Posts Tagged best of 2008

Steele’s Picks for Best Films of 2008

1. Slumdog Millionaire

A magical film and so, so, so brilliant. It’s about dreams and love and never giving up hope. The film, directed by Danny Boyle, is absolutely original, special and imaginative from beginning to end. It is thrilling and lovely and romantic, all wrapped up with a spectacular Bollywood ending.

2. Happy-Go-Lucky

This reminds me a lot of Voltaire’s Candide except that Poppy is [Sally Hawkins] less naive–she knows about the world and its darkness, she just chooses to ignore the evils most of the time– and ends up with less scrapes. She is the ultimate optimist and regardless of the situation she finds herself in she sees it positively.

3. Milk

A moving, inspirational film. Sean Penn [The Interpreter, Mystic River] portrays Harvey Milk in a powerful, profound, commanding performance. He is ebullient and convicted to the end result and wins you over from the first frame. He makes you love Milk right off. He also makes you feel like you are watching a documentary at times. He has the mannerisms and affectations down. And when he’s with his lover, played by the talented James Franco [Pineapple Express, Spider-Man 3], the sex appeal oozes. The duo has smoldering and intense chemistry.

4. Rachel Getting Married

The screenplay, by Sidney Lumet’s daughter Jenny, combined with direction by Jonathan Demme makes this a strong, insightful glimpse into a flawed weekend of one family. Anne Hathaway’s layered performance is dark, moving, unapologetic and brilliant.

5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Loved it! Just fantastic. The neuroses, the craziness, and the cast of Scarlet Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall is divine.

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>6. Wall-E

The messages of caring, compassion, and environmental awareness do not overwhelm the viewer but are clear throughout this heartfelt, inspirational film about a futuristic recycling robot with a penchant for old song and dance films and collecting odd objects like Rubik’s cubes and light bulbs.

7. Mongol

Very, very well made film with wonderful cinematography, fanastic fight scenes and an intense love story. It’s all about the rise to power of Genghis Khan in Mongolia. He overcomes tremendous adversity including losing his father as a young boy, enduring slavery, torment by those in his father’s trust, being betrayed by someone he considered to be a “blood brother,” and numerous prolonged separations from his wife.

8. The Secret Life of Bees

Lovely film with wonderful cast: Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Alicia Keys and Sophie Odeneko. It’s the 60s and a young girl escapes her abusive father to live with a group of independent minded women in South Carolina who support themselves by making honey.

9. Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind is a love story to film. It’s also a commentary on the state of big business. We all know how hard in can be to find a copy of a particular, somewhat obscure film and wonder why there are 25 copies oLif something really banal on the shelves. Be Kind Rewind is a gem amidst a lot of mediocrity.

10. Doubt

Shades of gray. Did he or didn’t he? Guilt, right and wrong, convictions, circumstances, hunches, and the hierarchy or the Church all come into play in this powerful, brilliant film based on the Broadway play. In 1964, Sister Aloysius Beauvier [Meryl Streep] and young, naive Sister James [Amy Adams] are rather dutiful sisters in the congregation, while Father Flynn [Phillip Seymour Hoffman] is the priest running the show. Things seen and heard can be easily misinterpreted and who knows who to trust or to believe?

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Steele’s Picks for Best Reads of 2008

Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

A group of sisters write to guys during WWII (either boyfriends or just guys who need letters). I cried at the end of this book and promptly got online and adopted a U.S. soldier in Iraq. I wrote to SGT Michael Spaeth for the bulk of this year [and sent quite a few care packages] and his tour recently ended. I just requested a new soldier.

The Great Man by Kate Christensen

Fabulous read about an artist as told, after his death, from the viewpoint of four women: his wife, his lover, the lover’s best friend and his sister, also an artist. The women are all in their late 60s and early 70s and they have vastly different memories and relationships with this man and with each other. When two biographers come around to interview the women it forces them to speak to each other and for a long-standing secret to be revealed. Masterful writing by Christensen.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Told in a series of letters this is a charmer. Well-researched and planned, the book covers the period of German occupation of the British Island of Guernsey during WWII and the group of residents who created a book club to thrive and remain active.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

A remarkable, fluid, enthralling book about WWII written by a French Jew (who ended up being shipped off and killed in a concentration camp). It was published some 50 years posthumously. She paints a detailed portrait of the villagers when the Germans invade as well as the mass exodus from Paris. It is funny, sad and quite sympathetic at times toward some of the German soldiers. She seemed to be able to see the situation from all angles and get it down in exquisite prose.

The Cure for the Modern World by Lisa Tucker

Clinical trials, medical research, Big Pharma, medical ethics, children’s rights and much more are explored in this easy-to-read book. It’s a real joy to read it. Perfect weekend read.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Heartbreaking and beautiful. So well-written. Striving for that “perfect” life in suburbia in the 50s can destroy you.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks puts you in Sarajevo and London and Venice at all times as she describes the exciting discovery of an ancient Hebrew manuscript with clues as to its travels and its use over time. While based on real events, Brooks creates fantastic characteristics and writes this love story to books and reading and history. I love her style, her research and journalism skills and want to write books just like her when I finally do.

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus II

Once I got into this book, I just could not stop reading. It is about the fictional final days of one of the 9/11 hijackers as he spent them in Florida at a stripclub. It also involves the stripper and some other clubgoers and how their paths cross that evening.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

A haunting, majestic book of epic proportions. Its about the occupation of Sarajevo in the 90s. A cellist decides to play for 22 days honor those who died from a mortar attack. A man travels to collect water. A woman works as a sniper. Another man walks across town to get bread. All risk their lives. Galloway tells their stories with truth, beauty and honesty. One of the best books I’ve read, ever.

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

Fantastic read. Miller is quite the storyteller and wordsmith. She creates this characters that you can imagine knowing, that are so vibrant and complex and real. Her chosen topic fits the times and our nation’s landscape. It’s not what you expect either.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Pretty amazing piece of work. Writing about an unimaginable event.

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

This is a page turner about a family from Concord, Mass. who summer on the Cape like so many other well-to-do Massachusetts people. The author weaves together secrets involving Turners syndrome, apoptosis, homosexuality, MIT, the scientific community and families in general. It is so well done.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Who would think that a fictionalized book about Laura Bush would be this good and this hard to put down? I really sunk into this book and didn’t want it to end. Sittenfeld did her research and fleshed out her character and made it an enjoyable, wonderful book. I then saw the film W a few weeks later and it made it all that much better for me.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Now I know why everyone has been reading this book—from girlfriends to my step-grandmother– and raving about it. Engrossing and imaginative. I read it in one night.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

In this lyrical collection of stories, Lahiri weaves together families and couples and single people and Indian traditions along.

Dewey by Vicky Myron

Delightful and memorable story about a cat and a little library in Middle-America. The cat touches many people in the libary and the community but the book will also enlighten you about Iowa and its people as well as libraries in general.

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Steele’s Picks for Best Music of 2008

Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
poetic, romantic. my favorite band right now

Juliana Hatfield, How to Walk Away
sweet and moody tunes.

Keane, Perfect Symmetry
smooth and deliciously melodic

Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree
trance. ethereal. The stuff I love and cannot listen to enough.

Alanis Morrissette, Flavors of Entanglement
less angry, still edgy

Dido, Safe Trip Home
great comfort in Dido’s voice and her songwriting for me. as if she gets me or she’s been through similar things.

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst
brilliant singer/songwriter with something about his voice. I like to listen before I go to bed. it’s so sexy and soothing.

Sia, Some People Have Real Problems
impressive range. intuitive, creative, eclectic arrangements.

Stereolab, Chemical Chords
the mix of the electronica and french vocals always sounds cool for them.

Amy MacDonald, This is the Life
catchy and moving. great voice.

She and Him, Vol. One
Swirly bittersweet.

R.E.M., Accelerate
a cross between Green and Life’s Rich Pageant.

Coldplay, Viva La Vida
the band doesn’t disappoint with exquisite ballads and sweeping guitar crescendos

Paramore, Riot!
catchy, crisp

Alicia Keys, As I Am
so talented. a strong girl with glorious vocals

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Real Emotional Trash
pure poetry. Stephen Malkmus has a beautiful, world-weary yet hopeful voice.

Snow Patrol, A Hundred Million Suns
still one of my top fave bands. a bit haunting, a bit dreamy, somewhat hypnotic at times.

The Submarines, Honeysuckle Weeks
harmonizing peace and love

The Weepies, Hideaway
mellow and a bit casual, “down home” feel

The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust
upbeat and gloriously propelling

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