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14 good movies I watched in 2009 [Jan. 9th, 2010|11:03 am]
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Some time ago Rob posted on Chicagoist a list of 14 great movies he watched this year. He wasn't listing great movies from 2009, per se, but instead citing movies he watched for the first time in 2009. I thought Rob was especially articulate in his elaboration of this, so I'll quote him at length:

The precise year a movie was "made" is in many ways becoming less and less relevant. First off, theatrical distribution can be glacial. Just look at Francois Ozon's Angel. It was completed in 2007 but wasn't shown in Chicago until this year (when it had a grand total of two screenings at the Siskel.) It won't get a proper US release until 2010. A New York Times article points out that many of next year's "new" films were actually completed last year.

On the other hand, online streaming can mean that films largely unseen for decades are suddenly watchable with a few clicks of a mouse. In addition to Netflix there are wonderful sites like
The Auteurs out there dishing up formerly obscure movies like Luis Buñuel's Death in the Garden. It's never been easier to see the widest possible variety of movies, though there are still scads of treasures all but impossible to lay your eyes on.

Any movie
you see for the first time is a new movie.

So in that spirit, here (in no particular order) is my list of 14 great movies I saw for the first time in 2009:

  1. Eyes Without a Face / Georges Franju, 1960

  2. The Class / Laurent Cantet, 2008

  3. The Hidden Fortress / Akira Kurosawa, 1958

  4. The Pervert's Guide to Cinema / Sophie Fiennes, 2008

  5. The Host / Joon-ho Bong, 2006

  6. You, the Living / Roy Andersson, 2007

  7. Pather Panchali / Satyajit Ray, 1955

  8. Moon / Duncan Jones, 2009

  9. La Moustache / Emmanuel Carrère, 2005

  10. My Brother's Wedding / Charles Burnett, 1983

  11. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days / Cristian Mungiu, 2007

  12. Cooking History / Péter Kerekes, 2009

  13. Where the Wild Things Are / Spike Jonze, 2009

  14. The Palm Beach Story / Preston Sturges, 1942

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2009 final tallies [Jan. 8th, 2010|08:31 am]

It's a little late for end of year list-making and round-ups, but for the record:

1. I watched 182 movies in 2009. This includes film screenings and movies watched at home on DVDs, videotapes, or broadcast on television (provided that I watched the whole thing).

2. I read 26 books. Compared to the previous statistic, this number is somewhat shameful, but it's up from last year, so I guess that's progress.

3. I consumed 49 pizzas. This includes pizzas ordered for delivery and frozen pizzas heated up at home. And no, we're not talking about whole pizzas. Rob probably ate at least half of every pizza tallied here, maybe more. So, let's say I ate about 23 whole pizzas.

4. I ate dinner out 54 times. This number includes some lovely meals with friends. This is a new statistic for me, but I suspect the number is up from last year, which reflects the fact that I am more willing to crawl out of my cave these days than I was when I was in school.

5. I had dinner delivered 20 times. This number does not include the previously mentioned pizzas consumed, some of which were ordered out. This number is down significantly from last year, and reflects life post-graduate school. It might also help account for the fact that I weigh about 15 pounds less than I did last year.

6. I had 22 long conversations with my dad. This number is always a little suspect. I think the actual number is probably bigger.

These numbers are not scientific. They are tallies from notes I keep throughout the year in my little black date book.
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Top 10 most listened to artists on andystardust's computer in 2009 [Jan. 2nd, 2010|03:43 pm]
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As compiled in my Last.fm page:

1. David Bowie (385 plays)
2. Nina Simone (365 plays)
3. Billie Holiday (290 plays)
4. The Beatles (236 plays)
5. Arthur Russell (174 plays)
6. Cocteau Twins (169 plays)
7. John Barry (148 plays)
8. Laurie Anderson (145 plays)
9. The Smiths (132 plays)
10. Henry Mancini (116 plays)

This list reflects my listening habits in the last year. It is largely affected by the systematic CD listening survey I conducted throughout the year in an effort to get more of my CD collection in my iTunes library. I have more Bowie, Arthur, Nina and Billie than anything else, so naturally these artists were played more as the survey progressed. Now that that project is completed, it will be interesting to see how my listening habits in 2010 differ.

Last.fm tracks the number of times I play a track on my computer, on my iPod, or while streaming Last.fm radio. (A process they call scrobbling.) Read more about Last.fm on their website here.

Why do we care so much about list-making, or chart-building? This brings to mind a tidbit from an online book review from a couple of years back. The review was of David Rieff's memoir of his mother Susan Sontag's death, Swimming in a Sea of Death. Speaking of Sontag's habit of compiling lists of things like restaurants, books, quotations and facts, the reviewer, archives professor Richard Cox, wrote:

"Creating such documents was partly a means for Sontag’s control and survival, and what we see is a glimpse into how personal recordkeeping is linked to the human impulse for resisting oblivion."
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(no subject) [Jul. 7th, 2009|09:04 pm]
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To Have and Have Not / Ernest Hemingway, 1937.

When asked by a friend to describe this novel, I said that it was a mean story about mean people who do mean things to one another. More specifically, Hemingway is exercising a kind of casual, detached social criticism with Harry Morgan, a down-on-his-luck captain of a private fishing boat, and his attempts to do business with a series of lowlifes who at their best prove untrustworthy, and at their worst lethal. Viewed as Depression-era social criticism, the novel is half-baked and unconvincing, but I suspect that Hemingway was no more convinced of his social message than Harry Morgan is convinced by the politics of the young Cuban revolutionary he agrees to smuggle out of Key West with three other men in the novel's third part. Harry is no bleeding-heart, and he is as quick to toss his friend Albert's dead body off his boat and into the sea as he is to grieve over him. To me, the point of the book is not that the author Richard Gordon, for example, is a "have" and that Harry Morgan is a "have not," and isn’t that a shame. The point is that, in Key West, anyway, the two live right next to one another.
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(no subject) [Jun. 29th, 2009|05:20 pm]
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The Wordy Shipmates / Sarah Vowell, 2008.

Since professing a love of historical sites, museums, commemorative plaques and the like in her essay about retracing the Trail of Tears, Sarah Vowell has become to American history what John Stewart is to politics. Her writing matches the narration of historical facts with a sharp wit that consistently makes her work accessible without sacrificing its thoughtfulness. This book resembles a standard work on American history more than any of her previous work, focusing as it does on a series of primary sources: diaries, journals, and published pamphlets produced by the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There is less here of Vowell's tendency to filter her history lessons through the lens of her personal experience touring museums and interviewing tour guides, and I missed those elements to some extent. But the book is no less a showcase for Vowell's brand of patriotism, which here seeks to dispel misconceptions about the Puritans while celebrating some of their most influential ideas.
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(no subject) [Jun. 22nd, 2009|09:19 pm]
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The Grapes of Wrath / John Steinbeck, 1939.

Steinbeck's iconic American novel felt to me like the 1983 film Testament. In the film, a suburban mother cares for her family in the wake of a nuclear attack. In the film's final scene, after burying her two younger kids, the mother sits at a table with her son and their young neighbor. They are celebrating her son's birthday by the light of a candle. Steinbeck's novel ends on a similar note of hopeful uncertainty. Like the Wetherly family in Testament, the Joads are disintegrating both as individuals and as a family, but they face the possibility of their demise with a resoluteness I admire. The novel so eloquently depicts the prolonged tension inherent in their battle to stay alive and the fear of the unknown that when the narrative comes to its end, it feels very much like the end of a real life. Even the outspoken political observations and social criticism Steinbeck lets loose in the chapters which alternate with those advancing the Joad narrative, which might have seemed hollow if written by an author with less skill, here only strengthen the novel's impact.
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(no subject) [Jun. 1st, 2009|01:03 pm]
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The Year of Magical Thinking / Joan Didion, 2005.

This book was prompted by the sudden death of Didion's husband of forty years, John Gregory Dunne. Her "magical thinking" includes the notion, at first not at all evident even to herself, that given the right set of circumstances or the right behavior on Didion's part, her husband will return. Didion attempts to make sense of her thoughts, however irrational. An intellectual enterprise with an emotional core, Didion's investigation is also a rumination on the nature of memory and grief.
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(no subject) [Jun. 1st, 2009|01:00 pm]
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The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession / Ken Alder, 2007.

As the title implies, this is a history of the polygraph and the men and women responsible for its development and promotion. Its central thesis is that the polygraph reveals more about the beliefs of the nation that alternately embraced and rejected its use than it has ever revealed about deception. Alder is a professor of history, and his book is less concerned with the mechanics of the device or its significance within the study of physiology or psychology than with its social and cultural implications. It is obviously well researched, as documented in the author's notes and bibliography, and Alder does an excellent job of conveying the complexity of his subject, which lies at the intersection of physiology, psychology, forensics, criminology, law, and popular culture. But Alder chooses to devote most of the book to the history of the muddled careers of the polygraph's proponents. Though their lives reflect some of the ambiguities inherent in lie detection as a pseudo-science, I preferred Alder's analysis of the machine itself, particularly its recent history in the wake of the war on terror. A muddled study of a muddled history.
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(no subject) [May. 4th, 2009|12:12 pm]
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[Current Music |Eliot Lipp - Vallejo | Powered by Last.fm]

Live and Let Die / Ian Fleming, 1954.

Removed from its film adaptation, which was produced as a kind of blaxploitation flick nearly 20 years after this book's publication, the second James Bond novel reveals itself as an entertaining if muddled foray into race relations in America. The Harlem and Jamaican based smuggler Mr. Big calls himself a wolf living by a wolf's laws. Fleming describes his rise to power through the manipulation of Voodoo superstition. Those seeking meaningful insights into African-American identity should look elsewhere. But there are amusing passages, as when Bond's superior, M., comments that the "Negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions," and so naturally there will be Negro progress in crime, as well. Bond and his CIA counterpart are like tourists as they infiltrate Mr. Big's operation: first in Harlem, then in Florida, and lastly in Jamaica. Like all Bond books, the action is interlaced with travelogue-like passages which describe the local cuisine and hotel accommodations, and somehow these are as entertaining as the bits about sharks and barracudas.
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(no subject) [May. 4th, 2009|11:32 am]
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[Current Music |Eliot Lipp - Tic Tac | Powered by Last.fm]

The Great Gatsby / F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.

Who was I fooling, reading this at 20? Oh sure, I'd met a few Daisy and Tom Buchanans, I was dating a Jordan Baker and I was more than a little enthralled by a Jay Gatsby (or maybe two), but did I realize it then? No. Now that I'm 35, though, I see what turning 30 meant for Mr. Carraway, and I can only nod my head and say, yes, that's true. There's strength in recognizing the past for just that: the past.
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