Tag: Martin McDonagh

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 30-16

You’ve seen my 50-31 books of all time, now it’s time for the next 15. Get ready for 30-16. Remember, series only count as one spot. Click on the titles that are links for fuller reviews.

30. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

“It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got ricing pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it’s only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me, that is just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin. I suppose I’d be shocked, of course, but I don’t know, I think I’d be kind of relieved too. Or at least I think I wouldn’t be so upset, because that would feel, in some ways, a whole lot more real.”

I reviewed this book a few weeks ago and it won’t even be the most recent entry onto this list. Just go read that review to find out why this books is so awesome.

29. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

“Soul is the music people understand. Sure it’s basic and it’s simple. But it’s something else ’cause, ’cause, ’cause it’s honest, that’s it. Its honest. There’s no fuckin’ bullshit. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there’s a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.”

A hilarious novel about trying to form a soul band in northern Dublin. Doyle writes music better than anybody else I’ve seen. It’s hard to do but he pulls it off.

28. Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl

“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.”

This story is the definition of ‘wonderful’. Roald Dahl is one of the best kid-lit authors there ever was, and this charming tale of a boy and his dad and their pheasant-snatching escapade is top notch Dahl.

27. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke

“I mean that two of any thing is a most uncomfortable number. One may do as he pleases. Six may get along well enough. But two must always struggle for mastery. Two must always watch each other. The eyes of all the world will be on two, uncertain which of them to follow.”

This, like the Magician series in the previous post, came out after the Harry Potter boom. It deals with magic and magicians, although in a completely different manner. It takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and it is written to emulate the literary style of the time. There are two magicians with wildly differing points of view on how magic can be used to beat the short Frenchman which, of course, builds to an epic rivalry. It’s a large book but completely worth the length.

26. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

“People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”

What starts off as a man on a quest to write about the invention of the atomic bomb becomes the funniest post-apocalypse story you’ll ever read. Vonnegut does the sci-fi and the humor perfectly, as always. And the Koans of Bokonon, some guy who made up his own religion, are delightfully insightful while also making fun of the idea of religious living.

25. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

“A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.”

I first heard this series as my father read it to me every night before bed. Then, when I got older, I read it myself. I went back and reread it again semi-recently and it was just as good. Lewis’s Narnia is a vast and intriguing universe with all kinds of different stories to be told within it.

24. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories – Dr. Seuss

“And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”

This is basically a stand-in for all Dr. Seuss books. They formed such an important part of my childhood that they must have a place on this list. His felicity with the English language is something all writers should strive for.

23. Maus – Art Spiegelman

“Sometimes I don’t feel like a functioning adult”

This book (or pair of books) is a memoir and a family history of the author’s father and mother and their fight to stay alive during the Holocaust. Also, they’re all mice. The device of making each nationality a different species is the hook, but the meat is probably the best Holocaust story I’ve ever encountered in any medium.

22. The Lieutenant of Inishmore – Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh is growing his talent. He started by writing plays, then he moved on to short films (he won an Oscar for Six Shooter), and this year he’s releasing his second feature film, Seven Psychopaths. All of his stories, regardless of medium, share a dark sense of humor and a distinct sense of place. There’s also a surprising amount of heart in each of his stories. It’s quite a feat to get so dirty and then pull out an emotional climax.

21. Watership Down – Richard Adams

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

This is the story of talking rabbits. It should not, however, be confused with kid-lit. It is a very adult book, full of allusions and philosophical musings. It’s a road book and a settling book and a war book and an escape book. It’s a book about talking rabbits that is as profound as anything else on this list.

20. Hamlet – William Shakespeare

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

Shakespeare is a funny guy. Even his tragedies have wordplay and clever little exchanges like the one quoted above. I don’t know why, then, I don’t like his comedies all that much. He’s a master of tragedy (historical or not), but the comedies never come together for me. Give me Hamlet’s sarcasm any day of the week. Also, ghosts.

19. Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino

“I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.”

Here’s a strange book. A collection of short stories, some with an idea of a recurring character, though he takes different shapes depending on the story that is being told. Each story takes on a scientific concept and extrapolates it out into a kind of fairy-tale. Calvino’s mixture of science and fiction is unlike any other sci-fi you’ll read.

18. Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.

It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

Pooh is a bear of very little brain. That doesn’t make him useless. He’s a vital part of our cultural heritage and the world would be a better place if everybody read this collection of short stories every five years. Sometimes it’s important to remember how things really work, and how to have fun, and what’s important, truly. Pooh, despite his very little brain, remembers.

17. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder.
Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.
I spent my life learning to feel less.
Every day I felt less.
Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”

Both of Foer’s fiction works have been adapted into films. Both films lose large chunks of the story in order to fit everything into a two hour package. It is those missing chunks that are vital to the power of his stories. They are about everything. Love and loss, happiness and sadness, history and family. This book incorporates two timelines, a diary, a fictionalized version of the author, and a magical realist book that tells the history of a small town in Eastern Europe. It’s beautiful.

16. The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King

“Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home.”

I could have just as easily picked another quote from this series to stand in for all seven books worth of writing: Go, then, there are other worlds than these. It is a eulogy of sorts in the book, but it gets at the overriding idea of the series. It connects most of King’s works into a grand universe unparalleled in fiction. It’s a huge series, full of pulp and profundity, like all of King’s works.

Top 100 Films: The _4’s

The 4’s contain, by a lucky coincidence, the oldest and newest films on my list. They span a period of 85 years. Every movie but one is in a well defined genre, the other being mostly just a drama. Besides also containing the longest title on my list,  four of the movies are from before I was born.

94. Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett

I just missed your heart.

A fever dream of a movie. Hanna is a coming of age tale with a dark side, told like a fairy tale and impeccably directed and acted. It is always moving forward, whether it be plot driven or character based. An early contender for the best film of 2011.

84. All the President’s Men (1976)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford

You’re both paranoid. She’s afraid of John Mitchell and you’re afraid of Walter Cronkite.

When a movie about reporters figuring out a story is so compelling you know the movie is great. It takes a lot to get a movie that involves almost no action to feel so stimulating. Of course, the acting helps, as does the direction. There’s a lot of All the President’s Men in Zodiac, and even though I like the latter better, the former is still fantastic.

74. In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

I’m sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset.

As dark a comedy as you can get, Martin McDonagh’s feature length directorial debut is one of the best first movies of all time. Intricately constructed and immaculately detailed, it’s got a lot going on so it might take a few times to get everything. But that’s just an excuse to watch it over and over and over again. As if you needed one.

64. The General (1926)

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack

If you lose this war don’t blame me.

Buster Keaton is known for incredibly complex stunts that intensify as he goes along. Some of the action scenes here are 15 minutes long. There’s a lot to be awed by, but one of the best elements is how Keaton is able to build a character through these actions scenes. By the end of the film you really know who Johnnie Gray is and why he does what he does.

54. The Quiet Man (1952)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara

I have a fearful temper. You might as well know about it now instead of findin’ out about it later. We Danahers are a fightin’ people.

A good old fashioned love story. Full of kisses in the rain and fighting and dragging your wife across the Irish countryside. Almost mythic in how big it plays the emotions, The Quiet Man is a wonderful romantic comedy with great chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara, perhaps the only woman that could match up to Wayne’s powerful presence. If only there was a restored print that was widely available, the current dvd is a muddied mess that does no service to the beauty of Ireland and O’Hara.

44. The Social Network (2010)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield

I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look so tough.

When The Social Network hit theaters there was some controversy over whether the movie portrayed the truth of the founding of Facebook. There are exaggerations and outright lies in the movie. Luckily for us, it’s a movie and not a historical document. As a film it is a fascinating study of ambition and the things you lose when you get what you want. It is certainly biased but it is no less of a movie for that.

34. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer

Wow, I feel sore. I mean physically, not like a guy who’s angry in a movie in the 1950’s.

Delightfully meta and self-aware without being too cute about it. The relationship between Downey and Kilmer is the heart of this film. It makes you remember how awesome Kilmer is. Shane Black knows his buddy cop movies and works with the tropes quite well.

24. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck

Look at my red hands and my mean face… and I wonder ’bout that man that’s gone so wrong.

One of the half-dozen or so recent westerns that take a more thoughtful track than the typical good guy vs. bad guy idea you see in so many older films of the genre. This movie is about fame and adoration and legend. And it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what Dominik does next.

14. Sunshine (2007)

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne

At the end of time, a moment will come when just man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust.

Sunshine gets a lot of crap for its third act. Allow me to state, here and now and for eternity, there’s nothing wrong with the third act of the film. It’s a different way of explaining the same idea that runs through the rest of the film: what do we do in the face of such power? And the final five minutes are supremely beautiful in both the visuals and the themes they express.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders, burning with the fires of Orc.

The future never looked so grimy and gorgeous at the same time. This neo-noir is the best sci-fi movie ever made. It’s not perfect, there’s a romantic subplot that I don’t particularly care about, but that’s small fries when it comes to the sheer brilliance of the rest of the film. It’s telling that Ridley Scott started as an art director because the look of the movie is so singular.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section