Predicting the Winners at the 89th Academy Awards

[Note: This was posted after the Oscars but was written beforehand.]

2016 has been a great year for movies. We’ve gotten another Star Wars movie; a live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book; two new films added to the Disney animated canon; a bunch of great superhero movies; and a fantastic Harry Potter spinoff, to name a few. One would expect the 89th Academy Awards to be very exciting, considering the vast number of wonderful movies that came out this year. However, they have been almost entirely dominated by the colorful, jubilant movie musical, La La Land, which received fourteen nominations, tying the record set by All About Eve and Titanic. It is poised to win Best Picture, the Academy’s highest honor, as well as Best Director, Best Actress for Emma Stone, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and a number of others.

Nostalgia runs deep in La La Land, which is reminiscent of movie musicals from the '50s and '60s.

Nostalgia runs deep in La La Land, which is reminiscent of movie musicals from the ’50s and ’60s.

But is La La Land really the best movie of the year? Although it wowed critics and those in the movie industry, it also has its share of detractors. Many have criticized it for its lack of diversity, especially since it centers around a white man trying preserve traditional jazz, which was created by black people. Additionally, the screenplay is fairly weak; if you take away the happy tunes and bright colors, it’s just another straight white romance. At times, it feels a bit like it’s trying too hard to be a masterpiece. And Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the film’s two leads, are just mediocre singers. Still, all this is unlikely to stop La La Land from winning several awards. It provides an escape from reality, something people especially long for during the current political climate. The music is catchy, and the film looks utterly beautiful. Plus, the Academy loves movies about Hollywood. If La La Land wins Best Picture, it would be quite unfortunate that the award would be so predictable and unexciting. It is highly unlikely that it won’t get the honor, but not entirely impossible.

Moonlight, which has eight nominations, is the only film likely to block La La Land’s path to victory. It is the transcendent coming-of-age story of Chiron, a gay black man growing up in poverty in Miami. When he is bullied by his peers and abused by his mother, he learns to shield his true self away from everyone for his own protection. It’s a reminder of the repercussions we face when we persecute others and when we refuse to open up to people. In a time when everyone tells you to love yourself and be yourself (statements that feel more empty the more we hear them), writer-director Barry Jenkins gave us a beautiful, poignant film showing what could happen if we don’t. Rarely has there ever been a movie more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar.

In one of the many awe-inspiring scenes of Moonlight, Juan teaches a young Chiron how to swim.

In one of the many awe-inspiring scenes of Moonlight, Juan teaches a young Chiron how to swim.

This year had countless movies with strong performances from leading actresses, so it’s a shame that Emma Stone will be the one to come out on top (and that Meryl Streep was nominated for the 20th time over the likes of Amy Adams, Annette Bening, and Taraji P. Henson). Sure, Stone was great in La La Land, so great that it’s almost easy to forget how underdeveloped her character is. However, it’s not hard to act as an aspiring actress when you were once an aspiring actress yourself. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, deals with much harder work in Jackie, playing Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following her husband’s assassination. Yet somehow, she does it perfectly. With the help of Mica Levi’s eerie score, Portman devastatingly illustrates the grief and sorrow that haunts Jackie each day while at the same time maintaining a smiling facade for the public.

Casey Affleck seemed like a shoo-in for Best Actor at first, after having won the Golden Globe and the Critic’s Choice awards, among many others, for his performance as a janitor haunted by his troubled past. But Denzel Washington’s surprise win at the SAG Awards shook things up, and Affleck’s sexual assault allegations from 2010 have also clouded his path. Affleck is still the frontrunner, but it is certainly possible that Washington could beat him and win his third Oscar. Both actors give astonishing performances. Affleck subtly and devastatingly shatters on the inside, while Washington explodes with fiery passion. Either one would be a worthy winner in the category, but if Washington wins, he would ignite far less controversy than Affleck would.

Viola Davis might as well already have her Oscar. She does amazing work in Fences, matching and even outshining the talent of Denzel Washington. It feels wrong to call it a performance, because it feels like she isn’t acting the part, but effortlessly being the part. That being said, fellow nominee Naomie Harris filmed her role in Moonlight in a total of three days with no rehearsals, and she stuns audiences with her harsh, heartbreaking portrayal of Chiron’s crack-addicted, abusive mother. Davis fully deserves her Oscar, but Harris’s work is brilliant as well and should not get overlooked.

After being nominated for Doubt, The Help, and Fences, Viola Davis is the first black actress to have three Academy Award nominations.

After being nominated for Doubt, The Help, and Fences, Viola Davis is the first black actress to earn three Academy Award nominations.

Supporting Actor frontrunner Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a warm-hearted drug dealer who becomes Chiron’s father figure in Moonlight. Many were moved by his character, who does not have much screen time but uses the time he has to bring inspiration, support, and encouragement to both Chiron and audiences. He will most likely and deservedly win the Oscar come Sunday.

The Best Animated Feature category should be a tighter race than it is. This year was a great year for animated movies, and all of the contenders are beautifully animated and highly original. Perhaps the most inventive of the five nominees is Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a boy who can magically influence origami with a three-stringed guitar. Aided by a monkey and a beetle, he sets out on a quest to save his family from the evil Moon King and find out what happened to his samurai father. It’s unfair that Kubo will lose to Zootopia, which is a great movie but nowhere near as breathtaking as Kubo’s visuals, stop motion animation, and innovative, dark story.

The 89th Academy Awards take place on Sunday, February 26th and are hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.

A New Calendar to Show How Far Humans Have Come

If anyone is asked what year it is, they would probably answer “2017.” But our history as humans goes much farther back than the year 0. Humans have existed for millions of years, and we have been making major achievements for thousands. What if we were to make a new calendar to accurately depict the length of our history? If so, where would we place to 0?

“Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell,” a YouTube channel run by a small group of people dedicated to producing educational “content that has value and that people actually notice and remember,” brought up this idea in a video titled “A New History for Humanity – The Human Era.” However, it has been an idea for over 20 years before this video was released. In 1993, scientist Cesare Emiliani proposed an idea of a new calendar – one that places its first year at the beginning of what he calls the “Human Era,” where we started building our world to suit our needs on top of the existing one, when we turned from hunter-gatherers to farmers. But what event marks the beginning of this “Human Era?”

Remnants of the 12,000 year old temple can still be seen today.

Ruins of the 12,000 year old temple can still be seen today.

About 12,000 years ago, hundreds of hunter-gatherers came together in the hills of Anatolia, or the area we call Turkey today, and started the world’s first construction project. Göbekli Tepe, which means “Potbelly Hill” in Turkish, was a temple made with circles of huge stone pillars, each being up to six meters tall and weighing approximately twenty tons. They were decorated with carvings of pictograms, some resembling animals and others mythical creatures. These early humans had only wood and stone tools, and knew nothing about metalworking or agriculture. To this day, we have no idea how they built this. It is believed to have been a temple dedicated to long-forgotten gods, but the one thing we know for sure is that this temple was the first of its kind.

From there, humans made huge progress that we seemingly ignore with the Gregorian calendar. It makes our history seem much shorter than it actually is. Thinking about it with this Holocene calendar, 2,000 years is just a sliver of our actual history. So, next time you look at your calendar, consider changing that year to 12,017. Don’t underestimate the extent of human history.

Police Brutality Calls for Total Overhaul of Towns Police

After a New Year’s party ends in a black citizen being forced to the ground and tased, members of the majority white town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, are speaking up against the police of the town, calling for a total overhaul of the police force.

The Town of Yellow Springs, Ohio

The Town of Yellow Springs, Ohio

On New Year’s eve the residents of the small town of Yellow Springs gathered in the streets to watch as a disco ball was dropped to the pavement, Something that the residents of this town have been doing for years. Just after midnight the police started to break up the crowd, something that they usually waited around 45 minutes to do. They did this by driving their cruisers through the crowd, lights flashing and horns buzzing. Tensions grew and several residents approached the officers to ask what they were doing. One individual was said to be drunk and disorderly, slamming his fists on the police cruiser, a claim that his lawyer says is not true. After being asked to step back officers tackled the man to the ground, after he got up and tried to run away officers tried to taze him with multiple civilians stepping in the way in order to block the taser. After this there were many different viewpoints of why the incident occurred, with the white members of community blaming it on just the fact that there was no connection from police to the people and minorities claiming that it was a racial incident, either way both parties are calling for the same thing, a big change in the town’s police.

Since this happened proposals for dealing with the situation range from replacing officers with social workers to providing subsidies to officers who come from the town, as many of them are not from the area. As a result the town has appointed one of their officers as the chief until a permanent replacement can be found.

The HBC’s Plans For the Budget and Why It’s Harmful to the Future of America

Congress recently released what they want the federal budget to be for the next 10 years. With the U.S. approaching nearly $20 trillion dollars in debt, Congress is doing everything it can to try to balance the budget and reduce this burden of debt as fast as possible. The budget deficit of Fiscal Year 2016 was $587 billion. This year it is set to be around $443 billion and be exactly the same for 2020 and not balance it until 2026. This plan would accumulate more debt than we have accumulated in the past 8 years. This is only if we follow the same tax plan as we have followed under Obama and Trump plans to cut taxes for everyone – so this will most likely be much, much worse. The three things the U.S. government spent the most on in 2016 are healthcare, Social Security and Unemployment Benefits, and the military which add up to 76% of the budget. You would think the HBC would want to start making cuts to these or try and find out how to carry out these programs in in cheaper, yet still efficient way. But no, they do not. $120 billion is added to military, no changes to Social Security are made to try and control the increased spending every year, and Medicaid spending is cut slightly while Medicare spending is still being allowed to expand every year with no changes to the program. Major cuts however are made to education (2% of the budget), public broadcasting (> 1% of the budget), and agriculture (3% of the budget).

The purple is where US troops are stationed

The purple is where US troops are stationed.

There are countless ways to balance the budget in faster and more efficient ways. In 2016 the US spent more on military than the next seven countries behind us combined. The next country behind us, China spent $155.6 billion dollars on military last year, just a little more than 1/4th of our $585 billion dollars spent. Adding $120 billion to this will make us spend more than the next 10 countries combined. Some might say that this is necessary for defense against terrorism. They should see where our troops are stationed. The US has troops stationed in six out of seven continents on the globe and in 74 countries. We could put more troops in the Middle East and still fight terrorism more than we need to and still cut military spending almost in half. We even spend $5.9 billion dollars a year paying for the military of other countries.

The US also spends the most in the world on healthcare. This might come as a surprise to you, considering the US does not have universal healthcare like many other countries in the world. I’m sure the first thing that just popped into your head is, “Well our population is higher than those countries”. That is a natural thing to think and would be a good argument if it made a difference. The US federal healthcare spending is 17.7% of our overall GDP and 9% of the US is uninsured. The next country behind us, The Netherlands’ federal healthcare spending is 11.9% of their GDP and has universal healthcare. We spend the most in the world on healthcare by far and we have 9% uninsured. In countries like Canada and many European countries, healthcare is very cheap because of how cheap their medicine is. Opening up trade for medicine with these countries would bring the cost of our medicine down and ultimately making healthcare must cheaper. We do not need single-payer to have universal healthcare either. Many countries have achieved universal healthcare without single payer. Germany has achieved universal healthcare through a mix of public and private insurance. Their spending on healthcare is 11% of their GDP (7th highest in world) and their life expectancy for average citizens there is 81.0 years as opposed to our 78.7 years. The US can follow this system and save a lot of money while still having very high quality insurance. While making cuts to Social Security is not wanted by most people and is immoral, we can stop the growth of Social Security spending by raising the retirement age from 62 to 66 or higher. Critics of raising the retirement age would say its not right to give people a longer working life and take less time away from their retirement. If Social Security is going insolvent soon, then it is better for this generation to get less than for every generation 20 years from now to get none. We should also cap benefits so that the rich and others who do not need social security at all don’t receive it. This may also seem unfair and almost seem like discrimination if everyone is paying into it their whole lives, then everyone should get it back. Again, it is better for some to not get it than for every generation after 2035 to get none at all.

If the US were to do all outlined above and raise individual income taxes on the upper middle class and up, balancing the budget would be no problem. Cutting taxes when $19 trillion dollars in debt is plain irresponsible. This is not fiscally conservative. Cutting back on education spending is going to do little to nothing to reduce the deficit and will be harmful for America’s children. The HBC needs to cut back on what we actually spend excessively on and possibly reinstate PART (Program Rating Assessment Tool) in order to get rid of waste and balance the budget. While private citizens have no say in the budget we can vote in people who can vote on the budget. Our next chance is in 2018; vote safely and smartly.

America’s Cutest Competition

One of the greatest highlights of Super Bowl Sunday is putting everyone’s differences aside, gathering in front of the TV, and watching a bunch of puppies run around a tiny football field. While some may enjoy watching actual humans play football, others choose to watch the canine version, known as the Puppy Bowl. The Puppy Bowl began in 2005 and was originally conceived to be like the Yule Log, filming puppies playing around with dog toys in a small football field for twelve straight hours. However, the program garnered an unexpected 5.8 million viewers. Since then, the Puppy Bowl went from a simple program to a full-on annual event, and went through many changes. For example, the Puppy Bowl is still aired on Animal Planet for twelve hours, but much of that time is spent on the pregame or on replaying the Bowl. It is initially aired from 3 to 5 p.m. so that it does not conflict with the Super Bowl. Many new features have been added throughout the years, such as the Kitten Halftime Show, a Dairy Queen-sponsored Kiss Cam, animal cheerleaders (such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens), a live-tweeting bird named Meep, and competition between Teams Ruff and Fluff, which has been in place for three years so far. It is also sponsored by many companies, from Geico to Subaru to Pedigree. The Bowl is pre-recorded three months in advance and shot for two full days, so what viewers see on television is only the best of what happened during the shoot. Nowadays, the event often gets over ten million viewers each year and is one of Animal Planet’s most-watched events.

Teams Ruff and Fluff compete in the Puppy Bowl XIII.

This year, the Puppy Bowl made significant history in many ways. Team Fluff ended Team Ruff’s two-year winning streak, beating them for the first time with an unprecedented ninety-three points. Tucker, an Australian Shepherd mix and the captain of Team Fluff, took home the Lombarky Trophy, one of the many new additions of this year’s Bowl. Some other new features included mascots for each of the teams (a screech owl for Ruff and a chinchilla for Fluff) and the inclusion of three dogs with special needs: Winston, a hearing and sight impaired Australian Shepherd; Doobert, a deaf English Pointer; and Lucky, a three-legged terrier who was also the recipient of the Underdog Award. A Cocker Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix named Nikita also made history by becoming the first dog to use the referee’s flag to score a touchdown, and she also scored two other touchdowns and one field goal. She was a strong contender for MVP (Most Valuable Pup), yet lost to a Poodle mix named Rory who scored three touchdowns early on in the game.

All of the puppies that participate in the Puppy Bowl are living in either shelters or foster homes and are seeking a “forever home.” The ultimate goal is to get all of the participating puppies adopted every year, and oftentimes this goal has been achieved. This year, Animal Planet has brought attention to dogs with special needs, reminding viewers that they are no less worthy of adoption than their able-bodied peers. Although most of the dogs who compete have already been adopted before the Bowl airs, people can still adopt their siblings if they are still available for adoption. But overall, adopting any puppy from a shelter is important. When Animal Planet puts adorable, adoptable puppies on the small screen, it raises awareness of animal adoption and prompts people to adopt dogs in need of a loving home.