It’s a rare occasion when a movie is just as good as the book it was based on. One such rare occurrence is the movie The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel. It’s hard to pick a favourite between the book and the film since the movie does the book justice by vividly bringing the characters to life on the big screen.
Aspiring journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) decides to do something daring: write a book from the perspective of the maids in her early 1960s Mississippi town. With the help of two maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and the free-spirited Minny (Octavia Spencer), Skeeter is able to give a voice to the often under-appreciated “help” in a moving story that is about friendship and courage. While rooted in history and actual events, the film doesn’t pretend to be a political commentary about the Civil Rights movement (whether you agree it should have taken a stand or not), and instead focuses on an isolated group of people and how the larger movement and events as a whole slowly infiltrate their own community.
Both the book and the film complement each other – the movie is not a direct translation of the book and enhances the stories and characters, making the film interesting and entertaining, regardless of whether or not you have read the book. The book adds depth to the character development and motivation behind the actions of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny that can’t easily be recreated on-screen. If the story speaks to you and it captures your imagination, most viewers will enjoy both the novel and the film.
Featuring a strong cast of women, The Help has several stand-out performances including those by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote. All three ladies have received several critics’ awards and nominations, including each scoring a Golden Globe nomination.
Not only is The Help one of the year’s best films, it is also one of the best literary adaptations, deserving of a place on your bookshelf AND as part of your movie collection.
A fresh story with a remarkable performance by Christopher Plummer makes Beginners one of this year’s best movies.
I first saw this movie back in 2010 at the Toronto International Film Festival and instantly fell in love with it, declaring it my favourite film of 2010. When Beginners got a theatrical release in 2011, I returned to theatres to see it once again, my enjoyment of the film actually growing. A third viewing on DVD was just as entertaining, heartbreaking, and funny as it was on the first watch- a sure sign of a well-made film.
Beginners is based on the real-life story of filmmaker Mike Mills and his relationship with his father, who at the age of 75 declares that he is, and always has been gay. Now diagnosed with terminal cancer, the film jumps back and forth between the 5 year span of his coming out and subsequent death. Starring the great Christopher Plummer as Hal, father to Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor, the chemistry between the two actors as father and son is incredible. Love, compassion, frustration, and respect all come across in their equally moving performances.
The film is told from Oliver’s perspective, pulled from his memories of childhood, the recent years with his father, and his father’s young lover. Oliver is a man who is lost, clinging to relationships that don’t work out, until he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent), a French actress whose erratic filming schedules keep her living in hotel rooms. As Oliver processes his father’s passing, he begins building a new chapter of his life through the help of Anna.
The film dips into various film genres including romance, comedy, and melodrama, but it’s hard to pinpoint into a specific category. There are as many laughs as there are tears.
Christopher Plummer has been gaining notice for his touching performance as Hal, picking up a Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, with high hopes for an Oscar nomination in January. Beginners also won Best Ensemble and tied with Tree of Life for Best Picture at the Gotham Independent Awards, and has landed on several critic’s Best of 2011 lists.
An all-around feel-good movie, Beginners is an uplifting tale, built on a solid story with meaningful performances that make it one of the year’s best films.
One of the year’s best comedies, Bridesmaids shows that when it comes to laugh-out-loud physical comedy and gross-out humour, girls can have as much fun as the boys.
When Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement, Annie finds herself at a cross-roads in her life: single and broke with a failed business under her belt, she fears losing her best friend to a new life that includes Helen (Rose Byrne), a rich housewife itching to become best buds with Lillian. As the wedding plans start to form, Helen, Annie, and a rag-tag group of fabulous ladies form the bridal party, including, Lillian's cynical cousin Rita (Wendi Mclendon-Covey), who just wants a break from her husband and sons, and the scene-stealing soon-to-be sister-in-law, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), who has no boundaries. Through a series of comedic misadventures, Annie and Lillian’s friendship is put to the test in a film that is ultimately about friendship.
Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy, Bridesmaids lets Kristen Wiig break out of her small, character-centric roles in Saturday Night Live sketches and actually show some range. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and her real-life friendship with Maya Rudolph comes across on screen through their characters. The lady everyone is talking about is Melissa McCarthy, who storms onto screen and steal every scene she is in as the over-the-top, carefree Megan. After three seasons on the dramatic TV thriller, Damages, Rose Byrne gets a chance to flex her comedic skills in Bridesmaids, further broadening a comic portfolio that also includes a hilarious turn in Get Him to the Greek. Not to be left out, the men of the movie- Jon Hamm as an arrogant womanizer and Chris O’Dowd as a loveable Irish cop- get their fair share of the laughs.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack is filled with bonus material and special extras including a gag reel, a “line-o-rama” featuring unused, improv lines from the film, deleted scenes, and a 30-minute documentary on the production.
Bridesmaids is the ultimate movie for a girls’ night in, but its broad range of humour won’t scare the men away either making it the perfect adult comedy of 2011.
Gil (Owen Wilson) an American screenwriter is vacationing in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Suffering from a touch of writer’s block when it comes to completing his first novel, Gil begins using his time in Paris to take evening strolls through the arrondissements. Each night at the stroke of midnight, he begins his journey into the fantasy land of 1920s Paris, full of artists, writers, philosophers, and socialites. It is a veritable who’s-who fantasy land of 1920s culture with the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and Ernest Hemingway. Inspired by his night-time adventures, Gil finds himself being pulled in two very different directions in his personal and professional life.
Midnight in Paris is the perfect movie for fans of literature, art, and film. While there are elements to the film that are quintessential Woody Allen touches, even non-Allen fans are enjoying this film - thanks to the fine performances from Owen Wilson, the supporting cast which includes Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Michael Sheen, and a bevy of all-star cameo appearances. Wilson is a toned down, slightly goofy yet charming version of the standard male Woody Allen character- he’s a bit neurotic, but not overly so. Gil, just like the viewer, is awestruck and able to suspend disbelief at the easy blurring of modern day Paris with the Roaring Twenties.
One of the most entertaining parts of Midnight in Paris is seeing the parade of 1920s personalities brought to life. Perhaps the funniest and most extreme cameo performance in the film is that of Oscar winner Adrien Brody as the always over-the-top Salvador Dali. His cameo as the eccentric painter is reason enough for this film to be called one of the best of 2011.
Midnight in Paris earns its place in the pantheon of Woody Allen films and is a must-own thanks to its charmingly witty screenplay, skilled direction, and brilliant performances from the entire ensemble cast.
You can view all of the Best of 2011: Movies in our Best of the Year shop. Be sure to check back for the rest of Best of 2011 series.
I have one rule when it comes to picking the top books for the year: They have to be amazing.
To be amazing, a story has to make a lasting emotional connection with me. I want the book I can’t put down—can’t stop thinking about—can’t walk away from. The book I’d read again. The book I want all of you to read.
Here are—in ascending order—my choices for the ten most amazing teen books published this year.
10. Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts. (Q&A) Bleak and unrelentingly dark—a combination of 28 Days Later and The Road. Destruction so fresh you can smell it and a reminder that hope shines brightest when your soul has been utterly crushed. Dark Inside is not the kind of book I would usually like, but it’s one of the best I’ve read this year. As an added bonus, it’s also written by a BC author and set mostly in Vancouver.
9. Delirium by Lauren Oliver. (review, Q&A) The dystopian romance to which all other dystopian romances are measured. Delirium is a powerful story of love grounded in plausible science, and I loved watching its perfect society slowly unravel through Lena's eyes. The only cure for this book is its follow-up, Pandemonium.
8. Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr. (review) The Wicked Lovely series brought me back to Teen fiction, and its ending is befitting and beautiful. I include this as an example of how to end a series well.
7. The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan. (Q&A) Have you heard of The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy? It’s one of the gems of the teen department. This brilliant trilogy about two brothers who hunt demons is like Supernatural, but better—because Supernatural doesn’t have Jamie. The Demon’s Surrender pulled me in so deeply that it caught me off-guard, even when I should’ve known better.
6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. (review, Q&A) A lush, evocative novel with rich details, chilling magic and an intriguing cast of characters. Set in Prague, this book about angels stands apart from all the others. I can’t wait to see where this story goes.
5. Divergent by Veronica Roth. (review, Q&A) Special mention as best debut of 2011. What an emotional roller coaster! Divergent is everything I was promised The Hunger Games would be. We got behind this title early and I still feel it is one of the strongest titles this year. If you want to feel empowered to bring big change to the world, then Divergent is the dystopian novel for you.
4. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. (review) Perhaps you thought this was a 9-12 book. Perhaps you are right. It’s still on my list for the sheer glee that reading it provided. The Son of Neptune marks the return of Percy Jackson, and it’s the best Rick Riordan book so far.
3. Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. (review) I waited all year for this book, and I read it in a single sitting until 2 A.M. When I finished, I wanted to start reading it again. The penultimate book of The Caster Chronicles series answers so many questions I had—and makes me ask more. Book Four, please?2. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendra Blake. This book reaffirmed my faith in paranormal teenlit. I was done with it, I was walking away, and then Anna Dressed in Blood knocked me off my feet. Scary, romantic, and cool, it made me laugh out loud on the TTC and grin like at idiot at strangers. Plus, major points for being set in Canada.
1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. (review, discussion, Q&A) Honestly, it was tough to decide between this or Anna Dressed in Blood as the Book of the Year. I love every book on this list, but Beauty Queens is one of the few that have changed the way I think about the world—about what I read, what I write, and what I watch. It’s not just a brilliant and hilarious book, it’s a book that everyone needs to read.
And your honorable mentions:
This is a guest post from Mark Breslin.
In 1974, Mark Breslin opened the first Yuk Yuk’s, which now has twenty clubs nationally and is North America’s largest comedy club chain. His newest book, the box set of Yuk Yuk’s Presents Road Warriors and Rarities features routines from some of Canada’s most hilarious stand-up comedians, such as Ron James, Scott Thompson, Jessica Holmes and Jon Dore.
I remember a conversation I had some years ago with the late, great George Carlin. I asked the great stand-up why he never did a sitcom, or a juicy movie role.
“Truth is,” he said, “I can’t really act.”
His legendary honesty aside, it is true that a lot of great stand-up comics really can’t act. It never stopped Jerry Seinfeld, who simply played himself on his eponymously named TV series.
But some stand-up comics can act; very well, in fact. Some are able to transition to the big screen, the hardest job of all, and create memorable, lasting, hilarious movie roles.
I’ve made a list here of some of my favorites. The list, of course, is by no means exhaustive or definitive; just some personal favorites, and in no particular order.Woody Allen in Annie Hall.
What’s great about him here is how little he has to change his neurotic, whining, cerebral standup persona. The topics- philosophy, theology, liberalism, Jewishness, and his love of New York City are the same as his monologues in his stand-up records. For a slightly more obscure choice, check him out in Play It Again Sam, one of the few films he wrote but did not direct.
Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.
Some prefer him in his Ace Ventura vehicles, but I think this is the high water mark of his comic genius. Carrey seems to ache for the recognition that should come with his more serious film roles, but no one can do what he does here, reinventing slapstick for a generation who’s never even heard of Jerry Lewis. He’s great in Liar, Liar as well, especially in the iconic boardroom scene, which I show to the comedy students at Humber College each year.
Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Again, there may be more obvious or popular choices, like The Jerk or L.A. Story. But Martin’s performance in this film is the closest to the loopy spirit of his stand-up act. And the jokes never let up; if you don’t care for one of them, there’s another in about 30 seconds.Richard Pryor in Car Wash.
I don’t think anyone knew how to capture Pryor’s standup genius in a full-length narrative. But I think this comes the closest. Pryor plays a money-hungry preacher and really nails the biting satire. After this film, Pryor mugged just a bit much for my taste, but here he’s still pure and hungry.
Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School.
Against all odds, Dangerfield manages to put hundreds of his patented sad sack one-liners in a story about a rich lout with a heart of gold going back to college-and it works, beautifully. I’m not sure which is funnier, though; the lines themselves or Dangerfield’s complete lack of leading man looks.
Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours.
…or Beverly Hills Cop or Trading Places, a great trilogy of work from a man who owned the smartass Eighties. The swagger is a direct import from his stand-up, as is his racial and sexual provocations. Most people, myself included, feel these films actually outdo his standup work.
Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam.
Before he became cloyingly sentimental, this was Williams’ breakout movie, and the only one to capture his manic, stream-of-consciousness patter. Mrs Doubtfire had a lot of fans too, but if I had to pick a second favorite, it would be the animated Aladdin, where he is heard but not seen, but boy, is he ever heard!
Adam Sandler in Click.
This is the most underrated movie of Sandler’s career, but his most consistent and adult comic performance. It’s a movie where he finally breaks away from the slacker/zhlub persona and takes on a character that lives in the real world. It’s the world that changes as he finds a device that lets him control time. Most of Sandler’s work is just too lazy and puerile for me, but he got it right this time. Honourable mention: You Don’t Miss With the Zohan.
Zach Galafianakis in The Hangover.
For years Galafianakis was an alternative stand-up with a cult following but more word of mouth than credits. Then he stole the mega-hit of the year and the rest is history. I also like him in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but it’s only kind of a funny role.
And in the number 10 spot:
And some great stand-ups that never quite made it in movies: Joan Rivers, Louie CK, Chris Rock, Howie Mandel, Norm MacDonald, Drew Carey, Ricky Gervais, Jackie Mason, Mort Sahl, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Bill Hicks, Bill Cosby, and Lenny Bruce.
The perennial entries to discussion around awards of any kind are:
1. Who should win?
2. And who will win?
We have some ideas, lots of them, actually – and we’re not at all in agreement. We’re more concerned with #1 than #2, and we’re hoping you’ll find this an interesting conversation to read – for us, it was an interesting discussion to have.
But who are we, you ask? Four guys who’ve been selling books for many years, and reading and living them for longer:
- R.J. Wheaton, Supply Chain & author of a forthcoming work on Portishead
- Greg Cooke, Fiction
- Sebastian Hanna, Nonfiction and Poetry
- And myself, Justin Sorbara-Hosker – Online Adult Trade.
The discussion turned out to be longer than we thought, so this is part one of a two part conversation – stay tuned.
RJW: Dave Eggers should win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Let's review. His 2000 debut, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was an incredibly moving, honest memoir of a young man raising his younger brother after the deaths of both parents. Since then, he has written a novel, (Sacrament or You Shall Know Our Velocity), short stories, an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved Where the Wild Things Are. He has founded the big, vibrant literary journal McSweeney's in an age when literary journals seemed to be a dying breed; McSweeney's now publishes The Believer, a monthly arts magazine, and Wholphin, a DVD magazine showcasing short and underground films.
But all those are the minor works. In Zeitoun he wrote compellingly about the experience of a Muslim-American in the bitter aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, exposing for a large audience the faultlines of American justice. What is the What is a novelized account of the experience of a young boy in the Sudanese Civil War. He has blurred the lines between novel and memoir -- a hotly contested topic in recent years -- in ways that is firmly in the service of social justice and human rights. He is the co-founder of 826 Valencia, an inspiring literacy project that serves high-needs urban communities in the United States. In short: in his career Dave Eggers is making a case for the role of literature in the modern world: active, engaged, experimental, and positive.
GC: Oh, boy. Rob, I would have liked you to have been strapped into a lie detector while you wrote that, just to see if you were serious. I know you like Eggers, but the Nobel? Yikes.
I, like many self-involved youngsters, liked , A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But I also recognized that the last 30 pages of stream of consciousness moaning about his father was a blatant attempt to turn a book that’s essentially Marley & Me with a kid instead of a dog into capital ‘L’ literature. Too harsh? Sorry. It’s just a reaction to years of friends saying that HWSG was the best book ever. Usually the same friends who thought Garden State was the best movie ever.
I’m not saying Egger’s heart isn’t in the right place – he has certainly earned his props for 826 Valencia, but as a writer, I just don’t find him original. Whether he’s riffing off Katrina, child soldiers, or Where The Wild Things Are, it seems like he picks his subjects on the basis of “what’s a hot touchstone I can build a book around” rather than seeking out an untraveled path and shining his writer-journalist light on it. Kind of like a literary Family Guy.
JSH: My friend and colleague Robert is incredibly well-read, and while our tastes are often in sync, we’re not on the same page here. Dave Eggers should not win the Nobel Prize in literature. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was winking, self-absorbed navel-gazing for hipsters, as were much of his future projects: postmodern style over substance. Who writes an autobiography with footnotes? Or any kind of biography with footnotes, for that matter – endnotes, please. Robert is right in defining Eggers as a modern writer, however – writers used to be anonymous, or celebrities, or icons – Eggers has made himself a brand and an industry. While I can’t knock his charitable works, if anybody this twee wins the Nobel, Steinbeck will spin in his grave, and Hemingway may well rise from the grave in fury.
And really, why can’t his magazine just look like a regular magazine? Yet more “Look at me!”
SH: I’ve not the fury about it of Justin (or Hemingway), but I think that it is too early for Eggers to win; he deserves acknowledgement however -- as much as a social example as an author. I wouldn’t say ‘brand,’ more a widely impactful and successful force for positive change, someone who has used his own success to benefit others. Eggers has also consistently invested himself in ensuring beauty to writing form, through choice of paper, bindery, so that these physical objects are again treated as prizes in the world. As a bookseller, I find that inspiring.
As a writer, he has also chosen under-attended subjects, and treated them with compassion. Zeitoun is a great moral work, one that would sit well with Steinbeck, I imagine. If Eggers can seem like he is writing to an audience who already believe as he does, a kind of CNBC of writing for liberals seeking an affirming fix, it’s also unfair to ignore how few documents where compassionate attention is actually paid to Muslims in America. Eggers does what too few do. For all Justin’s concern of his “twee” hipster self-regard, what ironically makes Zeitoun so great is Eggers’ own effacement -- he disappears and brings forward the story of someone else so convincingly. This is political and important: he makes us aware of a post 911 Muslim-American Katrina hero, and makes him deeply sympathetic – shows the reader painfully clearly that no matter how great one’s effort to help, it’s so hard to emerge above the limits of hate.
JSH: Robert and Sebastian are entirely correct that Eggers tackles essential events, and has grasped the novelist’s central role – that of discussing the world we live in, but if you want to read about Katrina, check out Dan Baum’s Nine Lives (this book should be much more well-read than it is); or just watch Treme. Oh, and even if I'm dead wrong (entirely possible), he's too young.
What is the What does seem like a work that the Nobel committee would take notice of -- but if you want to read about what life is like for modern African people, here’s an idea: read a book written by an African. Here’s an even better idea: an African should win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Namely, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.
This is the writer who should win, and judging by what Nobel rewards, he may well be the man who does. If you believe that the Nobel should award a writer that contributes to the elevation of the human condition, the one who speaks truth to power, this is the winner for you. Long ago in my first year of an English Lit degree, I simultaneously took an African lit course and a Contemporary Brit lit course. Stunning at the time to see how different those bodies of literature were; and while many of the Brit books on my syllabus were experimental, progressive, even occasionally entertaining, they weren’t really saying anything of substance.
Works like Things Fall Apart (Achebe has not won the Nobel yet either, which seems a striking omission), Kongi’s Harvest (Soyinka is a Nobel recipient, among many other honours), Nervous Conditions, and Thiongo’s Weep Not Child were straightforward and enlightening – and seeking to affect change that was, and still is, sorely needed. Thiong’o has worked in drama (producing works that got him imprisioned in his native Kenya), novels, short stories, children’s literature, essays – and anyone who has written a novel on toilet paper while serving prison time for offending the ruling regime feels like a shoe-in for this award, to me.
RJW: I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t speak about some of the Canadian writers that are good tips for the Nobel. Canada has some rich stylists with international perspectives – including Michael Ondaatje – and writers who, like Margaret Atwood, are prolific, active voices in the cultural life of one of the most multinational countries in the world. Atwood’s concerns take her from nineteenth-century murder cases to dystopian theocracies of the future; novels like The Handmaid's Tale engage forcefully against extremism in public life.
JSH: Margaret Atwood is an entirely likely, and potentially worthy recipient – and let’s be honest, a Canadian winning would be a big deal. Long a favorite author of Indigo’s, Atwood’s subject matter frequently concerns the world we live in, and the challenges afflicting it – over a 40 year career, this icon of Canadian literature has employed fiction, poetry and essays to explore myriad subjects: Canadian identity, the role of myth in modern culture, what it means to be a woman – and most recently, used the vehicle of science fiction to highlight environmental issues in recent works such as Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Considering her body of work, as well as her outspoken political stances and activism speak to her being right in the Nobel Committee’s wheelhouse. The only strike against her may well be the Canadian identity that she has made one of her many themes; the award does tend to be rather Eurocentric, so she may be an unlikely winner, at least for now.
SH: Alice Munro deserves the honour. Partly perhaps, as my choice again is personal, I feel in living in Ontario that she finely captures the places about which she writes. And also, she has seen in our reputed national ‘modesty’ a complexity and depth of experience that many others either refused to credit coming from so ‘small’ a setting, or were unable to see in situations so ‘commonplace’ and ‘domestic’. In so many of her works, and most recently, in Too Much Happiness, Munro is unusually engaging, as characters are caught with clarity and precision, our sense of their challenges and complex predicaments intensifies as we read, as a gathering of sparse details and deeply human culmination.
RJW: Another winner I’d like to see is Barry Unsworth. Unsworth is a bit of a roamer in the literary world. His novels range from medieval Sicily and ancient Greece to the eve of the First World War. He writes with incredible perceptiveness about the supple and treacherous ways of power. Morality Play is about a traveling theatre troupe in medieval England, who break the rules of the craft by incorporating details of a local murder into their performances, thrilling the community but incurring the attention of the local feudal rulers. It's about the relationship between crime, media, and power -- published with eerie resonance at the same time as the OJ Simpson trial. The Song of Kings is about the behind-the-throne political machinations in the run-up to the Trojan War, presenting Odysseus as a ruthless political fixer who manipulates the king and the local media -- the community of bards from which Homer came -- to achieve his personal ambitions. The novel was published in 2002, again sounding overtones with international political events of the day.
But his masterpiece may be Sacred Hunger, published in 1992 and sharing the Man Booker Prize with Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. It concerns the slave trade in the eighteenth century, and tells a shocking story about how the trade and power routes of the time have inescapable consequences. Family and friends are torn apart, surprising new alliances made, and the question posed is: can we ever make relationships with the world, and with one another, that are not overwhelmed by forces beyond our control. His next book -- The Quality of Mercy -- will be published soon, and will continue the story begun in Sacred Hunger.
GC: I’m glad you called out Unsworth. Everything he writes is, and I don’t use this word lightly, essential. Talking about modern English literature without talking about Unsworth is like talking about South American literature without mentioning Borges (who, if he was still among the living, I’d be writing about). Sacred Hunger does all the things you say it does, but it’s also stunning in its construction. The parallel stories of Kemp and Paris, the warped mirror of their two communities, the ambiguity of power – this floored me when it was put in my hands by a friend about ten years ago, and I’ve been trying to get it onto people’s reading lists ever since.
And while, yes, Sacred Hunger is his masterpiece, all of his work speaks to that lofty “human condition” thing without losing an ounce of excitement and readability. And that seems to be important to the Nobel Committee lately. In the last 20 years the laureates have been writers like Llosa, Pamuk, Saramago, and Gordimer, whose work is profound, important, and accessible. But here I am arguing why Unsworth might win, when what I really want to say is that he ought to win.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog, where we discuss such candidates as Didion, McCarthy, Murakami, Thiong'o, Transtromer, and Murray ...
One of the best things about fall is that it kicks off the build-up to Oscar season. This is the time of year when movie studios fill their theatrical calendars with their best movies, usually featuring A-list stars and “important” subject matter that are poised to bring in award nominations and get movie lovers talking.
One of this fall’s most anticipated films is the biopic J. Edgar from Warner Brothers and directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director from 1924 through 1972, the film focuses on Hoover’s rise to power as one of the most powerful men in America. A largely unpopular character, Hoover notoriously bent the rules to get what he wanted, making moral compromises as he went along. DiCaprio ages 70s years through the course of the film thanks to some fantastic make-up effects.
The trailer for the film debuted online recently. Take a peek at Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover:
Movies based on true stories and real people often get the attention of Academy voters and film fans and it’s hard to narrow down a list of the best biographical films out there. Check out the list of suggestions for some of the best biopics and movies based on real people.
Gandhi (1982) Ben Kingsley earned a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Gandhi in this 1982 film directed by Richard Attenborough who also took hoem the award for Best Director. Gandhi won a total of 8 Oscars and remains one of the best biopics to date.
Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) A French film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a former editor of Elle magazine who suffers a stroke at the age of 43 becoming fully paralyzed with the exception of his left eyelid. Bauby “wrote” a book with the help of a translator who painstakingly transcribed his words letter by letter, one blink at a time. The film captures the remarkable story that is touching, tragic, and uplifting all at once. The film stars Mathieu Amalric and was directed by Julian Schnabel who took home the Award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Fighter (2010) A biographical sports film on a pair of brothers, one professional boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and the other, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a washed-up, drug addicted former boxing champ. The film is a harsh look at a working class family in Lowell, Massachusetts and the ravages of crack cocaine. Melissa Leo was named Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her role as the overbearing and unlikeable showbiz mother. Christian Bale also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dicky Eklund.
Milk (2008) Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning role as slain politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to major office in the US, is a transformative and moving film. Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk also features a great supporting cast that includes Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and James Franco.
Shattered Glass (2003) Stephen Glass quickly rose to the top of the journalism pyramid at The New Republic magazine in the mid-1990s before becoming exposed as a fraud. When Glass, played by Hayden Christensen invents a story with several glaring factual errors, his editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) digs deeper into Glass’ work and discovers that most, if not all of his published articles contain not just falsified information, but are entirely made up. Shattered Glass is an intriguing look at a young man’s conquest of fame and a brilliant film about journalistic ethics.
The Best of the Worst Movie Vacations
It’s August. Sadly, Summer is halfway over. You may have spent a few nights in a tent by now, been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway trying to get away for the weekend, or maybe you've contracted poison ivy or been covered in bug bites, or you may have passed out from heat stroke...maybe all of the above. Not all summer vacations are picture-perfect. Sometimes they end up looking like the movies…horror movies, that is. But when it's time to pack up the swim gear and dig your sweaters and jackets out of storage and head back to school or work, you'll have the memories of your vacation gone bad that you can hopefully laugh at through the winter months. Speaking from experience, your family will learn to laugh about that time you got lost in the mountains of West Virginia, or that time someone broke into your rental car in Portugal, or when the cat fell through the ceiling of the cottage, or when you got attacked by a wild ape in Gibraltar. Today’s unplanned events are tomorrow’s dinner table topics that the family can reminisce about for years to come.
Hopefully your vacations didn’t end up like these folks' in our list of the Top 10 Vacations Gone Bad:
1) National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
An ill-fated cross-country road trip to Walley World introduced audiences to the Griswold family, who just can’t seem to have a nice relaxing vacation, whether they’re in Europe, Las Vegas, or staying home for the Christmas holidays. In the movie that kicked off the Vacation series, the Griswolds encounter a dead relative, get stranded in the desert, accidentally kill a dog, and try their hand at kidnapping.
2) Deliverance (1972)
Just a regular getaway with the guys, canoeing down the river, exploring mother nature, and soaking in the wilderness…and being terrorized by a band of inbred hillbillies. Not exactly the relaxing vacation the men had in mind. Guesome, sometimes gory, and always terrifying, Deliverance was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Perhaps the most famous scene from the film, The duelling banjos is one of the more gentile, before the trip became a nightmare:
3) The Beach (2000)
A hidden paradise sustained by a utopian community on a remote Thai island isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for backpacker Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio). When the idyllic beach vacation full of romance and respite takes a page out of Lord of the Flies, the film becomes a taut thriller directed by (future) Oscar winner Danny Boyle.
4) EuroTrip (2004)
The Euro-trip. It’s become a rite of passage for many people following that confusing time after graduation where you have to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. What better way to spend the summer than with a group of friends as you have misadventures around Europe in the hopes of meeting up with your German pen pal? Language barriers and foreign customs are the source of many laughs in the film, including a hilarious cameo by Matt Damon.
5) Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
It’s so exciting to have your work recognized by your boss! Except when he invites you to his beach house to have you murdered. Due to an unexpected chain of events, insurance agency boss Bernie ends up dead while the two low-ranking employees he invited to his beach house are left to their own devices to make it appear that Bernie is still alive, lest they be blamed for his murder… or killed themselves.
6) The Shining (1980)
A working vacation in a secluded location can expose your family to new cultures and experiences and provide a refreshing break from everyday routines. Just make sure you’re not booked into the Overlook Hotel. The Staley Kubrick classic is often called one of the best example of the horror movie genre.
7) Brokedown Palace (1999)
Two girls get caught smuggling drugs in Thailand on their post-grad summer vacation when they are set up by a mysterious stranger. Sentenced to spend more than 30 years in a Thai prison, the girls struggle to maintain their sanity, innocence and friendship.
8) The Great Outdoors (1988)
When the yuppie in-laws crash Chet Ripley’s family vacation at a lakeside resort, it becomes a battle of outwitting and one-upping each other. While John Candy may not have taken very kindly to Dan Akyroyd crashing his family vacation, the result is nothing short of non-stop laughs.
9) A Perfect Getaway (2009)
One of the most surprising thrillers of late, A Perfect Getaway has all the elements of a great vacation film: lush scenery, bikini-clad ladies, shirtless dudes, the sun, the sand, and a spine-tingling mystery.
10) Open Water (2003)
Loosely based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, two divers who were left adrift in the open waters of the Great Barrier Reef on a dive trip, Open Water is not a film for those afraid of the water. When an erroneous headcount by the dive-boat team mistakenly abandoned the pair of divers under the water, they spend a long night at sea fighting for their survival in shark-filled waters.
All lists are personal.
We all know this, but when I read some of the reactions to the various lists, rankings, and countdowns that pepper the internet, it’s pretty clear we often forget. There’s something about categorizing, saying “this is better than that,” or even worse, “this shall be included, while that other thing shall be banished from our collection of worthies,” that can make even the most easy going fella sit up and say “wait just a darn minute. Somebody’s made a serious mistake.”
It doesn’t help when it’s a list of books, one of the most intimate things a person can own. And then we go and say that these books—these 50, each and every one, and no more—are life-changing. But wait! There’s more! We say that not only are they life-changing—these 50, each and every, etc.—but the life that they’ll change is yours. Yes! We mean you! Read book number 42 and your life will be changed forever!
Well, that’s really not what we’re saying at all. Let me start at the beginning.
Several moons ago, a group of book buyers started a conversation about what was then called “The Best Books Ever.” In the past we’d put together lists of the best beach reads, the scariest books, the most romantic, the funniest...you get the idea. But we wondered if we could come up with a definitive list of what were simply the best books ever. It was a small group, but between us we had over a century in the book business, so of course we thought this would be, if not easy, at least achievable. We agreed to meet in a week with our individual long lists and whittle them down to a tight, spectacular list of fifty that we would then hold up and say “The Best Books Ever. Undeniable, really.”
I know, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Don’t worry, it’ll be dropping soon.
A week later we gathered ‘round a table and started comparing our lists.
“Have we all got ‘A’?”
“Of course, who wouldn’t have ‘A’?”
That should have been a hint of what was coming. But we were having fun. There was a lot of “oh, I missed that one! That was wonderful. I read it the summer after high school, and I can still remember bits and pieces. Good catch!” And there was some of “you know, I’ve never got around to reading that one. Do you happen to have a copy I could borrow?” For a while it felt like the farthest thing from work. And then this happened:
“Have we all got ‘R’?”
“You’re kidding, right? ‘R’?”
Things went quickly from incredulity to mockery to defensive anger. There was gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. A chair was thrown. Security was called (yes, only a bit of this paragraph is true. But I’m not going to say which bit). When the window shards were swept, the fire extinguished, and the femur set with a makeshift splint, we realized that not a single one of us was looking at this objectively. More importantly, we realized that none of us could ever look at this objectively. These weren’t books we thought were best. These were books we loved.
We knew we had to take several large steps backwards, so we started to ask questions. What did we mean by “best?” Were we trying to say “important?” But if we’re trying to say “important,” what does that mean? Was “The Best Books Ever” to be limited to the English language? Do we limit any given author to only one book? What criteria did we use to come up with our long lists? It was this last question that was the key. While we all had some books on our lists that we thought ‘ought’ to be there out of some sense of duty to the gods of literature, the ones we talked about with the most passion were the books that made us who we are. We recognized that “The Best Books Ever,” as an unqualified statement, was an impossibility. So we stopped fighting the process and embraced the subjectivity of the thing. We arrived at “Books That Will Change Your Life”.
That isn’t to say the rest was easy. There were still only fifty spots, and we saw a lot of editing in our future. Plus, our new focus prompted new questions. The most obvious was “what do we do about religious texts?” Without a doubt, the books that have changed the most lives in profound ways are the various holy texts of a multitude of religions. But those books, along with the most powerful commentaries on them (which in the context of “life-changing” would be essential), would easily overwhelm our list, with no room for anything else. In a similar vein, the sheer life-changing power of books that we refer to as “self help” would dominate our list even if we excluded the religious titles.
So we decided to leave off any book whose actual purpose was to change your life. The books we chose would be life-changing in smaller ways. They would, without intention, slip into your consciousness, nudge a neuron or two, and take your soul by the hand. They might introduce you to new concepts, like Guns, Germs, and Steel or A Brief History of Time. Or they might open you to new ideas of what a novel could be, like Life of Pi. They could expand your perspective by taking you to a land and culture far removed from your own, like The Kite Runner, or by taking you inside the mind of someone who thinks in extraordinarily different ways, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Or maybe they will simply introduce you characters so powerful, so profound, that through your life they serve as touchstones—mentors as real as your best teacher or favourite Aunt. For many, that compass is embodied in Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird.
And at the end of the day, there were (and still are) books on our list that we don’t all agree on. I’m sure you can scan down the list and say, “you’ve got to be kidding me. That changed someone’s life?” That’s to be expected. And like all good lists, this is a work in progress. So the rest is up to you. What have we missed? What was the book that changed your life, and why? If you had to explain who you are, and the only way to do it was to give someone a single book, what book would that be?
Let’s get personal.