As I recently said on my post about the Millionaire Matchmaker, I’d hoped to compile a list of all the movies, books, and other cultural items I’ve ingested during the year 2010. Lacking time and energy to complete it, I’m just going to post what I managed to finish. I’m in awe of those critics who post Best Of lists, considering they must have read and seen a lot more than the ones they choose as “Best.” Me, I just dump everything – best, worst and middling – in the same place. I can barely get it together to do that.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The Kids Are All Right. As the first mainstream movie about lesbian parents, this of course stirred up a bit of controversy. I found it to be a fun, enjoyable movie, if marred by an implausible ending. Full review here.
Religulous: Bill Maher’s funny, intelligent rant on religions across the spectrum held my interest for the first hour, but eventually got repetitive. Still, bless Bill Maher, even if he doesn’t accept blessings. I’m almost always in agreement with his views, so naturally I think the world needs his intelligent outspokenness, and more media figures like him.
Hereafter: In contrast to the above, this movie explores the spiritual dimension and what might happen after we plotz. It’s a subject I’m always drawn to, and I was expecting at least a glimpse of enlightenment from Clint Eastwood’s take on it. Unfortunately, he didn’t contribute much of anything new to the conversation. Everything in here was said by the hospice movement and people who’ve had NDE’s (near-death experiences) over two decades ago. A rarity from Clint Eastwood: disappointing.
Inception: The premise –people can enter other people’s dreams and change them – is intriguing, so, despite knowing this would be replete with explosive special effects, which I usually can’t abide, I went to see it. I tried hard to stay alert and to follow the plot for the first half hour or so, but finally gave in to, first, annoyance, and second, boredom. Finally I fell asleep, jerked awake every now and then by an on-screen explosion. I suppose it’s unfair to ‘dis a movie I slept through, but there’s a reason I slept through it.
Going the Distance: A romantic comedy about a couple who try to keep their love alive, shuttling back and forth between their respective home bases in New York and San Francisco.
Drew Barrymore is, as always, a joy in both appearance and performance, and this is a pretty funny movie. Still, it paled by comparison to another romantic comedy that came out months later:
Love and Other Drugs: This was THE best film I saw in 2010; apparently I’m alone in my opinion. The movie didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, though the actors — Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhall – did; nor is it getting much press on Best lists. On a recent radio show about the year in film, speculation was that the subplot, centered on the main character’s younger brother, destroyed the movie with its inanity. Also, the relationship story skittered all over the place, so audiences didn’t know what to make of it. Now, I’m the first to underestimate the capabilities of movie-goers, but I
can’t believe that people didn’t get this picture of a real relationship (hence the many shifts in tone). I wouldn’t be surprised if the critics’ problem with Love… stems from the many sXXXplicit scenes. Which, as well as being emotional, advance the relationship and the plot, and are aesthetically pleasing, to say the least (look at him!). Many levels to the relationship and the movie; It has a lot to say about values and the way we choose to live our lives.
Social Network: I can’t believe I forgot to include Social Network on my list (I’m adding this to the list weeks later), especially considering it looks to be the big winner of the awards season. I loved it — thought it was engaging, interesting, and well-acted. Best of the Year, though? I dunno–the pickings are slim when something like this gets so many raves. I remember when Big Important Movies got chosen as Best. OTOH, maybe Social Network is a Big Important Movie.
Little Fockers: Totally trashed by the critics, Little Fockers was nonetheless the best-selling movie of Xmas weekend, no doubt because it was just about the only comedy playing. I knew it’d be a stretch to dredge up anymore humor from these characters, and it was. One running gag centers around twins who look nothing like one another: the girl is huge and smart, while the boy is little and dumb. “Jokes” about suffering children just aren’t funny. Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern were thrown into the mix for their star power; a half-minute scene between DeNiro and Keitel was the best bit in the movie. I sure hope they don’t try for a fourth go-round.
Older Movies (Via DVD or TV), rated with the 5-star system
****Heat and Dust (second viewing)
***Michael Jackson (his swan song)
***The US v. John Lennon
***Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg
**The Ballad of Jack and Rose
***The Bucket List
***Angels in the Outfield (Second viewing)
The Appeal : While I could never subsist on a steady diet of John Grisham, he’s good for an occasional jaunt. The Appeal was, unlike most of his books, a bit depressing, without even a hopeful ending. Because of it, though, I will never again regard an electoral campaign for a judge in the same way, and in this last election I declined to vote for any judicial candidates. In an afterword, Grisham warns, “As long as private money is allowed in judicial elections we will see competing interests fight for seats on the bench.” Actually the whole book is a warning – and a highly effective one.
Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant: See his website. Defender of every average Joe, whether plumber or bartender, this guy writes great radical critiques of America from a working-class POV.
Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker: Maybe they weren’t much fun for her, but for readers they definitely are. Just don’t consume too many at one time or you just might want to go out and shoot someone – or yourself.
Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford. This is a hilarious page-turner. Ford and his twisted mind take the reader on a roller-coaster ride that made me wonder why I’ve shunned the vampire genre up until now. Actually, JBB doesn’t fall into any genre, fangish or otherwise, but is a novel/romance/satire / mystery all rolled into one. Jane, by the way, is Ms. Austen, undead in a remote little town in upstate NY. Ford, who (full disclosure) is a friend, has a sequel in the works. Complete review here.
Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees: Jane Heller, a writer and passionate Yankee fan, served notice in an op-ed piece for the New York Sunday Times her intention to “divorce” the team. The huge angry response she got from readers spelled out book contract, so Heller went on the road to follow the team. The result is the first book about baseball (as far as I know) that talks about the game from the perspective of a woman. Full review here.
The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope, and Healing: Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and wife Laura tell the gut-wrenching story of their son, born with a condition called craniosynostosis. If untreated, it can cause seizures, visual impairment, misalignment of the spine, and / or developmental delays. He was operated on at nine months old, at two, and at three, altogether racking up eight complicated, 12-hour surgeries in his first six years of life. The Posadas describe, in alternating chapters, how each evolved “from victims to warriors.” Full review here.
Frank Lloyd Wright, OR, My Mid-Year Mania: It all began with The Women by T.C. Boyle; I’d read several of Boyle’s books and loved every one, so I bought this historical novel about Wright’s life, his eccentricities, and his work, told from the vantage points of the four significant women in his life. Despite the poorly chosen title, Boyle managed to pass along the intensity of his own obsession with the man. Wright was a visionary who juggled massive building projects and complicated households of lovers, children and apprentices, without a steady income and without being able to pay those who worked for him half the time. The house he built as a home base for his empire, Taliessin, burned down at least twice, rising from the ashes like the phoenix, and was rebuilt each time despite there being no money for materials or labor.
The beginning of Wright’s story is told by his first wife Catherine; next comes Mamah, his soul mate who was brutally murdered; then there was Miriam, an evil nutcase who manipulated him into a relationship; and finally Olgivanna, the last Wright duchess who carried on his name and work at Taliessin for many years after his death. After I finished The Women, I wanted to know more about Wright’s architecture, and read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, the New York Times architecture critic (I wonder why the names of books about Wright are so unimaginative). After that I did my own online research and rented several video tours of Wright’s houses. See where a novel can lead? Who needs school?
On Beauty by Zadie Smith: A page turner with a lousy ending. I’m lately noticing that too many books, short stories, and movies, simply go kerplunk at the end. You can tell the writer had no idea how to end things. Sometimes these abrupt or, the opposite, hanging endings can ruin everything that came before. Anyhow, I liked Smith’s earlier book, White Teeth, much better than this one: it was fresh and new, with a broad view of contemporary London.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I read this at the start of 2010, and I wish I’d written about it while it was still fresh in my mind. The story of black maids in the South during the 1950’s, it’s a riveting page-turner with the ring of truth, and it’s based on truth: the author is a white woman from the South who lived it out. Here are some links to stories about the book and the writer.
California Literary Review: http://calitreview.com/2526
Interview w/ KS: http://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm/author_number/1663/Kathryn-Stockett
Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. These two books, along with The Help, were the best books I read this year – they were certainly the most profound. Atwood’s vision of a future dystopia is staying with me a long time. While Oryx and Crake was written first, I read The Year of the Flood before it; I think if I had not, I wouldn’t have liked the earlier book as much as I did. Flood is much juicier, with more characters and events, and because I didn’t want to leave Atwood’s world when I finished it I immediately got the other book. I don’t think it would have worked the same way in reverse.
Just Kids by Patti Smith: A memoir of her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this book won the 2010 National Book Award in the genre. Before she became the godmother of punk rock, before she sang one song or read one poem in public, Patti Smith fantasized becoming the wife, or the muse, of a great artist whom she could nurture and support. (I guess you can take the girl out of the frilly dress, but you can’t take away her frilly-girl fantasies.) Patti found her great artist in the person of Robert Mapplethorpe and for a few years lived out her dream on a grand scale. They lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where they did their art and, more significantly, bumped into and befriended people like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Warhol Factory crowd, and a cast of thousands. In Max’s Kansas City she met Sam Sheppard, with whom she had a torrid affair, while Robert was off exploring his homosexuality. From their first meeting in a Brooklyn apartment to their last moments before Robert died of AIDS, it’s a romantic, poignant tale of eternal soul-mate friendship written in poetic prose. It’s also a vivid evocation of a remarkable time and place.
Whew! It took almost as long to write this as to read and see everything!