I’m always a little behind, but I’m voracious in pursuing pleasure reading and viewing beyond my academic and teaching interests, so here are a few of the things I’ve seen or read in the last six months or so that I highly recommend:

  • Icíar Bollaín’s 2010 film Even the Rain, which I’m going to drop straight into my survey classes. A Spanish film crew arrives in Bolivia with its cast and crew to film a re-creation of Columbus’s arrival in the New World that’s sensitive to the plight of the American natives — only to find that the Bolivian extras they hire for $2 per day are protesting against the government and its sweetheart deal with the water company because they can’t afford to pay for water. The Academy Awards somehow couldn’t be bothered to nominate this for anything, but it won 16 other international film awards. Crazy good.
  • To Be Heard (2010, US) a documentary about a poetry-writing program in a Harlem high school and three of the students who’ve benefited from it — and have gone on to excel in poetry slams.
  • Soul Kitchen (2009, Germany, dir. Fatih Akin) by the same director as the magnificent Head-On. Lovely, slightly manic tale of a great little restaurant and its moment of glory, told at the same time as its owner is trying to find a way to get the money to visit his girlfriend in Asia.
  • Michelle Huneven’s Blame (2009), a novel about a woman living with the weight of responsibility for a crime she committed while shit-faced drunk (and which she cannot remember). Huneven isn’t my favorite writer, but this novel really stuck in my craw.
  • Buck AND Marwencol, both 2010 US documentaries about fascinating men who have rejected certain conventionalities of manliness. Lovely, sweet, touching films — although it’s incumbent on me as a feminist film critic to ask why I so rarely seem to see such documentaries about women.
  • A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Great Britain), a magical little Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film that bears some resemblance to Here Comes Mr. Jordan and its 1978 remake, Heaven Can Wait — but concludes with a sequence that’s more profound and far more critical of geopolitical affairs than one could ever imagine.
  • Tulpan (2008, Kazakhstan) — you’d never guess that you would find life in the desolate steppes of Kazakhstan so touching till you start to feel invested in Asa’s quest for his own livelihood. This film is not for 1) people who get impatient during long introductions, or 2) people who are squeamish around sheep giving birth.
  • Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (2011), a gorgeous book of photographs taken mostly during the 1950s by a single woman and nanny, who scoured the streets of Chicago for amazing shots of real life.

10 Responses to “Recent films and books I’ve loved (and which I didn’t have time to write about)”

  1. Patton Incarnate Says:

    I just watched District 9. Excellent stuff. I usually don’t go for disturbing movies but this one was so well-made that I loved it. The way that Blomkamp shows aliens, spaceships and guns that fire giant exploding laser balls without jarring the viewer or requiring suspension of disbelief is truly an accomplishment.

    • didion Says:

      I completely agree. I saw it very shortly after seeing “Avatar” and being so disappointed with the special effects (and the story, and the dialogue) so I was perhaps even more impressed with “District 9” and its terrific special-effects aliens. And I loved the way even I started out the film thinking that those aliens were really disgusting creatures — eating cat food? Living in those horrible conditions? I thought it was a great analogy for the ways that Europeans would have found other races/cultures abhorrent as well.

      • Ethan Says:

        Other races/cultures such as Americans. Avatar was so hyped-up that it could do no wrong- 95% of people who saw it thought it was absolutely perfect because they assumed it would be. It was supposed to be an ‘epic’ movie, but the story was so dry and predictable that I was not stirred at all. They call it the #1 movie of all time- in 33 years, I won’t really remember Avatar, but both of my parents vividly remember seeing Star Wars for the first time (just an example).

  2. tamcho Says:

    Damn! You’ve got one of my favourite books on your list: Light on Snow – Anita Shreve. I’ve just finished reading it, for the 4th time in 3 years. Every time I need a good cry, I pick it up.

    • didion Says:

      Yes, I read it for the first time this summer and was so, so moved by it. Truly, more writers should make pubescent girls the heroines of novels — they see so much.

  3. tamcho Says:

    I’m presuming you’ve read Fun Home: a family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel? 4 years ago, it got serious wattage and numerous prizes.

    Just reading it again. Her meticulous archaeological sifting of her familial dysfunction was a stunning tour de force. I’m relishing it.

  4. didion Says:

    How did I miss this? But then I seem to miss a lot of things on the first run out. I just finished reading Ghost World by Daniel Clowes — I loved the film but was even more struck by what that graphic novel did. Fantastic.

    Just recalled Fun Home from the campus library — I’ll report back.

  5. Spanish Prof Says:

    I watched Anvil at the art house movie theatre around the corner from where I live, in the midnight screening. After the movie finished (around 2am), Anvil played a short set in the theatre!!! It was depressing and touching at the same time.

    • Didion Says:

      Oooh, I’m so jealous! I’ve recommended that movie so many times — they’re the nicest group of guys, almost too nice to get ahead. I can’t imagine really wanting to listen to their music for real, but I want them to thrive nevertheless. Hope you all gave them a huge ovation!

  6. tam Says:

    I think you’ll like ” As it is in Heaven”. Swedish film starring Michael Nyqvist (who plays Mikael Blomkvist in the Millenium Trilogy). Quietly beautiful, tender, funny and hearbreaking.

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