List 1. Movies (with links to the movies’ IMDb pages):
The Art Student and I gave each of the 50+ movies we saw in 2014 a score out of 5. There was a respectable number of 4s and 4.5s. Here are the seven with a combined score of 9.5 or more, in no particular order:
Disruption (Kelly Nyks & Jared P. Scott): we broke our tacit rule about not including movies we saw on the small screen for this one. It’s a brilliant presentation of the situation we face, made in preparation for the Climate Mobilisation in August, but still powerful and useful.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater). This does miraculous things with filming in real time. The actors actually age as the characters do. Towards the end, someone says, ‘I thought there’d be more,’ and we feel her pain.
Locke (Steven Knight). Another film that does wonders with real time. One man drives in a car through the night, and is spellbinding. The spell is greatly helped by the beauty of Tom Hardy’s voice.
Charlie’s Country, Rolf De Heer’s brilliant collaboration with David Gulpilil is just superb. That it to some extent reflects Gulpilil’s own story gives it a depth of feeling.
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen). Nothing much needs to be said, except that this is a wonderful movie.
We saw Citizen Four (Laura Poitras) as part of the DOC NYC film festival. It’s a stunning documentary that plays out like a thriller, complete with grim comic relief, about Edward Snowden’s revelations of government surveillance.
Nick Broomfield’s Tales of the Grim Sleeper, which we also saw as part of DOC NYC, makes a mockery of most fiction movies about serial killers, and peels back the cover from race relations in the US.
Our worst movie This prize has to go to the only film we walked out of: Woody Allen’s shouty, silly, predictable and unfunny Magic by Moonlight. (To be quite honest, the Art Student predicted the reveal; I just didn’t care.)
List 2. Books
The Art Student’s best five (with comments taken from my notes of a chat about them):
Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World: The Art Student particularly loved how convincingly this novel describes the artworks created by its protagonist. [We heard Siri Hustvedt read from The Blazing World to about 30 people in Brooklyn last month. She read beautifully and answered questions generously. Memorably, she told us had found Kierkegaard to be great fun since she first read him as a teenager.]
Alan Furst, The Spies of Warsaw: a novel of espionage in eastern Europe in the 1930s. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, it manages to tell its story without contriving a catastrophe.
Helen Garner, This House of Grief: Everyone who likes this book seems to give different reasons. The Art Student liked its tight, almost domestic focus on its characters.
James McBride, The Good Lord Bird: a novel about John Brown, the anti-slavery activist, from an African-American point of view.
Malala Yousafzai, I am Malala: a fabulous, fabulous book that combines a History 101 of the Peshawar Valley with an account of two extraordinary people, Malala and her father.
I’m not going to list a best five books, but here are six that delighted, challenged and enlightened me, or did that thing of putting into words things I dimly felt or perceived. The images link to my blog entries.
Alexis Wright, The Swan Book (Giramondo 2013)
David Malouf, Earth Hour (UQP 2014)
Jennifer Maiden, Drones and Phantoms (Giramondo 2014)
Alice Oswald, Memorial: An excavation of the Iliad (Faber & Faber 2011)
Russell McGregor, Indifferent Inclusion: Aboriginal people and the Australian nation (Aboriginal Studies Press 2011)
Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza (1996, English translation @Metropolitan Books 1999; Owl Books 2000)
A note on gender and diversity: The Art Student announced proudly that she had read more books by women than by men (as she usually does). I read 25 by women and 32 by men. Up against recent Viva statistics on literary journals on reviews by women or about women writers, I’m doing pretty well. I’ve read 6 books in translation, from Chinese, Japanese, Bengali and Hebrew.
The Art Student proposed that I post about my best five books, best five movies and worst three movies for 2010. And hers. Being an obliging fellow, and at the risk of exposing myself as a philistine, here they are. Do nominate your own favourites in the comments.
The five movies most enjoyed in 2010 (in no particular order):
Animal Kingdom, David Michôd’s first feature, so human and yet so vile. (When Jacqui Weaver was being made much of in the US for this performance, Michôd reportedly said to himself, ‘About time.’ To which I cry Amen!)
Made in Dagenham, directed by Nigel Cole, what some people would undoubtedly see as a fundamentalist left feminist feelgood movie – and what’s wrong with getting to feel good about a victory?
Peepli [Live], directed by Anusha Rizvi & Mahmood Farooqui, a wonderfully ebullient satire on the way the media in India, just like here, makes spectacle out of misery – a comic commentary on P Sainath’s Everyone Loves a Good Drought.
Temple Grandin, made for TV by Mick Jackson, starring Clare Danes as Temple Grandin, the woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who revolutionised the treatment of cattle in US slaughterhouses.
In the Loop, exuberantly enraged, foul mouthed satire directed by Armando Iannucci and starring Peter Capaldi, which I found cathartic. –
By the Art Student:
City Island, a genial comedy directed by Raymond De Felitta, starring Andy Garcia, and Julianna Margulies playing a very different character from Alicia in The Good Wife on TV.
The Yes Men Fix the World, featuring culture jammers Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and any number of corporation representatives being taken for a ride.
Me and Orson Welles, directed by Richard Linklater.
Peepli [Live]. At last we agree on one.
Fair Game, the pic about Valerie Plame, directed by Doug Liman. –
The film that most cried out for a thumbs down from both of us
Rob Marshall’s Nine. At least they had the good taste to wait until Fellini was dead before defiling his work in this way. The fault lines in our unanimity of taste showed when the Art Student had trouble choosing between this, Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, both of which I enjoyed.
Five favourite books read in 2010
I listed 121 books in my Reading and Watching blog during 2010. I didn’t finish all of them, but picking five favourites is necessarily pretty arbitrary because so many of them delighted and enlightened me. However, here goes.
China Miéville, The City and the City. Science fictional policier, marvellously taut and convincing us to believe in an impossible world.
Charles Happell, The Bone Man of Kokoda. Written by an Australian, this tells the story of a Japanese man who fought against and killed Australians in the jungles of New Guinea, and his resolve to honour his comrades who died there.
Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season. I read this in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake in Haiti. It is a very rich introduction to the culture and recent history of the nation created by the first successful black slave revolt of modern times.
Jennifer Maiden, Pirate Rain. This may not be the best book of poetry published this year. Many people would probably give precedence to Les Murray’s Taller When Prone or Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain. But Jennifer Maiden gets my gong.
Marilynne Robinson, Home. If I ever convert to stern Presbyterian Protestantism, it will be because of this book and its predecessor, Gilead. I love the characters’ unrelenting quest to love with integrity.
By the Art Student, in her own words: While I have read quite a bit of fiction that I enjoyed, the books that stand out are all non fiction.
Reza Aslan, How to win a cosmic war. I heard him speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year. The book is a clear and compelling account of the past and current drivers of religious fundamentalism – Islamic, Jewish and Christian. It shows the common threads in religious fundamentalism while focusing on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. What is interesting is Aslan’s description of the difference between Islamic nationalist groups (which the West should learn to love) and internationalist jihadism. By fighting the former, Aslan argues, we are pushing alienated young western-born Middle Eastern Muslims into joining the latter and terrorism.
Carol Duncan, Civilizing Rituals, Inside Public Art Museums. This includes a fascinating account of the development of public art museums after the French Revolution liberated the Louvre. It mainly focuses on the development of public galleries in the USA and England, but links these developments to a popular movement to have art galleries in all major western cities (including Sydney). But most interesting are the struggles about what galleries were and are for, how they should be funded and what they should show. In the USA, private philanthropists were the driving force in establishing galleries, allowing them to build spacious monuments to benefactors. The down side was that those benefactors wanted control beyond death, so that many galleries are filled with replicas of ballrooms and indifferent art that are never to be changed. Duncan’s final chapters critique current public galleries’ approaches to their art and audiences, making it clear why many people find the experience of visiting galleries unsatisfying and alienating.
John Hirst, Sentimental Nation, the Making of the Australian Commonwealth. Federation? Surely the dullest topic in Australian history. But to my surprise this book was a wonderful read about the decades-long fight for federation. Depressingly familiar in some respects (the Murray–Darling debate, immigration, taxes, mining, Commonwealth–state power sharing) it was also a wonderfully inspiring account of democratic processes that gave Australia a constitution. There were three Constitutional Conventions, with 60 men voted from the colonies to draft, debate and redraft the constitution over 12 weeks each time. Once agreed on, the constitution was subject to two referenda before being passed. Town hall meetings were held in every suburb and town in the country, each meeting often taking four hours while every section of the draft was read aloud, explained and debated. Hirst makes the back and forth of politics come alive with a contemporary feel.
Patricia Hill, Alice Neel. Alice Neel (1900 to 1984) was a US artist who painted mainly portraits of ordinary working people over from the 1920’s until her death. She was a socialist and worked as part of the Federal Art Project (a New Deal initiative) during the Depression. She only received recognition of her work in the 1970s, partly because portraiture was out of fashion in Modernist American art circles, partly because of her left-wing views and partly because of her gender. I love her work. Her portraits are often distorted yet capture absolutely a sense of the person and their context. She saw herself as painting ‘definitive pictures with the feel of the era’, pointing to her portrait of her son in a business suit, ‘Richard in the Era of the Corporation’, as a good example.The book is largely Neel’s own words taken from interviews conducted by Hill. An inspiring read for someone at the very beginning of an art career as she approaches 60.
This story couldn't have been told if it wasn't based in an actual case. A TV movie about a fraud in which an elderly woman had other people's performances on piano passed off as her own.It was written by Victoria Wood when her husband / widower, perpetrator of the hoax was still alive.
Paradoxically one of the shoutiest TV series ever. A young woman who has recently had a cochlear implant, which she hates, is going through 18-year-old acting out. She witnesses a murder, but for undisclosed reasons doesn't at first tell anyone about it.
Subtitled: The Revolution that Could Not Be Televised. This is a documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The festival was dubbed the 'Black Woodstock' but the filmmaker's attempts to get finance together failed until now. It's a brilliant movie, and not just for the music (The Fifth Dimension, Nina Simone, B B King, some fab […]
We switched to this after the horror show of Succession Series 3 Episode 1. It's just as much a horror show, but funny and we can tell ourselves it's unrealistic. This was made when Trump was first running for president.