2018 In Review: Lisa’s Top 12 Non-Fiction Books


All day today, I’ve been posting my favorites (and least favorites) of 2018.  If you’ve missed the previous entries …. well, that’s kind of on you.

Anyway, we have now reached the part of our program where I list my top twelve non-fiction books.  There was actually quite a lot of good non-fiction published this year.  The list below is a nice mix of memoirs, politics, and true crime.  Read them all and then be sure to come back here and thank me.

Here’s the list!

  1. The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder
  2. Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna
  3. Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman
  4. You’re on an Airplane: A Self-Mythologizing Memoir by Parker Posey
  5. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
  6. The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustraed History by Stephen Jones
  7. True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking by Don Coscarelli 
  8. Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir by John Banville
  9. Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Caine
  10. The Contest: The 1968 Election and the War for America’s Soul by Michael Schumacher
  11. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  12. The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman

I’ve got three more topics left to cover: music, television, and my favorite movies of the year.  For now, I need to take a small break and stretch my legs so expect to see the rest of my picks for the best of 2018 later tonight or tomorrow.

(Probably tomorrow, to be absolutely honest.)

Lisa Looks Back At 2018:

  1. Ten Worst Films of 2018
  2. The Best of Lifetime
  3. The Best of SyFy
  4. Lisa’s 10 Favorite Novels of 2018

Film Review: Basquiat (dir by Julian Schnabel)


Basquiat.  I love this movie.

I Shot Andy Warhol was not the only 1996 film to feature Andy Warhol as a character.  He was also a prominent supporting character in Basquiat.  In this film, he’s played by David Bowie and Bowie gives a far different performance than Jared Harris did in I Shot Andy Warhol.  Whereas Harris played Andy as a detached voyeur, Bowie’s performance is far more sympathetic.  (Of course, it should be noted that Harris and Bowie were playing Andy Warhol at very different points in the artist’s life.  Harris played the younger, pre-shooting Warhol.  Bowie played the older, post-shooting Warhol.)

Then again, it’s not just Andy Warhol who is portrayed more positively in Basquiat than in I Shot Andy Warhol.  The entire New York art scene is portrayed far more positively in Basquiat.  Whereas I Shot Andy Warhol was a film about an outsider who was destined to forever remain an outsider, Basquiat is a film about an outsider who becomes an insider.  On top of that, Basquiat was directed by a fellow insider, painter Julian Schnabel.

The film itself is a biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat (very well played by Jeffrey Wright), the graffiti artist who, in the 1980s, briefly became one of the superstars of the New York art scene.  However, it’s less of a conventional biopic and more of a meditation on what it means to be an artist.  Throughout the film, Basquiat looks up to the New York skyline and sees a surfer riding a wave across the sky.  The image itself is never explicitly explained.  We never learn why, specifically, Basquiat visualizes a surfer.  But then again, that’s what makes the surfer a perfect symbol of Basquiat’s artistic sensibility and talent.  It’s a reminder that, while we can appreciate an artist’s work, only the artist can truly understand what that work is saying.  All attempts to try to explain or categorize art are as pointless as trying to understand why that surfer is in the sky.  Ultimately, the why is not as important as the simple fact that the surfer is there.

The film follows Basquiat as he goes from living on the streets to being a protegé of Andy Warhol’s and, until he overdosed on heroin, one of the shining lights of the New York art scene.  Along the way, Basquiat struggles to maintain a balance between art and the business.  In one of the key scenes of the film, an empty-headed suburbanite (Tatum O’Neal) looks at Basquiat’s work and whines that there’s too much green.  She just can’t handle all of that green.

Basquiat’s friendship with Andy Warhol provides this film with a heart.  When Bowie first appears — having lunch with a German art dealer played by Dennis Hopper — one’s natural instinct is to assume that Bowie as Warhol is stunt casting.  However, Bowie quickly proves that instinct to be wrong.  As opposed to many of the actors who have played Andy Warhol over the years, Bowie gives an actual performance.  Instead of resorting to caricature, Bowie plays Warhol as being mildly bemused by both his fame and the world in general.

Basquiat also develops a close friendship with another artist.  Gary Oldman may be playing a character named Albert Milo but it’s obvious from the moment that he first appears that he’s playing the film’s director, Julian Schnabel.  If there was any doubt, Schnabel’s studio stands in for Milo’s studio.  When Milo shows off his work, he’s showing off Schnabel’s work.  When Albert Milo introduced Basquiat to his parents, the nice old couple is played by Julian Schnabel’s actual parents.  It’s perhaps not surprising that Albert Milo is presented as being one of the most important and popular artists in New York City.  In a film full of bitchy characters, Albert Milo is unique in that literally everyone likes and respects him.  And yet Gary Oldman gives such a good and heartfelt performance that you can’t hold it against the character that he happens to be perfect.  There’s a small but touching scene in which Albert Milo and his daughter share a dance in front of one of Schnabel’s gigantic canvases.  Of course, Milo’s daughter is played by Julian Schnabel’s daughter.

The entire cast is full of familiar actors.  Willem DaFoe appears as a sculptor.  Christopher Walken plays a hilariously vapid interviewer.  Courtney Love plays a groupie.  Benicio Del Toro plays Basquiat’s best friend.  Parker Posey shows up as gallery owner Mary Boone.  Michael Wincott plays Rene Ricard, the somewhat infamous art critic who was among the first to celebrate the work of both Basquiat and Schnabel.  For once, the use of familiar actors does not sabotage the effectiveness of the film.  If anything, it helps to explain why Basquiat was so determined to make it.  There’s a magical scene where a then-unknown Basquiat peeks through a gallery window and sees Andy Warhol, Albert Milo, and Bruno Bischofberger.  However, the film’s audience sees David Bowie, Gary Oldman, and Dennis Hopper.  What both Basquiat and the audience have in common is that they’re both seeing bigger-than-life stars.

Basquiat is an often magical and poignant film and I absolutely love it.

So, I Finally Watched Grace of Monaco…


Grace_of_Monaco_PosterWell, I finally saw Grace of Monaco and…

Oh God.

Seriously, I am sitting here right now and I am just thinking to myself, “Oh God, do I really have to try to think up something interesting to say about this movie?”  Grace of Monaco is not a good movie but, at the same time, it’s bad in the worst way possible.  It’s not so bad-that-its-entertaining.  Instead, it’s just a dull misfire.

In fact, probably the only really interesting thing about Grace of Monaco is that it is the first film to go from opening Cannes to premiering on Lifetime.  Though it may seem impossible to believe now, there was a time in 2013 when everyone was expecting Grace of Monaco to be a major Oscar contender.  It seemed like everyone was saying that Nicole Kidman was a lock for a best actress nomination and maybe more!

Then the film’s American release date was moved from November of 2013 to June of 2014.  Rumor had it that the infamous Harvey Weinstein was chopping up the film and destroying the vision of director Olivier Dahan.  “Bad Harvey!” we all said.  (Of course, having now seen the film, I can understand why Harvey may have had some concerns…)

Okay, we told ourselves, Grace of Monaco probably won’t be a best picture contender.  But surely Nicole Kidman can get a nomination.  Surely the costumes and the production design will be honored…

And then the film played opening night at the Cannes Film Festival and it was greeted with less than appreciate reviews.  In fact, the reaction to the film was so negative that it has since become somewhat legendary.

And so, the American premiere was canceled.  The film opened in Europe, where it made little money and received scathing reviews.  But it was destined to never play in an American theater.  Instead, Grace of Monaco was sold to the Lifetime network.

And, after all of the drama and the waiting, I finally got to see Grace of Monaco tonight and … well, bleh.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a pretty movie.  I loved looking at what everyone was wearing.  I enjoyed looking at the ornate settings.  Whenever Grace Kelly stopped to look out at the view from the palace, I appreciated it because it was a beautiful view.  If I had hit mute and simply enjoyed the film as a look at beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful houses, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But, unfortunately, Grace of Monaco has a plot that gets in the way.  The evil French, led by Charles De Gualle (played by Andre Penvern, who gives a performance that would probably be more appropriate for a James Bond film), want to take over Monaco because the citizens of Monaco don’t pay any income tax.  (I was totally Team Monaco as far as this was concerned.  Everyone should stop paying their taxes.  If we all do it, we’ll be fine.  They can’t prosecute all of us!)  Only Princess Grace Kelly can stop them but first, she has to convince her headstrong husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), to listen to her opinions.  She has to convince her subjects that she’s more than just an opinionated American.

But Grace doesn’t just want to keep the French out of Monaco!  She also wants to return to her film career.  Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) wants her to star in Marnie.  (Hitchcock is always filmed as being slightly out-of-focus.)  Rainier doesn’t want her to return to acting.  And neither does a priest played by Frank Langella…

What was Frank Langella doing in this movie?  I have no idea.  He was some sort of advisor.  I understand that he’s based on a historical figure but honestly, the film was so boring that I can’t even bring myself to go on Wikipedia to find out who exactly he was.

But really, the main issue with Grace of Monaco is that it tells us absolutely nothing about Grace Kelly.  The film doesn’t seem to know who she was or what it wants to say about her.  And Nicole Kidman is a good actress and I hope that I look as good as she does when I’m 47 and after I’ve given birth to two children but seriously, she seems to be totally lost in this film.  Olivier Dahan fills the film with close-ups of Kidman’s face but for what reason?  Never for a minute do we believe we’re looking at the face of the star of High Noon, Rear Window, or To Catch A Thief.  Instead, we’re always aware that we’re looking at Nicole Kidman and she doesn’t seem to be sure just what exactly she’s supposed to be doing.  We learn nothing about Grace, Monaco, France, royalty, or movies.

And it’s a shame really.  Because the story of Grace Kelly would make a great film.  But Grace of Monaco doesn’t really tell you anything about her life.

It’s just boring and a film about an actress like Grace Kelly has absolutely no right to be boring.

Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions for May!


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Well, here we are!  The year is nearly halfway over and the Oscar picture … well, it’s really not that clear yet.  The Cannes Film Festival just opened and maybe that will help clear up the picture a bit.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, here are my early Oscar for predictions for May.  (In previous months, my Oscar predictions were “way too early.”  But now that we’re 5 months into 2015, the “way” can be dropped.  They’re just “too early” now.)  As is usual for any predictions made at this time of the year, these are mostly guesses, some random and some educated.  Be sure to check my predictions for January, February, March, and April as well!

(I know that rumor has it that the Academy is going to go back to only nominating five films this year.  However, I’m going to continue to make ten predictions because that’s more fun for an obsessive list maker like me.)

Last Dinosaur

Best Picture

Black Mass

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Carol

Crimson Peak

The Danish Girl

The Good Dinosaur

Icon

In the Heart of the Sea

The Sea of Trees

Ben Foster in Icon

Best Actor

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassebender in Steve Jobs

Ben Foster in Icon

Eddie Redmanye in The Danish Girl

Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash

Lilly Tomlin in Grandma

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Best Supporting Actor

Jim Broadbent in Brooklyn

Albert Brooks in Concussion

Joel Edgerton in Black Mass

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

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Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Seinna Miller in Black Mass

Parker Posey in Irrational Man

Meryl Streep in Suffragette

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Best Director

Guillermo Del Toro for Crimson Peak

Stephen Fears for Icon

Todd Haynes for Carol

Ron Howard for In The Heart of the Sea

Gus Van Sant for The Sea of Trees

Oscars

Back to School #49: Dazed and Confused (dir by Richard Linklater)


Oh my God, I love this freaking movie.

First released in 1993, Dazed and Confused is a classic Texas film.  Taking place in 1976 and following a large and varied group of characters over the course of the last day of school, Dazed and Confused is like American Graffiti with a lot more weed.  In many ways, it’s a plotless film, though things do happen.  The students of Lee High School survive one final day of school before the start of summer.  (Interestingly enough, most of the characters here are incoming seniors and freshman, as opposed to the confused graduates who usually show up in films like this.  This may lower the stakes — none of the students are worrying about whether or not to go to college or anything like that — but it also gives the film a fun and laid back vibe.)  The incoming freshman are all hazed by the incoming seniors.  For the girls, this means being covered in ketchup and mustard and being forced to ask the seniors to marry them.  For the boys, the hazing is a lot more violent and disturbing as they are chased through the streets by paddle-wielding jocks.  A party is planned and then abruptly canceled when the kegs of beer are delivered before the parents leave town.  Another party is held out in the woods.  A high school quarterback tries to decide whether or not to sign an anti-drug pledge.

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No, not much happens but then again, plot is overrated.  Dazed and Confused is not about plot.  It’s about capturing a specific time and place and showing how different individuals define themselves within their environment.  It’s one of the best high school films ever made, perhaps the best.

Why do I so love Dazed and Confused?  Let me count the ways.

First off, it’s a true Texas film.  This isn’t just because it was directed by Texas’s greatest filmmaker, Richard Linklater.  It was also filmed in Texas, it’s full of Texas actors, and, as a native Texan, I can tell you that it’s one of the few films that gets my homestate right.  Even though the film takes place long before I was even born, there were still so many details that I recognized as being unique to Texas today.  I guess the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Perhaps the most Texas scene in the entire film was when quarterback Randy Floyd (Jason London) was talking to the old couple at the minor league baseball game.  Both the old man’s obsessive interest in the high school football team (“We’re countin’ on you boys next year…”) and Randy’s patiently polite answers, were, to me, the epitome of Texas.  And, of course, we can’t forget the store clerk advising the pregnant woman to eat a lot of “green things” while selling her a pack of cigarettes and the guy who reacts to the destruction of his mailbox by running around with a gun.  I suspect I might live a few blocks away from both of those guys.

But, beyond that, just the entire film’s laid back atmosphere epitomized everything that I love about my state.

Secondly, Dazed and Confused is an amateur historian’s dream!  Richard Linklater went to high school in the 70s and he recreates the decade with a lot of obvious care and love.  (It’s also somewhat obvious that both the characters of Randy and incoming freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) are meant to be autobiographical.)  Now, me, I’ve always been obsessive about history and I’ve always somewhat regretted that I was born long after the 70s ended.  Dazed and Confused is probably about as close as someone like me will ever get to having a time machine.

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I’m also something a political history junkie so how excited was I to see that, during one scene, all of the candidates for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination were listed on a bulletin board.  How many other movies have featured a reference to the Fred Harris presidential campaign?  Admittedly, I know nothing about that campaign.  I just think it’s neat that somebody with as common a name as Fred Harris once ran for President.

Finally, if you look really carefully, you’ll notice that Lee High School is located right next to a movie theater that, according to its marquee, is showing Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film.  Just imagine the fun that I could have had going to Lee High.  I could have skipped school and gone to a movie!

Third, this film has a great soundtrack!  The low rider gets a little higher … hey, I think there’s a double meaning there…

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But, really, the main reason I love this film is because I love great ensemble work and Dazed and Confused has a wonderful cast.  Some members of the cast went on to become famous and some did not, but all of them give great performances.  In fact, the entire cast is so great that it’s difficult to know who to single out so I’m just going to name a few of my favorites.

First off, there’s the jocks.  Some of them, like Jason London’s Randy “Pink” Floyd are surprisingly sensitive.  Some of them, like Don Dawson (Sasha Jenson), remind me of the type of guys that I, despite my better judgment, would have totally been crushing on back in high school.  And then the others are just scary, running around with their cars full of beer and obsessively paddling freshman.  Benny (Cole Hauser), for instance, really does seem like he has some issues.  (Perhaps it’s because he lives in Texas but still has such a strong Boston accent…)

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However, the scariest of the jocks is, without a doubt, Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck). A complete and total moron who has actually managed to fail his senior year,  (“He’s a joke,” says Randy, “but he’s not a bad guy to have blocking for you…”)  O’Bannion is such a total idiot that, not only is it fun to see him eventually get humiliated, but it’s even more fun to watch him and think, “That’s Ben Affleck!”  And, it must be said, Affleck is totally convincing playing a complete and total dumbass.  That’s not meant to be an insult, by the way.  Future multiple-Oscar winner  Affleck does a really good job.

And then there’s the three self-styled intellectuals, Tony (Anthony Rapp), Mike (Adam Goldberg), and red-headed Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), who spend the whole day driving around and discussing what it all means.  These are actually three of my favorite characters in the entire film, just because I’ve known (and, I must admit, loved) the type.  Plus, Cynthia has red hair and we redheads have to stay united!

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There’s the two incoming freshman who get to spend a night hanging out with the older kids — Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa).  Mitch is adorable while Sabrina gets to ask Tony to marry her.  Of course, Sabrina is covered in ketchup, mustard, and flour at the time.  (“She probably looks really good once you get all the shit off her,” Mike offers.)

And, of course, you can’t forget Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey).  In many ways, Wooderson is a truly creepy character.  He’s the older guy who still hangs out with the high school kids.  When he asks Mitch what the incoming freshman girls look like, you get the disturbing feeling that he’s not joking.  (“I get older but they stay the same age,” Wooderson says about his underage girlfriends, “yes, they do.”)  And yet McConaughey gives such a charismatic performance that Wooderson becomes the heart and soul of the entire film.  In the end, you’re happy that Randy has a friend like Wooderson.

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And there’s so many other characters that I love.  There’s the hilarious stoner Slater (Rory Cochrane).  There’s Mitch’s older sister, Jodi (Michelle Burke), who is the type of cool older sister that I would have liked to have been if I actually had a brother and wasn’t the youngest of four.  There’s Randy’s girlfriend, Simone (Joey Lauren Adams) and Don’s occasional girlfriend, Shavonne (Deena Martin) who, at one point, refers to Don as being “Mr. Premature Ejaculation.”  Even the characters that you’re supposed to hate are so well-played and so well-written that it’s a pleasure to see them.  Parker Posey is hilarious as head mean girl Darla.  In the role of car-obsessed Clint, Nicky Katt is dangerously hot — even if he does eventually end up kicking Mike’s ass.  (“You wouldn’t say I got my ass kicked, would you?” Mike says.  Sorry, sweetie, you did. But everyone watching the movie totally loved you!)

(And let’s not forget that future Oscar winner Renee Zellweger shows up for a split-second, walking past Wooderson during his “that’s why I love high school girls” monologue.)

Dazed and Confused is a great film.  If you haven’t seen it, see it.  And if you have seen it, see it again.

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