Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Random thoughts on the Oscar nominations

• Having 10 nominees for Best Picture takes away a bit of the meaning of being a Best Picture nominee, but I like that it makes the Academy Awards more accessible to the wider movie-loving public, even if it's being done for largely commercial reasons. As a history buff, I also give the Academy points for their citation of the fact that early Oscars also featured 10 nominees, and even up to 12 nominees in 1934 and 1935.

• Can we just hand the Avatar team the visual effects trophy now?

• I've seen most seven and a half of the Best Picture nominees (I still need to see Precious and An Education, and I have the Hurt Locker at home via Netflix and still have to finish the last hour), and I think it's a fair field with no film coming to mind as a glaring omission. The one that made me raise an eyebrow was The Blind Side, a good but not great movie, but I do have to give it credit for telling an emotional story, and it also features Sandra Bullock's best performance of her career as a southern belle who feels like a real person; it's a performance worthy of that Best Actress nomination.

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Grammys: Still relevant?

The Grammys are an interesting creature. They get the biggest stars in the industry to perform, while giving them prizes for songs that have, by this point, largely moved from contemporary stations to adult contemporary stations.

Still, the show manages to deliver a few special moments every year. They started off strong with a fun Lady Gaga performance, including a duet with Elton John.

Lady Gaga & Elton John – "Poker Face," "Speechless"/"Your Song" mashup

Pink also delivered a memorable performance, doing her best Cirque du Soleil impression.

Pink: "Glitter In The Air"

Finally, as a fan of Stephen Colbert, I enjoyed his appearances as he finally won the Grammy after previously being nominated for his audiobook in the spoken word category. He also kicked the show off with an excellent opening monologue:

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Lars Von Trier's 'Breaking the Waves'

I'd never seen a Lars Von Trier film before, but I've always been intrigued by the reviews I've read of his films and the soliloquies to his greatness I've heard from my cineaste friends. He's been considered an important director, even by those who don't always like his films. A friend told me earlier this week that "important director" is code for "no one likes their movies."

I had the chance to put this to the test last night, when I watched 1996's Breaking the Waves for the first time. A movie that makes your heart ache. I loved the movie, but it's certainly bleak in a way where it may not be beloved by everyone.

The movie tells the story of a young woman named Bess (Emily Watson) and the love of her life, Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), opening with their wedding in a remote village in Scotland. It's a pure love told in a realistic, moving fashion. Still, the time of joy doesn't last, and at her husband's urging, Bess is sent down a road of debasement that can be hard to watch. She does horrible things, but she does it all for the sake of her love for her husband and her love for God.

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Random thoughts on the State of the Union

• Rock star presidents: Growing up, I always thought of the president and members of Congress as colleagues. I pictured them meeting together and calling one another on the phone. One thing that the State of the Union always seems to make clear is that this isn't necessarily the case, as you read stories about members of Congress coming early so they can get a good spot just for the opportunity to shake the president's hand and you watch Obama signing autographs for members of Congress as he leaves the chamber. Even for members of Congress, presidents are still celebrities.

• As a former history major, I always enjoy a good historical reference used to frame a major speech. President Obama referenced the period of history I spent the most time studying in school, the Civil War, drawing an allusion to when the Union was turned back at Bull Run. It was an intriguing allusion on the same day controversial historian Howard Zinn died.

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Wrapping my head around the iPad

The day has arrived, and Steve Jobs has come down from Mt. Sinai with Apple's long-rumored device, the iPad, a tablet computer. The price is cheaper than I expected (starting at $499), but especially the upper end models (up to $829) are priced significantly higher than netbooks. Apple did manage to stir everyone's imagination with the device's release.

Still, the first thought that came to mind when I saw Steve Jobs actually holding the thing was... awkward. It looked like even Jobs was still getting used to the concept, and I think the day of the tablet being just another common piece of technology is still years away, if ever.

One thing that did help me start wrapping my head around the potential of tablet computers was a story NPR did the other day on All Things Considered, "What's The Allure Of Tablet Computers?"

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