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Best books and films of '04

Happy New Year! Once again it is time for...

Molly's round-up of best films and books of 2004

These are, mind you, not necessarily films and books released in 2004. They are simply the 10 best I discovered in 2004. I give you then the list:

10. Peter Pan, the live-action version with Jason Isaacs. I've already posted about this. A thoughtful adaptation, truer to the book than most, with a pleasing dark side to balance the sentimentality.
9. Human Nature. Charlie Kaufman scripts are always worthwhile. This one also features our Miranda "Eowyn" Otto, in one of the film's many great performances.
8. Kiki's Delivery Service. Studio Ghibli never lets us down. I seldom bother with animated films, but I always enjoy theirs.
7. Saved! and Mean Girls. I'm cheating here, I know, by putting two together. But they're similar films, both high-school satires, the former more wicked than the latter, and both surprisingly funny; much better than I expected.
6. The Incredibles. Pixar is another studio who can be counted on for quality animation. Man, was this film cool. Fun to watch throughout.
5. Kill Bill, vol. 2. The second installment came through with depth, drama, and cinematic beauty--and, yeah, some of your standard Tarantino creative violence. You'll never look at rock salt the same way again. (Ouch!)
4. Big Fish. I've already posted about this one too, though not very coherently. Ewan's loveliness aside, this film delighted me for being sweet, sad, funny, and unusual all at once. As it's a Tim Burton film, one doesn't need to add that the visuals were gorgeous too.
3. Bubba Ho-Tep. My top three were very hard to choose between, so from here on out we can pretty much call them all the winner. This one was hilarious and awesome. They actually made me worry about Elvis's safety at the hands of the mummy stalking the retirement home. Now that's an achievement of storytelling.
2. Lost in Translation. I really wish Bill Murray had gotten the Oscar for this. Subtle, amusing, charming, cool, and quirky slice-of-life that I must watch again one of these days. You go, Sofia Coppola.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unique and captivating. And I don't just say that because Elijah Wood was in it. (His character was actually kind of a sleazy twit, which I found a refreshing change.) As I already said, Kaufman's scripts are amazing, and this one is particularly lovely and poignant. Jim Carrey is at his most subdued and sensitive, so don't let his presence put you off. Though quite unusual as love stories go, this was probably the most effectively romantic film I saw all year. Given how highly I esteem love, it's no surprise I rate it among the very best.

Honorable mention:
The Iron Giant: Another remarkably good animated film, which I finally got around to seeing.
Fanny and Alexander: Thanks to fictualities for recommending this. Luscious Swedish family chronicle, without too much of the "wtf?" factor foreign films often carry.
I Capture the Castle: Pretty and sweet period piece, which almost makes you want to live in a run-down castle at the turn of last century.
Under the Tuscan Sun: Not at all the home-improvement memoir that the book was, but I liked it anyway, for some reason.
Intolerable Cruelty: Zeta-Jones and Clooney engage in some wacky romantic and legal sparring. Can always count on those Coen Brothers to keep things fresh.

10. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon. I had seen the movie years ago, but finally read the book. Found that the movie was remarkably faithful to the source material, and the book was just as entertaining as the film had been. Those bogged down in liberal-arts academia (and/or those who like a smidgen of slash, played out by Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr. in the film), may especially like it.
9. The Monk, Matthew Lewis. Definitely not a new novel, released as it was in the 1700s. But, as I already said in a previous post, it provides tons of melodramatic Gothic fun.
8. Father MacBurne and the Doughty Chieftain, Taylor Caldwell. Just a novella or even a long short story, but so vivid and myth-like and charming that I had to include it. Although she makes it clear how uncomfortable it is for a young priest to travel to the farthest north islands in the Hebrides, it still sounds beautiful and makes me want to go there.
7. Arabella, Georgette Heyer. I only discovered Heyer this past year. I will definitely be reading more of her. Fluffy Regency romance, with just enough intellectual quality to make it clever. Quite like Austen, only not so dry. (Sorry, Austen fans.)
6. The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, Mary Stewart. Haven't gotten to the third in the Merlin books yet, but the first and second were lovely. Somewhat slow pacing at times, but the enchanting quality of the Arthur legends comes through, and at its best moments has that magical-but-real appeal of the LOTR books. Will be reading the third, and the fourth too probably if there is one (I think there is...).
5. The Liar, Stephen Fry. Oh, intelligent slashers, do I have the novel for you. In my journal I summed this up as "gay teenage craziness in England"--English prep school in the '70s, to be specific. It was written by the actor who played Oscar Wilde, no less; with lots of Linguistics thrown in for good measure, and that inimitable British weird sense of humor. Very pervy.
4. Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier. The author of Rebecca did write some other stuff, including this one, a deliciously dark Gothic romance, which was like Cold Comfort Farm, only serious. There really is something nasty in the woodshed for a poor young orphaned woman staying with her scary relatives in the middle of nowhere in southwest England. What's not to like?
3. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman. I read this while in England, which was an especially fun circumstance. Makes you grin when you get on the Underground and see place names like "Knightsbridge" and "Earl's Court". A modern, dark (I'm using that word a lot) Alice in Wonderland, which was greatly creative and fun. Most of you have already read it, so I don't need to elaborate.
2. The Ghost Writer, John Harwood. I saw this among my dad's new books, and demanded to borrow it. Had a feeling I would love it, and I was right. It's a complex, creepy, romantic, old-fashioned ghost story, which has you wondering throughout what exactly is real and who exactly died. Perfect background for the ghost story I was writing last year (and still need to revise).
1. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini. To judge from its high standing on Amazon.com, lots of people know about this book, but I hadn't heard of it until our neighbor lent it to me. It's a harrowing, heart-rending, ultimately inspiring story of a well-born Afghan boy who watches his country fall to pieces under the Taliban--and actually seems to indicate some admiration, or at least appreciation, for the U.S., which is refreshing. It reminded me of The Power of One (if you've read that), only revolving around Afghanistan instead of South Africa. Not for those with weak stomachs, but a gripping story that sticks with you for a long time.

This is a short list, as I don't go through non-fiction as quickly as fiction. But I especially liked:
3. The Promise of Sleep, William Dement. What is our brain doing when we dream? Why is it so hard to fall asleep on Sunday night? How does caffeine work to keep us awake? Why is getting enough sleep so important? All these questions and more are answered here by one of the world's leading sleep specialists. I'm more convinced than ever that sleep is sacred and you must not skimp on it. Read it and learn.
2. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, Florence King. As already discussed just a couple weeks ago.
1. On Writing, Stephen King. (No relation to Florence.) King's success with writing cannot be denied, so it's worth listening to what he has to say on the subject if you aspire to similar achievements yourself. Found this one fascinating and funny and even touching--more of a life memoir, really, than a how-to on writing.



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2005 03:35 pm (UTC)
*takes notes*

Did you ever read The Lovely Bones, by Alice Seabold? (Or Sebold..now I can't remember. The seond one's looking more correct, though...) Very, very moving.

Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:13 pm (UTC)
Haven't read it, but I've seen the title on a lot of "recommended" lists. Sounds like one I should jot down for a future read!
Jan. 1st, 2005 05:46 pm (UTC)
About writing How-Tos
I HATE HATE HATE them. How To Write books by authors I've never heard of make me barf more often than not. However, Stephen King's is actually GOOD. Mainly because he doesn't take himself so seriously and never has. Not that I go out of my way to read How-Tos but since people know I'm a writer, they tend to give them to me as gifts or beg me to borrow them. "Oh you HAVE to read this one...I follow everything thing she says..." ack!

Jan. 1st, 2005 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: About writing How-Tos
ps on Michael Chabon...

I know him! Or did. My husband was an illustrator for the CCTimes when we lived in Northern CA and he did a large illustration in Superman style for Chabon's prize-winning novel 'The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.' The Times asked my husband and me go over to Chabon's home in Berkeley and present him with the framed high gloss artwork. So we got to hang out and chat with him and his wife, who is also a writer. Very cool people!
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re: About writing How-Tos
Hah - exactly. His, thankfully, didn't have any of that "I, as a Blessed Writer, follow a higher calling than average peons" tone that so many do. Instead he was funny, realistic, and gave advice that made sense.

I think Michael Chabon must have some similar traits, if the wink-and-nudge at "blessed writer" types in Wonder Boys is any indication. I hope I stay nice and grounded if I ever get as successful as either of them. Please smack me if I ever start referring to "my craft" or anything.
Jan. 4th, 2005 10:10 am (UTC)
Re: About writing How-Tos
My "craft"...bwaahaaa! Like a boat?

Maybe I'll call it "my yacht."
Jan. 4th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC)
Re: About writing How-Tos
So maybe a warning on a pretentious short story should be "Small craft advisory"...?
Jan. 1st, 2005 05:53 pm (UTC)
Have you seen Finding Neverland? I thought it was wonderful, with another stellar, as always, performance by Johnny Depp.

Must see Peter Pan though. Jason Isaacs (that's the guy who plays Lucius Malfoy, right?) is sexy.
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:17 pm (UTC)
Haven't seen Finding Neverland yet, but I very much want to.

Yep, Isaacs made a great Hook. A surprisingly likeable Hook, in fact...and not just for his handsomeness. :)
Jan. 1st, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)
I think some of the best movies of the year have been released in the last two months.
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
That may well be the case... I end up seeing movies late, especially this year, with the house-buying madness; so those films may end up on my best-of list for next year. :)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )