Tag: Where the Wild Things Are

Top 100 Films (2013 Edition): Part 5 of 5

The cream of the crop! See the full list here. Or on Letterboxd.

20. Hoop Dreams

That’s why when somebody say, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me”, and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, “if I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.”

Since this list is a yearly tradition and really like using quotes to introduce a movie and I’ve been a big fan of Hoop Dreams since first watching it while I was in college all those years ago, I’ve always struggled to find a variety of quotes for movies that perennially make the list. Especially when a documentary like this one has such a profound and compelling summary of the 3 hours a viewer must invest to see the full stories of the two young basketball phenoms at the center of this film. Those three hours give it room to breathe and consider all facets of their drive to become famous basketball players, including one’s inspirational push for his mother to receive her nursing certification in the film’s best scene. It’s all great.

19. The Exorcist

There are no experts. You probably know as much about possession than most priests. Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.

Some great movies are scary and some scary movies are great. This one falls into both categories quite easily. Half family drama and half spectacularly scary horror film, it is a classic for a billion reasons. Just check the set design in those later scenes for a truly tremendous transformation.

18. Raiders of the Lost Ark

What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.

If Jaws is Spielberg being perfect technically and Jurassic Park his attempt at proving that movie magic exists, Raiders is him simply having a blast. It is the cinema’s most fun film. Again, I got to see this on the big screen this year and it was a great experience. It’s old and new, an exciting throwback to the serials of the 30s and 40s with some slick writing and Spielberg’s propulsive style carrying anything Harrison Ford can’t lift on his own (which, it turns out, isn’t much).

17. Miller’s Crossing

All in all not a bad guy – if looks, brains and personality don’t count.

Miller’s Crossing is much closer to the fast paced dialogue of something like the Howard Hawks Scarface than it is the Brian De Palma version of that film. It concerns itself with seedy people at least pretending to be upstanding citizens, double and triple crosses, and some excellent machinegun fire to go along with the motormouths in the cast. It’s a credit to the film that it is steeped in a genre that I generally hate and still it maintains a spot in my top 20 of all time. Of course, the Coen brothers have a large part to play there, focusing on the inherent silliness of organized crime and emphasizing that the violence they perpetrate is ultimately quite stupid. “Nothing more foolish than a man chasin’ his hat.”

16. The Sixth Sense

And the tiny hairs on your arm, you know when they stand up? That’s them. When they get mad… it gets cold.

I guess I had forgotten how great this movie is until I rewatched it this year. What had faded in my memory was the emotional impact outside of the obvious ghost stuff and the thing that everybody talks about with this movie. Those are important, sure, but it’s the mother-son relationship that catapults this film so high on my list. The scene when Cole and his mother, played marvelously by Toni Collette, are stuck in traffic and Cole finally confesses his ability to see ghosts is garanteed to make you cry. It becomes a conversation about death and the difficult roles mothers must play in their kid’s lives. It’s a truly beautiful scene, one which lifts the otherwise great movie into near-masterpiece status.

15. The Iron Giant

Sorry about the crowbar, kid. You’d be surprised how many people want to steal scrap. But, man, once I make it into art, I can’t give it away. I mean, what am I? A junkman who makes art or an artist who sells junk? You tell me.

You may notice a trend as we get closer and closer to my number one: the films become a little less think-y and a little more feel-y. It’s not on purpose and it’s not to say that this film or the examples still to come are dumb, of course, but they are often more concerned with making you feel something than making you think about something. Movies have a unique ability to do that with not only words but also images and sounds, combining the strengths of books, photography, and music into one super-powered medium for making the audience feel what the filmmakers want them to. And as a work of feelings, few are as good at making me feel happy and sad at the same time as The Iron Giant which features a great vocal performance from Vin Diesel as an alien robot guy who must try to understand people or pay the ultimate price.

14. The Shining

Do you have the slightest idea what a moral and ethical principle is? Do you?

The feeling Stanley Kubrick is trying to get us to feel while watching The Shining can best be described as an unsettled, primal fear. There are forces at work here, including the strange geography and the power of alcohol to mess up a man faster and more thoroughly than nearly any other thing, which go beyond the ghosts that inhabit the Overlook Hotel. Though those are scary, too. It’s pretty crazy how the majority of the film contains very little in the way of actual scares, only the events in room 237 and some brief visits from those poor, bloody young girls qualify as typical horror stuff in the first two hours of this film. But those two hours are still deeply off-putting thanks to the near constant score which keeps the audience perpetually on the edge of their seats and Kubrick’s masterful compositions. It’s a simple family in the process of breaking apart story with trappings of psychological horror and pitch-black comedy (see: Dick Halloran). And those last 15 minutes are the scariest things in all of movies.

13. The Searchers

Well, Reverend, that tears it! From now on, you stay out of this. All of ya. I don’t want you with me. I don’t need ya for what I got to do.

The old west isn’t as lush as the Irish hills in The Quiet Man but The Searchers is no less starkly beautiful for it. It’s a harsh land and people must be harsh to survive it. John Wayne is atypically sad throughout this film, though he disguises it with anger and unwavering dedication. To save his family he must be alone, an idea echoed in the final shot and foreshadowed in the early goings. Wayne isn’t a good guy here as his racism belies his war hero past. Of course, as Zero Dark Thirty reminded us last year, depiction doesn’t equal endorsement and Wayne’s character is clearly shown to be an outsider in the slowly civilizing society of the old west.

12. Princess Mononoke

Ah, you’re awake. I was hoping you’d cry out in your sleep, then I would have bitten your head off to silence you.

Princess Mononoke appeals to so many of the things I like in films. It creates a fantastically detailed world which feels real and vibrant at the same time, steeped in traditional Japanese culture and ideas about industrialism. It’s a mythic story which concerns itself seriously with gods and monsters and forest spirits alongside iron forges and the development of advanced war machines. But it’s the smaller things, the kodama pictured above and the peaceful woodlands that are portrayed so specifically and wonderfully which make this movie so great.

11. Lucky Star

I guess you can make somethin’ outta just about anythin’, can’t you?

The third Frank Borzage film on this list is his best one. Lucky Star is Borzage at his melodramatic peak, a place where love rules all and can make even the worst of situations into a chance for magic to happen. The dresses, the amazing set design and cinematography, and the super fantastic performances from Janet Gaynor  (also great in the more popular but less awesome Seventh Heaven) and Charles Farrell combine wonderfully into this simple, silent tale of love and loss and, ultimately, snow. Best ending ever? Perhaps.

10. Blade Runner

It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?

Ok, maybe that last statement was a bit rash. Roy Batty’s final monologue is one of the best ever written for the screen and goes a long way towards cementing this film as an all time classic. Of course, the rest of the movie helps there, too, with its wildly inventive future-noir look – neon lights and a constant rain/fog combo – and compelling story involving hunting down androids that just want to be treated like real people. It’s got all kinds of existential questions (a theme you’ll see popping up throughout the top ten movies on this list) plus some pretty great action scenes. There’s not much better than Blade Runner.

9. There Will Be Blood

There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone.

There are two levels, at least, going on here and each informs the other in fantastically intricate ways. The first is the historical battle between commerce and religion for the soul of society at large. These are embodied in the skins of Daniel Plainview, the ruthless and relentless oil tycoon, and Eli Sunday, a young preacher trying to bring his own twisted version of Christianity to the wild west. As money and faith duke it out we get the second layer, the portrait of a deeply flawed but somehow admirable man (Plainview) who must figure out who he is and what he actually wants from life. Unlike most films, it’s not exactly a pretty end to that part of the story. The stark beauty of the turn of the century west provides a perfect background to all of these elements, ensuring that nothing is hidden from its harsh winds for too long.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

The captain has been so good to us… Please, Ofelia, call him father. It’s just a word, Ofelia, just a word.

Those of you who have been following this list as it evolves from year to year probably aren’t surprised to see any of the last 5 or 6 entries on this list, but their placement might be a bit of a shock (as much as this kind of thing can be shocking). For the longest time Pan’s Labyrinth was my number two film of all time and deservedly so. Its artful melding of the real and fantastic, wars and fairy tales, is only one of the multitudes of reasons why this film is so great. Guillermo del Toro moves his camera so fluidly and purposefully that we feel like we’re being carried along by the story rather than just told it. It should be noted that this 6-spot drop isn’t because I love it any less, I just grew in appreciation for some other films.

7. Inglourious Basterds

It seems I’ve created a monster. A strangely persuasive monster.

Not only is this movie more entertaining than any other in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre so far, it’s also the deepest by a very long shot. His typically talky scenes often frustrate as we want to get to the bloody action quicker but here they speak volumes about the power of cinema and stories and spectacular showcases for the best cast he’s ever had. It’s a nutty propaganda movie about propaganda and revenge fantasies overflowing with historic and filmic references as he so often likes to do. The climax is an amazing confluence of these ideas and supremely bloody violence. It’s everything I want from a World War II movie.

6. Where The Wild Things Are

There were some buildings… There were these really tall buildings, and they could walk. Then there were some vampires. And one of the vampires bit the tallest building, and his fangs broke off. Then all his other teeth fell out. Then he started crying. And then, all the other vampires said, “Why are you crying? Weren’t those just your baby teeth?” And he said, “No. Those were my grown-up teeth.” And the vampires knew he couldn’t be a vampire anymore, so they left him. The end.

So many coming of age movies on this list! I guess it just appeals to me, that transition into becoming who you’re going to be is one which can only really be appreciated in retrospect and movies give us a great way to transport back to those moments for a few hours at a time. This one is filled with imagination and uses the classic children’s book as a jumping off point rather than a blueprint. At its time of release there was some talk about whether a kid would actually enjoy this movie. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know I love the hell out of it with all of its melancholy and anger and beautiful happiness.

5. Magnolia

I lost my gun today when I left you and I’m the laughingstock of a lot of people. I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know and it’s on my mind. And it makes me look like a fool. And I feel like a fool. And you asked that we should say things – that we should say what we’re thinking and not lie about things. Well, I can tell you that, this, that I lost my gun today – and I am not a good cop. And I’m looked down at. And I know that. And I’m scared that once you find that out you may not like me.

I think I’ve identified most with Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) in this movie. He’s just a guy trying to do the right thing, perhaps a little blind to the darker elements of his surroundings and shy. This quote, outlining his faults in his rambling and oversharing fashion, is a really fantastic portrait of the man. But the best part is how it’s put up against Claudia Gator’s own failings and triumphs. This 3+ hour film has 8 or 9 main characters and each is slowly fleshed out so that the climax can bring them together in unexpected and potentially insane ways. Any movie that can get Tom Cruise to feel as vile as he does here and then twist that into a fascinating relationship between a father and a son is one that will always be special.

4. Black Swan

Because everything Beth does comes from within. From some dark impulse. I guess that’s what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times, but also so damn destructive.

Aha! I think any movie that has occupied my top 4 or so has been bumped down a few spots at this point, so here at the very peak we have some fresh faces. When I first saw Black Swan I really liked it. As time has passed I’ve continued to think about it, there’s a kind of insidious simplicity to it that turns a pretty basic story of obsession and perfection into a movie about art itself, and what artists would do to achieve greatness. It’s also a pretty rocking horror film, full of frightening imagery and psychologically unsettling touches that worms it further and further into masterpiece territory. Have we talked about endings enough here? Not yet! This one is a spectacular example and at once inevitable and surprising.

3. Take Shelter

You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it.

If it weren’t for the next two movies on this list I’d be able to declare this the best family movie I’ve ever seen. That isn’t to say it’s a movie for families. I don’t think children will really enjoy the psychological horror that the father’s dreams portray nor will they understand the destruction they portend. But as a portrait of a family only two films top it. Michael Shannon gives an all-time great performance as a father struggling with keeping his family afloat amid a sea of bills and potential mental illness. Or are his visions which spur him into creating an underground shelter more than just dreams and is he a modern day Noah? The film is ambiguous when it comes to answering that question, but nobody can doubt that he and his wife (Jessica Chastain in a more down to earth portrayal than the same year’s Tree of Life) will meet the storm – real or metaphysical – together.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.

Last year, the year Moonrise Kingdom came out, it roared onto my list at around the 50 spot. This year it takes a similar jump, all the way up to the penultimate spot. If you told me three years ago that a Wes Anderson movie would be my second favorite of all time I’d tell you to shut up with your lying lies. Impossible! Possible! All it took was a visit to the local theater to bask in Moonrise Kingdom‘s studied quirk. Critics often use that word and its variants (quirky, mostly) as an insult but with Wes Anderson it is more of a statement of purpose. He’s bringing his distinct point of view into the world of cinema and doing it with a nearly unmatched sense of artistry and detail. He likes broken families and this film is no different. Sometimes our families aren’t perfect and it is in those moments that we must rely upon friends and romances for our stability. This movie makes the point delightfully and thoroughly.

1. Fanny and Alexander

Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.

I already wrote a twoparter post about this movie and why it’s my new number one, so go read those for a detailed explanation. For those that don’t want to read the nearly 3,000 words there, know that it’s a movie that hits each and every one of my buttons, has a fantastic Christmas celebration and a few horror elements, and is as comprehensive a family movie as I have ever seen. Good parents and bad parents and good parents gone bad, children coping with the world shattering changes they can’t avoid, and plenty of stuff about storytelling in the middle of it all. It’s glorious.

And that’s all folks! Another year and another list. This one was a bit of a shakeup and I like that a lot. It’s as much a list about me as it is about the movies on it and since I’ve changed in the past year I think my list should as well. Have anything to say? Do so in the comments! And stick around, the big movie season is just beginning.

Top 100 Films List (2013): Movies about Brothers and Sisters

Time to come down to earth a little bit. After the portion of this list presented earlier in the week about God(s), my focus now turns to brothers and sisters. I have one of each and the relationships that form between brothers and sisters are some of the weirdest and sometimes strongest that we build in our lives. This is our family, and different though we may be, we are generally forced to live with each other for the developmental periods of our lives. Neither my brother nor my sister are very much like me, though I can see myself in facets of each of them. It’s this relationship that fascinates me and forms the basis of this part of the list. Some of these films will just be about brothers, or just about sisters, but they’re all about how these people that we don’t choose to affiliate ourselves with have a profound and lasting influence on our lives. And now, the poll.

Now that the voting is out of the way (you did vote for your favorite, right?), let’s get into the meat of it all. I don’t think I included any cannibal brothers or sisters here, but let’s start with the more strained relationships. Some of these are small in scope, take the snowball fight in Where the Wild Things Are as an example of a very minor but very important scene of brother and sister fighting. It’s a scene that provides a very grounded basis for the rest of the film, and also a scene likely acted out by every brother and sister in the known universe. A young boy spies on his older sister and her friends as she leaves the house to hang out. He goes into attack mode and tosses some snowballs at them while they are getting into a beat up old car and when she and her friends retaliate it all seems like a good time. That is, until one friend goes too far and jumps on top of the snow cave the brother built. What was fun turns instantly into a sad, angry scene as the brother gathers up some snow and throws it on her bed after she leaves. It’s almost too real a scene to be included in a fiction movie, but it’s that scene that sets in motion the rest of the film’s fantastical-if-sadly-strange wonderland. There’s a similar scene in Punch-Drunk Love, where Barry, a weird and lonely man, is invited to have dinner with his multitude of sisters. What starts as a nice, if forced, dinner conversation turns into a typical rage fit for Barry after all of his sisters pile on and pester him about his weirdness. It’s the ugly side of sibling relationships, but they do exist.

Even twins have antagonistic tendencies. Adaptation is a weird movie about a weird man trying to write a weird movie about a weird book. He becomes a character in his own film, and his twin (who doesn’t exist in real life) tries to be like him but fails spectacularly, writing all the wrong things and falling into all the screenwriting traps he is trying to avoid. Melancholia features, in its first half, the wedding of a young depressed girl. Her sister is organizing everything and as the wedding falls apart thanks to the bride’s depression, the sister gets more and more exasperated. All of these sibling rivalry type relationships are pretty obvious in their construction, but I think they say important things about the way we treat those that are related to us. Perhaps the biggest, and certainly the loudest, example of this is from The Lion in Winter, a movie based entirely around familial bickering over important and not so important things. On the important side, which of three brothers will take over as King of England, on the not so important side, which of the brothers is loved more by which parent. And then, to take it one step further, Halloween features an older brother who goes crazy and kills one sister and then spends the rest of the film trying to kill another. This relationship isn’t revealed until the second film, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s too fun to keep off this portion of the list.

Of course, not all brothers and sisters want to kill each other. Sometimes they’re the only source of hope and the only people one can rely on in rough situations. The Night of the Hunter features a ferocious performance by Robert Mitchum as an evil step-father who tries to extract the location of stolen money hidden by the father of the young brother and sister at the center of the film. His evilness is elaborated upon as the film goes on, which only serves to bring the two kids closer together as everybody around them that should be their protectors are revealed to be ineffective.  The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are a little more obviously and immediately life threatening and as such the brother and sister in that film don’t demonstrate much beyond some playful jabs at each other’s nerdiness, and they learn just how resourceful they can be when the other is in danger. The Proposition‘s Australian outlaw brother trio is as messed up as they can be, and yet their relationship grows stronger and deeper the further into trouble they get. The titular family in The Royal Tenenbaums is falling apart and at the outset this movie would seem like it should go more in the first category of unfriendly siblings, but as the film develops the second generation comes together, puts aside their petty fights and hidden jealousies to save their family from dissolution. It’s a group of true and real relationships painted with Wes Anderson’s typical style, which elevates the movie into greatness. Similarly, Pan’s Labyrinth features a girl who’s mother is pregnant, and whose pregnancy is jeopardized by health risks and an evil stepfather (noticing a trend?). At first Ofelia is angry at her soon-to-be-sister for endangering her mother but once she grows up a little she realizes how much this relationship will mean and tries her best to save the recently-born child. Not all fathers must be evil, of course. Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life might seem at first to feature an evil father but repeat viewings reveal Brad Pitt’s father to be a loving, flawed human being. Still, the brothers often find themselves uniting against him and going on young boy quests through the wilds of the mid-century mid-west. Fanny and Alexander again features an evil stepfather and a brother and sister who team up to weather any abuse they must endure while their mother fights her own battles against the tyrannical man she married.

Some of the more observant of my readers might notice a few films on this list that seem like they shouldn’t fit the topic at first glance. What brothers or sisters are there in Blade Runner, for example? Well, if you’ll allow, I extend the idea of siblings into friends that have a tighter relationship than the norm. So the similarly created robots in Blade Runner share an impending death and they fight the system that tries to keep them less than human. The World’s End, too, features friends that, at the beginning, have fallen out with each other thanks to the destructive habits of their leader. Still, that leader succeeds in bringing them back together as they fight an evil extraterrestrial threat (and try to drink 12 pints from 12 different pubs at the same time). In Never Let Me Go the nature of the relationship between all of the characters in the film is left a mystery for much of the run time, but their strange situation brings them together and they form bonds that act similarly to the brother and sister relationship. There’s always the other side of that coin, though. The rival magicians in The Prestige know each other so well that they develop a deep jealousy which turns murderous. There Will Be Blood seems like a movie that features a real brother-brother relationship, with the introduction of Henry, a man who says he’s Daniel Plainview’s long lost brother (turns out, no) and the brothers that hate each other, Paul and Eli Sunday. The two young basketball players with dreams of going to the NBA in Hoop Dreams aren’t related by blood, but they nevertheless support and cheer for each other through high and low.

And then there are the siblings torn apart by circumstance. The Mortal Storm begins with a strong family bond which breaks as Hitler declares war on the rest of Europe. The older brothers become surprisingly fascist and leave to join Hitler’s fight while the only sister, the incomparable Margaret Sullavan, stays behind to help her elderly and disgraced father retain some kind of dignity. Later in the film she goes to one of her older brothers to ask for his help in escaping their country for one that has been kept out of the war. The conflict between his duty and his family is strong and quite affecting which, after several rewatches, is elevated to being at least as moving as the love story at the film’s center. Anna Karenina spends the first part of her movie trying to help her lecherous brother through an affair but turns into an adulterer herself as she leaves him to figure out his own issues. The sibling rivalry in City of God gets to quite destructive ends, as one brother tries desperately to stay out of the gangs that rule the slums and the other tries just as hard to get into one, to his ultimate demise. The problem between brother and sister in The Quiet Man isn’t quite life or death. Maureen O’Hara’s crazy older brother is dead set against her betrothal to John Wayne and gets into a hilariously long (in both time and distance senses of the word) fight scene over her. I guess that’s some kind of love. And, though they call themselves a family, the organization in The Godfather is a kind that says it’s all about loyalty at the front and will turn with jealousy at the drop of a hat. The secrets and lies that boil underneath the relationship between the two sisters in A Streetcar Named Desire are what leads to that film’s climactic battle of words.

Brothers and sisters are a strange bunch. Through love and jealousy and hatred and reverence they idolize and vilify each other. A port of refuge in a storm or a strong wind that sets the other adrift, the relationship between siblings, blood or otherwise, is difficult to get right. These 26 movies do, and for that I salute them.

That’s all for now. If you have another movie you like about brothers and sisters, leave a comment for me! If you haven’t voted for your favorite from my list, go do that. And if you’re on Letterboxd (and you should be), check out this list there and be sure to check off all that you have seen. And tune in sometime next week for the next installment of this ongoing series. It’ll be another familial relationship. Or not! Who knows!

Top 100 Films List (2012 edition)

Surprise bonus list! Every year I revise my top movies list and this year I didn’t spend much time on the ordering, outside adding in ten new movies and dropping out ten old movies. The new movies are underlined. Click the movie title if it’s a link for a full review. I decided to not go into the full detail that I did last year, because those are still available for you to peruse at your leisure. I did pick out a new quote for each entry, though, so I hope you still enjoy it. Here we go.

100. Scream

“Sidney, how does it feel to be almost brutally butchered? People want to know. They have a right to know! How does it feel?”

99. This is Spinal Tap

“May I start by saying how thrilled we are to have you here. We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I’m not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll.”

98. A Serious Man

“You understand the dead cat? But… you… you can’t really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That’s the real thing; the stories I give you in class are just illustrative; they’re like, fables, say, to help give you a picture. An imperfect model. I mean – even I don’t understand the dead cat. The math is how it really works.”

97. The Lion in Winter

“You’re so deceitful you can’t ask for water when you’re thirsty. We could tangle spiders in the webs you weave.”

96. The Fly

“I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.”

95. All the President’s Men

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

94. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

“You could have dinner with us… my brother makes good head cheese! You like head cheese?”

93. Mother

“There’s a meridian point that can loosen the knots in your heart and clear all horrible memories from you mind.”

92. Days of Heaven

“You know how people are. You tell them something, they start talking.”

91. Exit Through the Gift Shop

“I think the joke is on… I don’t know who the joke’s on – really. I don’t even know if there is a joke.”

90. To Kill a Mockingbird

“There just didn’t seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn’t explain. Though it wasn’t a talent that would arouse the admiration of any of our friends, Jem and I had to admit he was very good at that – but that was *all* he was good at… we thought.”

89. Apocalypto

“I am Jaguar Paw, son of Flint Sky. My Father hunted this forest before me. My name is Jaguar Paw. I am a hunter. This is my forest. And my sons will hunt it with their sons after I am gone.”

88. Once

“What’s the Czech for “Do you love him”?”

87. How Green Was My Valley

“Everything I ever learnt as a small boy came from my father, and I never found anything he ever told me to be wrong or worthless. The simple lessons he taught me are as sharp and clear in my mind as if I had heard them only yesterday.”

86. Punch-Drunk Love

“I have to get more pudding for this trip to Hawaii. As I just said that out loud I realize it sounded a little strange but it’s not.”

85. Paths of Glory

“I apologize… for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!”

84. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“Maybe you don’t have to do this all by yourself, mate.”

83. Manhattan

“I had a mad impulse to throw you down on the lunar surface and commit interstellar perversion.”

82. In Bruges

“Number One, why aren’t you in when I fucking told you to be in? Number Two, why doesn’t this hotel have phones with fucking voicemail and not have to leave messages with the fucking receptionist? Number Three, you better fucking be in tomorrow night when I fucking call again or there’ll be fucking hell to pay. I’m fucking telling you – Harry.”

81. The Godfather

“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me?”

80. Metropolis

“There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

79. A Fish Called Wanda

“To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?”

78. The Proposition

“I know where Arthur Burns is. It is a God-forsaken place. The blacks won’t go there, not the tracks; not even wild men. I suppose, in time, the bounty hunters will get him. But I have other plans, I aim to bring him down – I aim to show that he’s a man like any other. I aim to hurt him.”

77. Repulsion

“I must get this crack mended.”

76. The Shop Around the Corner

“Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.”

75. Hot Fuzz

“You wanna be a big cop in a small town? Fuck off up the model village.”

74. The Conversation

“I’m not following you, I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.”

73. RoboCop

“Let me make something clear to you. He doesn’t have a name. He has a program. He’s product.”

72. Young Mr. Lincoln

“I may not know much of law Mr. Felder, but I know what’s right and what’s wrong. And I know what you’re asking is wrong.”

71. Brazil

“Listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a 27b/6… Bloody paperwork.”

70. Eyes Wide Shut

“I have seen one or two things in my life but never, never anything like this.”

69. The General

“Heroes of the day.”

68. Catch Me If You Can

“For the last six months, he’s gone to Harvard and Berkeley. I’m betting he can get a passport.”

67. A Streetcar Named Desire

“But some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable! It is the one unforgivable thing, in my opinion, and the one thing of which I have never, never been guilty.”

66. Synecdoche, New York

“I know how to do the play now. It will all take place over the course of one day. And that day will be the day before you died. That day was the happiest day of my life. Then I’ll be able to live it forever. See you soon.”

65. Moonrise Kingdom

“I love you, but you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

64. The Mortal Storm

“I’ve never prized safety, Erich, either for myself or my children. I prized courage.”

63. The Truman Show

“If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.”

62. The Night of the Living Dead

“We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn’t going to solve anything.”

61. The Brothers Bloom

“This was a story about a girl who could find infinite beauty in anything, any little thing, and even love the person she was trapped with. And i told myself this story until it became true. Now, did doing this help me escape a wasted life? Or did it blind me so I didn’t want to escape it? I don’t know, but either way I was the one telling my own story…”

60. The Wicker Man

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”

59. Children of Men

“And now one for all the nostalgics out there. A blast from the past all the way back from 2003, that beautiful time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner.”

58. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

“Demon! What are you waiting for? This is what you want, isn’t it? Look at it. The last of its kind. Like you and I. If you destroy it, the world will never see its kind again… You have more in common with us than with them.”

57. The Quiet Man

“No patty-fingers, if you please. The proprieties at all times. Hold on to your hats.”

56. Fantastic Mr. Fox

“Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?”

55. 7th Heaven

“I work in a sewer but I live near the stars.”

54. 2001: A Space Odyssey

“I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.”

53. The Incredibles

“No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!”

52. A History of Violence

“This isn’t a completely dead eye, it still works a bit. The problem is, the only thing I can see with it is Joey Cusack, and it can see right through him… right through your husband, Edie. I see what’s inside him, what makes him tick. He’s still the same guy. He’s still crazy fucking Joey! And you know it, don’t you? How much do you really know about your husband, Edie? Where he’s from, where he’s been, his life before he met you some 20 years ago?”

51. Mulholland Dr.

“It’ll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else.”

50. Out of Sight

“I’ve, uh, vertically integrated myself. You know, diversified and shit, and now I’m into the occasional grand larceny, home invasion… shit like that.”

49. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

“Hold fast to the human inside of you, and you’ll survive”

48. The Grapes of Wrath

“Tom, you gotta learn like I’m learnin’. I don’t know it right yet myself. That’s why I can’t ever be a preacher again. Preachers gotta know. I don’t know. I gotta ask.”

47. The Social Network

“I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”

46. The Prestige

“You never understood, why we did this. The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It’s miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you… then you got to see something really special… you really don’t know?… it was… it was the look on their faces…”

45. Die Hard

“You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?”

44. Chinatown

“After you’ve worked with a man a certain length of time, you come to know his habits, his values – you come to know him – and either he’s the kind who chases after women or he isn’t.”

43. Where the Wild Things Are

“Happiness isn’t always the best way to be happy.”

42. Throne of Blood

“Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.”

41. My Darling Clementine

“I ain’t gonna kill you. I hope you live a hundred years… so you’ll feel just a little what my pa’s gonna feel. Now get out of town – start wandering!”

40. 12 Angry Men

“Well, I’m not used to supposin’. I’m just a workin’ man. My boss does all the supposin’ – but I’ll try one. Supposin’ you talk us all out of this and, uh, the kid really did knife his father?”

39. Black Swan

“Perfect? I’m not perfect. I’m nothing.”

38. Reservoir Dogs

“If you shoot this man, you die next. Repeat. If you shoot this man, you die next.”

37. Zodiac

“Do you know more people die in the East Bay commute every three months than that idiot ever killed? He offed a few citizens, wrote a few letters, then faded into footnote… Not that I haven’t been sitting here idly, waiting for you to drop by and reinvigorate my sense of purpose”

36. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

“I tell him about destiny; he’s shaking his head. About dreamgirls; he doesn’t care. I mention the underwear thing? He has a *fucking conniption*. And you? How ’bout it, filmgoer? Have you solved the case of the – the dead people in L.A.? Times Square audiences, please don’t shout at the screen, and stop picking at that, it’ll just get worse.”

35. The Thing

“I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

34. North by Northwest

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.”

33. Princess Mononoke

“Look, everyone! This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! It’s eating me alive, and very soon now it will kill me! Fear and anger only make it grow faster!”

32. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

“Liberty Valance defeated. D-E-F-E-E… T-E-D? The unsteady hand betrays. What’s the matter, Mr. Peabody? Are you afraid? The answer is indub… yes. No courage left. Well, courage can be purchased at yon tavern. But have we credit? That is the question. Have we credit? Well, credit is cheap. Wait for me, old servant of the public wheel. Our shining hour is yet to come. As for you, Horace Greeley, go west, old man, and grow young with the country.”

31. Hoop Dreams

“Four years ago that’s all I used to dream about was playing in the NBA. I don’t really dream about it like that anymore. You know, even through I love playing basketball, you know I want to do other things with my life too.”

30. 127 Hours

“Aron from Loser Canyon, Utah. How do you know so much? Well, I’ll tell you how I know so much. I volunteer for the rescue service. You see, I’m something of a… well, a big fucking hard hero. And I can do everything on my own, you see? I do see! Now… Is it true that despite, or maybe because you’re a big fucking hard hero… you didn’t tell anyone where you were going? Yeah. That’s absolutely correct. Anyone…? Anyone. Oops… Oops. Oops.”

29. The Night of the Hunter

“You know, when you’re little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again. Children are man at his strongest. They abide.”

28. Fargo

“There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”

27. Sunshine

“For seven years I spoke with God. He told me to take us all to Heaven.”

26. Inglourious Basterds

“I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing.”

25. Halloween

“I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall – looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.”

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

“Well, if you’ll pardon my saying so, I guess it is interesting, the many ways you and I overlap and whatnot. You begin with our Daddies. Your daddy was a pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church; my daddy was a pastor of a church at Excelsior Springs. Um. You’re the youngest of the three James boys; I’m the youngest of the five Ford boys. Between Charley and me, is another brother, Wilbur here, with six letters in his name; between Frank and you was a brother, Robert, also with six letters. Robert is my Christian name. You have blue eyes; I have blue eyes. You’re five feet eight inches tall. I’m five feet eight inches tall. Oh me, I must’ve had a list as long as your nightshirt when I was twelve, but I’ve lost some curiosities over the years.”

23. Shaun of the Dead

“Lizzy, how can you put your faith in a man you spectacularly binned for being unreliable? A man whose idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing? It’s… This is a pub! We are in a pub! What are we going to do now?”

22. Fantasia

“What you will see on the screen is a picture of the various abstract images that might pass through your mind if you sat in a concert hall listening to this music. At first, you’re more or less conscious of the orchestra. So our picture opens with a series of impressions of the conductor and the players. Then the music begins to suggest other things to your imagination. They might be, oh, just masses of color or they may be cloud forms or great landscapes or vague shadows or geometrical objects floating in space”

21. The Lady Eve

“You don’t happen to be a mouthpiece, do you? You talk like a law school.”

20. Toy Story 3

“Now Woody, he’s been my pal for as long as I can remember. He’s brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.”

19. His Girl Friday

“Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.”

18. The Exorcist

“Have you ever heard of exorcism? Well, it’s a stylized ritual in which the rabbi or the priest try to drive out the so-called invading spirit. It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of an embarrassment, but uh, it has worked. In fact, although not for the reasons they think, of course. It’s purely a force of suggestion. The victim’s belief in possession is what helped cause it, so in that same way, a belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear.”

17. The Long Day Closes

“Erosion is the cumulative effect of a great variety of processes – full stop. In general, these can be divided into five groups. One. River erosion. Two. Rain erosion. Three. Glacial erosion. Four. Wind erosion. And five. marine erosion. Life also cooperates in the work of destruction.”

16. The Fall

“What a mystery this world, one day you love them and the next day you want to kill them a thousand times over.”

15. Three Comrades

“So long as you don’t give in, you’re bigger than what happens to you.”

14. Miller’s Crossing

“All in all not a bad guy – if looks, brains and personality don’t count.”

13. Adaptation

“You and I share the same DNA. Is there anything more lonely than that?”

12. Jaws

“You know that was the time I was most frightened… waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

11. City of God

“A kid? I smoke, I snort. I’ve killed and robbed. I’m a man.”

10. The Searchers

“Well, Reverend, that tears it! From now on, you stay out of this. All of ya. I don’t want you with me. I don’t need ya for what I got to do.”

9. Alien

“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

8. Lucky Star

“You’re a cannibal and a dirty, no-good low-down little thief!”

7. Jurassic Park

“You never had control, that’s the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too, I didn’t have enough respect for that power and it’s out now. The only thing that matters now are the people we love. Alan and Lex and Tim. John, they’re out there where people are dying.”

6. The Shining

“I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years. And not all of ’em was good.”

5. There Will Be Blood

“Drainage! Drainage, Eli! Drained dry, you boy! If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and I have a straw and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”

4. Blade Runner

“Not very sporting to fire on an unarmed opponent. I thought you were supposed to be good. Aren’t you the “good” man? C’mon, Deckard. Show me what you’re made of.”

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.”

2. Pan’s Labyrinth

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts.”

1. Magnolia

“Want to know the common element for the entire group?… I’ll tell you the answer: I’ll tell you, ’cause I had that one. I had that question… Carbon. Carbon. In pencil lead, it’s in the form of graphite and in coal, it’s mixed up with other impurities and in the diamond it’s in hard form. “Well… all we were asking was the common element, Donnie… but thank you for all that unnecessary knowledge… haha, kids! Heads so full of useless knowledge. Thank you. Thank you.” And the book says: “We may be through with the past… but the past is not through with us!” And… no, it is not dangerous to confuse children with angels!”

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 50-31

According to Goodreads I’ve read exactly 300 books. There must be more than that, but that’s a pretty ok number to work from. The following list of 50 books represents 1/6th of all the books I’ve read/ranked on that site, which happen to be all the books I can remember. I really like all the books on this list, and only the top 15 or so should be considered to be in any kind of order. If it’s on this list, you can take it as a hearty recommendation. Any time the title of the book is a link, click it to bring up my full review. Here’s the first part of the list.

50. The Thurber Carnival – James Thurber

“Let me be the first to admit that the naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts. Senor Dali has the jump on me from the beginning. He remembers and describes in detail what it was like in the womb. My own earliest memory is of accompanying my father to a polling booth in Columbus, Ohio, where he voted for William McKinley.”

This is a fun collection of essays and short stories from throughout Thurber’s career. Thurber lived in my homestate and there are some fun thins to spot. Some of the short stories are really great, as are the stories of Thurber’s time as an intrepid reporter.

49. The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

Ah, another note. Any book series will count as just one spot on the list. Here we have the mega-hit series which is quite amazing in how it grew up along with its readers. It’ll be interesting to see how the series ages, now that they are finished and the movies are done (for the moment). It’s a great story and well told, one that touches upon many themes and ideas among a world filled with fantastic characters.

48. Orland0 – Virginia Woolf

“To put it in a nutshell, he was afflicted with a love of literature. It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality.”

Here’s a daring piece of work. Orlando goes through a bit of a change from the beginning to the end of this book, as most protagonists do. In this case, however, the change is physical as well as mental. Orlando seemingly doesn’t age, and he becomes a she. Interested? You should be, it’s a great book.

47. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods – A.S. Byatt

“He was beautiful, that was always affirmed, but his beauty was hard to fix or to see, for he was always glimmering, flickering, melting, mixing, he was the shape of a shapeless flame, he was the eddying thread of needle-shapes in the shapeless mass of the waterfall. He was the invisible wind that hurried the clouds in billows and ribbons. You could see a bare tree on the skyline bent by the wind, holding up twisted branches and bent twigs, and suddenly its formless form would resolve itself into that of the trickster.”

This is a small book with a big idea. Take the Norse mythology of old and retell it in the very nature-tuned way that Byatt has and then wrap it with an autobiographical framing story about WWII and the potential horrors and depression it caused. You can read it in an afternoon, and you should.

46. IT – Stephen King

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

Stephen King formed a large part of my middle childhood, that transition between kid lit and serious books, both of which you’ll find on this list, so why not some King as well. I don’t think he gets enough credit as a good author, which he is on occasion. IT might be his scariest book, as well as one of his most ambitious, though there are some coming up that are even more so.

45. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

“Then you compared a woman’s love to Hell,
To barren land where water will not dwell,
And you compared it to a quenchless fire,
The more it burns the more is its desire
To burn up everything that burnt can be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives. ”

And herein lies the English degree. I took a whole class on this book and it was really interesting to delve into each tale both separately and as a part of a whole. And it’s further proof that remakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing (take that, Boccaccio!).

44. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue – Maurice Sendak

“”Is that all

you have to say?”

I don’t care!

“Then I’ll eat you,

if I may.”

I don’t care!“”

This is a full on nostalgia pick. I had it in a little 6-book hardcover box set, each of which with a different color on the dust jacket. It was my first introduction to serialized books, something you’ll see all over my list.

43. Y: The Last Man series – Brian K. Vaughan

“No. No, first comes boyhood. You get to play with soldiers and spacemen, cowboys and ninjas, pirates and robots. But before you know it, all that comes to an end. And then, Remo Williams, is when the adventure begins.”

An epic sci-fi road post-apocalyptic comedy/drama thing. Maybe the most outstanding element in this world with only one man is the community theater. There exists an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross .

42. The Odyssey – Homer

“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”

Another full semester spent on this classic. It’s such a classic story and it informs practically everything that came after it. For some reason, I think of nearly all George Clooney characters as some version of Odysseus.

41. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”

The above can be seen as a kind of thesis for the book. When immigrants came to the US they brought their gods with them, but now those gods are being replaced by technology made corporeal. This is a book that works really great up to a point and then gets considerably worse. But those first 3/4ths are really great.

40. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go- We’ll eat you up- we love you so!”

How great is this book? So great. Under 50 sentences, but true and real and sad and imaginative. And the movie adaptation is great, too.

39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”

Joyce is such a hard guy to crack. This book and another that will appear later are normal in length and, mostly, technique. But then Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake have such a big shadow that I’m terrified of approaching them. I’ll wallow in my relative ignorance until I have the time an inclination to take on such titanic works.

38. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

“I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something.”

Atwood’s dystopia is about controlling women and taking reproduction out of their hands. It’s interesting how that one change could ripple throughout society. What makes a woman a woman and how can that be used against them? And what role does religion play in oppression and repression? Very interesting.

37. The Stand – Stephen King

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

King does his best work when he goes very big or very small. His epics and his short stories are where he can expand to talk about everything or focus like a laser on one thing. This is the former. After a disease wipes out most of humanity, the rest pick sides (or are picked) between good and evil, and then there’s a battle. But before that there’s rebuilding society and the horror of decay. It’s terrifying and deeply human.

36. Kraken – China Mieville

“I know, I know,” Moore said. “Mad beliefs like that, eh? Must be some metaphor, right? Must mean something else?” Shook his head. “What an awfully arrogant thing. What if faiths are exactly what they are? And mean exactly what they say?”
“Stop trying to make sense of it and just listen,” Dane said.
“And what,” Moore said, “if a large part of the reason they’re so tenacious is that they’re perfectly accurate?”

Mieville is my favorite working genre author. He does mostly urban sci-fi and his Bas-Lag books are wonderful, but this one takes the cake for me. It takes place in our London, but underneath hides a thousand little religions dedicated to countless objects and ideas. Star Trek style transportation is real and horrifying in its implications. And a giant squid’s corpse is stolen in order to bring about the apocalypse. The mix of fantasy and sci-fi and mystery along with a rocketship pace makes this a super fun read.

35. The Magician series – Lev Grossman

“That’s what death did, it treated you like a child, like everything you had ever thought and done and cared about was just a child’s game, to be crumpled up and thrown away when it was over. It didn’t matter. Death didn’t respect you. Death thought you were bullshit, and it wanted to make sure you knew it.”

This series isn’t even over yet. There are two entries so far and the second improved upon the first, a tough feat for any writer. What starts off as “Harry Potter for adults” became something grander. It’s like Narnia meets The Dark Tower, with connections to all sorts of literature and stories. The second book is an Odyssey-type story of a quest to return home and is really great.

34. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

“This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

A classic for obvious reasons. These books are so full of ideas and cleverness and characters and worlds that I’m more and more amazed every time I read them.

33. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.”

The first book I was forced to read for school and actually liked. I don’t know how anybody couldn’t like it. The quintessential coming of age tale.

32. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

“I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant – children so seldom know what is good for them – I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time – Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy – and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passersby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me.”

It is what it says it is. The title is, of course, silly. But it is also true. It’s a memoir of the years shortly after Eggers’ parents died when he was in college and he changes his entire life to care for his brother. Along the way he tries out for The Real World and starts a magazine. It truly is heartbreaking and staggering and, perhaps, at times, genius.

31. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud

“Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.”

Scott McCloud found a way to teach his readers how comics work by writing a comic and breaking it down and giving examples of different techniques and ideas and explaining how it works. It’s fascinating and funny and a must read for anybody even remotely interested in the artform.

Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I am a freak in secondhand velour, a leper who uses L’Oreal Anti-sticky Mega Gel. I am rootless, ripped from all foundations, an orphan raising an orphan and wanting to take away everything there is and replace it with stuff I’ve made.

I seem to be in a bit of a rut here. I’m reading a lot of books that are purportedly about super sad topics but are really quite hilarious. This is, of course, not a bad thing, just a thing. If all the books I read from now on are as good as this book and the ones before it I’ll be a happy man. Well, a sad and happy man.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir, only the second or third that I have read. I’m not huge on just hearing what happened to a guy as he grew up or whatever. Give me something exciting. Give me space aliens or a talking cat or a guy dressed up in tights, something that I can’t see looking out my window, or looking in my own head. So, does A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius get over the memoir hump? Yes, very much yes. The book thrives because it is a pure extension of Mr. Eggers’ personality. He prefaces the book with a few guidelines and warnings (you might want to stop after the first four chapters because after that the book focuses on the lives of twentysomethings and they are the most boring of all people). And then he puts some deleted scenes in the second preface. And then he gives us a line by line description of how he spent the money he got for writing the book. And then he gives us a drawing of a stapler, because a line by line description of how he spent the money isn’t very exciting. And then the book starts for real.

It’s not like Eggers doesn’t haven anything to talk about. His parents both died within a month of each other when he was in college and he became his 7-year-old brother’s guardian. There is much talk about being a new kind of parent, a shining beacon for how things can and should be done. He will correct the mistakes of his childhood. He will not be secret drunk, he will not be an abusive parent. He will not get his younger brother to school on time, ever. He is tired of answering all the questions that come with his situation, so he makes up answers that get more and more ridiculous. When asked why he wants to be on The Real World, which is shooting its third season in San Francisco, he responds,

-Because I want everyone to witness my youth

Why?
-Isn’t it gorgeous?

He is full of himself, yes, but that ego is what makes his book so strong, so compelling, so close to heartbreak and staggering genius.

Dave Eggers wrote the script for the film adaptation of Where The wild Things Are. It feels like an Eggers work, too.

For me, the best parts of the book deal with Eggers trying to raise Toph, his younger brother. There’s a certain something in their relationship that gets to me. It’s probably rooted in my relationship with my younger brother, a relationship that is good but could always be better, I suppose. Whenever Eggers leaves Toph alone anywhere he automatically starts thinking of the ways that somebody will come and kill Toph. The mysterious killer will enter through the back door and then slip out the window after the deed has been done. Or he’ll enter through the front door, in the guise of a babysitter from the nearby college. He’s a seemingly nice young man but he clearly is a killer. He’ll poison Toph and then continue studying for his test the next day. Insidious. I do this, too. I imagine the way my friends and family will die, every day. If I can’t reach you on your cell phone you’ve died in a car crash. If you don’t come back home by the time you said you would you have been abducted and sold into slavery of one form or another. Eggers does this a bunch of times throughout the book and they would get tiresome if he weren’t such a good writer, able to phrase the same thing a billion different ways, each of them funnier than the last.

Which brings us to our last point. The book is funny and sad, quick and slow, upbeat and downcast. It accurately reflects the state of mind one might be in under such extreme circumstances his thoughts are all over the place. The real weight of the story doesn’t come into play until the second to last chapter. The book ends with a Ulysses-esque ejaculation of words and sentiment, anger and happiness and sadness and expectations. There is an As I Lay Dying proclamation: “My mother is a box.” This book is smart and affecting. It not exactly a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It is, perhaps, half a step down from that. A Heartwrenching Work of Impressive Artistry.