Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Five

  1. For my (few) regular readers, I'm not done with my Best of the Decade series, I'm just struggling with the TV and music lists. Challenges, challenges. To be continued.

  2. Super excited about the premier of LOST next week. Bummed that I work every Tuesday night and can't watch the episodes live. What is going to happen? Totally love these posters for LOST. Check out more here.
  3. Recently released movies you should add to your Netflix queue immediately: the Hurt Locker, the Cove (propaganda with disturbing footage, but worth knowing about), and (500) Days of Summer. Yay!

  4. Glad the work week is over. I worked Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights in addition to regular working hours. And I'm not done yet. I'm working 11-4 tomorrow.

  5. Recent happy thoughts:
    -"What the Fraggle Rock is going on here?" - Scrubs
    -"stealing" wi-fi from the parking lot
    -people sitting on the floor reading in a bookstore
    -watching tape-delayed sports instead of looking up the scores
    -Conan: "Let's have fun on television!" followed by jumping and dancing
    -playing tennis and cooking with Janie on Sunday

Friday, January 15, 2010

Best of the Decade: Movies

I'm constantly debating myself on the criteria for my favorite movies of the decade. Ultimately, I decided to only include movies I own - with exceptions.

Exception one: documentaries. I have seen some exceptional documentaries, but I don't own any of them. I figured I'd be doing those docs and my faithful readers a disservice by not including them.

Exception two: movies I expect to own or think I own. Think I own? Movies I've tried to watch several times, only to be frustrated by their absence from my library. But when I go shopping for movies, I never remember to look for them (because I think I own them.) So I'm counting those movies. Besides, it's my blog and my list, and I make the rules.

So, here are my favorite movies of the decade, once again in alphabetical order. I'm still torn between some of the movies on the official list and my honorable mention. I just love so many movies! If you like the illustrations, check out the work of Elloh at her Etsy shop.
  1. Almost Famous. Hands down my favorite Cameron Crowe film of the decade. A teenage boy goes on the road as a rock journalist and discovers himself and his passion. Crowe based the film on his own life experiences and the authenticity helps the movie resonate. It also has great characters. Watching this movie makes me shake my head at Kate Hudson's career choices. Her breakthrough performance 10 years ago is far and away the best performance of her career.

  2. Amelie. Love at first sight, baby. Some movies pull you in instantly, like this one. How can you not be charmed by Amelie and her romantic journey and her quest to help others find happiness? Add in the city of Paris and gorgeous cinematography, and you have a winner. Seriously, check this movie out now.

  3. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. (Before Sunrise came out in 1995, but I saw it in 2003. And you need to watch them in order, so I'm including both.) I like to think I would appreciate these movies even if I hadn't backpacked through Europe, but I can't be sure. The opening sequence of Sunrise left me giddy because it was so true to life. You meet strangers on trains, have deep and personal conversations, and alter your plans to travel with them, all before exchanging names. I lived it. From there, I was hooked. Nine years later, the sequel arrived, and I think I like it more than the original. The movies are one long conversation, set in Vienna and Paris, so don't expect much in terms of plot. But the point is the conversation and the relationship. Heads up: you might not like the ending, but I think it's perfect.

  4. The Best of Youth. I've written about this Italian miniseries before, and I will keep encouraging you to watch it. The movie follows two brothers throughout their lives set against the backdrop of Italian history. It stars, who I like to call, the Italian Hugh Jackman, and it's just captivating. Great storytelling. And over the course of six hours (not a typo) you feel connected to the characters. And by the closing scene, you feel closure. The final scene is one of my favorites of the film because it communicated so much without words.

  5. Brothers (the original Danish version). I just wrote about this film, so I won't say much more. This movie nails the nuances of all kind of relationships and manages to express so much with very little. And it's far superior to the recent American remake.

  6. City of God. This film is about the slums of Brazil and what you must do to survive, with our hero using his love of photography to escape his surroundings. It's not easy to watch, but it is beautifully made. Somehow it wasn't nominated for the foreign film category in its eligible year, but returned the following year with director, cinematography, editing and screenplay nominations. So it's a well-made film.

  7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Is there any genre film Ang Lee can't direct and direct well? I loved many things about this film: the breathtaking fight sequences, the dominant role of women, the heart.

  8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry team up and the result is better than any of their solo efforts. Loved the originality (it won the Oscar for original screenplay)! The movie is such a fun, unique journey. Kate Winslet should have won her first Oscar for this performance. She is outstanding!

  9. Grizzly Man. Fascinating is the best word to describe this movie. It's about a man who devoted his life to studying bears, believing that they are misunderstood by the human world. He lives with the bears every summer and this movie uses his own footage to chronicle his life until he is mauled to death (not shown). Fascinating.

  10. Little Miss Sunshine. How can I leave off the movie that made me laugh more than any other movie I can remember. After I saw this movie, I called several people to tell them to go see this movie immediately. And I couldn't stop laughing long enough to do much talking. I also couldn't fall asleep because I kept remembering scenes in my head and laughing.

  11. Memento. I say that my movie obsession began when my aunt took me to see the Spitfire Grill in high school, but Memento played a key role as well. I watched a lot of odd movies in college, and some were just awful. But this 2000 film convinced me that I had to keep searching. If I have to sit through a few duds to see a movie like Memento, it's worth it. This revenge thriller is told backwards because the protagonist has a memory disorder that prevents him from making new memories. If you want to know why so many fanboys were excited when Chris Nolan took over the Batman franchise, this movie is the reason.

  12. Moulin Rouge! I was in Europe when this movie came out, and didn't know much about it. I remember turning to Janie in the middle of the Elephant Love Medley and saying, "I love this movie." And that moment, when a movie overtakes you, is one of the reasons I love cinema. I still can't believe Baz Luhrmann didn't receive a best director nomination for this movie. It's travishamockery that boring Ron Howard and an overrated Beautiful Mind beat out Baz. Anyone could have made a Beautiful Mind; there was nothing distinct or special about it (multiple personalities represented by real actors does not count). Baz Luhrmann is the only person who could have made Moulin Rouge! It breaks my heart every time I see it.

  13. Murderball. Rugby-playing quadriplegics compete for Gold in the Paralympic Games in Athens. Really, that should be enough. Add double crossing coaches and other conflict, and you've got yourself an interesting movie.

  14. Once. The little movie that could. I'm not sure I've seen a more perfect movie scene than when Glen and Marketa get to know each other while playing and singing "Falling Slowly." And what a song! (So glad it won the Oscar because it was essential to move the story forward. Hate it when songs that play over the credits win. What is the point?) I have a smile on my face the entire time I watch them. I can't find a movie clip to show you, only edited and cut ones, which don't do the scene justice. Again, some people aren't entirely thrilled with the ending, but it doesn't change my love for the film.

  15. The Royal Tenenbaums. I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love the quirkiness of this film. Comedy with a heart.
Honorable Mention: Across the Universe (I'll take Julie Taymor reaching for the stars, sometimes hitting her target and sometimes missing, over cliched, blah romantic comedies any day), Big Fish (great visuals and a compelling story), Billy Elliott (what's not to like about a young boy falling in love with ballet), Bourne Trilogy (specifically the Paul Greengrass-directed second and third films - each one got better), Children of Men (kind of dark, with only a slight ray of hope at the end, but man, gorgeous to look it), Hairspray (fell in love with this movie by the end of the opening song), Hero (loved the decision to drench fight sequences in certain colors), In America (one family's story of immigrating to America, not all happy, with young actresses that break your heart), Lars and the Real Girl (delightful and moving; don't be turned off my premise of man dating sex doll), Pride and Prejudice (love the Keira Knightley version and how it portrays the character of Elizabeth), Slumdog Millionaire (a romance disguised as a thriller, this movie will steal your heart) , Stranger than Fiction (this movie comes across like a book, and it has brilliant moments, like when Will Ferrell brings Maggie G. flours), Waitress (slightly odd tone, but very lovable film with a great performance Keri Russell; takes on an added depth when you know the writer/director and star was murdered before it's release)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Best of the Decade: Books

I'm jumping on the best-of-the-decade bandwagon with lists of my favorite books, movies and TV shows. This week is all about books.

Just to clarify for those of you that don't know, I have a horrible memory. Mainly, it's the recall. If you ask me to name the last five books I read, I can't do it. But if you show me a list of books, I can remember which ones I've read. All that to say, I started keeping a reading list in 1999. And since 2000, I've read approximately 243 books. I still forget to write down every book (my most recent completion and the entire Twilight series were left off; who knows what else.)

I decided to be generous with the list. I went through my list and marked any book that stood out. I went back through and excluded anything that didn't stack up. Not too scientific. The list is in alphabetical order, with the year I read it included, and series listed together.
  1. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (London, 2002). Great story, great writing. You've probably read it. What else is there to say?

  2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (2008). I didn't want to put this book down, and it's about gardening, cooking and eating.

  3. The BourneTrilogy - Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum (2003). Started the first book and didn't stop reading until I finished the third and final book. I'm not saying these are top quality books, but the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter keep you reading. Finding a book you can't put down is one of the reasons we read. The books were a jumping off point for the movies, so the plots are different.

  4. Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (2003). I read the Da Vinci Code on a bus and couldn't put it down. Enjoyed Angels and Demons even more; even read it twice. I've also loved thrillers, even though you won't find a Grisham book on my list. (Hmmm. I read eight of them. I guess none stood out.)

  5. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Alters Everywhere by Rebecca Wells (2000 and 2002). Not perfect books, but I loved the style and the characters. And these books were loved by my friends, creating a shared experience.

  6. Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (2003). Now for something completely different, this true crime novel won the Pulitzer in 1980 and tells the story of the first man executed after the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. I remember reading this book at the kitchen table instead of eating during my lunch breaks. Not light reading.

  7. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2006). I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that reading this book did not result in permanent changes in my behavior, just temporary ones. Maybe I should read it every year. Because I want to act on what I learned in this book, and that action should not be eating fast food. It's just not a positive action.

  8. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (2006). A quest-for-faith memoir that includes embracing Judaism and Christianity. I enjoyed reading this book because the author's writing style matches the way I think. Everything about this book made sense to me.

  9. Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling (2002-2007). How could I not include this series? It was the biggest literary sensation of the decade. Even though the first book was published in 1998, I didn't read it until 2002, in England, with the title "HP & the Philosopher's Stone." I want the entire series in hardcover, but I will always cherish my British paperback. Because I made the decision to wait and read the books until right before the movie releases, I had the shocking revelation in Book 6 spoiled for me. No fun. So I read the final book right after its release. Can't wait to read the series again.

  10. His Dark Materials Trilogy: Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2007). Another British, young adult series makes the list. In this series, a young heroine fights a corrupt government and makes the ultimate sacrifice to win. Heartbreaking. I wasn't offended by these books and the perceived anti-God theme, but some might be.

  11. Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (2009). A society that forces children to compete in a gladiator-style competition to the death broadcast on TV may not sound like the ideal plot for a young adult book, but it is. And it's excellent. Another story of youth fighting a corrupt government. Great pacing and characters. Can't wait for the third book in the trilogy to be released.

  12. Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini (2006 and 2007). Different stories, but the author and setting are the same, so I'm clumping them together. Great stories, great writing, and a great window into a culture that is dominating the news.

  13. Lamb by Christopher Moore (2004). I love to read and love to laugh but very rarely do books make me laugh. I laughed out loud all the way through this book. This is a religious satire, so if you can't handle reading about Jesus doing "sacrilegious" things, don't try it. To me, that is what made it so funny. And because I read this book, I had a conversation with a stranger on a plane about religion and politics, separation of church and state, Christians and Bush, abortion and homosexuality. All because of a book.

  14. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2005). Magical storytelling is how I've heard this book described, and I have to agree. It's a story you can't resist.

  15. Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg (London, 2002). The book is interesting as much for the man it deconstructs as the role his celebrity plays in the story of his life.

  16. Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2007). Not as easy read but worthwhile because of how the story is told and the character of Susie Salmon.

  17. Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright (2009). Loved the insight into the inner workers of foreign policy combined with her personal life story.

  18. McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy (backpacking, 2002). Sometimes a book lands in your lap at the perfect time, and such is the case with this book. By the time I read this, I'd spent 10 months living and working in London and Ireland, and had just started backpacking across Europe. And here was a book about a man on a journey through Ireland to discover if you can ever full belong in a country you weren't born and raised in. I was on the same journey.

  19. My Life in France by Julia Child (2009). Reading this book made me want to get to know Julia Child even more. And the fact that she found her calling so late in life is inspirational.

  20. Personal History by Katharine Graham (2001). Graham was the editor of the Washington Post Co. during Watergate and the Pentagon Papers scandals. Well-written novel about the inner workers of journalism and being a successful woman in a man's world.

  21. Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (2001). One of my all-time favorite books, I've read this book more times than I can remember. Every chapter is written from the perspective of a different daughter in the family, and they each have a unique voice.

  22. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (2006). Living with or without freedom, oppression and the role of women, and the power of art and literature all combine to produce a moving memoir.

  23. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X (backpacking, 2002). I remember sitting in a train station in Paris forcing myself to finish this book before I moved on. A good book will always slow you down. And what is not interesting about this man's life and his journey?

  24. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (London, 2002). Any one can make a difference, as this true story proves.

  25. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (London, 2002, 2003). I kept rereading sentences and paragraphs because they were so beautiful. Even read the book twice. Three intertwining stories, all centered on Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway." Reader beware: dark tone.

  26. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2007). Couldn't put this dark, apocalyptic book down. I read it in one sitting, staying up half the night to do it.

  27. Thursday Next Novels by Jasper Fforde (2004). Reading these books was fun! I've heard this series compared to an adult Harry Potter series. Kind of sci-fi meets literature. Thursday Next is a literary detective in England in the future. Silly, but fun and smart. And fun!

  28. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (2007). Under the Banner of Heaven is an intriguing study of Mormon Fundamentalism. To understand Mormon Fundamentalism, you have to understand the history of Mormonism and why the Fundamentalists have broken off from the official Mormon church. The author includes a lengthy reference list, but I wanted a more immediate attribution of facts to base some of his claims.

  29. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Almost nothing like the movie, this book is about an American couple that lives in Italy during the summer and and their experiences. Being someone that has lived in a different country and adapted to a different culture, I enjoyed enjoyed this person's perspective.

  30. Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg (London, 2002). I just like the style of this book. If I were to look through my happy list from this time in my life, I would find quotes from the book.

  31. Where the Heart is by Billie Letts (2000). Finally, a book from the first year of the decade. Is this book great literature? No. Do I love it? Absolutely. I even own the movie based on the book. To be honest, I read it so long ago, I can't remember why I love it. But if still feels like a part of me.

  32. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2001). Again, I read this book so long ago. Simply, this book is about multiculturalism and the immigrant experience. Sounds like a book I would have picked up in London (that is the setting), but I read it a few months before I moved there. I remember being surprised by this book, feeling like I was reading something unique.

  33. Wicked by Gregory Maguire (2005). Did not expect the political angle when I picked up this book, but I ate it up. A little uneven, but worth reading. A book you want your friends to read so you can talk about it together.
And those are my favorite books of the decade. Did I miss anything you would include? Totally disagree with any of my selections. Sound off in the comments.