. Charles Dance is therefore going to be the link that draws all the elements of the megafranchise together in a similar way to Samuel L. Jackson did as Nick Fury in the early Marvel movies, appearing in the background of all the individual movies, and in the inevitable gangbang movie, we will see them all group together and fight him. One caveat I will add here is that Universal Studios aren’t really a big studio anymore and therefore are playing this one very cautiously. Dracula Untold was budgeted quite low compared to other megafranchise releases (around $70m), yet still wasn’t a great success, and it seems that the studio will wait to see how The Mummy goes before committing more money to the megafranchise.

Current Megafranchise Release Schedule

 Revised Megafranchises


Megafranchises are all about being big, and it is not really a surprise that some of the potential megafranchises out there that are not as big as others are losing their way a bit. I believe that in a year’s time, if I am doing an update on this topic, I will only be discussing the Big Three of Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. Only those three seem up to the task of competing in an environment that demands vast amounts of money poured into creating and leveraging on brand recognition over the course of half a decade. The Universal Monsters series has a chance, but only if they keep the costs down, as a movie about The Wolfman is never going to make as much money as a movie about Iron Man, or some Star Wars character we haven’t even been introduced to yet. If they do however, the rewards will be worth it. Below I graph the profit (=total international box office – production cost) of every megafranchise movie so far, in US$(millions). (I have unilaterally designated The Wolverine as the beginning of the X-Men megafranchise, since the closing post-credits scene sets up Days of Future Past).


These movies cost an awful lot of money (the average cost of the megafranchise entries graphed above is $177m), but they also make a ridiculous amount of money (average worldwide box office of these movies is $667m). An average of around half a billion dollars profit is therefore too good to pass up, and every studio out there really needs to at least try to get a megafranchise up and running, as by the end of the decade they will have crowded any original standalone blockbusters completely out of the market. While 2015 will be considered a lull in megafranchise activity (only 3 are scheduled for release this year), this is simply because billions of dollars are currently being spent by the big Hollywood Studios to ensure their output for the rest of the decade. At least 9 megafranchise movies will be released in 2016, which equates to one every 40 days, and given that each one will be pre-empted by at least two weeks of cross-platform advertising, there will rarely be a significant time period next year where you are not in some form of contact with the stuff I am ranting about, and you have been reading about, right here.

Best In Show

It wouldn’t be the end of February without my annual ranking of the years’ Best Picture nominees. The entries this year are mostly forgettable, but with real quality at the top end of the scale. The novelty this year is that I was sick for a week at the start of the month and in my delirium managed to force myself to watch all 8 movies, a major departure from 2013 and 2014. To be clear, watching all these movies is not something I would recommend: most won’t make you smarter, and they won’t cure your flu virus. They will however give you a good insight into what type of movie members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences liked this year, which is always interesting. Anyway, from worst, to best, here is how I rank the 2015 crop of contenders.

8. The Theory of Everything

Life story, disability, marital difficulties, eventual triumph, and all done in posh British accents. This was never going to be the most original film ever made: quite the opposite. I don’t care how good the performances are: everyone has seen everything in this film a million times, so decent acting is the minimum required to make it interesting. 20 years ago this would be assured the big awards, but we’ve all moved on, and all The Theory of Everything can possibly aspire to be is that inoffensive movie you watch with your grandparents (who don’t know who Stephen Hawking is) some day, without having to explain what’s happening in the plot every few minutes. The man was walking, then he was in a wheelchair. He struggled, but then he was alright when he changed the world despite his illness. Eddie Redmayne will win Best Actor for this.

7. American Sniper

Clint Eastwoods biopic of some hero American soldier who killed a lot of people while hiding on a rooftop shitting in his pants a few hundred meters from danger has garnered a lot of criticism for apparently justifying America’s sojourn in Iraq a few years ago. Quite the opposite: it’s obvious from very early on that Bradley Coopers’ character is a complete idiot and any of his rants justifying the war have to be seen from this perspective. It’s really just a film about a guy who’s very good at his job, and has convinced himself that this job is saving the world. Thus a great advert for getting idiots to join the army. It’s an entertaining enough film that doesn’t deserve a lot of criticism, or praise.

6. The Imitation Game

In my opinion, the efforts of Alan Turing and his team to crack the enigma code during World War II was one of the greatest stories of the 20th Century. Many have tried to tell it before, including Kate Winslets fictionalised thriller Enigma, and a loose adaptation in the recent anachrofeminism-themed Bletchely Circle TV show. The problem with this particular biopic (and Alan Turing, according to contemporary British society) is that Turing was gay. The issue is that The Imitation Game can’t, and doesn’t, decide whether it is about that fact, or if it is a retro mathematical thriller about solving an impossible problem. Even Sherlock can’t solve this Imitation Game problem, and it therefore fails on most levels, save for the ever-mesmerising true life story of breaking Enigma.


5. Selma

The best biopics focus not on the life story of the subject, but on particular instances of what made him/her great. Thirteen Days, about the Kennedy administrations attempts to avert nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, is the best movie about JFK we will ever get. Martin Scorcese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviatar foregoes conventional narrative structure and focuses on Hughes obsession with airplanes, while Spielbergs recent Lincoln simply focuses on Abraham Lincoln the politician, securing votes any way he can to get one law through congress. Selma is one such movie, as it focuses on a few weeks in the life of Martin Luther King. They weren’t the greatest or most flattering weeks in his life either, as what we get here is not grandstanding MLK talking about having dreams, but the great man sacrificing himself, his reputation and his people just to make sure his protests end up on the evening news for white America, and the fragile Lyndon B. Johnson administration, to see. Selma is head and shoulders above the simplistic life stories of the other nominated biopics elaborated on above, and probably is not more popular simply because of lack of star power. Put Denzel in as MLK instead of the excellent David Oyelowo, and no one would be talking about Stephen Hawking this year.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

It’s a weak year that has a low-key movie from the previous spring as a Best Picture contender, but it’s hard to argue against the inclusion of a Wes Anderson movie a list of the supposed movies of the year. Anderson indulges himself more than ever in TGBH, and it seems every aspect of the filmmaking process was curated by the man himself, from set design and effects to cinematography and sound. The one curiosity in this nomination that I can’t get my head around is the lack of a Best Actor nomination for Ralph Fiennes, who gives the performance of a lifetime as the movies protagonist. Without him, the movie doesn’t work, and therefore the presence of TGBH here in this list seems like just a superficial token of appreciation for Wes Anderson and his back catalogue more than anything else.

3. Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman has an awful lot to recommend itself. Michael Keatons performance as a faded movie star trying to make it as an actor (that’s the way he sees it anyway) has received a lot of attention, and I for one will be annoyed if Eddie Redmayne beats him to the Best Actor award (Redmayne sits down for most of the movie, while Keaton walks, runs and flies). Equally impressive is Edward Norton in support, playing an egotistical established actor, but giving a performance with surprisingly little ego himself. The commentary on stage actors v movie stars is quite nuanced and the movie benefits from a level of fantastical, magical realism that only a Latin American director can provide: like the best Latin American literature, the point is not what happened, but what is remembered. The frantic pace of the movie is maintained by an almost suicidal commitment by the director and his team in hiding any scene cuts, giving the impression that the film is one continuous shot. At the beginning, this hammers home how stressful theatre production can be, but towards the end also ties in nicely with Keatons wide-eyed madness. A lot to recommend in it therefore, but the problem is that it’s just not very entertaining. It’s technically excellent, and very memorable, but I find it’s just one of those movies that ‘s better in hindsight than when you’re actually watching it.

2. Whiplash

Since I saw this movie, I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen, but the one line plot description format just doesn’t do this one justice. No one’s excited by a movie about a drumming student trying to impress his tyrannical teacher. No one will ever read the plot and think it’s an interesting premise, it’s just one of those movies you watch for a few seconds and realise you can’t take your eyes off it, and are actually annoyed when it’s over.

Whiplash is about two things: style, and JK Simmons. For personal (read: jealous) reasons I am not willing to rant and rave about the talent of first-time director Damien Chazelle, who directed the movie when he was 28 years old, so I’m going to focus on JK Simmons. Many were probably surprised at that level of aggression in this performance from a character actor who pops up from movie to movie, either as a caricature news editor in a few Spider-Man films, or as a loveable family man in a few Jason Reitman movies. I wasn’t, because I had the misfortune of seeing JK Simmons as the neo-Nazi psychopath Vernon Schillinger in multiple series of Oz, a HBO prison drama from the turn of the millennium. Watch the first episode of Oz, which is one of the most terrifying hours of television you will ever see (all down to Simmons), and you will wonder why JK Simmons has not been making millions as psychotic bad guys for the past 15 years. Anyway, if he doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor, let’s just say that it would be justified if Kanye rushed the stage.

1. Boyhood

To be perfectly honest, It’s absolutely irrelevant whether Boyhood wins Best Picture on Sunday evening or not. Boyhood is the best film of the decade so far, and possibly of the century, so its presence as an Oscar frontrunner actually cheapens it somewhat. It’s far too good for a Best Picture nominations list: all’s fine if it wins; but if it loses, the movie on this list that beats it will only be remembered as the answer to a pub quiz question in 20 years about which movie beat Boyhood to Best Picture in 2015. How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane, Kramer v Kramer beat Apocalypse Now, and Gandhi beat E.T. Everyone involved in those winners was embarrassed to win, and it will be the same here if The Theory of Everything beats Boyhood. I don’t really have to say anything about Boyhood, it’s just one of those movies you have to see.

Something that I have been thinking about for the past few weeks are the comparisons to be made between this and another of the most talked-about movies of the year, Interstellar. Both broach the subject of the effect of the passing of time on family relationships, yet both do it in such different ways, and for different reasons. Interstellar uses the family relationship as a Spielbergesque narrative device to ground the audience to something real while a fantastic, complicated, unbelievable science fiction story plays out in the foreground. In that movie, a side effect of the theory of general relativity has 21 years pass on earth in the same time it takes an hour to pass for Matthew McCpnnaughey, meaning he misses significant portions of his children’s (well, adults now) lives. A memorable scene then occurs, of McConnaughey watching his children grow up through the backlog of messages they have left him over the years (minutes). This was effective in Interstellar, as it really drove home how costly this event was to the character, and this loss resonated throughout the next 5 hours of the movie. Boyhood’s approach was different: there was no story, no conventional narrative, merely two children growing up over the course of two and a half hours. This was much more effective and poignant than Interstellar, relegates it to something close to manipulation, and possibly explains why it is not here in the list of Best Picture nominees.

Anyone who wants to know why I care about all this can check out the last paragraph of last years Best Picture review here. I shall close out this entry with some honourable mentions who probably deserve to be here instead of a few bland biopics:

A Most Violent Year

A Most Wanted Man


2014: What Kind Of Year Has It Been?

Scholars in the middle ages were superstitious about the 14th year of a century, as it was perceived wisdom that misfortunes occur more frequently in any year ending in 14. The Moors took Spain in 714, Charlemagne died in 814 (he was quite important back then), 914 saw various famines throughout medieval Europe, and the years 1014, 1114, 1214 and 1314 all saw various military and natural catastrophes that dug deep into the medieval psyche but don’t really seem bad these days (unless The Hungarian Invasion, the loss of Brittany and the Battle of Bouvines mean anything to you). The superstition hasn’t really stood the test of time, probably due to the fact that not many people have lived through two 14’s, and thus interest in the topic is muted.

More recently, 1914 saw the start of World War One, which can be said to have unleashed a three decade period of carnage and destruction that has never been seen before and hopefully will never be seen again. How does 2014 rank in this illustrious company? It was a year that saw the first real threat to the borders of a European country for almost half a century, and also one that saw the European Space Agency succeed in the greatest chase in history, as the Rosetta team managed to catch and colonise Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko after a decade long pursuit. It was a year when One Direction finally overcame the might of Justin Bieber to become the true kings of pre-teen pop merchandising, and ultimately it was the year that the whole world fell in love with Matthew McConnaughey. In this end of year summary I pay tribute to all those that made this year memorable, mostly through the world of entertainment and inconsequence, but always in search of truth, justice, and the American Way. Continue reading

How Close Can Vienna Get To Brazil?

Even though Brazil is everywhere right now, with promotions running in every conceivable ad space to remind us that the FIFA World Cup is both imminent and important, here in Vienna it really is a long way to Rio. While the Coke ads show emotion, partying, and every now and again some football, the reality of a World Cup is actually quite different in a country that has not qualified for the tournament. What happens is you get all of this buildup, and then…. some football, and more promotions telling us how we are supposed to be feeling. Here in Vienna, there is genuinely a lot of interest in the World Cup, hence all the promotions and new TV’s in bars, and why we will find it difficult to find a bar stool on many match days, but the truth is that not many actually care about what happens at the World Cup. Austria is not in the competition, and Ireland isn’t either. I am very interested in the World Cup, yet I do not really care who wins, it is just for entertainment. You know, like a US election. Now, this is not another rant complaining about Vienna, for in this case, it is not her fault. It is because there is a disjoint between how we are sold the buildup (based on emotion), and what actually occurs (drinking and watching ads on TV). All the promotions are by multinational corporations who do one ad for the whole world, and don’t care who they hurt. Their biggest markets (US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia etc.) have all qualified for the World Cup, so everyone else can just shut up and buy a Big Mac as if they too were at the same party as the big boys. So, the question arises: is it possible to get an actual World Cup experience here in Vienna, just like in the Coke ads, with people feeling things and everything? Continue reading

The Eurovision Drinking Game 2014

It’s that time of year again, and you’re gonna watch it anyway so you may as well have fun with it. The following is an adapted (with permission) version of the enduring classic Eurovision Drinking Game hosted at Boring Like A Drill. So, without further ado, here are the instances where one must imbibe a beverage.

Continue reading