Current Read: Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

By the author of the brilliant Starting Out in the Evening, the protagonist of Brian Morton’s new novel, Florence Gordon, is an aging writer struggling to write her memoir amidst the dysfunction and chaos of family.


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Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Films

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite films that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Films

20. Mama Mia

I didn’t expect to include this musical on the list until my husband reminded me how much we enjoyed it. When it comes to favorite movies that I watch again and again, I tend to lean toward happy flicks. Whatever the Abba-centric Mama Mia lacked in substance, it made up for in fun and catchiness. And I just adore Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan.

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19. Tape

Everyone always remember Robert Sean Leonard’s performance in Dead Poets Society, but I think the best role of his career was in Richard Linklater’s claustrophobic 2001 film Tape. The film co-starred Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman as high school friends who have a bitter reunion with Leonard’s character in a motel room. The acting was so authentically tense and uncomfortable that I don’t think I’d rewatch the film. But it is unquestionably brilliant.

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18. Psycho Beach Party

This one might be higher on the list if I saw it again, but it’s been nearly a decade since a quirky friend of mine introduced me to his favorite film and I haven’t had the pleasure of watching it since then. Charles Busch’s twisted parody of 1960s surfing movies starred then unknown actors Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy) as beach-lovin’ kids embroiled in a series of murders.

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17. Starting Out in the Evening

As I said in my 2008 review, the wonderful film adaption of Brian Morton’s novelstars Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose as Grad student Heather Wolfe, who is writing her thesis on Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), the reclusive novelist whom she adores.

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16. Vanilla Sky

I think my husband and I are in the minority in loving Cameron Crowe’s 2001 remake of Open Your Eyes. It’s a surreal fantasy and thriller about the misadventures and romances of an egotistical rich brat played by Tom Cruise.

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15. 2 Days in Paris

Actress Julie Delpy wrote, directed, and starred in this 2007 comedy about a couple’s wacky and awkward two days in Paris. As I said in my 2008 review: “Delpy’s characters are painfully, amusingly authentic and relatable. Especially for those of us that are one half of a transatlantic couple.”

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14. Enchanted

Disney’s 2008 romantic comedy that starred Amy Adams as a cartoon princess transported to real world Manhattan is probably a recent enough release that I don’t need to say much here about the actual movie. It was sweet, funny, and fun to sing along with.

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13. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Charlie Kaufman wrote the script for this strange 2004 film that starred Kate Winslet and Jim Carey as a recently broken up couple who literally have their memories of each other erased from their minds.

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12. Amélie

The 2001 French romantic comedy about shy waitress Amélie Poulain introduced the world to adorable Audrey Tautou and is one of the most beautifully directed films ever.

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11. Up

In my review of Pixar’s animated film Up last June, I called it “Wizard of Oz awesome.” I think that says it all.

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10. The Anniversary Party

I don’t know if any of the old readers are still around, but I raved The Anniversary party on the old Muruch site back in 2002 (the archives of which were lost when I switched domains). The indie film was written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who starred as a troubled semi-famous couple hosting an anniversary party to celebrate their post-separation reunion. The ensemble cast included Parker Posey, John C. Reilly, Gweneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Beals, and featured a hilarious cameo by Phoebe Cates.

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9. High Fidelity

The 2000 John Cusack movie is one of the best book-to-film adaptions ever. The secret to its success was the completely American transformation of the very British characters and setting of Nick Hornby’s brilliant novel. The film made a star of Tenacious D’s Jack Black, but what I loved most about it was the authentic portrayal of a couple trying to decide if love is enough to keep them together when it seems they want different things from life. And of course I love the way music is woven throughout the story, the Top 5 lists, and the protagonist’s comical encounters with ex-girlfriends.

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8. Elf

This adorable comedy 2003 comedy about a human (Will Ferrell) who thinks he’s an elf was funny, sweet, and also paved the way for She & Him by showcasing the beautiful voice of Zooey Deschanel.

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7. Best in Show

Christopher Guest’s parody of a dog show is one of the funniest comedies ever, thanks to a brilliant ensemble cast that included Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, and Glee‘s Jane Lynch.

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6. O Brother Where Art Thou?

Only The Coen Brothers’ would think to set an adaption of Homer’s Odyssey in 1930s Mississippi, let alone transform the epic into a quirky road picture comedy centering around three chain gang escapees. This is a film that has gotten even better with each viewing over the years, and its soundtrack brought bluegrass and folk music to the mainstream.

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5. Hedwig & The Angry Inch

John Cameron Mitchell’s outrageous 2001 musical about a transgendered punk-rocker from Berlin is not for the easily offended, but it’s hysterical if you have a good sense of humor. It also featured some of the best rock songs ever recorded.

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4. Zoolander

If the order of this list were based solely on how many times I’ve watched and/or laughed at a movie, Ben Stiller’s bizarre 2001 flick about a dim male model would be #1. It seems to have become somewhat of a cult favorite in recent years, but I still don’t think it gets enough credit for being a great comedy. Sure, it’s silly and more quotable than respectable. But it’s hilarious and unique, and I love it.

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3. Wonder Boys

I rewatched and reviewed this 2001 gem about an aging novelist earlier this year, and as I wrote then: “It’s a rare film in that it is equally poignant and hilarious, and impossible to compare to anything else..”

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2. Before Sunset

Richard Linklater’s 2004 sequel to Before Sunrise is even better than the original. Not only do we finally find out if star-crossed lovers Celine and Jesse were ever reunited, but the film is lovely and intelligent in its own right. It’s beautifully directed and brilliantly acted by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, whose characters have much more substance and scars than when we first met them nine years before.

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1. Almost Famous

I loved Cameron Crowe’s film about a young music journalist following a classic rock band on tour when it was first released in 2000, but now I absolutely adore it. Back then I enjoyed the music, humor, and Kate Hudson’s hippie-fairy “band-aid” character Penny Lane. Now I find myself relating to William’s (Patrick Fugit) evolution from wide-eyed music enthusiast to conflicted music writer. And the best part of the film is its mood and style. It has that rare quality that all great classic movies posses – atmosphere. Instead of feeling like you’re watching actors play their parts, you find yourself so completely drawn into this fictional world that you forget it’s a movie. It’s a beautiful, funny, artistic piece of cinema and has become one of my favorite films of all time.

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