Tuesday, December 29, 2009

RIP, 2009

My uncle died less than 24 hours after I returned from the North Carolina hospice. The final episode of his life, which began with the diagnosis and ended with his last breath, unfolded over seven weeks.

In seven weeks, his body unraveled. That's unthinkable. And so I am unthinking. I am in hiding, more or less. My poor family. All the men are gone. First my grandfather, then my father, and now my uncle. We are a collection of widows and children and me, a married child.

Please hurry up, 2010, and bring your friends 2011-2019. Tell them all to be kinder to us than the last year was.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Good Yontif, Santa!

Baby's First Business Trip (TM) took me across the country to sunny LA. Jewy academics from all over had braved East Coast storms and hauled babies to make it, and some -- including one of my bosses -- were thwarted over and over. I had to walk a couple of fierce, snowy blocks in Brooklyn to the A train to get to the airport; that was the worst of my trouble.

The first morning of the conference, I went to a panel where a fellow argued for the rehabilitation of an author who is minor, unlikeable, and dead. Academia in a nutshell, and it was not a nutshell I wanted to be in. It was over 70 degrees outside among the swaying palm trees, and if anything boring was happening out there I could always walk away from it.

The second speaker was more engaging, but still, I listened to my gut and spent the next several hours either by the pool or on the hotel patio. And I was productive! I had an energetic poolside conversation with the second speaker, whose book-in-progress about irony and the Holocaust could, I felt, benefit from a final chapter about film.

I also ran into and caught up with an old friend from summer camp, now a PhD candidate and an impressive scholar in her own right. She was the first of my run-ins with the past, the roster of which included an old professor from Swarthmore and an old neighbor from Brooklyn.

Everyone seemed familiar, even the folks I didn't know directly. When I was introduced to a young woman named Miriam, it took us only five minutes to determine that we have a good friend in common: her brother's housemate. The world is even smaller when you travel within the confines of a six-pointed star.

I saw my little brother, my cousin, and my May-As-Well-Be Sister-in-Law, a CA native who whisked me away in her silver BMW for an al fresco lunch in Santa Monica. At night, I slept in a pristine king-sized bed big enough to fit me and the population of Trinidad, with room for the seven dwarfs. Though I contemplated finding an actor or two to fill the emptiness, I refrained, because I am a modest East Coast girl at heart.

The flight back was easy but what followed was not. My uncle, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer just after my father died, has been moved to a hospice. He's declining rapidly. So, after what will be a rushed Russian Christmas tomorrow morning in Westchester, I'm getting on another plane, this time with Mr. Ben, and going down to North Carolina for the weekend. My family will circle another deathbed. Then we will greet 2010, for which I am scared to have any hopes, except that enough will finally be enough.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Why waste time with piddling lists like "Best of the Year"? Go big or go home! With film, after all, boldness is key, which goes a distance toward explaining why Charlie Kaufman is all over my lists and why, even if it doesn't quite make it here, I couldn't stop talking about Inglourious Basterds. What I love in a movie is some combination of chemistry, intelligence, creativity, audacity, and truth (in the sense that the film is true to itself and its own internal rules, not to any objective standard).

Some of these I never need to see again because they were searingly intense the first time. Others are here because I have watched them over and over again as the decade progressed and they never lost their sheen. Although my picks don't divide neatly on those lines, I do find it helpful to use the Golden Globe division: Drama Vs. Comedy/Musical. Still, most of my Drama picks are funny, since I enjoy talky-talky stuff more than the fighty-fighty-kablammo!


Best Movies of the 00's - DRAMA

Kill Bill 1&2
Brokeback Mountain
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
In the Mood for Love
Children of Men
Pan's Labyrinth
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Best Movies of the Decade - MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Moulin Rouge
Gosford Park
Little Miss Sunshine
The Incredibles
Being John Malkovich
High Fidelity
40 Year Old Virgin

RUNNERS UP: Memento, Once, Talk to Her

I haven't actually done the hard work of ranking, because when movies are this good, does it really matter which one I think is ever-so-slightly better than the next? That said, my favorite movie of the decade, and one of my favorites of all time, is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Here are some other people's lists: Pajiba honors the hilarious Shawn of the Dead and the creeptacular American Psycho; the Onion AV Club hoists up the 25th Hour, and I can't fault anything that pats David Benioff on the back, even if I preferred Inside Man; and Entertainment Weekly gives its love to the LOTR trilogy, because I guess all those Oscars it got weren't enough. And Slate has a handy-dandy guide to everything.

Did I forget something? Did I make you puke? Duke it out with me in the comments.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I Won't Leave the House for a While

(except to go back to the library)

There are so many books out there! So many wonderful, wonderful books, and I can't keep up. I've enjoyed tasty tidbits (The Magicians, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane) and solemn, Midwestern meditations (A Gate at the Stairs). Meanwhile I've also been playing literary catch-up (House of Mirth, Daniel Deronda).

Even if I were to surface from this literary hot tub, there are also so many movies to see! I enjoyed the hell out of Up in the Air -- it almost restored the magic to air-travel and certainly restored the spark and chemistry to on-screen romance; and best of all it made me laugh. Also, it upended some romantic comedy conventions that look way better on their heads. But that's only one down! I still need to see Mr. Fox and Orson Welles and Precious and A Single Man and A Serious Man. Stop me before I hyperventilate.

Thank god I don't care about rugby. That's a couple hours of my life I can spend, you know, eating, or talking to people, probably about whatever else I've just read or seen.

Maybe this all matters in an outsized way because this is the fun I get out of the Xmas Season. Everyone else is decorating fir trees with strands of joy and peace, or whatever it is the goyim do in December while waiting for the fat man to come down the chimney. Jews go to the movies. So it has been and so it will be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homicide On Par With Broadway to Tourist

From an article about a fatal shooting in Times Square today:
Emer Rooney, 33, a visitor from Ireland on the last day of a trip to New York, walked with a friend from a nearby hotel to take pictures of the scene. She said she had never felt unsafe in New York. "I actually feel it's very safe," she said. "Look at all the police officers."

She cited the shooting, in fact, as one of the more exciting moments of her trip, including recovering lost luggage at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and getting tickets to the musical "Wicked."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Choice Quotes for a Choice Season

Let's get some happiness going! Right? It is, after all, the season of joy and giving and stuffing and family and light and gifts and puns -- the holly-jolly-days! And if I am not full on in the spirit of things, I may as well pretend!

To get us started, here are some amazing quotes from today's internets:
"At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. {NYT}
Is a mock Torah anything like a mock turtle, or a mock turtleneck? As we ponder, let us read on:
"It makes me sad sometimes, but I don’t care because I try not to think about it. Sometimes your dreams get crushed but you just keep going." {NYT}
This one is beyond mocking. (Although, ha ha! See what I did there?)

If you can see with those tears in your eyes, check out this Jewish version of Lady Gaga, singing "Bad Shiksa":

Key takeaway, in case you can't watch videos at work:
I’m your Bad Shiksa

I want your horah
I kvell for your kiss
I want that scrap of skin you lost at your bris
I want your love
(Love-love-love I want your love)

I’ll dress up jappy, I’ll dress up all frum
I’ll call you Shabbos and pretend I’m your mom
I want your love
I want your love
(Love-love-love I want your love)

You know that I want Jews
(’Cause I’m a trayf bitch baby! )
I’m just a bad, I’m a Bad Shiksa

Beat that, Orrin Hatch.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

As a Box of Hammers

When experts come off as idiots in the pages of the Washington Post, I wonder whether the problem is with bad ideas or bad expression. Or both? For example:
"No man is an island," said Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor of medicine and medical sociology at Harvard Medical School


"Loneliness is more than just feeling bad," said Chris Segrin, a professor of communication and health at the University of Arizona


The researchers said the effect could not be the result of lonely people being more likely to associate with other lonely people because they showed the effect over time. "It's not a birds-of-a-feather-flock-together effect," Christakis said.
I'm going to put together a study showing that even really bright people speak almost entirely in cliches. Although how bright are these guys? First they tell us our fat friends make us fat, but don't abandon them! ("'We are not suggesting that people should sever their ties with overweight friends,' Christakis adds. 'But we are suggesting that people are influenced by the behaviors of those around them, and if they're interested in losing weight, forming ties with people who are the proper weight is likely to be beneficial.'")

Uh huh. Now, they tell us that having lonely friends will make us lonely. In its lukewarm conclusion, the article does not advise against pushing these folks off on ice floes. At least, not per se. The implication, though, is clear.

These studies are heartbreakingly, essentially American. They present us with "experts" who affirm conventional wisdom, and they "prove" that losers have a social contagion. The fat, the lonely, everyone you instinctively avoided in high school (or else WERE in high school) -- all those weirdos -- they are not just repellent. They are bad for you.

As awful as these men should feel for wasting our society's time and resources, the editors of articles such as "Loneliness is transmittable from person to person" should feel worse.

Over in the New York Times, whatever editor was responsible for article juxtaposition shouldn't be feeling too great either. Roger Cohen's elegiac opinion piece (currently #3 on the Most Emailed List) ends extolling color-blindness in America, the Land of Opportunity:
Westminster, like Britain, has changed. Openness has grown. Bigotry’s faint refrain has grown fainter still. But I think my old school should throw more light on this episode. And I still believe the greatest strength of America, its core advantage over the old world, is its lack of interest in where you’re from and consuming interest in what you can do.
Directly below it on the Most Emailed List, however, is the article "In Job Hunt, College Degree Can't Close Racial Gap." In other words, Cohen's words will totally apply to you -- unless you're black. Ouch, NYT.