Smizz’s top movies from 2015

So each year I do my top 10 movies. 2015 has been a great year for females. So many strong female-led movies. And it’s about time!

I love going to the movies, i love the anticipation of waiting to see a movie. However, this year I didn’t get much opportunity to see as many arthouse flicks as I would have liked, and this top 10 list reflects that. Now, each movie in my top 10 has a place – for it’s individual reason. So it might not be the *GREATEST* movie of the year, but it certainly achieved something for me in an area such as character development, or dialogue, or cinematography. ect. Sooo wasting no more time.

 

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10.) Mad Max: Fury Road.  Unhinged, high-octane vehicular mayhem. A tough-as-nails postapocalyptic feminist heroine bitingly portrayed by Charlize Theron. (And hey, Tom Hardy was pretty good too as the titular hero.) A crazed ride into a monumental, lightning-etched storm with the pedal all the way to the metal while a war boy howls “Oh, what a day … what a lovely day!” Unforgettable movie moments are made of this. And to think the picture was made by a director in his late 60s. George Miller, you are the (aged) man for the ages.

 

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9.) Carol. A breath-takingly beautiful cinematic journey of a forbidden love. Filmed as if an Edward Hopper painting had sprung to life, its mood washes over you in an evocative mix of opulence and despair as it dizzyingly dances with the forbidden. Some of the best scenes are filmed from the perspective of a person looking through a car window. 2015’s best romance.

 

 

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8.) Tangerine. This movie feels the most 2015. Shot entirely on iPhones and with a budget that wouldn’t cover cab fares on a blockbuster, Sean S. Baker’s indie dramedy makes virtue of necessity. Compelling filmmaking, too, in this Sundance sensation about transgendered sex workers, a pimp, cabbie and angry mother-in-law in lowdown L.A. Doing whatever it takes to make the invisible, visible.

 

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7.) JOY: Joy can be viewed as a modern day rags-to-riches fairytale. It’s Cinderella without the prince. In a way, that’s part of the film’s charm. Sure, there’s preposterous dialogue, but there are also so many electric sequences that made me lean in, smile, & care about a mop. It does give hope showing that no matter how one does struggle in life miracles of success are possible, so don’t read all the bad reviews and assume otherwise.

 

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6.) Steve Jobs. Side-stepping arguements about the accuracy of the biopic, the real achievement here is making cinema out of material that isn’t even a stage play as much as very expensive radio: a battery of dialogue, unbroken by reflective pauses or even, on occasion, the actors drawing breath. The staginess of the movie is its greatest benefit, allowing the characters and the dialogue to shine. Boyle, however, is not a director to be contained in dry rooms, and he allows this theatrical drama to move, via music and editing, into the realm of real cinema. It may be stagey, but make no mistake, it crackles and moves like a motherfucker.

 

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5.) Spy. Now i love a good comedy, but great comedies are hard to come by these days – and I feel like there’s less and less comedies being made due to their hard task. Spy makes making seemless comedies look super easy to make. Feig keeps his Spy machinery cranking so smoothly that nothing said or done feels as outrageous as, in fact, it is. McCarthy is the star of the film, but her willingness to let her fellow actors shine when an opportunity knocks to give the audience a belly-laugh is clear, and it’s the undeniable strength of the supporting cast that makes Spy a strong a film.

 

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4.) AMY. I was taken aback by how well an thoughtful this documentary was made. Watching Kapadia’s film, it is possible to see how badly she was let down by the male figures closest to her. it’s the music that suddenly feels monumental because somewhere in that dark stream of rolling notes and rumbling minors, we can hear the eternal soul of human sadness turned, for a brief moment, into something undeniably beautiful.

 

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3.) Inside Out. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s one of pixar’s finest. It takes a long walk down an infinite pier of personal identity in,  an animated tour of developmental psychology that captures the pain of growing up using primary colours and Amy Poehler’s voice.  As for visual style, it’s dazzling, flouting CGI’s tendency to photorealism in favour of overt cartoonishness in a 1950s retro vein, together with a refined exploration of light: the emotions are composed of fibrous bundles of luminescence.

 

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2.) 45 Years. An inner drama, taking place inside the characters. There are no heroes or villains in this film. Shot with loving attention to the silent vistas of the English countryside, 45 Years conveys a sense of isolation, of two people being together yet growing apart, a dream that has been shattered, and a lifetime of security undermined by a moment of doubt. It is a thorny subject but beautifully told with gentleness and love. Plus 2 outstounding performances.

 

 

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1.) The Martian. I actually can’t stop thinking about this movie. A fan of the book, I wasn’t sure how the motion picture would compare, and indeed make the main character-likeable. But yeah, there’s flaws. But there was something about The Martian that captured the 12 year old in me. Damon makes the most of this “me time”, engaging our interest, winning our sympathy and teasing our anxieties about his perilous predicament. Whilst the most surprisingly element about this movie was the screenplay.  What makes the movie unique to me was Watney’s optimistic point of view. He believes that he isn’t going to die on Mars, and this transforms this rather depressing situation into something comical instead, engaging us with many self-help survivalist discoveries. But when you really think about it, this is a very personal film about some people coming together to save somebody. That’s it. And in today’s world, it’s nice to hear an story about people coming together to save one of their own. It might take all the romance out of Mars, but substitutes in its place science, cooperation, and human perseverance. PS: You should read the book too – and check out the author’s videos on how everything is correct including the astrophysics!

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Smizz’s Top 10 Movies of 2013

This year has been hard, like REALLY hard to pick out good top 10 worthy movies. I’m not sure what’s happening out there – but this year has seen a whole-lot of a bunch of  films that were just kind of “Meh”- They were enjoyable, but did it give me any food for thought, or awe inspiring writing or cinematic technique or emotion to deal with afterwards, did they play with genre  or make you think about how far we’ve come or where to go as a human race? Nope. Not many did. Maybe I just didn’t see the ‘right’ movies, but I’m hoping that 2014 will bring some great ones! However, here’s some that did stick with me.

 

1.) Stories We Tell

A documentary that I’ve only just seen, to sneak in high at number 1, this subtle, heartbreaking documentary masquerades as a straightforward family memoir about Polley’s long-dead mother. However, “Stories We Tell” gradually becomes something else, an inquiry into the nature of memory and reality, a love letter to Polley’s English-born dad (who narrates the film), a puzzle box with unanswerable questions about how we become who we are at its center. Polley’s touching documentary wallows in greatness both in cinema and emotion.

 

2.) 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen has created another masterpiece. Unsettling and formally rigorous, Steve McQueen’s fact-based tale of a free black man sold into slavery in the 1850s puts America’s darkest secrets on screen for the first time. 12 Years A Slave is so good it makes “The Butler” look extremely poorly made. It’s dark and raw, it exposes everything, without sugarcoating it. Beautifully shot and edited, the film features moments of tension, heartbreak.

It’s noteworthy that a British director has become one of the few filmmakers to delve deeply into this subject, and the combination of John Ridley’s powerful script and McQueen’s directorial skills has inspired exceptional performances from the entire cast. Their dramatization of Northup’s experiences is both riveting and uncomfortable to watch, as the film depicts the perverse nature of a society that permitted such a barbaric system. Hopefully it will reach a large US audience, who will learn how a privileged Southern elite cruelly exploited their fellow humans in order to acquire greater wealth for themselves. Masterful.

 

3.) Philomena 

As someone whose heritage lies in Ireland, and whose grandparent was raised by nuns and spent years and year working as an advocate for the rights of adopted people and survivors of Irish Magdalene Laundries, I’m always prepared to be either underwhelmed or angry at the film industry’s ineptitude with subjects like this (and lots of other subjects to be honest!). Steve Coogan deserves utmost respect for producing and writing this film (and let’s face it, needed this from his poor movie based on Alan Partridge earlier this year). His script is excellent, consistently witty and engaging on the surface whilst spinning many more layers beneath the surface which became unconsciously stirring. Faultless acting, always engaging. A gentle, funny, heartbreaking and unforgettable film – no matter how far from its “true story” it might be.

 

4.) HER

Theodore Twombly  is letter writer #612 for the company “Beautifulhandwrittenletters.com.” He essentially spends his days crafting poetic, poignant, and personalized communications for other people’s relationships. You can’t find a more dynamic and compelling story about the human connection and where we’re headed as a society. Johansson’s Samantha is sexy, open-hearted, sympathetic, witty and loving – — and guess what,  she’s also the operating system on Theo’s computer, in Spike Jonze alternately wistful and whimsical near-future rom-com, a lovely and slightly troubling vision of utopia. This is probably the best of Jonze’s career so far, and maybe deserves higher praise and wider distribution that it’s currently getting. (Also, whoa, that moustache).

 

5.) The Place Beyond The Pines

This is a strange movie. A movie of a story of trashy criminals and dirty cops evolving into one about fathers and sons and life.   A life is not just about your life but those you affect and those you leave behind for years to come. he film went for editing and filming styles to echo the characters’ situations and actions. You can guess what that would look like when Gosling is racing through the forest on his motorcycle. But as we approach the more expansive ending, there are some beautiful shots of the trees lining Schenectady’s countryside roads. That works particularly well with Cooper giving a remarkable performance of Avery constantly coming to grips with his life.

It could have been tightened up a bit, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” isn’t telling a quick story. It’s telling the story of multiple lives, of death, family, love, honour and obedience. Employing overall themes of revenge, ambition, and what it means to be a father, and a son.

 

6.) Short Term 12

20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. Contrary to its title, the effects that Short Term 12 leaves you with are anything but short term. In what has become one of the most personal films of 2013, it’s extremely hard to write a review for them.  Destin Daniel Cretton creates a film which the characters render the deepest and darkest corners of your heart, while never being melodramatic. It’s  a real gem, that totally caught me off guard.

 

7.) Before Midnight

Years ago, before doing education through #hashtags was a thing on Twitter, in my 3rd year of Art School we used to host E-Crits. Each week one of us in class would host a crit on MSN (yes, MSN and this was even after MSN was a thing) – this was an E-Crit. Like an online reading/seminar group. Extra credit of course. I did something on space, architecture and skateboarding and revolutionary potential based on an essay by Henri Lefebrve.  My friend Jamie made us watch Before Sunrise which was in 10 minute clips on YouTube at the time and we was to discuss that. I’m not sure what we really discussed. However if it has been Before Midnight, I’m sure the e-crit would have been lively full of studious observations of amazing character development and dialogue.

Before Midnight is the 3rd sequel part to Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset, and comes in 9 years later! This film is easily the best film of the franchise so far. Packing an emotional and euphoric punch like third-installments like Toy Story 3 do , films that have a close-nit relation to their predecessors but saving all the masterful speeches and epiphanies for the viewer to indulge in their finales. The film doesn’t take any cheap shots with every scene constructed from real emotion and feeling incredibly authentic and genuine. There are long takes for the viewer to be present whether it’s in an airport conversation between Jesse and Hank or at a lunch with in the beautiful valleys of Greece or even in a hotel room where a man and a woman share intimacy like older lovers typically do.

The film is breathtakingly accurate and precise in capturing the love and relationship of couples, it will and should be studied by film schools and writers for years to come.  Everything’s better with maturity.

 

8.) Spectacular Now

From the writers of 500 Days of Summer (one of my favourite movies!), which we all know wasn’t just your average love story, comes a seemingly average love story in The Spectacular Now. But it isn’t very average, and that’s the beauty of it.  It’s a heartfelt story that distills all of the beauty, tenderness, and apocalyptic bleakness of youth into a 95 minute love story that portrays teenagers in the most honest way since the films of John Hughes.

Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber make this a surprising tone piece, one that is more concerned with the loquacious behaviour of teens rather than the raunchy behaviour. The film showed how one’s addiction to the bottle can compromise their life.  Much of the film operates on deep, character emotion, so attaching an ending that neatly packages things up would’ve been a complete contradiction to the film’s focus.

This is an important movie for teenagers, and a well deserved kudos to actually making something that is full of substance and never trivialises real life.

 

9.) We’re The Millers

I know what you’re thinking, how on earth did this get into ANY top 10 list of the year? Are you serious Smizz? Well, perhaps it was how off guard this movie caught me with how good I thought it was! I went to the movies expecting some shit, but I wanted to see some empty-leave you feeling a bit better-shit anyways. But what I got was not only the feel good factor I was hoping for but much more!

It’s not a gold mine of comedy by any means, but it did the job it told us it would do: Make us laugh and give us a fun ride. They really brought together a dysfunctional family and did it in a way that allowed for some suspension of disbelief. A lot of comedies nowadays have those hit or miss scenes where you either laugh, or you just can’t suspend your disbelief. We’re The Millers is pretty much a compilation of those kinds of scenes that hit just the right tone to pull it off as funny, clever and it just kinda grows on you.  Ultimately, a solid comedy and that’s worth noting!

 

10.) This Is The End

Although ‘This is the end’ does not have the greatest storyline in the history of film, it is a very inventive movie in its own way. It was at times self-indulgent, absolutely bizare, and even lazy. There’s still something about this movie if it appeals to your sense of humor. I wouldn’t say the plot is non-existent, but it certainly isn’t developed enough to pay much attention to it. The movie is rather a collection of gags with typical American humor, which is exactly what you would expect from anything created by the duo Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. This is the End’ contains a fair amount of satire on the posh world of show-business and it’s enjoyable seeing all the actors and actresses not taking themselves too seriously and playing themselves as sometime extremely unlikable characters.

 

Smizz’s Top 10 movies of 2012

It’s that time again where I try and judge what’s the best movies that came out and why. However, I apologise in advance that there are some of my guilty pleasures in here which probably would never make an official top 20 list, never mind a whole top 10!  And there is no mention of the Hobbit, or Skyfall  or Dark Knight – blah, blah, blah. You can catch those reviews else where. But never the less. I hope you enjoy & treat yourself to some of these movies, if you haven’t seen then!

 

10) PREMIUM RUSH

In pure style, I’ll start of with a biased Smizz guilty pleasure choice. Premium Rush, featuring the ever sexy Joseph Gordon-Levitt (probably why it fits in to my top 10) who is a sexy, fixed gear bike riding courier in NYC. EVERYTHING smizz LOVES. Bikes, Joe & NYC!

An action movie about biking through the streets of Manhattan is certainly an interesting idea, and may seem a bit silly, but writer and director David Koepp manages to create a fun and exhilarating film around this premise. Premium Rush is the type of movie that gets better as it goes on, expanding on its characters and creating riveting and never tiresome chase scenes. Premium Rush never takes itself too seriously, and neither should you. It’s fun, adrenaline pushed, basic at times – but it’s nostalgic directing style seems to hit it, amazing research and detail about bikes and most of all representational of riding life in the bike-lane. No breaks!

 

9) LOOPER

Uh-oh, another Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie. Stick with me, guys. Looper’s director Rian Johnson has removed  doubts and given me hope that sci-fi in Hollywood can be more than just empty spectacle. Looper is all about dealing with the implications of time-travel, although it is very much a film about the past. The film is all about the past, how it affects the present and the future and how it drives people with the majority of the film building characters and establishing plot.

Looper is a film that goes to extraordinary lengths to leave every base covered in its quest to avoid plot holes and inconsistencies and in my mind it deals with the problems associated with time travel very well. The writing and direction are superb but another strength are the acting performances. Details from  the future cities contiuing to be expanded upwards and outwards but they themselves are filled with tent cities in which a large vagrant class live are current, and believable.  Life is cheap and hard in this world in which the have’s and have not’s are much more separated than today.

There is enough in the film to make to world feel as though it is our near future and the technology on display feels as though it is a few logical steps along the road. It is well designed and acted and features a wonderfully multifaceted and intelligent story which rewards patience and concentration with a fantastic ending.

 

8) FRANKENWEENIE

There was a time when Tim Burton was systematically churning out great, original, quirky movies that endeared him to the general public and earned him a large amount of die-hard followers who hung on to every last idiosyncratic trademark. But recently, we all sigh at the same crap-kola Burton has been bringing out recently – which are adaptions of books and so forth – not his original ideas.

However, I was relieved to see Frankenweenie and thought YEAH Tim’s back on form! While the movie does not really develop its characters deeply and sometimes drops certain plot lines we would have liked to see more of, it makes up for it tenfold with the thing that Tim Burton has more of than anybody else: imagination. So many moments in this movie are truly original, clever and, best of all, funny. “Frankenweenie” is a giant tribute to old horror flicks, set against a sweet story of a kid and his dog.

 

7) ARGO

We already know that Ben Affleck is better as a director than an actor. He tells a story uniquely with his own cinematic art and style. In Argo, this is a new challenge for him. Making a large and historical drama thriller. Argo is based on a declassified true story about Tony Mendez rescuing six US diplomats from Iran.

After speaking to his son while watching a movie one night, Mendez had a creative yet genius idea. He and the escaped hostages would pretend to be the film crew of a new sci-fi movie called “Argo”. With the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Arkin), this fake crew made their story quite credible.

What’s impressive is it can balance its various tones decently without being a mess. Outside the storytelling is a solid craft. The film looks credibly retro. They obviously wanted to make everything look the same to the real life story. Argo is simply a classic. No matter how ridiculous the premise sounds, it’s still undeniably smart and spectacular.

 

 

6.) PITCH-PERFECT

2012 has seen a lack of great, funny movies. Sure there’s been 21 Jump Street (which was a surprise hit with me) but a serious lack of decent comedies. Take Bring It On, Glee (not in the icky cheesy way, but because there’s singing involved, the good kind), Mean Girls, and add some quick-witted, sharp-tongued dialogue and commentary, and you have the funniest of movies.

At first I was leery: a movie about A Cappella singing groups; I thought at best, it would be a teen flick. But, I was unbelievably surprised. Every kind of humour is covered here, and done to absolute perfection. You will be adopting many, many of the lines into your daily lexicon. If you liked Bridesmaids, i think you’ll dig this!

 

 

5) DETACHMENT

Detachment technically is a movie from 2011, but didn’t get a release in the UK until 2012. Its one of those films that leave you sitting in silence for a while when the credits roll much like excellent Dramas like “Requiem for a dream” or “Downloading Nancy”.

On the surface “Detachment” deals with the crumbling American education system through the eyes of substitute teacher Henry Barthes (played by Adrian Brody) who starts a new assignment in a new school with new teachers, in a new class with new pupils like he is obviously used to.

The beginning shows him trying to get into this new class around the bullies threatening him and other pupils, making it hard to teach anything. At first it looks like all those “good teacher turns around a bad class” movies but its not. It’s grim stuff, made more grave by the undeniable ring of truth.

The ancient Greeks tell us “we suffer our way to wisdom.” By the end of the film, you’ll hope that is true for most of these characters. Somewhere on screen, between a silent hug and the opening lines to Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” you will find a glimmer of hope. But you have to work for it. A powerful and disturbing (but necessary) film.

 

 

4.) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

You probably have never seen anything quite like “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. It is a film that will have you thinking about the love between a father and a daughter, about appreciating what you have in life and our ability to adapt to whatever comes at us. Quvenzhané Wallis is certain to beat Anna Paquin and Tatum O’Neal out as the youngest best actress nominee in history.

This movie is an unique vision that sweeps viewers away with energy, attitude and a full, vibrant, sense of life. Containing outstanding performances, great cinematography, and a fantastic score, the film is just so engrossing. Do yourself a favor and check it out. “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.”

 

 

3.) SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

Thank you, Malik Bendjelloul, for giving me the opportunity to hear this amazing story. Thank you, Camilla Skagerstrom, for showing how much stunning cinematography can add to a story about a poverty stricken man from Detroit.

I was super lucky enough to see this at Sheff Doc/Fest this year. Would I have seen it otherwisE? not so sure! Which would have been a travesty  If like me, and you didn’t know the story, I’ll give you just a little background. Rodriguez, a song writer/singer in the 70s was ‘discovered’ by a couple of white guys, in a smoke filled Detroit dive bar. (His music reminds me somewhat of Bob Dylan’s) A couple of albums were produced in the U.S.….the albums didn’t make it big….in fact, not many sold. Rodriguez went back to working his day job and that was the end of that. However, in the very isolated South Africa, Rodriguez’s music became a phenomenon compared to Elvis or the Beatles. His music was a solace for so many Africans fighting the war on Apartheid. Rodriguez didn’t know anything about the South Africa portion of his story. “Searching for Sugar Man” is a documentary made about two South Africans searching for information about a mysterious American songwriter, who had a huge impact on their lives, but no one seemed to know anything about.

This IS a real fairy tale. One you have to see to believe. One that can restore your faith in humanity, and possibly change the way you see fame and fortune. One that will remind you that you never know how far reaching your daily actions may be. Fingers crossed for an Oscar nomination for this!

 

2.) UNTOUCHABLE

Intouchables, directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, starring Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy is possibly the best French movie of the year. This is not because of a lack of worthy contenders, but truly because Intouchables is that profound. It touches on themes of presumptions, social class difference, health, and as naïve as it may sound, the universality of humanity.

Sy is a failed robber, going through the motions and playing the stereotypical jobless émigré. Cluzet is a romantic and melancholy mind trapped in a useless body. The circumstances that bring them together are too funny to spoil here, but meet they do, and an awkward relationship quickly blossoms as they bring out the best in each other.

The film’s simplicity is delightfully misleading: the script is a masterpiece of comedy writing, and however good the rest of the cast is, the central duo is magical. This is one of the most unique, beautiful and honest friendships ever committed to film. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry… a delightful celebration of everything in life that makes it worthwhile.

 

1.) PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

I was so taken aback by this movie, EVERYTHING about it, that I saw it 3 times at the movies.

The story is very simple yet complicated because of how much goes on. But the way it unfolds is beautiful and sad, sometimes all at once. While it has its funny moments, it also manages to go through dark topics as well such as homosexuality, drugs and death. Stephen Chbosky handles his story very well, never feeling like it’s being forced but rather it flowed nicely and carefully.

Directing wise, it was shot very well. The cinematography is gorgeous, especially the scenes where the camera overlooks the skyline of Pittsburgh and during intimate scenes between the characters. You could not get anyone better to direct it other than the author himself because this is his book. This is his vision so he knows exactly how it goes in his head and we can see throughout the film, just how much his vision has truly come alive. The result is both engaging and satisfying.

The musical score is done by Michael Brook who’s also responsible for Into The Wild, another favorite of mine, and he did a very good job. The soundtrack is awesome. Along with Mr. Chbosky, Alexandra Patsavas, who’s also the music supervisor for The OC, did a great job of picking out the songs and treated it as if it were a mix tape.  What makes the cast so special is the chemistry. Everyone got along so well and you can tell that they’re very comfortable with each other and you feel convinced that these people are really friends thus you actually care about the characters and what happens. It was absolutely perfect.

Just like a darker John Hughes (compliment), it is infinite in it’s awesomeness.

“I don’t know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So if this does end up being the last letter I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who has gone through it, you made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”