What I Read the Week of October 7

“The 50 Best Films of the ’90s” by Sam Adams, Mike D’Angelo, Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, Scott Tobias & Alison Willmore, A.V. Club — Of course, it’s a list that tries to narrow down all the movies from the 1990s into the top fifty, so plenty of great films are left out. But it was interesting to see just how quickly some controversy was stirred up due to the preponderance of white male directors on this list. Slate even compiled an alternative top fifty of movies made by women, nonwhites, and foreign filmmakers. From where I sit, I would definitely like to see some more balance and diversity, but this is just another list among many. No one’s going to agree with every ranking, although it’s difficult to argue with anything the A.V. Club placed in the top ten (beyond arguing for some being in the top twenty or thirty instead). These days, I’m only interested in examining a list if each film gets at least a brief review, and these are well done.

“Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. THE GENIUS OF MULHOLLAND DRIVE” by Film Crit Hulk, Badass Digest — Honestly, the joke gets old kinda fast. “Hey, look, the Hulk is writing movie reviews that are surprisingly well-informed and insightful.” On the other hand, I’m actually grateful that there isn’t much to the shtick, because that allows me to read it pretty much just like any other review. (This particular one is very, very long, so I dare you to try and read it in Hulk’s voice all the way through.) And this review is fantastic. When I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., I didn’t particularly enjoy how everything seems to be flipped on its head at the end, but it looks like I missed more than a few things. Hulk gets into all of the important details and makes them all coherent, so much so that I want to see the movie again soon. Even beyond a simple explanation of a knotty plot, though, Hulk makes an impassioned case for the greatness of a pair of scenes and concludes by showing how Mulholland Dr. encourages us to watch movies with both mind and emotions, for a full and rewarding experience. It’s great stuff. (BE NOTIFIED: Review contains some strong language and a whole slew of capital letters.)

“Spiritual But Not Religious? Some Thoughts on the New Spirituality,” Mockingbird — The distinction between the two words seems to be a popular subject these days. This article references a few other articles and books before coming to the conclusion that there are some things to criticize in both terms as they are commonly understood. This is a good way of looking at the question, and it reminds us that we’re not just debating what words to use, but also looking at the attitudes and perspectives behind those words.

I haven’t mentioned any of the books I’m reading in these posts before, but I read through a book this week that I can heartily recommend: A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness. This book is almost comically ambitious for something that’s only 200 pages long. It attempts to diagnose everything that isn’t quite right with America today and point toward how our problems can be solved. Put simply, the solution is to be vigilant in “sustaining freedom,” which involves returning to the ideals held by the American Founders — improving upon them where necessary, but not forgetting them as so many have done. Guinness, refreshingly, transcends partisan politics; no election will clean everything up on its own. What’s needed is philosophical and cultural renewal on a much larger scale. America can’t simply assume that its superpower status will last forever when every single empire before it has come and gone. I hope that the brevity of this book will lead to more people being able to read it. See also a review written by Byron Borger for Capital Commentary.

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