Well, the year has come to an end, which is a time for many people to reflect. I personally ‘look back and reflect’ about as much as I abstain from food and film. So don’t worry, no emotive reflective ramblings here.
I am, however, a list guy. I am such a list guy, in fact, I tend to be very grumpy this time of year because other year end lists get it wrong. I finally have a reason to do my own list! (Self created, sure, but whatever works, right?) Thus, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you my own personal ‘best of’ food and film of 2012, with a few other best of items thrown in.
Until yesterday, I thought this would be my personal favorite of the year. And it still might be. I’ve seen it four times now and and will watch it again, a mini obsession apropos for a romantic comedy — of sorts — about two rather unhinged people. With The Fighter and now SLP David O. Russell, known for being slightly unhinged himself, has catapulted to being one of the best directors in Hollywood. His work in both films is outstanding: simple and straightforward, allowing wonderful family stories naturally unfold without a lot of push. His work with actors is terrific. His movies are often extremely funny. Here, working as writer as well as director, he tells a very unconventional story that somehow in the last 30 minutes becomes as audience friendly and rousing as one can imagine. Jennifer Lawrence continues to take my breath away. How wonderful for someone so young to have such presence, confidence and ability. (Her performance this summer in The Hunger Games was another acting highlight of 2012.) But all the performances are superb. I admit the first time I saw it, there were times here and there in the middle I felt a little adrift. But by the end I could not have been more charged and each time I’ve seen it since, it grows in my estimation and the middle makes sense. Silver Linings Playbook is the best film of the year. Except perhaps for…
Understand, I had no desire to see this movie. I hate 3D, the trailer was weirdly off-putting, I tried to read the book twice and never made it past a few pages. As my good friend Stacey texted me when I texted her after I saw it: Just no interest. Kid. Boat. Lion. Not my thing. Me: It’s a tiger, not a lion. Stacey: Still not my thing. That was how I felt about it as well! I only went because I love the director, Ang Lee, and a few other friends encouraged me to give it a try. I realize the subtitle of my blog is ‘Hyperbolic ruminations on food and film’ but I swear I am not being over the top when I say that visually it is the most stunning movie I’ve ever seen. I could not even listen much to the words in the first 15 minutes I was so entranced by the images. The visuals grew in beauty and power as the film continued. There are, of course, many beautiful films out there that are also a train wreck or boring or both. (See Prometheus.) But the content of the movie matched the visuals. The entire film was breathtaking. As I’ve mentioned before, I rarely cry. Here, I was choked up almost from the beginning, initially from the beauty and then, increasingly, from the content. It’s a grand adventure tale. It is also remarkably unsentimental, particularly given the content. Trust me and see this in 3D. That’s from a 3D hater. I can’t imagine seeing it any other way than in 3D and on the big screen. Life of Pi is magnificent. It is going to change the ways films are made.
I’ve written already about a few of my favorite books of the year: One Last Thing Before I Go, Gone Girl, 11-22-63… Don’t miss any of these. Another book I wrote about was a favorite from two years ago, The Passage. It’s the first in a trilogy and ‘part 2’ came out this year: The Twelve. Like it’s predecessor, The Twelve blew me away. Justin Cronin, the author, is writing an epic post apocalyptic trilogy that is somehow very intimate. His characters are beautifully formed. I rarely care so deeply about people and what will happen to them, which makes the books heartbreaking and very suspenseful. I am now foaming at the mouth for the finale. But don’t wait. Check out these books, they are terrific. Oh and Mr. Cronin: I love your Facebook posts. But please. Less posting and more writing, maybe another hour or so each day. We’re waiting.
This is a stunning documentary framed as a mystery. In 1994, a 13 year old boy in Texas leaves his house one afternoon to go down the street to play basketball. That is the last anyone sees of him. Until 3 years later when the family gets a call from officials in Spain: “We have your son.” What begins to unfold is a story that is the definition of ‘has to be seen to be believed.’ If someone wrote this as a narrative, people would scoff. Yet it happened and as the movie goes on, it gets more and more twisted and strange. You can get this as a rental now. Don’t miss it.
This was actually published last year but I read it this March so you get it from me this year. I remember in college hearing all about Lonesome Dove. It came out when I was in school and had too much homework reading to do any pleasure reading. By the time I was home for Christmas, my dad had read the novel twice. (It’s a book that seemed to change a lot of Dads’ lives at the time.) I picked it up and about 3 pages in my fingers were tingling and I remember thinking, ‘I’m reading a classic, this is going to be one of the best books I’ve ever read.” And it was true. I’ve never felt the same, that early in a novel, until The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach. By about page 20 I was hopelessly in love with the book. And while I enjoyed every page of the book, reading it made my chest tighter and tighter not only because I so cared so much what would happen to the characters (and as in any great story, things go terribly wrong for everyone as the narrative progresses) but I was nervous because I wondered if Harbach could sustain it to the end. Well, he did. It’s a big, bold, beautiful novel from start to finish that deserved all the accolades rained down upon it when it was finally published…which happened, btw, after Harbach spent ten years writing and and every publisher in NYC turned it down. He was completely broke when an upstart publisher read it and recognized the genius. I love stories like that! And I loved The Art Of Fielding.
Another stunner from Kathryn Bigelow, who swept the Oscars a couple of years ago with The Hurt Locker. As with THL, Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty crafts a terrific thriller about political events that have no obvious political agenda. Rather, she tells an incredible story, this one based on the hunt for Bin Laden, and lets the audience make of everything what it will. Bigelow can also can direct one hell of a suspenseful thriller! If you think a movie that has an outcome you already know can’t make you gasp for breath, see this movie. It’s 2 hours and 45 minutes that fly by, with a final hour that is as suspenseful as any movie to come out of Hollywood in years. Many people are currently drumming up controversy about the movie, for both political reasons and to hurt its Oscar chances. See the movie and you decide. It’s terrific. This is ‘tradecraft’ at its finest.
It’s been years since I’ve followed TV shows ‘live’.. even in my obsessive Lost days I was only watching that one show on a week to week basis, nothing else. I tend to wait to see what survives and if it is good I then tear through the show on DVD. But these two shows are so terrific, I’ve started watching them week by week, which has sucked me into a couple of other terrific shows as well. Homeland and The Walking Dead play on Sunday nights and both are so suspenseful and/or horrific I then can’t sleep. I love it, that’s great television! Both are extremely well made. Given they are cable shows, the seasons are short so you can catch up quickly. I understand zombies are not everyone’s thing; if so, Homeland is the best show running on TV right now. But The Walking Dead uses its set up too explore some pretty complex moral issues without preaching or grandstanding. Hell, Homeland does the same thing. I stand firmly behind both.
Of all the new dishes I tried this year, Saveur’s Pasta with Carrots, Risotto Style is the one that stood out most. I wrote about it at length earlier so I won’t ramble on again here. But check my old post and give it a try. I could eat an entire pot standing over the stove, it’s that good.
I tend to pick up books that sell for big money for the movies. It is my business, adaptations are a strength of mine and I like to read what producers buy. So when I read in the trades that this novel, a book that was published straight to paperback, was bought for quite bit of money, I read it. And discovered why it sold for so much money. The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters, is a very clever riff on a Raymond Chandler detective novel, the riff being that the world is soon going to end, everyone knows the world is going to end (meteor on the way) and the author’s depiction of a world that knows everything will end soon is wildly clever, suspenseful and fun. The main character is one of my favorites of the year. Additionally, its a very good mystery to boot. The Last Policeman is part of a planned trilogy, it’s the first, but it stands completely alone so don’t let that deter you. A great read. (As was Winters previous novel, Bedbugs, a Rosemary’s Baby type slow burn chiller that ended up being horrifyingly wonderful.)
Who would have thought Nashville could be so good and so much fun all at the same time? Sure it has the amazing and wonderful Connie Britton, but even the best actors have misfires. Not only does Nashville have Connie Britton, it has a host of other actors working at their peak, many of them also singing! With T Bone Burnett supervising, all the music is top notch, even for non-country fans. Most episodes, in fact, are filled with music, some of it original, all of it great. And Nashville is as enjoyable as a nighttime soap can be. Only 8 episodes have aired so it’s easy to catch up at ABC.COM or on iTunes. Here’s the deal: watch the first two episodes. If you are not hooked, no big deal, the show is not for you. But you will at least get to see how each of the first episodes ends, each with a song, each filled with longing, heartbreak and superior filmmaking. Thankfully Nashville was picked up for the full season. Here’s to a very long run.
One great thing about doing a blog and the internet in general is making friends you would never otherwise encounter. One such person is my dear friend SJ, who lives in the UK and surprised me on my birthday with this cookbook. I am a cookbook fiend, I love reading them as much as I love cooking from them (reading a cookbook de-stresses me) and while I have only cooked a few things from this one, I’ve read it thru twice and can tell it is a killer. All three things I’ve made from it have been out of this world. If you are looking for a cookbook to start off your new year, with a lot of terrific healthy recipes inside, this is a great choice.
UPDATE .. SKYFALL!!
Goodness, I must be getting early onset. How could I forget this one? I guess because it just IS great, no need to cite it, I listen the soundtrack (Thomas Newman!) in the car every day lately and I saw the damn thing 4 times as well. Is immersion a reason to forget something? Thankfully something kept nagging at me, ‘You’ve forgotten something important’ and wham! There it was in my head when the soundtrack came back on play on iTunes. Behind Casino Royale and Goldfinger this is so good it comes in an easy third for Best. Bond. Ever. What a great Movie! Until Life Of Pi, Skyfall was easily my pick for most gorgeous movie of the year. Roger Deakins continues to do stunning work and this was his best yet. I’ve never been a big Sam Mendes fan but wow did he step up to the plate. The directing was perfect… long single takes in an action scene, what?? yes!… and Mendes work helped wipe away the memory of Quantum of Solace, almost as bad as Prometheus. Daniel Craig continues to rock as Bond, Javier B was expectedly wonderful as the villain. I love how they gave Judi Dench so much to do and how cool about the new Money Penny as well as Ralph Fiennes coming on board. And the ‘Bond Girl’? Goodness, someone give Berenice Marlohe a starring role. Oh and Adele’s song?? Boom! Title Sequence? Boom! If you haven’t seen it and can still catch it in IMAX, that’s the way to do it. But see it fresh, or again and again, any way you can.
So those are my favorites. I certainly had many other movies, books and shows I liked this year: I’ve become one of those Downton Abbey freaks, and would have written about it here were it not already written about ad nauseum. I liked Argo, This is 40, The Hunger Games and, yes, Snow White and the Hunstman very much. (The ‘apple’ scene in SWATH was perhaps my favorite scene in any movie this year.) I am a huge fan of ABC’s Happy Endings and hope it survives for another year. All told, 2012 has been a pretty damn good year for food and film and media.
I do have to say thanks to all of you who follow the blog. I almost quit at one point, as at times it gets like homework, but you all have kept me going and I am enjoying it very much, particularly interacting with so many of you here and via email. I’ll do my best to keep you interested. In the meantime, chime in on this post with your 2012 favorites (or what you didn’t like), keep debating me and above all have a safe, blessed Happy New Year.
(And don’t miss The Impossible! It is only out in LA right now so I will write about it next year. Ignore the cheesy trailer and go see this devastating yet uplifting movie.)