Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Best of 2008! The Readers Weigh In

January 2, 2009

ribbonWell, the quantity of responses was a little disappointing, I admit. BUT the quality of the responses was anything but.  Each response I got for the “Best of” categories listed warranted either an immediate “Oh, yeah” or an “Ooh, I have to check that out” from me. So kudos to the respondents who were nice enough to participate.

And now, the list:

Best Fiction:

Bestseller by Keith Latch: A horror novel in e-book form, this was an area of unplumbed depths for me. Thanks for eBookguru for the recommendation.

The A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin: This recommendation for this epic fantasy series also comes from eBookguru.

Best Non-Fiction:

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Although technically published in 2006, reader Jill read it in 2008 and loved it. I also read it in 2008 and was utterly blown away by the story, uncomplicatedly told, of Greg Mortenson’s journey from mountain climber to advocate for promoting girls’ education and literacy through his Central Asia Institute organization.

Best Music:

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno. Reader Pam sums it up when she calls it “some yummy, brainy, infectious popaliciousness!”

Best Movies:

WALL-E (story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon): eBookguru thought this was one of the best films of 2008, and I have to agree. How does a film with so few words qualify as great writing? From the story, which transcended time and genre to transport kids and grown-ups alike.

Rachel Getting Married (screenplay by Jenny Lumet): Reader Jill voted for this film as one of the year’s best, because “I loved the characters who play against type.”

Now, for all you readers who perhaps partook of a little too much eggnog or were busy having family time, and didn’t get the chance to put your two cents worth in, I will still accept your recommendations! It is never too late (unless of course you’re writing about something from 2009, in which case it will have to wait).

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WordHappy Reader “Best of 2008” List: Thinking Caps On

December 24, 2008

j0396070Now, you know and I know that these next few days are going to be a haze of wrapping paper and too much food. And no matter what holiday you celebrate, the fact remains that almost everything will be closed – and if you’re getting hammered with snow like much of the country – you don’t want to go out anyway.

So reflect – ponder, if you will – on your top-of-the-line choices for the best of 2008. What movies did you see that knocked your socks off? What music did you listen to and actually notice the words? What books did you read that made you stay up way past your bedtime? These are the things I want to hear about.

I will be taking your choices in the areas of:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Television
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Other

The “Other” category is for anything else that gave you goosebumps that somehow isn’t included in the above. Please post a comment with your recommendations below. I’d love it if you’d forward this post to your friends as well, so we can get even more participation.

I’ll take comments up until December 31st. Then I’ll compile a list of everyone’s choices and make it the first WordHappy post of 2009!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and  Best wishes to you all!

Best Paul Newman Films: Tribute to a Great Man

September 27, 2008

Every once in a while, someone famous dies with whom I had no personal relationship at all. But because of this person’s presence in my life, I still feel like I’ve lost someone. I felt that way when Jim Henson died, and I feel that way today, with the death of Paul Newman.

I have only the most tangential relationship with Newman, as a fellow alumnus of Kenyon College in Ohio. But Newman’s presence was always there; he contributed heavily to the college, making news back in 2007 with the endowment of a $10 million scholarship fund. His quiet philanthropy always impressed me, and maybe even influenced some of my own views of how best we can give back to the world. I also thought his marriage and creative partnership with his wife Joanne Woodward, at least as far as the public was allowed to see, was a role model of what a marriage should be.

But how he was first known to me, and known to most of us, was as an actor. So as a tribute to him, I’d like to give you my personal list of Paul Newman’s best films. How does this pertain to writing? Do you really have to ask? A great actor can make schlock seem palatable, and can make great writing seem like a 7-course feast. These films are the 7-course feasts, my friends.

Cars (2006, story credits by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft and Jorgen Klubian): If you have kids, you probably own this movie. Newman’s portrayal of Doc Hudson took the audience on a moving journey of watching an aging car get the recognition he always deserved.

Nobody’s Fool (1994, novel by Richard Russo and screenplay by Robert Benton): Newman got a chance to display his sense of humor in acting the role of Sully; it’s a wonderful ensemble film.

The Verdict (1982, novel by Barry Reed, screenplay by David Mamet): A carnivore of a film, Newman’s Frank Galvin traveled the road from hell to redemption, all because of a single case. One of the all-time great lawyer films.

The Sting (1973, written by David S. Ward): One of the first movies I ever saw starring Newman, and a completely wild ride as we travel the con with Newman’s Henry Gondorff and Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, written by William Goldman): Hello, boys! The respective hotness of Robert Redford and Newman as young ‘uns drew me in; the engaging story and the fun they clearly had working on the film kept me engaged.

What are some of your favorite Paul Newman films?

EW’s New Classics List: Back to the Vault II

July 1, 2008

I’ve looked over Entertainment Weekly‘s New Classics: Movies list now several times, and something strikes me: I’ve seen probably 90% of the films listed, but there were only a handful when I read the title that I had a visceral reaction of a hand-pumping “Yes! I LOVE that movie!” I recall enjoying the vast majority of them, but very few of them were memorable enough that I consider them “repeater-worthy”, i.e. would want to watch them again on several (or even one) repeat viewings.

My showcase film today is a notable exception. It’s one where when I saw the title, I heaved a gigantic contented sigh, and said, “Oh, yes. They got that one right.” (And before you ask, I do talk to myself – all the time, in fact). It is No. 10 on the New Classics movie list: Moulin Rouge! (2001). This film, directed by Baz Luhrmann and written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, is pure melodrama injected with absinthe. It’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie, and I can respectfully acknowledge those people who hated it with a deep and abiding passion. But you can’t be indifferent about it, and how many movies can you say that about?

The plot follows a classic romance formula: a naive writer, Christian (Ewan McGregor), gets drawn into the world of the Moulin Rouge and falls in love with its star, Satine (Nicole Kidman). There’s a villain and, of course, a secret deadly illness, and lots of singing and dancing. Despite the fine acting by Kidman and McGregor [random digression: Ewan McGregor singing “Come What May” is perhaps the single most romantic scene in filmdom EVER. Is it warm in here? Pardon me while I fan myself a moment.], where the movie truly excels, and what lifts it into the realm of the “repeater-worthy” movie, is its use of style and tone. From the opening frames until the closing credits, Luhrmann maintains the frenetic, kinetic energy through the saturated colors, the camera angles and fast cuts, even the actors’ pacing of the dialogue. It takes what could have been a bland, formulaic disaster of a musical and makes it utterly brilliant and new.

What movies from the EW Movies list do you consider to be “repeater-worthy?”

List Heaven: EW’s Best of the Last 25 Years

June 23, 2008

Blue RibbonOh, Entertainment Weekly. Have you no shame? Must you toy with me so, publishing your “Best of” lists for movies, television, books, and music over the last twenty-five years? Do you not realize that I must now spend this week doing donuts down Memory Lane, writing about all the books, shows, and movies you’ve made me realize I must – MUST – write about on WordHappy or feel I have forever failed you all?

For today’s post, I will comment on their No. 1 picks. This does not, in my opinion, constitute a “spoiler,” since the lists are readily available for anyone to see on the EW website. But I did think about whether it was, so if anyone feels strongly about not seeing the number one picks, stop reading now.

No. 1 Movie: Pulp Fiction: Seen it. I’m sure there are other movies that I feel equally worthy of the number one title, but I can’t quibble too much. Particularly since the film, written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, has such a bonanza of quoteworthy dialogue (although strictly in an R-rated sense; trying to find a non-F-bomb quote for you all was rather a challenge):

Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros): I was looking at myself in the mirror.
Butch (Bruce Willis): Uh-huh?
Fabienne: I wish I had a pot.
Butch: You were lookin’ in the mirror and you wish you had some pot?
Fabienne: A pot. A pot belly. Pot bellies are sexy.
Butch: Well you should be happy, ’cause you do.
Fabienne: Shut up, Fatso! I don’t have a pot! I have a bit of a tummy, like Madonna when she did “Lucky Star,” it’s not the same thing.
Butch: I didn’t realize there was a difference between a tummy and a pot belly.
Fabienne: The difference is huge.
Butch: You want me to have a pot?
Fabienne: No. Pot bellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla. But on a woman, a pot belly is very sexy. The rest of you is normal. Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round pot belly. If I had one, I’d wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to accentuate it.
Butch: You think guys would find that attractive?
Fabienne: I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.

No. 1 Television Show: The Simpsons. Seen it. Now again, I could quibble. My choice would have been The Wire, which EW has down ALL the way at number 11. But, having been a fan of Marge and Homer and the gang for most of the three million years the series has been on, I can’t be too upset at the pick. There is a list of writing credits for the show as long as my arm, but since IMdb reports that James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon each have 420 episodes to their name, I’ll give them the lion’s share of the credit. From phrases that have entered the American iconography – “Mmmm, donuts” and “D’oh!” to name just two, to longer pieces of dialogue that have left me weeping with laughter, the writing on this show has never been mediocre, and has often been great. It’s not often you can say that about a show.

Bart: [after they watch a foreign film] I was so bored I cut the pony tail off the guy in front of us. [holds pony tail to his head] Look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year.
Marge: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They’ve just made a terrible life choice.

Or. . .

Marge: Careful of that apple pie on the back seat…
Grampa: Uh-oh.
Marge: Grampa, are you sitting on the pie?
Grampa: I sure hope so.

No. 1 Book: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. As I just reviewed this book a couple months ago, I’m at peace with this choice as well. It’s brilliant and heartbreaking and accessible, and the upcoming movie will star Viggo Mortensen. Mmm, Viggo Mortensen.

Keep watching for further enlightening comments on the EW New Classics List. As I fall even further behind in real work that may pay me real money. Comme si, comme sa.

Tops for Pops: Best Father’s Day Movie, Book, and Song

June 14, 2008

Field of DreamsFather’s Day snuck up on me this year like a cat in the dark. My cards got off late, the children did not draw a “too cute to live” picture in time, gifts only just got ordered. I do hope this is not proof that Father’s Day is the second-class citizen to Mother’s Day, as I’ve heard bandied about in some quarters. I would rather point to its date falling in the same week that school lets out as a possible defense for additional scatter-brained-ness.

Thus, as penance for my Father’s Day shortcomings, let me offer some bodaciously good Father’s Day offerings in multiple media.

My pick for all-time best movie for Father’s Day, guaran-darn-teed to make men of all ages and macho levels reach surreptitiously for the tissues, is Field of Dreams. Frankly, the Kevin Costner/Sports/Western movie genres (note: no Waterworld or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) could make up a Father’s Day movie bonanza all on their own. But Field of Dreams, based on the book by W.P. Kinsella and adapted for the screen by Phil Alden Robinson (who was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for his efforts, by the way), is one of the very best. It involves baseball, the grown-up tensions between being “responsible” and following a dream, and the bond between fathers and sons. The final scene, where Ray (Costner) has realized the player John is his dad, and that he is about to walk away, is perfect in its simplicity:

John: Well, good night, Ray.
Ray: Good night, John.
[They shake hands and John begins to walk away.]
Ray: Hey. . . Dad?
[John turns.]
Ray [choked up]: You wanna have a catch?
John: I’d like that.

I’m getting verklempt just typing it.

My second Father’s Day pick showcases the paragon of all good dads, Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird. While the movie is one of the best adaptations of a novel that I can think of, and while I can’t read the book without picturing Gregory Peck in those glasses as Atticus, I still contend that if you haven’t ever read the book, you should; and if you have read it, then you should re-read it, for the simple beauty of Lee’s prose. How perfect a character description is it to paint the pint-sized Dill as “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.” Now, I can see as how Atticus might be an intimidating choice for a dad, because he’s so darn perfect. But most fathers I know have the same depth of love for their children that Lee’s writing depicts Atticus having for his children, so I would say he’s less of a role model than a tribute to fatherhood at its best.

Finally, for a song that is a gorgeous tribute to a father, take a listen to Ricky Skaggs‘ song, “My Father’s Son“, taken off his CD of the same name (1991). Skaggs has been playing bluegrass for more than 36 years, both as a singer and mandolin player, and his songwriting skills are prodigious. In “My Father’s Son,” Skaggs writes in the chorus:

Well a rich man writes the book of laws
a poor man must defend
But the highest laws are written on the
hearts of honest men
When that cup is passed to me to do what
must be done
Or a chunk of coal just carve these words
I was just my father’s son

So happy Father’s Day, guys! Enjoy the day, and know that you’re second to none.

A Panda with Po-tential: Kung Fu Panda

June 9, 2008

Kung Fu PandaOne of the best things about getting to see a movie when it opens is that it’s as close to a pure movie experience as you can get these days. No reviews, box office reports, spoiler alerts – it’s just a movie. And when it turns out to be good, or even great, you feel like you’re in on a juicy secret that’s just about to explode and go public. It’s exciting.

That’s why I’m so excited to be able to talk about Kung Fu Panda. Now, the movie made quite a nice bit of dosh over the weekend, bringing in $60 million, so obviously I was not the only person in on the ground floor of this movie’s success. But how fabulous is it when a movie is wildly successful and supremely crafted and written? No sequel riding on the coattails of an earlier movie, or based upon a successful sit-com. Nope – its success is predicated solely on the strength of the movie itself.

And lest you not believe me, this movie is extraordinarily well-crafted. The animation and scenery is stunning; the vocal talents of folks like Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman are finely tuned, and the story construction is wonderful. Black plays Po, a panda who works in a noodle house, but who dreams of kung fu. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water tale, given freshness by the writing partnership of Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris on the story, and King of the Hill alumni writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger for the screenplay; FYI, there’s a terrific interview with Aibel and Berger over at Emanuel Levy‘s website that gives some insight into the various dynamics at play in the screenplay process. But, back to the movie. There is one scene involving steamed dumplings that reaches such perfection that it made me happier than any other scene has made me in years. Literally.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I desperately want viewers to go into the movie with as little advance knowledge as possible, in order to maximize the enjoyment. The movie works for any audience, whether kid or adult, kung fu aficionado or active pacifist. Because face it: who doesn’t love pandas?

Dearest Mommy: Film Mothers Who Rule

May 7, 2008

Movie momI had this great idea for a series of Mother’s Day posts: write about moms in movies, books and song who’ve inspired me. But then, disaster struck. I blanked. I couldn’t think of them. Try it yourself – you’ll see. You may see a film and think, “Boy, I LOVED the mom character in that film.” But dredging it up out of the memory of tomorrow’s schedule, the character story lines in LOST, the names of the seven dwarves, and other ephemera — ooph. It can give you a headache.

Be that as it may, I persevered, googled everyone else’s list of Mother’s Day movies, and came up with my short list of films where the moms rule. My only requirements for inclusion were that (a) I actually had to have seen and enjoyed the movie; and (b) I had to have felt the movie was not blatantly manipulative in its depiction of the trials and tribulations of motherhood (i.e. thus disposing in my own eyes of perennial weepy favorites like Terms of Endearment and Beaches).

So what made the short list? Reflect upon the following moms with aplomb:

Mrs. Parker, aka Ralphie’s mom (Melinda Dillon): In A Christmas Story (1983), Jean Shepherd created the quintessential all-time-great mom. As played by Dillon, Mrs. Parker knew the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse (Victor – “Everybody knows that.”), knew when to hide Ralphie’s fight with Scott Farkas from the Old Man by distracting him with football, and allowed little brother Randy some alone time to hide under the sink. She is a model for us all.

Beatrice Henderson (Debbie Reynolds): In Albert Brooks‘ riotously funny film Mother (1996), he and Monica McGowan Johnson wrote a fully-realized character in Reynolds’ Beatrice. The main character John (Brooks) has moved back home after two divorces and a failing writing career, only to discover in some achingly mortifying ways that his mother has her own life (She tells John about a date, “We’re not intimate, dear. We just have sex occasionally.”) and own unfulfilled dreams. Brooks has said of the film:

There are two kinds of mothers on the planet. The first kind thinks that every single thing their children do is perfect and their children are God’s gift to the world. And then there’s the other kind. This is about the other kind.

By the end of the film, John and the audience come to realize that John and his mother have deeper ties than he has known, and that her love for him is realistic but unwavering.

Lillian Gilbreth (Myrna Loy): In Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1952), Loy portrays the wife of efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth (Clifton Webb). The true story of the adventures of a family with twelve children (written by two of them – Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey) the mom is portrayed as being an efficiency expert in her own right, and the bastion of sanity in the storm of chaos that twelve children brings. To be truthful, it’s been years since I saw these films, and summaries of these classics are hard to come by. But I recall loving Myrna Loy in that film, and in awe of how she handled the running of a household big enough to be its own school. Note: If you rent this movie, rent the early version. The 2003 film with Steve Martin is cute enough, but the original is the real charmer.

Now you have my picks. What are yours? Who are your favorite movie mothers?

Once: Brilliance on the Small Scale

April 30, 2008

Once posterEvery once in a while, a movie haunts you to the extent that you find yourself thinking about it long after the credits have rolled and the DVD has been returned to Blockbuster. For me, that movie was Once, which I saw a couple of weeks ago and haven’t gotten out of my head since.

Why does this movie stay with me so? A large part of its staying power is its music. For those who either haven’t seen the movie or didn’t watch the Academy Awards this year, Once is about two musicians in Dublin who spur each other to stretch their talents over a single week. Its stars are Glen Hansard of The Frames and Marketa Irglova, two musicians who now tour together as The Swell Season. The music is unapologetically romantic and gorgeous, and all the songs in the movie were composed by Hansard and Irglova or Hansard alone. Like the movie itself, the lyrics paint a kind of tone poem, create a delicate mood, such as these from the Oscar winning song “Falling Slowly”:

I don’t know you
But I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me
And always fool me
And I can’t react
And games that never amount
To more than they’re meant
Will play themselves out

But as fabulous as the music is – and the music comprises more than half the film, mind you – Once‘s story, written by its director John Carney, is stunning in its simplicity. If you expect some big and horrific conflict to interrupt these characters’ lives, think again. No death, no violence, no sex. The only conflict is the very mild tension coming from the characters’ own heads and their unrequited attraction. It’s the visual movie equivalent of a tone poem, and it’s exquisite in its detail and lack of gimmickry.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go rent it right away. You’ll thank me.

In Memoriam: Anthony Minghella

March 30, 2008

Anthony MinghellaI’m a little late with this tribute. My husband has been berating me that I have written nothing about Anthony Minghella, or the superb writer that he was, since the news of his death a week and a half ago. He showed me Mark Harris’ memoriam of Minghella in Entertainment Weekly, the tribute I should have written on WordHappy. And I’m hard pressed to know why I’ve written nothing as well. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to accept the reality. Minghella was such an immensely talented person; as fine a director as he was, one of the reasons is because he was first and foremost a writer.

If you look at his filmography, it’s jarring to see how few films are there. At least in my mind, he was so prominent a director that I expected to see more than eight films. Maybe he seemed so prominent a director because of those eight films (one of which, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has not yet been released), there was not a dog in the bunch. His writer’s resume is longer than his director’s because he got his start writing for television, primarily in a British family series called “Grange Hill” (which I never saw), and as a writer for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller series (which I did see, and which was magnificent).

While Minghella won his well-deserved Oscar for directing The English Patient and was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for that movie as well as for Cold Mountain, it is for his first film, Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) — which was his original creation and his directorial debut — that I admire him the most. Truly, Madly, Deeply is a gorgeous, moving film that had me bawling on the first viewing and still moves me to tears each time I watch it. It is absolutely one of my favorite films ever (as well as the origination of my deep crush on Alan Rickman). The movie begins with Nina (Juliet Stevenson), who is grieving the loss of her love, Jamie (Alan Rickman). When he reappears to her as a ghost, her joy is tempered with the growing realization that her life must move on, whether she wants it to or not. But threaded throughout the film, and what saves it from being too sentimental or maudlin, is a wry humor that undercuts the sadness.

Some of my favorite lines:

Nina (to Jamie): You’re dead and you’re still into party politics?

Jamie (on his coming back): …But, the pain. Your pain. I couldn’t bear that. There’s a little girl I see from time to time – Alice, who’s three. Well, three and a half. Oh, she’s great. Everyone loves her, but she’s not spoiled – Well, wasn’t spoiled. She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten… She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave ’em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: ‘From Alice’s mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here’. And of course, Alice goes back there all the time. And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign… They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life. And yet… The capacity that people have to love… Where does it go?

Goodbye and Godspeed, Anthony Minghella. You will be missed.