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Best Pictures 2018-1930

February 24, 2019

Tonight is the Oscars. Meh. Don’t really care. I have seen most of the movies nominated for best picture and, of the films nominated, I would give it to ROMA. Not my favorite movie of the year, but at least it was a unique and cinematic experience. That got me thinking about past years. And if I had to pick one film each year for my favorite movie, what would I choose? So, I did just that. Going back to 1940. Why? Mostly boredom and procrastination techniques (which I am an expert at.) I had to pick a film I had seen (duh) and thought was worthy enough to be considered my favorite of that year. Some years, I had nothing. I am looking at you 1965 and 1943. For the 1930s I just picked my favorite films for that decade. My Favorite movie of the year is listed first with an alternative below (if I had one).

Year
Best Movie
Alternate

2018
First Man
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
2017
Blade Runner 2049
It comes at night
2016
Midnight Special
Arrival
2015
Sicario

2014
Ex Machina
Edge of Tomorrow
2013
Her
The Worlds End
2012
Seeking a Friend For the end of the world
Moonrise Kingdom
2011
The Cabin in the Woods
Super 8
2010
The Fighter
Winter’s Bone
2009
The Road
(500) Days of Summer
2008
The Dark Knight
Cloverfield
2007
No Country For Old Men
Pan’s Labyrinth
2006
Children of Men
The Fountain
2005
Serenity
V For Vendetta
2004
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Shaun of the Dead
2003
Adaptation
LOTR: The Return of the King
2002
Road to Perdition
LOTR: The Two Towers
2001
The Royal Tenenbaums
LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring
2000
Almost Famous
High Fidelity
1999
American Beauty
Fight Club
1998
The Thin Red Line
The Big Lebowski
1997
Life is Beautiful
Good Will Hunting
1996
Swingers
Fargo
1995
Braveheart
The Usual Suspects
1994
Ed Wood
Immortal Beloved
1993
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
The NIghtmare Before Christmas
1992
Reservoir Dogs

1991
Beauty and the Beast
The Silence of the Lambs
1990
Goodfellas
Misery
1989
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Say Anything
1988
The Naked Gun
Die Hard
1987
Empire of the Sun
Princess Bride
1986
Hannah and Her Sisters
Little Shop of Horrors
1985
Brazil
Back to the Future
1984
Ghostbusters
The Natural
1983
A Christmas Story
Return of the Jedi
1982
Blade Runner
The Thing
1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Excalibur
1980
The Empire Strikes Back
Raging Bull
1979
Apocalypse Now
Manhattan
1978
Halloween
Watership Down
1977
Star Wars
Annie Hall
1976
Network
Carrie
1975
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
1974
The Godfather Part II
Young Frankenstein
1973
The Exorcist
American Grafitti
1972
The Godfather

1971
Harold and Maude
Willy Wonka and the Chocalate Factory
1970
Scrooge

1969
A Boy Named Charlie Brown

1968
2001: A Space Odyssey
Night of the Living Dead
1967
Cool Hand Luke

1966
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1965
N/A

1964
Dr. Strangelove
Mary Poppins
1963
Charade

1962
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Trial
1961
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

1960
Psycho
Inherit the Wind
1959
North by Northwest
Some Like it Hot
1958
Touch of Evil
Vertigo
1957
Paths of Glory
12 Angry Men
1956
The Searchers

1955
Rebel Without a Cause
To Catch a Thief
1954
On the Waterfront
Rear Window
1953
Roman Holiday
The War of the Worlds
1952
Singin in the Rain
High Noon
1951
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Day the Earth Stood Still
1950
Sunset Boulevard
Harvey
1949
The Third Man

1948
Rope
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1947
The Lady from Shanghai

1946
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Stranger
1945
The Picture of Dorian Gray

1944
Double Indemnity
Gaslight
1943
N/A

1942
Casablanca
The Magnificent Ambersons
1941
Citizen Kane
The Maltese Falcon
1940
The Great Dictator
Pinocchio
1930s
M
Duck Soup

Favorite Halloween Movies

October 29, 2018

Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. It takes place in my favorite month, allows people to dress up in fun costumes, and, most importantly… SCARY MOVIES! I love a good scary film. Unfortunately, finding a new, good, movie to watch around Halloween should be simple, but I usually end up watching the same ones every year. I prefer atmosphere and suspense, over jump scares and straight out horror. That means most modern movies, bore me. Not that I don’t get their appeal, I mean they can be fun, in a packed theater on opening night. But, after the jump scares, there is nothing left. But, this isn’t a treaty on the aspects of modern horror films. It’s a list of my favorite films to watch on Halloween. Not the scariest films I’ve seen. Just the ones I usually watch this time of year.  Without further ado…

MY FAVORITE HALLOWEEN MOVIES

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Poltergeist (1982)

This is the first scary movie I saw and it terrified me. It still does on some level. The combination of a Spielberg family movie mixed with the horror of Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) somehow works. And works for the better. The scene with the clown is enough to drive any child into fits of paranoia. And once the psychic (Zelda Rubinstein) with the disturbing voice arrive I am petrified. Seriously, this movie is just creepy. And I love creepy. Special shout out to Poltergeist II (which is nowhere near the quality of the first one,) and the old man who is without a doubt one of the creepiest characters of all time.

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To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Wait? What? How can To Kill a Mockingbird be considered a good movie to watch around Halloween? Let me explain. The first half is about a group of kids obsessed with a haunted house, where a character named BOO lives. The second half is about the scariest group of people in America, doing horrific things: poor white folk. And the last scene takes place after a Halloween performance.  I may be on my own with this one, but I always love to watch my favorite movie of all time, and Halloween is the perfect time to do it.

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Evil Dead 2 (1987)

This one is just so much fun. Is it scary? Sure. But, it’s also fun and gross.  A classic, that I always try to rewatch this time of year.

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The Witch (2015)

One of the newer horror films from A24, that lives on atmosphere and suspense. I truly loved it. All imagery, suspense, and atmosphere.

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The Conjuring  (2013)

This one by James Wan is my favorite of the modern horror genre. It has jump scares, but it also has plenty of creep and good performances. Watching at home with a good surround sound system, makes this one stand out.

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The Exorcist (1973)

What’s to say about The Exorcist that hasn’t been said before? Again a classic horror film that relies on atmosphere and tension not manufactured jumps. The first half is an excellent look at a family slowly unraveling, before the horror kicks in.

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The Shining (1980)

Probably the scariest film ever made. Kubrick took Stephen King’s novel about a family going insane and reversed it. Instead of watching the family go insane, Kubrick tries to make the audience go insane. He embarks on a mission to scare the crap out of the audience. Everything is designed to make you feel uneasy. It works.

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The Thing (1982)

This is one of those movies that is so good I’m surprised by how little I knew about it growing up.  John Carpenter is a master at the slow burn. He waits and waits, and then all hell breaks loose. Again, the suspense is the key to any good horror movie.

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Halloween (1978)

Surprise! I bet you didn’t think this one would be on the list. I love this movie. It’s pretty tame by modern standards, but the way John Carpenter frames every shot and moves the camera is beyond artistic, it’s beautiful. This is the pinnacle of low-budget horror and in the hands of a quality filmmaker, it works beyond expectations. Also, I hated every single sequel. All of them. Even H2O, which isn’t as bad, but still feels cheap. The new Halloween, was actually well made and got within spitting distance of the original, but still had some issues that didn’t work for me.

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Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

The one film I try to watch every Halloween if I don’t have the time for others. It’s fun, scary and perfectly sums up the joy and fear of the holiday. The interconnected stories, all work together, to create a tapestry of the holiday. This is the film, that John Carpenter envisioned as a sequel to Halloween. An anthology series that took place on the holiday, not Michael Myers coming back over and over again (See Halloween III). Trick r’ Treat is not my favorite scary movie. It, probably, wouldn’t make it on my top 100 films, but it is my favorite film to watch on Halloween.

Others: The Sixth Sense, Carrie, Sweeney Todd, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Scream, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Ed Wood, 28 Days Later, Oculus.

Favorite Stephen King Books… so far. Halloween 2018.

October 17, 2018

I knew, back in 2016, besides wanting to write my book, that I wanted to read more. When I was younger, I was an avid reader, but over the years my reading habit had slipped into an occasional nibble. And the best way to learn how to write a book was to read books. So, I made a goal. Read two books a month.  Simple enough. But, I had one problem. What do I read? I needed a backbone to fall back on if I couldn’t make a choice on the next book.

Enter Stephen King.  I, somehow, had missed Stephen King books growing up. It wasn’t until I read 11/22/63,  that I became aware of what an excellent writer he was. Stephen King would be my backbone. I would, slowly, consume his massive catalog. I began with The Shining, and have never regretted it after thirty-two books. Well, almost never, there were a few times during Insomnia… Nevermind.

The one thing I learned to love about Stephen King is he loves his characters. And I love characters. It is a match made in hell. Stephen King makes the extraordinary ordinary, by grounding his characters as real people. They are not heroes, just regular people caught up in extraordinary settings. Another author I’ve been reading, Ian McEwan, does the opposite, he makes the ordinary extraordinary.

In other words, I am glad I started on this journey. I have read thirty-two of his books. These are ranked least favorite to favorite. I have enjoyed everything he has read, so least favorite means I liked it, not I hated it. So, without further ado…

Here are my favorite Stephen King Books (worst to best)… so far.

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#32 – End Of Watch

#31 – Mr. Mercedes

#30 – Finders Keepers

The Bill Hodges Trilogy. Decent detective stories, that suffered when the supernatural reared its head at the end of the second book, Finders Keepers. I enjoyed all of it, but it never quite coalesced into a wholly satisfying whole. Finders Keepers is my favorite among the three.

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#29 – The Outsider

The first third of this book is riveting. A man gets arrested as he is coaching a little league game for the gruesome murder of a young boy. The coach, of course, protests, and for the first third of the book, you’re left wondering… But, by the time I read this book I had been inundated with King and the first thing I thought of was The Dark Half. Which is similar, yet different. A man is presented overwhelming evidence he committed a crime he is positive he didn’t commit.  The genius choice of King to put us in the POV of the detectives and prosecutors makes this a riveting exercise in evidence versus evidence. The overwhelming evidence he did it and the overwhelming evidence he didn’t.

Unfortunately, or, maybe expectedly, the book never quite lives up to the first third (How could it? Once the questions become answers.) and the characters go about the mechanics of completing the mission. But, the beginning of the book is some of King’s best.

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#28 – Doctor Sleep

The sequel to The Shining, is a weird novel to discuss. There are some things I loved and others I didn’t. (The Last Jedi, left me with a similar feeling. (I had to get Star Wars in here.)) Danny Torrance dealing with his haunted past, while becoming an alcoholic just like his father? YES! Weird, hippy-esque, shining sucking vagrants? Um… what? I want to read this again. And I will at some point, but for now, this one is held up by all of the Danny character work, which is really good.

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#27 – Insomnia

This was the book I had the most difficult time reading. I am unable to explain why. It took longer than normal to capture my interest and if I hadn’t had good experiences with King’s other books I would’ve tossed it aside. Set in Derry, Insomnia is about an older gentleman who develops a weird bout of insomnia. I say, weird, because it doesn’t seem to be natural.  Also, there are these little bald doctors running around town. I pictured them as miniature versions of the gentlemen from Buffy.

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I also read it has some of the strongest correlation with The Dark Tower series, but I am only on Book Three.

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#26 – Under the Dome

A man named Barbie (can’t stop giggling). Seriously, a man named Barbie (Still laughing). This is one of those: the premise is amazing. But, then what?, stories. Mr. King does his best. Crazy characters. Political drama. A ridiculous and depending on political party hated character named,  James “Big Jim” Rennie. I mean, this book is just going for it. And sometimes I really enjoyed it, and others I laughed out loud at the absurdity. The ending is not surprising. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it, I did, I just didn’t find it as interesting, or impactful (lol), as some of King’s other works.

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#25 – Desperation

After starting out with Stephen King’s greatest hits, I was yearning for a story I had no idea about. Up until Desperation, all of the King books I read, besides the very first book 11/22/63, I knew of the story. Either from seeing a movie or just the general public zeitgeist. So, I wanted something I had no idea about. Nothing. Enter Desperation. I was hooked immediately when a crazy police officer pulls over  Peter and Mary Jackson and the story escalates from there. I had fun reading this one. It also has a “mirror” book released on the same day (CRAZY!!) titled The Regulators, which is on my list to read.

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#24 – Christine

This is one of those premises that would not work in anyone but Stephen King’s hands. I mean, it’s about a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury, come on, it’s ridiculous. And yet, somehow, it works. The characters are well developed. Dennis and Arnie’s friendship make this novel. It is well worth the read. I may have seen the movie, many moons ago, but I don’t remember it. The fact that it was directed by John Carpenter, means it is on my to see list now.

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#23 – Firestarter

This is another book, I had a vague recollection of seeing the movie or at least parts of the movie. I remember Drew Barrymore. Reading the book, though, was a completely new experience and I enjoyed it immensely. A strong father-daughter dynamic keeps the book grounded. My only complaint is Charlie (the firestarter) seems a little wise for an eight-year-old, but that’s just a minor complaint.

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#22 – The Tommyknockers

This is probably King’s (of the ones I ‘ve read anyway) craziest books. And to be honest, I loved eighty percent of it. I mean the last half is insane and fun. I had some issues, with character jumping at the beginning. As once I became invested in a character the story would jump to another one for an extended period of time, but at some point, it coalesced together into some great madness. Really dug this one, even though it is not thought highly of, amongst King fans.

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#21 – Carrie

I love the film by Brian DePalma, and reading the book for the first time was an interesting exercise. I think I would’ve enjoyed it more and would’ve been higher on my list if I had no inkling of the story beforehand. Having said that, I still loved it and, being Stephen King’s first book, it is a remarkable achievement.

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#20 – The Dark Half

Thad Beaumont writes trashy crime novels about a violent killer named Alexis Machine under a pseudonym (hello Mr. Bachman) and, when he is blackmailed with exposure, he decides to kill the pseudonym by coming forward with the truth, with help from his publisher. Unfortunately, his “pen name” George Stark, doesn’t like this idea and decides to come to life and kill all those who wanted to kill him.  Crazy story and fun, if you try not to think too hard about who or what George Stark is. I suppose the title is the key, he is the dark half of Thad Beaumont. Set in Castle Rock, you encounter some familiar names from other novels.

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#19 – Salem’s Lot

A gothic Vampire story, that intrigued, but left me wanting more. Maybe I have been over-exposed to vampires? Maybe this is the one book that seemed somewhat generic, by Stephen King standards? Or maybe my expectations were set too high? I knew the title and had heard so many great things, but when I finished the book, I thought, “That was good, but not quite as good as I thought it would be.” A great novel, marred by my expectations and exposure to the subject. Maybe, when I read it again….

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#18 – The Dead Zone

If Salem’s Lot suffered from great expectations, then The Dead Zone is its complete opposite. I had no idea what I was getting into. A story about a psychic who finds himself involved solving murders and trying to protect the country from a sadistic congressman. Oh, and many other adventures. This one is great because of its bleakness. I know that may sound odd, but I loved how raw and bleak this book is, which is an emotion you will find in some of King’s best.  There is plenty of sadness to go around and I enjoyed all of it.

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#17 – Revival

One of King’s newer novels and a great story. I really enjoyed this. The story is about regret and just moving on with life, while simultaneously looking back. It’s another sad one and reminded me of the T.V. show Carnivale.

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#16 – Pet Sematary

Ughh!  This novel. This book is like staring at an upcoming car accident, paralyzed, unable to move. Unable to shout out a warning. You can’t even look away. The aftermath is disgusting and predictable. One of King’s most disturbing books, that I can’t say I enjoyed, but I also couldn’t stop reading.

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#15 – The Running Man

The Schwarzenegger movie is one of those sci-fi movies from the 80’s I really enjoyed. So, when it came to reading the book, I found myself riveted, once the realization hit that the movie was nothing like the book I was reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the sci-fi world, King creates. The anger, the “screw the system” attitude, shows a young, Richard Bachman writing passionately with a love for the writing craft. I am a sci-fi nerd, more so, than a horror guy and this is right up my alley. Bachman wrote four stories and two of them are in the top 15 of my list, and I haven’t read the other two yet.

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#14 – Duma Key

At the beginning of a few Stephen King books, I began to dread the introduction of the “supernatural”. Why? I knew I was reading a Stephen King book, right? Because the characters and stories were so rich, I wasn’t sure the introduction of the supernatural wouldn’t ruin, what was a fascinating character study. Duma Key is about moving on from tragedy.

“Edgar Freemantle, a contractor in St. Paul, Minnesota, barely survives a horrific on-site accident where his truck is crushed by a crane. Freemantle’s right arm is amputated, and severe injuries to his head cause Edgar to have problems with speech, vision, and memory. As a result, Edgar also has violent mood swings and thoughts of suicide. During one of those mood swings, he attacks his wife, who later cites that as the main reason why she divorced him.

On the advice of his psychologist, Dr. Kamen, Edgar takes “a geographical”: a year-long vacation meant for rest and further recovery. He decides to rent a beach house on Duma Key, a small island off the west coast of Florida, after reading about it in a travel brochure. Edgar’s beach house is located on a part of the island called Salmon Point; Edgar nicknames the house “Big Pink,” because of its rich pink color. On the advice of Dr. Kamen, Edgar revives his old hobby of sketching after he moves into Big Pink. He settles in with the help of Jack Cantori, a local college student.”

SEE! Doesn’t that sound fascinating and King makes it so. Thankfully, when the inevitable “supernatural” element arrives it doesn’t detract from the story and I really enjoyed the ending, as it had me on the edge of my seat. But, part of me wonders if King would like to write a straight literary fiction novel, and feels he can’t? Or the supernatural just comes out of him? Either way, I can’t complain. I just wonder.

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#13 – On Writing

Part autobiography, part writing craft. Part Stephen King being funny as hell. It provides some great advice. One of my favorites is, “Don’t waste time trying to please people.” Oh, and this, ““So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

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#12 – 11/22/63

My first Stephen King book, so it holds a soft spot in my heart. It showed me what a masterful storyteller he can be. It also, made me cry out a few times, “WILL YOU GET TO OSWALD ALREADY AND LEAVE THE GIRL BE!” There is a Back to the Future II element, a love story, that seems to come from another novel, and all of it works… somehow.

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#11 – Misery

From here on in, on this increasingly long countdown, these are books I loved and the order may change daily, depending on the mood. These are the King books I will return to. First up, Misery. A writer ends up trapped with a fan of his. Imagine Rian Johnson handing over the script to some Star Wars nut, for The Last Jedi. (See Star Wars). “What do you mean Luke hates the Jedi?” “Why is there a Casino!” “LEIA CAN’T FLY!” SMASH! as the AXE goes down… horrific stuff and Annie Wilkes is a, one in a million, character.

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#10 – Cujo

We all know the story. Dog goes bad. Bad dog. But, the oppressive fear and the inevitable outcome, are what surprised me. This is sad and dark stuff. And as usual, King creates some great character’s who you hope will survive, but you know, probably won’t. One of my biggest surprises while reading these King books was how much I enjoyed Cujo.

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#9 – The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)

Where to begin with the beginning of the Dark Tower series? I won’t say it was a book that I fell in love with immediately. The absurdity and foreign world were difficult to navigate at first. But, once Jake met up with the gunslinger I was in. The obsession of the gunslinger without the reason was a difficult hurdle for me. I needed to know why he did all he did just to find the man in black. The ending had me confused for days and that, actually, worked in its favor.

And, as of a week ago, I had this originally placed in the teens, but I just finished The Drawing of the Three, and that was the catalyst, as things began to snap into focus and I appreciated The Gunslinger even more. I will also say that I have all the Dark Tower books and I may just read them in a row, while I originally planned on alternating with some other books, but I am one hundred pages into The Waste Lands and I can’t see myself stopping.

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#8 – Bag of Bones

Like Duma Key, this is another story that I felt would’ve been just as good without the supernatural element. In fact, I would say this book is a companion piece to Duma Key. A great ghost story mixed with real emotions. “The narrator, Mike Noonan, a bestselling novelist, suffers severe writer’s block after his pregnant wife Jo suddenly dies of an aneurysm. Four years later, Mike, still grieving, is plagued by nightmares set at his summer house in TR-90 (an unincorporated town named for its map coordinates), Maine. He decides to confront his fears and moves to his vacation house on Dark Score Lake, known as Sara Laughs.” I can’t stress this enough.. this may be King’s most eloquently written book of them all. I loved it.

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#7 – The Green Mile

I somehow avoided massive spoilers for this one before I read it. And for the first part of the book, I wondered, if there was anything supernatural going on at all. I knew there was a movie with Tom Hanks, but I never saw it. I am one hundred percent thankful that I knew nothing more than that it takes place in a prison and there is a large man in said prison. I didn’t even know what the green mile meant. The book, essentially, takes place in one location. In fact, while reading I thought, wow, this would make a great play. Maybe, with some fancy set dressing that would transform the retirement home into the prison and vice versa as we switch times in the narrative. This was an emotional journey and I loved every second of it.

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#6 – Dolores Claiborne

A first-person novel, that is a one-sided conversation? Count me in. I could not put this down. I love first person POV fiction. Okay… sometimes, I love POV fiction. I like that fact that everything is clouded by the person telling the story. From Dolores Claiborne to Forrest Gump. (Forrest Gump did not play football at Alabama.)  There is some dark stuff here. But, the reason for my love and a high ranking is the character of Dolores Claiborne and most importantly, how Stephen King writes her. It is fascinating and entertaining. I read this in one sitting. Okay, maybe two. But, I couldn’t stop. The lack of chapters helped with that.

Dolores Claiborne, an opinionated 65-year-old widow living on the tiny Maine community of Little Tall Island, is suspected of murdering her wealthy, elderly employer, Vera Donovan a person who has been mistreating her, her whole life. The novel is presented as a transcript of her statement, told to the local constable and a stenographer. Dolores wants to make clear to the police that she did not kill Vera, whom she has looked after for years, but does confess to orchestrating the death of her husband, Joe St. George, almost 30 years before. Dolores’s confession develops into the story of her life, her troubled marriage, and her relationship with her employer.”

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#5 – The Long Walk

Before The Hunger Games. Before The Maze Runner. Before  The Divergent Insurgent. Even before Enders Game. There was The Long Walk. Okay, admittedly, the others have better titles. I loved The Long Walk.  It is YA Dystopia at its finest. Part Dystopia, part Stephen King. Part amazing. What’s it about you ask? About a group of kids that have to take a long walk. Exciting?! Well, if they don’t stay above 4 mph they get shot in the head. So, there’s that. Oh, and it is a long walk, starting in Canada and ending somewhere in Massachusetts, which takes multiple days and the winner gets… something. Doesn’t matter. I also liked the ending, even though some seemed to disagree. Great story. Great read.

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#4 – The Shining

I forget, what’s this about? Well, if you’ve seen the movie you may think you know. But, the movie has completely different motivations than the book.  The movie is about you. The book is about the Torrances.

The Shining centers on the life of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His family accompanies him on this job, including his young son Danny Torrance, who possesses “the shining”, an array of psychic abilities that allow Danny to see the hotel’s horrific past. Soon, after a winter storm leaves them snowbound, the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel influence Jack’s sanity, leaving his wife and son in incredible danger.” 

Now, if you read that you would think it is, exactly, like the movie. Except, it’s really not. The book is much more sympathetic to Jack, Danny and, especially, Wendy. They are trying to move on from Jack’s alcoholism. They really want it to work and think that the move up to the hotel will help them. You observe, as Jack gets pulled into this supernatural, haunted world while trying to maintain his sanity. It’s a wonderful story. While I loved the movie, for its visual, psychological mind-bending horror. I love the book for being about the characters.

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#3 – The Stand

If there was a perfect beginning to a novel that represented my sensibilities and apocalyptic joys, it would be the first half of The Stand. The first book I wanted to read after I made my decision to read Stephen King books, as I had seen the mini-series many years ago. Possibly, when it aired. (I am old.) While I loved the first half, the second half struggles a little from well, now what, syndrome. It’s still engrossing but doesn’t quite have that momentum from the first half, where survival is the key.

Some of the characters are a little cliched at times. Hell, I don’t even know how many characters are named, but its a lot. I read the unabridged version and I am curious if the abridged version carries that momentum from the first half better. I am a sucker for good old apocalyptic fiction and what can be better than The Stand.

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#2 – Different Seasons

Remember in my summaries for Duma Key and Bag of Bones, I wondered if this novel would be the one without a supernatural element? This is why! Four fantastic stories, all without the supernatural, but plenty of horrors. Two of them you know:  Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Body. Both are just as good, as you think they are. Better than their film counterparts, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. 

The other two novellas (25,000 to 35,000 words) were also quite good. Apt Pupil (also made into a movie), set in 1974, Los Angeles teenager Todd Bowden arrives at the doorstep of elderly German immigrant Arthur Denker, accusing him of being a wanted Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander. In The Breathing Method, David, the narrator of the frame tale, is a middle-aged Manhattan lawyer. At the invitation of a senior partner, he joins a strange men’s club where the members, in addition to reading, chatting and playing pool and chess, like to tell stories, some of which range into the bizarre and macabre.

All of these are worthy of a place in the top ten. Together, they wind up at #2.

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#1 – IT

If there was one book to summarize Stephen King, I think it would have to be IT. It’s scary, sad, inescapable, character-driven horror. While the kid’s storyline is the more interesting, than the adult one, they would not work as well without the other.  The contrasting, between adults and children, compels the story to drive home the theme. We believed we could do anything when we were kids, but now that we are adults we are scared to do anything. I loved all of it. The kids are so well written, even though the story takes place in the fifties, it reminded me of my friends at that age. This is the behemoth and altar where Stephen King lies.

The newest movie, while capturing the kids, quite well, just can’t get the fear right, instead relying on jump scares too much, and skipping the absurd.

Read the book.

Accept the gross.

Accept the fear.

Enjoy the memories.

Shed a tear.

Find the key

To Stephen King.

 

*I will update this list every Halloween, as I read more Stephen King.

 

Soundtrack Distractions… Songs that make me emotional

August 16, 2018

Soundtrack Distractions

I use soundtracks as my background music as I write. Why? The emotional movements. The storytelling pieces. The Motifs. Why not? I also listen to classical music (not as distracting) as I write, but when I am searching for a particular mood, I put on a Movie/TV soundtrack.

There are a few drawbacks to listening to soundtracks. Sometimes, it can take you out of your writing headspace. (You want to stay there. Otherwise, your head might start to tell you, to check your e-mail, watch YouTube, do the dishes, mow the lawn or anything else it thinks you should be doing.) When you listen to soundtracks, it can become distracting when a particular piece of music begins to play. Iconic scores. Like Star Wars. And then your mind starts to think (instead of writing) “Hey, that’s from that scene in Empire where Luke searches for Vader and Vader just appears and starts throwing things at him, using only his mind. I love that scene. I should watch that…”

But, the absolute worst soundtrack moments are the ones that derail me completely from writing. The ones that make me emotional. The ones that stand out for their potency and nostalgia-like imprint on my brain.

So, without further ado, here are some soundtrack songs and moments that I cannot listen to while I write, as they completely destroy my ability to tell my own story, because I get caught up in the one they are telling and become an emotional wreck.

Did I mention I am a big, old, softy?

The Road to Perdition – “Road to Perdition” by Thomas Newman

Did I mention I love this movie? And for some reason every time I hear the main theme, I tear up like I just mowed the lawn in April (Allergy joke.) Thomas Newman creates a fantastic theme and score, which combined with how the movie ends, well, that’s just more than a man can take.

Lost – “Life and Death” by Michael Giacchino

Charlie and Claire. Claire and Charlie.  Oh and a bunch of other characters I like.

Empire of the Sun – “Toy Planes, Home and Hearth” by John Williams

My favorite Spielberg movie. And one of John Williams greatest soundtracks. The ending of the film always gets me and this song is the catalyst.

Life is Beautiful – “Buon Giorno Principessa” by Nicola Piovani


This film is still one of my favorites and this song drags me out of my head and straight into the film. A glorious film about a boy telling the love story of his parents. I know the film gets some flack for its portrayal of the Holocaust, but I feel those that did, misunderstand the intention of the film. It is told from the POV of the child. I love it and I can discuss it for hours.

The Leftovers – “Departure (Home)” by Max Richter

Probably, my favorite TV show over the past five years and this song represents the show quite well. Beautiful and sad.

Battlestar Galactica –  “A Good Lighter” by Bear McCreary

Another one of my favorite TV shows, and a song that makes me want to cry, right from the opening. A powerful show and a powerful song.

To Kill a Mockingbird – “Main Theme” by Elmer Bernstein

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I can’t.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Sacrifice” by Christophe Beck

Buffy has some amazing music. Seriously. There are about four or five songs that make me tear up.  Including, “Remembering Jenny,” “Close Your Eyes” and “Every Girl a Slayer“. But, “Sacrifice” is the one that makes me stop in my tracks and think about the show. My favorite TV show.

The Fellowship of the Ring – “The Breaking of the Fellowship” by Howard Shore

Seriously, how can a man work on his story when the soundtrack to one of the greatest stories ever told is playing in the background? There hasn’t been a soundtrack like this since. The last of the great film soundtracks. It makes me sad. Just like the song. So good, so beautiful… so distracting.

As you can now see, like I said, I am a big softy. Tearing up at the drop of the hat, at some movie or TV soundtrack. Maybe it’s my advancing age and diminishing testosterone, who knows? Hell, I didn’t include any Star Wars, because I don’t listen to the Star Wars soundtrack as I write, the O.G. trilogy anyway, because I can picture in my mind every scene, based on the music alone. It is horribly distracting.

Speaking of distracting, I better get back to it.

 

My Top 100 Movies: #80 – #71

January 24, 2018

My top 100 movies. 

#100 – 91
#90-81

Don’t take the order of the top 100 movies too seriously. I move them around constantly.

On to the list…

#80 – Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

One of my favorite Woody Allen films (more will arrive on the list later); Hannah and Her Sisters, is a highly intelligent and witty comedy with a magical script and perfect portrayals of well-rounded characters. With amazing characters, all fully developed and beautifully performed (both Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest won Supporting Actor/Actress Academy Awards), the story never slows down, jumping from one character’s story to the next, showing the troubles accompanying real people (sure, wealthy New Yorkers, but they are still real… I think) trying to survive in a challenging world.  They are portrayed at their most vulnerable, their most eccentric, and their most human, and being as funny as they are profound.

#79 – Halloween (1978)

Halloween is a film that started a whole genre: The Slasher film. What makes it work, while others of its ilk,  not so much? A simple story, a great director, and a minimalist approach. Halloween is about the young, smart, girl, trying to survive evil incarnate.

There is no explanation for Michael Myers. The only thing information we receive is when Loomis says, “I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the *devil’s* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… *evil*.”  Damn. What more do we need?

Halloween is a visceral, well-crafted film, that defined a genre and is an annual tradition in my household.

#78 – No Country For Old Men (2007)

A Coen Brothers film about something. Or maybe nothing. A man finds the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. Finds some money. Takes money. Crazy man with 70s hair looks for money and kills innocent people along the way. Cops try to find both. They don’t. A lot of people die.  Amazing film.

Loretta Bell:How’d you sleep?
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell: I don’t know. Had dreams.
Loretta Bell: Well you got time for ’em now. Anythin’ interesting?
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell: They always is to the party concerned.
Loretta Bell: Ed Tom, I’ll be polite.
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell: Alright then. Two of ’em. Both had my father in ’em . It’s peculiar. I’m older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he’s the younger man. Anyway, first one I don’t remember too well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he’s gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’ goin’ by. He just rode on past… and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up…

 

#77 – Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Paranoia, insanity, and nuclear bombs don’t mix. This absurdist satire, directed by Stanley Kubrick, hits too close to home. It’s crazy, right? Nothing like this could ever happen? And if it did, I think I would laugh, at the absurdity of it all. Peter Sellers’s gives a brilliant performance in three separate roles: A British officer, the U.S president, and Dr. Strangelove. George C. Scott is hilarious as the war-mongering, General ‘Buck’ Turgidson. This movie is so smart, and humorous at the same time it hurts my head as I look on in horror as I laugh hysterically.

#76 – Cool Hand Luke (1967)

“What we got here is a failure to communicate…” A film about the lost soul, rebelling against the system. Sometimes when you see inequality, injustice performed by those in charge, those at the top level of the system, all one can do is rebel.

Cool Hand Luke is Paul Newman at his best (or second best). So many famous faces grace the screen in this film. This could have been one of the best films of all time, the script is terrific, the actors superb, so why isn’t it? There is just something off, about the pacing and direction. A bland visual experience. In my opinion, the acting and story bring this movie to such a high level, it belongs on the list for greatest films of all time.

#75 – Alien (1979)

Alien is another example of the theme of these ten films. Simple. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Especially when it comes to plot.  An alien is let loose on a spaceship. It is claustrophobic,  it is atmospheric. It is frightening. It is horror. I love this film. Ridley Scott does what Ridley Scott does best, create a world, lived in, dirty, grimy and realistic. The other Alien movies can’t match this film, and it’s not even close.

#74 – Fargo (1996)

Fargo, another Coen Brothers film, about nothing. Or something. I mean, its hard to analyze the brilliance of a movie like Fargo. Either it’s your thing, or it’s not. You either laugh along or look around at those laughing and wonder what’s so funny. The Coen brothers films emphasize the variety of America better than any other filmmakers in cinema. They examine the little, unique worlds that exist without judgment and shine a light on the quirks of each society.

Marge Gunderson: [to Gaear] So, that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money? 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.

#73 – (500) Days Of Summer (2009) 

The scene above shows the moment I fell in love with this movie. What I love about this film is the POV character. Like a great 1st person novel, this story is delivered to us by an unreliable narrator. We don’t understand why Summer left, even though she repeatedly told Tom she wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. I love the fact that Tom gets it wrong from the beginning. He sees what he wants to see, from the start. I can go on forever about this film because it works so well as an examination of Reality vs. Expectations and unrequited love.

Summer: Well, you know, I guess it’s ’cause I was sitting in a deli and reading Dorian Gray and a guy comes up to me and asks me about it and… now he’s my husband.
Tom: Yeah. And… So?
Summer: So, what if I’d gone to the movies? What if I had gone somewhere else for lunch? What if I’d gotten there 10 minutes later? It was, it was meant to be. And… I just kept thinking… Tom was right.
Tom: No.
Summer: Yeah, I did.
Summer laughs
Summer: I did. It just wasn’t me that you were right about.

#72 – Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)

Oh Brain Candy, let me count the ways I love you. From the comedic geniuses, who make up The Kids in the Hall, Brain Candy is a chaotic comedy about the pharmaceutical companies and the drugs they create. It is funny, unrepentant and a perfect introduction to the world of KITH.

But. But, it doesn’t come close to the absurdism of the show. Otherwise, this would be higher on my list. The plot, which is simple for most of the films this week, is complicated and strange in Brain Candy. The Kids in the Hall, like the Marx Brothers, work best when the plot is shoved aside for the insanity of the individual characters. This film needed to not care about the plot and just highlighted these weird characters. In spite of the plot encroaching on these odd characters I genuinely love this movie.

Scientist: I’ve invented a pill that gives worms to ex-girlfriends.
Don: Uh, right, and what’s positive about that?
Scientist: Well, it’s a pill that gives worms to ex-girlfriends.
Don: Couldn’t it also give worms to ex-boyfriends?
Scientist: This is a drug… for the world… to give worms to ex-girlfriends.
Don: Well, great. Thanks for stopping by.
Scientist: You just don’t get it here! Huhoooo!

#71 – The Thing (1982)

 

Many films and TV shows have tried to copy what works so well here: isolated, nowhere to run, tense paranoia. The practical special effects are beyond amazing. Gross, yet so over the top, it reaches another level of fascination. John Carpenter made some weird films, some I love, some I don’t, but this one works all the way around, and I love it.

I do know one person who didn’t like this film, my Siberian husky, Strider. He sat on the couch when I watched this, many years ago, and was fascinated by the Husky running in the white snow. As he watched,  his eyes never left the screen… and then the creature burst from the dog on the screen, killing all the Huskies and Strider looked over at me and seemed to shake his head as if to say, “Sicko, what is wrong with you?” He jumped off the couch and went into the kitchen and never sat and watched a movie with me again.

Thanks for reading. Think I wouldn’t know what a good movie was if it hit me in the face? Leave a comment below. #70-61 next week.

My Top 100 Movies: #90 – #81

January 18, 2018

Back again. My top 100 movies. Once more, with feeling. 

There will be a countdown once a week until we are finished. Ten movies at a time. Don’t take the order too seriously. I move them around constantly.  And if you read any of my previous blog post about my top 100 films the placement may be slightly different. If you were patiently waiting for me to continue the list, I apologize and hope you stick with me, as this will be completed.

On to the list…

#90 – Inherit the Wind (1960)

At #90 is Inherit The Wind, a 1960 film, directed by Stanley Kramer. The film stars Spencer Tracy, Fred March, and Gene Kelly. It’s a movie about the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, except it’s really about McCarthyism and intellectual freedom.

Inherit The Wind, is a fascinating look at the ramifications and potential pitfalls of zealous religious ideas trumping over free thought and science. A film as relevant today as it was 55 years ago.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” – Thomas Jefferson.

#89 – High Fidelity (2000)

High Fidelity, is a 2000 film, directed by Stephen Frears. The film stars John Cusack, Jack Black, and Iben Hjejle. It’s a movie about love and the top five, side one, track ones.

This is a film I can’t help but love. It’s about a guy in his thirties, who owns a record store. Talks music with his weird friends. Creates top 5 list, before they were the thing to do on the internet. Hell, there is no mention of the internet at all. He pretends to talk to Bruce Springsteen about what came first; the break-up song or the break-up? Did the fact he enjoyed sad, pop music, make him sad? These are questions I have had to ask myself as well. Did the music I listened to, influence me so much, that it affected my life in negative ways? I don’t know, and this is not my psychiatrist office, so I will move along.

#88 – The Naked Gun (1988)

The Naked Gun is beyond analysis. It is to be enjoyed not studied, which presents a problem when counting down my top 100 films and analyzing the reasons why a film is on my list. How do I express my love of a movie, besides just saying it made me laugh my ass off? Especially, my thirteen-year-old self. So much so, that it inspired, along with other Zucker brothers films, my friends and I to make blatant rip-offs with my buddies parents VHS camcorder.

#87 – Pan’s Labyrinth (1994)

Pan’s Labyrinth, is a modern fairy tale by the talented director, Guillermo Del Toro. The contrast between the Fairy Tale and the extreme violence of the real world, makes this film stand out. Ofelia discovers a hidden world where she is destined to be a princess, while her mother has brought her to live with a sadistic Army officer. This story is beautiful and sad. The ending is, apparently, up for debate, which I never understood. I thought it was pretty clear what the film was trying to say; that there is no definitive reading of the ending. See the video above for a fantastic analysis of the film.

#86 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is another film that surprised me. One of those, I guess I will check it out, movies that I really enjoyed. It is right up my alley. An end of the world film which makes you laugh, cry and just enjoy the wonder of life.

When an unstoppable asteroid is on a collision course with the Earth, Steve Carrel has to decide what he wants to do with the time remaining. He meets up with Kiera Knightley, and they go on one last adventure. I just loved this movie.

#85 – Dead Man (1995)

 

A dream? A look at death? Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a surreal nightmare. A wonderfully hypnotic, dream-like film about a dead man. This is a western, that deconstructs the classic western while evoking all of its tropes. A masterful film, with Johnny Depp in his prime, playing a blank slate. From Edward Scissorhands to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Johnny Depp acted in some great films, and this is one of his best. It is also, in my humble opinion Jim Jarmusch’s best film and with a score by Neil Young and his solo guitar, it ranks as one of the best films of the nineties.

#84 – The Goonies (1985)

When I was nine or ten, I told my parents, I only wanted one thing for my birthday: a copy of The Goonies, on high-quality VHS. Now, at the time (1985) I was unaware that purchasing a VHS tape cost in the neighborhood of $79.95 to $89.95. Yes, you read that correctly. Of course, when I found out, I still begged my parents to get it for me, promising that I would never ask for anything else the rest of the year. I got my VHS copy of The Goonies, and I was forever grateful. I guess I am trying to say, that I loved this movie and I still do. I can see its flaws, but it doesn’t matter.

#83 – The Fighter (2010) 

Christian Bale is a talented actor. One of those actors, who can combine fame and still disappear into a role. The Fighter shows off this acting display in dramatic fashion. Based on the true story of Micky Ward, and directed by David O. Russell, this is a powerful film about family and what it means to be in a broken family and a final shot at redemption. Amy Adams is terrific as well in this movie.

#82 – Her (2013)

This film is wonderfully shot and is a joy to behold. Everything from the clothes to the futuristic, modern, Los Angeles skyline is well done. Spike Jonze creates a vivid and frighteningly possible future. I could go on and on about this film, the depth of the performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson the way the music plays an integral, yet subdued part in the film, the myriad of questions it asks, but never answers. This is the type of film I love.

The scene above is the most crucial scene in the film.

A side note: After what happens with all the operating system’s in the film, the sequel would be Terminator 2.

#81 – Reservoir Dogs (1992)

I have a weird relationship with Tarantino films. Everyone loves Pulp Fiction. Yet, it is one of my least favorite films he has made. In fact, I sometimes wonder if Tarantino tried not to make a Tarantino film, what greatness he could create. His dialogue can be pointless, yet amazing.

Reservoir Dogs is the perfect balance of Tarantino and storytelling. While it’s not my favorite Tarantino movie, it is the one I enjoy watching the most. The characters, the setting and the acting are all top notch. What works for me, is it’s completely dialogue driven. Like a play. The fact that this was his first film makes it all the more impressive.

 

Thanks for reading. Think I wouldn’t know what a good movie was if it hit me in the face? Leave a comment below. #80-71 next week.