Archive for the ‘Top 10 Lists’ Category

10 Great Modern Films About Writers

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Hollywood has long had a knack for cranking out interesting films about writers. Classics like “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Face in the Crowd” have stood the test of time, but what about more modern fare? I gave it some thought and then took a stab at compiling a list of ten of my favorite modern films about writers.

Naturally, opinions may vary (“Where the hell is “Adaptation”?”). Feel free to hit the comments section and tell me what I missed.

The Film: “A Merry War” (Directed by Robert Bierman)
The Writer: Fictional poet Gordon Comstock
The Set-up: In this film adaptation of Orwell’s early novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, poet Gordon Comstock (Richard E. Grant) is forced to reconcile his notion of “pure art” with the realities of life.
Classic Quote: “When you’re lying in the gutter, you’ve got nowhere to fall.” – Gordon

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The Film: “Kafka” (Directed by Steven Soderbergh)
The Writer: Franz Kafka
The Set-up: Kafka (Jeremy Irons) gets a taste of his own Kafkaesque medicine as he is caught up in a fictionalized underword that rivals his most surreal creations.
Classic Quote: “I write by myself… for myself.” – Kafka

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The Film: “Barton Fink” (Directed by the Coen Brothers)
The Writer: Fictional playwright and aspiring screenwriter Barton Fink
The Set-up: Broadway’s toast of the town (John Turturro) heads west to write for the movies, only to experience a bizarre case of writer’s block while being caught up in a nightmarish chain of events.
Classic Quote: “You ain’t no writer, Fink—you’re a goddamn write-off.” – Lipnik

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The Film: “Permanent Midnight” (Directed by David Veloz)
The Writer: Comedy writer Jerry Stahl
The Set-up:
Stahl (Ben Stiller) lays bare his soul in this adaptation of his memoir depicting his double life as a writer and junkie.
Classic Quote:
“People always ask, “What’s the worst thing heroin drove you to do?”. I always answer, “showing up on Maury.”" – Jerry

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The Film: “Naked Lunch” (Directed by David Cronenberg)
The Writer:
William Burroughs’ alter-ego Bill Lee
The Set-up: Burroughs’ masterpiece of drug-addled paranoia is brought to the screen with Peter Weller, giant bugs and talking assholes. A can’t miss.
Classic Quote: “Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.” – Bill

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The Film: “Factotum” (Directed by Bent Hamer)
The Writer: Charles Bukowski’s alter-ego Hank Chinaski
The Set-up: Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon), when not distracted by sex, booze and gambling, tries to get some writing done—usually about sex, booze and gambling.
Classic Quote: “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs. And maybe your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance. Of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Hank

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The Film: “Henry and June” (Directed by Philip Kaufman)
The Writers: Henry Miller and Anais Nin
The Set-up: In 1930s Paris, Miller (Fred Ward) meets Nin (Maria de Medeiros) and their personal lives, along with those of their spouses, become tragically intertwined.
Classic Quote: “June appeared like an Angel, and I offered her a fool’s faith. She was a taxi dancer. I paid my dime, she put her head on my shoulder, but then the lies began. She told me her mother was a gypsy and her father was a count. Later, I saw a film and realized she swiped her whole childhood right out of the film.” - Henry

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The Film: “Sylvia” (Directed by Christine Jeffs)
The Writer: Sylvia Plath
The Set-up: Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) struggles with depression and her inner demons against the backdrop of betrayal by husband Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig).
Classic Quote: “Sometimes I feel like I’m not… solid. I’m hollow. There’s nothing behind my eyes. I’m a negative of a person. It’s as if I never – -I never thought anything. I never wrote anything. I never felt anything.” - Sylvia

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The Film: “Total Eclipse” (Directed by Agnieszka Holland)
The Writers: Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Verlaine
The Set-up: A stark examination of the mutually-destructive and tumultuous relationship between the two poets, played by Leo DiCaprio and David Thewlis.
Classic Quote: “The only unbearable thing is that nothing is unbearable.” – Rimbaud

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The Film: “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (Directed by Alan Rudolph)
The Writers: Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber
The Set-up:
Dorothy Parker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) navigates the social and artistic maelstrom of the Algonquin Round Table.
Classic Quote: “But I can’t understand what God is saying, because he’s got a mask over his face. Isn’t that just like Him?” – Dorothy

Top 10 Political Novels

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

After mentioning to a friend and co-worker that I’ve been working on a political novel for more than a year now, he asked about my own tastes in the genre, resulting in an extended conversation/argument. And given the prevalence of Top 10 lists on the Internet, I figured one more wouldn’t hurt, so I’ll recount them here.

From Big Brother to Willie Stark, here are my picks for the Top 10 Political Novels of the Past 100 years:

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1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

One wonders how Orwell’s classic will age, as it’s become a subject of passionate debate between those who find it dated, melodramatic and politically flawed, and those—including me—who think those people have simply been fortunate enough to put a comfortable distance between themselves and the very real horrors of Stalinism.

2. The Plague by Albert Camus

More aptly termed a philosophical work, perhaps, Camus’ existential novel explores the human condition stressed to its limits by the horrors of a plague. Stark and unflinching, it masterfully blends cold reality with an almost Kafka-esque sense of detachment.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s dystopian vision differs greatly from Orwell’s in many ways, not the least of which is its satirical tone. Nevertheless, it packs a punch of near-equal force in its warning against the effects of totalitarianism on free thought and expression.

4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ellison’s exploration of Black identity and its extension into the political landscape of the 20th century resonates not only in what it says, but how it says it. Its experimental style resulted in one of the true triumphs of modern symbolism.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Accessible, often funny and politically poignant, Harper Lee’s Southern Gothic masterpiece on racial injustice is, thankfully, still a mainstay on school reading lists, despite censorship attempts by PC do-gooders.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another dystopian classic, but one that presents a chilling vision of a future in which women are brutally subjugated. And, sadly, another novel that enriches and provokes young minds, yet is constantly under threat of censorship for its sexual content and anti-religious sentiment.

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Regardless of how Nineteen Eighty-Four might fare in the decades and centuries to come, there can be little doubt that Orwell’s wonderfully constructed allegory (though also a protest against Stalinism) will almost certainly continue to be read and studied. Satirical and frightening at once, Animal Farm’s success lies in its penetration of human nature and the baseness from which oppression flows.

8. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Taking place in a single day in a Soviet labor camp, this disturbing work is a severe example of “writing what you know”. Having been imprisoned in one of Stalin’s camps for eight years, Solzhenitsyn knew firsthand the cruelty of the powerful imposed on the powerless, and it ranks among the top works of sheer courage in literary history.

9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Another great work of satire and perhaps the most pointed anti-war novel in 20th century American literature, Catch-22 is sometimes frustrating in its multiple points of view, its delayed interconnections and its jumbled sequence. Nevertheless, the reader bold enough to see it through is more than rewarded for the effort.

10. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

A sentimental choice, of sorts. Growing up in Louisiana, it was all but impossible to escape the considerable shadow of Huey P. Long, a man who damn near singlehandedly dragged the state into the 20th century. While Warren’s Willie Stark is only loosely based on the famous governor, his portrayal as a walking contradiction, part megalomaniac and part populist, rings true for anyone who paid attention to politics in Deep South.