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Poetry is the connecting link between body and mind. Every idea in poetry is grounded in emotion. Every word is a palpation of the body. The multiplicity of interpretation surrounding a poem mirrors the stormy uncontrollability of emotion, where nature works her will.

-Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

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The Garden

Oleander: coral
from lipstick ads in the 50′s.

Fruit of the tree of such knowledge.

To “smack”
(thin air)
meaning kiss or hit.

It appears
in the guise of outworn usages
because we are bad?

Big masculine threat,
insinuating and slangy.

-from Necromance by Rae Armantrout

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I can’t imagine someone being able to read 100 books from one year so I’ve chisled it down (to the ones that interest me the most) to ten books of fiction, all five books of poetry listed and 10 nonfiction books. For the full list go to the 100 Books You Should Have Read Last Year

Fiction

ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES. By Rivka Galchen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) The psychiatrist-narrator of this brainy, whimsical first novel believes that his beautiful, much-younger Argentine wife has been replaced by an exact double.

A BETTER ANGEL: Stories. By Chris Adrian. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) For Adrian — who is both a pediatrician and a divinity student — illness and a heightened spiritual state are closely related conditions.

THE BOAT. By Nam Le. (Knopf, $22.95.) In the opening story of Le’s first collection, a blocked writer succumbs to the easy temptations of “ethnic lit.”

THE ENGLISH MAJOR. By Jim Harrison. (Grove, $24.) A 60-year-old cherry farmer and former English teacher — an inversion of the classic Harrison hero — sets out on a trip west after being dumped by his wife.

HIS ILLEGAL SELF. By Peter Carey. (Knopf, $25.) In this enthralling novel, a boy goes underground with a defiant hippie indulging her maternal urge.

HOME. By Marilynne Robinson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Revisiting the events of her novel “Gilead” from another perspective, Robinson has written an anguished pastoral, at once bitter and joyful.

TELEX FROM CUBA. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $25.) In this multilayered first novel, inter national drifters try to bury pasts that include murder, adultery and neurotic meltdown, even as the Castro brothers gather revolutionaries in the hills.

2666. By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, cloth and paper, $30.) The five autonomous sections of this posthumously published novel interlock to form an astonishing whole, a supreme capstone to Bolaño’s vaulting ambition.

NETHERLAND. By Joseph O’Neill. (Pantheon, $23.95.) In the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction yet about post-9/11 New York and London, the game of cricket provides solace to a man whose family disintegrates after the attacks.

THE OTHER. By David Guterson. (Knopf, $24.95.) In this novel from the author of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” a schoolteacher nourishes a friendship with a privileged recluse.

 

Poetry

MODERN LIFE: Poems . By Matthea Harvey. (Graywolf, paper, $14.) Harvey is willing to take risks, and her reward is that richest, rarest thing, genuine poetry.

ELEGY: Poems. By Mary Jo Bang. (Graywolf, $20.) Grief is converted into art in this bleak, forthright collection, centered on the death of the poet’s son.

OPAL SUNSET: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 By Clive James. (Norton, $25.95.) James, a staunch formalist, is firmly situated in the sociable, plain-spoken tradition that runs from Auden through Larkin.

SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY: Poems, New and Selected. By August Kleinzahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Kleinzahler seeks the true heart of places, whether repellent, beautiful or both at once.

HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT: New and Selected Poems. By Juan Felipe Herrera. (University of Arizona, paper, $24.95.) Herrera, known for portrayals of Chicano life, is unpredictable and wildly inventive.

Nonfiction

THE BIG SORT: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. By Bill Bishop with Robert G. Cushing. (Houghton Mifflin, $25.) A journalist and a statistician see political dangers in the country’s increasing tendency to separate into solipsistic blocs.

THE DARK SIDE: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. By Jane Mayer. (Doubleday, $27.50.) A New Yorker writer recounts the emergence of the widespread use of torture as a central tool in the fight against terrorism.

DESCARTES’ BONES: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. By Russell Shorto. (Doubleday, $26.) Shorto’s smart, elegant study turns the early separation of Descartes’s skull from the rest of his remains into an irresistible metaphor.

THE DRUNKARD’S WALK: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. By Leonard Mlodinow. (Pantheon, $24.95.) This breezy crash course intersperses probabilistic mind-benders with profiles of theorists.

HOW FICTION WORKS. By James Wood. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.)Concentrating on the art of the novel, the New Yorker critic presents a compact, erudite vade mecum with acute observations on individual passages and authors.

PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.By Dan Ariely. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.95.) Moving comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life, an M.I.T. economist pokes holes in conventional market theory.

THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.By Richard Thompson Ford. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Ford vivisects every sacred cow in “post-racist” America.

A SECULAR AGE. By Charles Taylor. (Belknap/Harvard University, $39.95.) A philosophy professor thinks our era has been too quick to dismiss religious faith.

THE SUPERORGANISM: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies. By Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. (Norton, $55.) The central conceit of this astonishing study is that an insect colony is a single animal raised to a higher level.

TRAFFIC: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us).By Tom Vanderbilt. (Knopf, $24.95.) A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of the human beings behind the steering wheels.

Predictions forthcoming.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Richard Jenkins for The Visitor
Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn for Milk
Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie for Changeling
Melissa Leo for Frozen River
Meryl Streep for Doubt
Kate Winslet for The Reader

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Josh Brolin for Milk
Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for Doubt
Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis for Doubt
Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler

Best Achievement in Directing

Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry for The Reader
David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant for Milk

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Courtney Hunt Frozen River
Mike Leigh Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh In Bruges
Dustin Lance Black Milk
Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter Wall E

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Eric Roth, Robin Swicord The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley Doubt
Peter Morgan Frost/Nixon
David Hare The Reader
Simon Beaufoy Slumdog Millionaire

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Tom Stern Changeling
Claudio Miranda The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wally Pfister The Dark Knight
Roger Deakins, Chris Menges The Reader
Anthony Dod Mantle Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
WALL·E

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (Germany)
Entre les murs (France)
Revanche (Austria)
Okuribito (Japan)
Vals Im Bashir (Israel)
Best Documentary, Features

The Betrayal – Nerakhoon
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

The rest are what I consider the Junk Drawer Oscars and they are below:

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Stomach: lonely

Curled up in the
familiar ring,
she went to sleep.

What a world, little churl!

-from Though Walls

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The guidelines:

  • Any movie viewed in the year 2008 that hasn’t been seen before qualifies for the list.
  • I balance artistic merit with swinging good time.
  • In order of importance I rank artistic brilliance, “re-view-ability”, and only then “a swinging good time”.
  • I do twelve top movies (B-listing 12 more), consider it cinema calendrics.

The selections for 2008:

There Will Be Blood : 2007 : Paul Thomas Anderson

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Back when I saw this movie on February 1st at 4pm, 2008 my first thoughts were that this is the most enduring piece of cinema I have ever seen. There will be film studies, there will be articles shaming the Oscars for giving Best Picture to “No Country for Old Men” (not that the Oscars means anything), there will be midnight showings fifty years in the future. My full review of the film is here: Violence in the Future Tense.

4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile : aka 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days : 2007 : Cristian Mungiu

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If you watch movies to unwind and enjoy then this isn’t the movie for you. But if you want to be changed, if you want your mind blown, if you want to be harrowed then you need to watch this movie. My review is here: Let Us Promise To Never Speak of This Again.

The Darjeeling Limited : 2008 : Wes Anderson

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Wes Anderson’s films are always enjoyable, but they never seem to come together, always seem to spin out of control at the end. And as much as I enjoy them they always seemed a little thin, even though he avoids the language they always come off as “Find Yourself/Be Yourself/Be True to Yourself” stories, but The Darjeeling Limited takes all his strengths, all the heart and quirk, and nails the ending. I advise you not to watch the short film that serves as the prologue as the film is much stronger without it.

Amator : aka Camera Buff : 1979 : Krzysztof Kieslowski

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Krzysztof Kieslowski is my favorite director and I’m slowly working through his early work. There’s so much there to get from him that you could watch his movies for the rest of your life.

Once : 2006 : John Carney

once_2Since keeping a film blog, the first movie of the year has made the top twelve at the end of the year (Reconstructed 2007, 3-iron 2006). This year is no different, Once, the first movie I watched this year is a fantastic musical, avoiding the cliches of romantic movies and exalting the whole genre.

Dare mo shiranai : aka Nobody Knows : 2004 : Hirokazu Koreeda

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A beautiful film, one of the best films starring children. Watching children go about their life, living in their world has all the drama you’ll ever need.

Wall-E : 2008 : Andrew Stanton

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One of the great things about Pixar is that they exalt the cinematic abilities of kids. After teaching them to enjoy culinary invention in Ratatouille they entertain us with a classic Buster Keaton flick, a movie with nearly zero dialogue, driven entirely by actions that indicate personality. Kids raised on this will be ready for Andrei Tarkovsky by their early teens. The movie becomes a little too conventional at the end, but maybe it will teach kids not to litter so danged much.

Sunshine : 2007 : Danny Boyle

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I’m always so impressed by Danny Boyle’s ability to take up genre’s like he’s lived with them his entire life. I had to wrestle with the ending a little to get this one fixed in my head, but an intense sci-fi flick nonetheless.

(TIE) Zerkalo : aka The Mirror : 1975 : Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker : 1979 :  Andrei Tarkovsky

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Tarkovsky’s films are some of the most visually rich you’ll ever see. Both The Mirror and Stalker are difficult and are not for those requiring splody fastaction, but for those willing to invest the time and reflection these two films are well worth it. Also, I’m pretty sure Stalker is key source material for the television series LOST.

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Margot at the Wedding : 2007 : Noah Baumbach

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This is one of the most misunderstood films of the year. Funny and cruel, another family horror show by Noah Baumbach of “The Squid and the Whale” fame.

The Dark Knight : 2008 : Christopher Nolan

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Fun, popcorn flick with a little more depth than most popcorn flick, but not as much as its fans say. Those who place Iron Man above it our just reacting against TDK’s popularity. It certainly doesn’t deserve a Best Picture Nominee, but will probably get one all the same.

Suna no Onna : aka Woman in the Dunes : 1964 : Hiroshi Teshigahara

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I had a hard time deciding on my final film. The Valley of Elah was very good, as was The Savages but compared to Synecdoche, not nearly as ambitious. And while Synecdoche was grand and thought provoking, it has some flaws. In the end I went with Woman in the Dunes, on the strength of its visuals.

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Follow me on the Twittah

  • As I sat on the toilet I was attacked by a wasp. It was scary, but killing him really sped things up. 20 hours ago
  • Not to brag, but one time I lost very respectably to a chess grandmaster and didn't make fun of how nerdy he was for many seconds. 2 days ago
  • When will Science tell me that white bread is healthy than that gross grainy stuff? I really want to look down on you people. 2 days ago
  • Ugh. I hate how sexist Harassment is. For the sake of equality I demand that the word when applied to men becomes Hisassment. 3 days ago
  • MY WIFE READS MY TWEETS FOR BIOGRAPHICAL MISTAKES AND IT FEELS LIKE SHE'S FLIRTING IS SHE FLIRTING I THINK SHE'S FLIRTING OH MY HEART IS BEA 4 days ago

The Novel I’m Now Reading

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