This quiz for sporcle reminded me of what a truly great year 1999 was for movies. Consider that in one calendar year, we had The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, The Green Mile, Toy Story 2, Office Space, Being John Malkovich, Star Wars 1, Boys Don’t Cry, Blair Witch, Virgin Suicides, the Matrix, Talented Mr. Ripley, Dogma, the Iron Giant, The Insider, South Park, Three Kings, Election, the Hurricane. I own six of those on DVD and would probably have the others if money weren’t tight. Probably all of them would place in the top ten most of the last few years.

Even the crap, like the Mummy, 10 Things I Hate About You, Galaxy Quest, Cruel Intentions (a ridiculous film that’s a guilty pleasure), Magnolia, Austin Powers 2, The Bone Collector, Mystery Men, Go, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the play is great; the film … eh) was not too bad.

I went through the top 100 films of the year and had decent memories of at least half.

1999 may have been the last great year for movies. I have not seen a year remotely like it since.

Update: On cue, sporcle follows up with best films of the last ten years. Take Lord of the Rings out and I’d take 1999 over the last decade.

Weekend LInkorama

It’s kind of fun now that I’ve moved most of my political stuff to Twitter and Right-Thinking.

  • More of this please. The British Library is putting tons of books online.
  • A pretty funny video from the perspective of a hula hoop.
  • Justice finds an alternative medicine practitioner.
  • Ways your cellphone company is screwing you. I honestly didn’t know about the texting thing, but suspected as much.
  • The most British headline ever.
  • The Shakespeare Project: The Merry Wives of Windsor

    All right, cards on the table time. Here is the list of the Shakespeare plays I was familiar with before I started plowing through my kindle: Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Henry V. This is basically my high school reading list. There are also one or two plays I’ve seen that I don’t remember the names of. I once saw Shakespeare on the UC Santa Cruz campus among the redwoods. It’s a fantastic experience that I recommend highly. But, uh, don’t drink as much California red wine as I did. You tend to forget which play you saw. I think it was As You Like It but I may be wrong.

    Anyway, you can see some pretty big gaps there. Most of the comedies and histories are new to me. And that means I have, to this point, never encountered one of the more important characters in English literature — Falstaff.

    I’m told that the Merry Wives Falstaff is not as good as the one of Henry IV. I’ll let you know when I get there. If so, I’m really looking forward to those plays, because Falstaff in Merry Wives is quite fun, even if he is something of a secondary character to the wives themselves.

    Wives is another play that probably plays better than it reads. The wordplay off the accents of Evans and Caius, in particular, is a bit difficult on the page. Envisioning it in my heads makes it more amusing. And there’s a momentum in the last acts that stalls a bit when you’re having to take breaks to play castle with your daughter. I’m also sure that the climax, in which the spurned suitors accidentally marry boys, was even funnier when women’s parts were played by boys. Overall, however, I found this comfortably within the gaussian of Shakespeare quality.

    Next up: Measure for Measure.

    Monday Linkorama

  • An archive of the internet? Nice idea but good luck. The whole point of the internet is to generate more information than paper could ever keep up with.
  • Dreadful story about a vintage airplane being destroyed. Although a least everyone was OK.
  • This is how science works (H/T: Astropixie.
  • More matching old photos to current locations.
  • More pictures of volcanoes.
  • This is one of the more interesting articles I’ve read on parenting. It suggests that coddling kids is a good way to land them in therapy.
  • I can’t wait until my vacation in the Outer Banks.
  • The Girl with The Green Eyes

    Cracked has an amusing article today on people who didn’t know their faces had become famous. What struck me was #3 — the famous Afghan Girl with the startling eyes. Here is her full story. No one knew who she was until National Geographic tracked her down. They have a picture of her both as a young woman and as an older woman, prematurely aged by two decades of hell. She’s maybe 30 but her face looks 50. But the striking eyes are still there.

    The picture, to me, encapsulates the difference between civilization and barbarism. Had this girl lived in a civilized society, she would still look as alive and beautiful as she did in the first picture. She’s be in the early stages of a career, maybe starting a family. Instead, the barbarism of communism, tribalism and Islamic fundamentalism has her scrabbling out an existence, a second-class human in her own country. And even more depressingly, she supports these things — praising the Burkha and the Taliban (although whether she would be free to criticize either is an open question).

    We can’t civilize the barbarians, unfortunately. But we can remind ourselves of how they grind people down, destroy their potential, destroy their very physical existence. Civilization, for all its flaws, is an unthinkable improvement upon the lack thereof. And anyone who fails to recognize it needs to be reminded as often as possible.

    2009 In Review

    Hey, I’m only a year and a half behind in looking back at 2009 in film. Actually, I think being way behind schedule as I am tends to be good. It gives me a little more perspective, a little less hype. It often turns out that the film most raved about at the time ends up fading to another picture. I think of 1994 when Forrest Gump grabbed all the headlines but The Shawshank Redemption turned out to be the best film.

    Anyway, as far as 2009 goes, I saw nine of the ten best picture nominees. They follow with my thoughts and IMDB rating (out of 10). Remember that’s it’s very rare for me to rate a film a 9 or a 10.

    Avatar: I wondered if I’d miss the 3D when I bought this on blu-ray. The short answer is no. The film wasn’t very original but was lovely to watch and thrilling. IMDB rating: 8.

    The Blind Side: The crowd pleaser of 2009. I’m not unbiased since I read and enjoyed the book. I’d say it’s a little too neat a story, but it’s a real one. And who knew what talent we were wasting with Sandra Bullock? Rating: 7.

    District 9: Another one of 2009’s great sci-fi movies. I knew nothing about this film when I rented it and was surprised by how smart and confident it was. I wish we’d get more science fiction like this — a story with ideas. Rating: 8.

    An Education: This is in my queue but I have not seen it yet. If it winds up blowing my mind, I’ll let you know.

    Inglorious Basterds: You know, I really wanted to love this film. The image composition is fantastic, the acting is good, the dialogue is fun. The opening scene is simply amazing. But the gore and violence are getting to me. Rating: 7, but it might go up in the future.

    Precious: I just saw this film last night and am still recovering. It’s harrowing with a bit of inspiration. The suffering by the main character is almost absurd and the movie would completely fall apart were it not held together by two extraordinary acting performances. It’s one of those great films that I never want to see again. Rating: 8.

    A Serious Man: I love the Coen brothers and this film was everything that’s good about them. Funny, intriguing and thought-provoking. Rating: 8.

    Up: Another movie I wanted to love. The first 15 minutes are incredible. The rest of the movie is good, but not great. Rating: 7.

    Up in the Air: Another movie I wanted to like more than I did. Clooney is really a great film-maker, both as an actor and a director. Rating: 7.

    The Hurt Locker: I said elsewhere that it’s oscar win was a combination of giving the middle finger to Cameron while saying something about the Iraq War. It’s a good movie, even great at times. But I still don’t see why it won the Oscar. Precious would have been a bolder choice. Rating: 8.

    So that’s the Academy. It was a good year for movies, but there was nothing I would call a modern classic.

    According to the IMDB users, the best films with 20,000 or more votes were: Inglorious, Up, the Secrets in Their Eyes, Mary and Max, District 9, Avatar, Star Trek, A Prophet, Moon, 500 Days of Summer, the Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Hangover, Coraline, Zombieland, Up in the Air, the Girl with Dragon Tattoo and Watchmen. I’ve seen most of those. Star Trek I’ve talked about — good if a bit flawed. 500 Days of Summer was cute but ultimately forgettable. The Hangover was very funny and Watchmen was spectacular, if somewhat cold. Coraline was quite enjoyable.

    I’m not sure what I’d peg as my favorite film of 2009. Star Trek will probably be on my screen more than any other film but it was far from the best film of the year. I would speculate that Inglorious will have the longest legacy. What really stood out about 2009 was the way sci-fi came roaring back, with four great sci-fi films, two of which were nominated for Best Picture.

    Because I was fooling around withe IMDB, I decided to see what people rated as the best movies of the last five years. Here’s that list, with the caveat that the 2010 titles will sink with time.

    The Dark Knight
    Toy Story 3
    The Lives of Others
    The Departed
    The Prestige
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Black Swan
    Inglorious Basterds

    Three Chris Nolan movies and two PIXAR films. I’m not sure how these will end up rating historically. I would tab Pan’s Labyrinth as the best among those. But looking over that list, they are mostly big pictures that made lots of money. I think Roger Ebert was right — the really artsy pictures that used to make up the classic have migrated to television.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Non-political links:

  • Speak of healthcare, could information save $300 billion. That number sounds big but within an order of magnitude.
  • There were a number of cracked’s old-timey ads that gave me the facepalm.
  • This is one of the best article written about steroids and the drop in offense in MLB. I think he’s right that what has changed is not so much PEDs but the thinking about them in management circles.
  • Political links:

  • Texas passes tort reform. The usual suspects are screaming but I can tell you that the malpractice environment in Texas has produced a healthcare system that may not be cheaper but is massively more responsive than tort-happy Pennsylvania.
  • The Shakespeare Project: Two Gentlemen of Verona

    Two gentlemen is close to being great Shakespeare, but it doesn’t quite there. Some of the dialogue is fantastic, as you would expect, particularly the wordplay of Launch.. What unravels it, as sometimes happens with the Bard, is the ending, which tries too hard to tie everything up neatly and get everyone married. Proteus never gets the comeuppance he so richly earns and the characters seem almost casual in whom they end up with. Scholars tell us Shakespeare had some hidden meaning in this. I think it’s just the limitations of trying to shoehorn the play into the genre of “comedy”.

    It’s an interesting look, however, at an artist stretching his arms before he upends everything. I’m reminded somewhat of Beethoven’s first and second symphonies, which occupy an odd niche of respecting classical tradition but giving hints of the greatness that was to come. Given the organization of the First Folio, however, it will be a while before I get there.

    Side Note: Cracked and I are on a wavelength (warning: gruesome Shakespeariness). I am really not looking forward to Titus Andronicus. Woody Allen once said that the end of the universe and the extinguishing of all human achievement might be acceptable if it got rid of Titus.

    The Shakespeare Project: The Tempest

    Now that’s more like it.

    The Tempest is much more of what I think of as Shakespeare, with sympathetic characters, some comedy and great words. It was his last solo play and it’s a bit past his prime. The ending, in particular, I’ve always founds somewhat unsatisfying after a great first three acts.

    One of things I’ve always noticed about Shakespeare’s plays is that the comedies are a thin layer from being tragedies and vice versa. That is, the difference between the happy conclusion of Much Ado About Nothing and the tragic conclusion of Romeo and Juliet is a tiny diversion in narrative. A few more seconds here, a few words there and Romeo becomes a comedy while Much Ado becomes a tragedy. Reading the Tempest, I wonder if it would have played better as a tragedy. It’s interesting to note that some works inspired by The Tempest — the movie The Forbidden Planet, for example — have gone in that direction.

    One of the problems with this project is that Shakespeare’s plays do not read as well as they play. Shakespeare was an actor and wrote plays, I think, that would feed on great acting. One can read them by visualizing the play in one’s head, but it is never quite the same. This is particularly true of the comedies where much of the humor depends on delivery.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Thanks to Twitter siphoning off my political rants, you’re getting more … non-political links:

  • Cracked debunks the Twitter revolution. I’m forced to mostly agree. Social networking may have played a minor role in the upheavals in the Middle East, at best. But real activism involves risking your life, not turning your Facebook profile green.
  • I really really like this idea of the Billion Price Index as a complement to traditional inflation metrics.
  • Do you know … do either of you have any idea of how fucking glad I am I don’t have a big ass commute anymore? I can’t imagine how I did it for so long.
  • I really hope the anti-homework agenda catches on. What’s being done to kids these days is absurd busy work bullshit.
  • So do you think studies like this will, in any way, slow down those who want to ban fatty foods?
  • Political links:

  • Experts are once again stunned that poverty does not cause crime. They seem to be stunned by this quite a lot.
  • Want to stimulate the economy? Wonder how America can lead the world in innovation again? Repeal SOX.