Many moons ago, my old friend Jimmy Marshall revealed that he kept a list of movies he saw, by date, where he saw them and with whom. He also included a brief notation of his main reactions to the movie. At the time, that seemed a little extreme to me.
But later on, I started to keep a list of books I had read and movies I had seen, mostly to keep from reading or seeing something a second time that I’d already experienced (unless it was really good).
For those needing recommendations for something that might be worth checking out, I post the lists of books and movies from 2010 that I REALLY ENJOYED.
THE BEST READS, 2010:
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930; reprinted by Back Bay Books). A romp through a fantastical 1920s London filled with strivers, dimwits and vampy flappers that is guaranteed to make a dreary day seem sunny and change your mood from dull to effervescent.
The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King (Walker). The Paris art world went from celebrating large historical canvases in shades of brown and gray to those featuring riots of color in the decade that King covers so well. Sample factoid: Manet couldn’t give away his paintings (any one of which will now cost you in excess of $45 million).
Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark (New Directions). A fraudulent academy purporting to help aspiring authors write their autobiographies provides the setting for Muriel Spark to skewer snobbery and stupidity in her most delicious, inimitable and eccentric manner.
A Gift for Admiration: Further Memoirs by James Lord (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). If you were friends with James Lord, you might not have realized he was keeping a very precise and, as it turns out, withering record of his encounters with you. Here, he delivers the goods on Peggy Guggenheim, Sonia Orwell and Isabel Rawsthorne, among other fascinating characters.
The Golden Mean: A Novel of Aristotle and Alexander the Great by Annabel Lyon (Knopf). A richly imagined and engrossing novel of fourth-century B.C. Macedon and Greece in which Aristotle tells all, including entrancing tales of his most famous student.
Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory by Patrick Wilcken (Penguin). A rich and satisfying intellectual biography of one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century, of special interest to anthropologists and readers who thrilled to the discovery of Tristes Tropiques.
Prayer for My Enemy by Craig Lucas (Theater Communications Group, 2009). A work of theatrical genius–rich in character, emotion, regret, possibility and tragedy–that covers the war in Iraq, addiction, forbidden love and the eternal battle between the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, translated by Marion Ayton Crawford (Penguin Classics). A ramshackle Parisian boarding house, packed with some on the rise, others on the decline, is the scene of human comedy at which Balzac excels.
The Summer People by Maxim Gorky, translated by Nicholas Saunders and Frank Dwyer (Smith and Kraus, 1995). A delightful play by Maxim Gorky in a Chekhovian mood yet wielding satire like a surgeon’s scalpel at the expense of the Russian bourgeoisie.
A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess (Da Capo Press). A brilliant novel about the tempestuous life of Christopher Marlowe, playwright and spy, by a master of the English language who is also a supreme entertainer.
THE MOST FUN MOVIES, 2010:
Manhunter (Michael Mann directed)
Miss Pettigrew Has A Day
The White Countess (Merchant/Ivory film with surprising grit)
Auberge Espagnole (Romain Duris stars)
Paris (Juliet Binoche and Romain Duris star)
Last Holiday (Alec Guiness stars as a man who thinks he’s dying but isn’t)
NY Export: Opus Jazz (saving Jerome Robbins’s best ballet for the ages)
Passing Strange (Spike Lee films the stage show)
The Firm (still dazzlingly good)
Daniel Deronda (PBS Masterpiece Theater brilliant version of George Eliot novel)
Basic Instinct (if Hitchcock had ever loosened up to make a filthy dirty thriller, he couldn’t have done better than this)
Bright Star (Jane Campion directed, John Keats dies, really really good despite anything you might suspect otherwise)
Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard masterpiece)
Love Is the Devil (Meet Francis Bacon, see art made solid)
Le Amiche (early Antonioni, all about the gals and lots of fun)
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski directs a thrilling thriller)
Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich directs, LA Noir stars)
Night Train to Munich (Rex Harrison shows why he became a star and stayed that way)
Antarctica (Israeli rom/com, and really fun)
Fados (Carlos Saura captures the magic of Fados)
This Gun for Hire (Alan Ladd’s sensational film debut, based on a Graham Green novel, all noir, all the time)
I See a Dark Stranger (Deborah Kerr before she was made boring: STAR!)
Miami Vice (Michael Mann directed again, much maligned for no good reason, and Gong Li AMAZING)