Hitchcock films…

For Christmas, I got a great set of Hitchcock films, what I would consider to be his five best: Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, and North by Northwest. But of course, everyone knows these films. (If you don’t, you’ve got some watching to do!) After you’ve seen them, what next? This is what I would consider to be the next top 5 Hitchcock films:

  • Rope
  • The Trouble with Harry
  • Notorious
  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • Strangers on a Train

By the way, 2012 is the year that Vertigo knocked off Citizen Kane as the number-one movie of all time. We’re currently rewatching Vertigo, but it’s hard to beat this classic scene from North by Northwest:

Source: Chris Cattle | North By Northwest – James Hance.

Essential movies…

I have been wasting a lot of time over on FlickChart building a list of what I consider to be essential movies, all of which I want to watch with my son when he is old enough as part of his education. So far, the list is 318 movies long and still growing. That’s over 6 years of weekly movie-night material. We’d better get started!

I won’t share the whole list with you, just the top 10 as it currently stands. This could change at any moment, though.

10. Pulp Fiction
9. The Shawshank Redemption
8. Jaws
7. No Country for Old Men
6. Alien/Aliens
5. The Godfather Parts I and II
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. Vertigo
2. Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi
1. The Big Lebowski

Source: Image Gallery: Quentin vs Coen – Flavorwire.


Kind of funny looking…

Currently slowly watching the second season of Boardwalk Empire. I love this portrait of Steve Buscemi, who is one of my favorite actors (click through for a big version).

Everybody loves a list, so here are my top 10 Steve Buscemi characters:

  1. Donny in The Big Lebowski
  2. Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs
  3. Carl Showalter in Fargo
  4. Nick Reve, the director, in Living in Oblivion
  5. Mr. Shhh in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
  6. Chet in Barton Fink
  7. Garland Greene in Con Air
  8. Mink in Miller’s Crossing
  9. Buddy Holly waiter in Pulp Fiction
  10. Rex in Airheads

The most influential books of the 20th century…

I spent all morning researching and writing this answer to the Quora question: What 20th-century novel has been most influential in shaping mindsets and changing lives? So I thought I’d share my answer here as well.

It is hard to pick just one novel, but I think that 1984 by George Orwell is the most influential novel of the 20th century. It’s not the first dystopian novel, but it defined for most people what a dystopian government is and influenced every dystopian novel that followed. It introduced many terms and concepts into our language: Orwellian, Big Brother, groupthink, thought police. It describes the dangers of totalitarianism and oppression, and persuades citizens to be vigilant against government corruption in order to safeguard democracy. Even today, it influences political figures, judges and ordinary citizens in guarding against government over-reach when it comes to mass surveillance, loss of individual rights and personal freedoms, and manipulation of public opinion.

To round out my top 10 (because I can’t pick just one book):

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which caused many readers to question their own prejudices and has one of the most enduring heroic characters in literature.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the defining novel of the Great Depression and one of the most widely read works of American literature. It exposes the plight of the poor in a capitalist, profit-driven system.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the quintessential critique of the idea of the American dream.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which introduced a new phrase to the English language and exposes the absurdities of war and of bureaucracies like the military.
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which captured the coming-of-age experience and has become synonymous with teenage rebellion.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding, which portrays how easily human beings can regress to savagery and influenced our perception of human nature.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which depicted the dangers of censorship.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the counterpoint to 1984, which exposes the dangers of loss of individuality and societal control via mass entertainment and consumerism.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson, which introduced the term “cyberspace” and influenced — or at least, predicted — the way the Internet developed.

There are so many other 20th-century novels that were highly influential in describing the human condition, bringing about political reform, establishing philosophies of thought, or exposing societal problems that it is really hard to limit this list. For example, it’s difficult to omit The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway; All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque; The Jungle by Upton Sinclair; All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey; Native Son by Richard Wright;  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; Roots by Alex Haley; The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess; Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; The Trial by Franz Kafka; and The Stranger by Albert Camus. And then there are books that are just so widely read and highly beloved that they are bound to be personally influential, such as The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

It just goes to show the power of literature! Never stop reading.

Top 10 poets?

I have to admit that I am not a big poetry reader. I prefer the meatiness of a novel. But I do harbor fond feelings for particular poets who have really moved me.

For me, a poem has to ultimately be about an emotion, and a good poem stirs emotion in the reader. The poem is such a condensed form that it really needs to be precise, to evoke an image fully, and then connect that image to an emotion, but not in an obvious way. A good poem is truly “in the moment.”

I recently read an interesting article about ranking the best poets ever. I can’t see how a list of top 10 poets can be anything but subjective. It’s all about who moves you.

Here is my personal list of my favorite poets (I’m not numbering them because I can’t put them in hierarchical order–they are all great):

I’m sure I’m missing many great poets because I haven’t been exposed to them. Who are your favorite poets?

Let me leave you with this wonderful poem by William Carlos Williams:

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind.  Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter.  All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens:  clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them:  rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken