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Academy Awards are this Sunday

The 80th Academy Awards will be held this Sunday, February 24th and if you’re like me, you’ll be glued to your television from red carpet coverage to Best Picture announcement.   I have always been addicted to the Oscars.   I enjoy watching all the pretty-people in their Oscar-best, telling stupid little anecdotes about how hard it was to pick out just the right dress.   Like we all believe it’s really hard to  be rich  and beautiful.

Here are the films up for Best Picture:

Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

No Country for Old Men

There will be Blood

 I have seen and reviewed all these films on this  blog,  with the exception of No Country for Old Men.   We had planned to see it last weekend, but opted for The Diving Bell & the Butterfly instead.   Now, with a very busy week and weekend I’m not sure we’ll actually see it before the Oscars air this Sunday.

So I am going to share my  pick for Best Picture (without seeing No Country for Old Men).   First, I think the Best Picture category was depressing this year – not in quality, but in content.   Even Juno dealt with some depressing themes.   Most of these films left me wanting to watch a Steve Martin movie, just to get my mind on something besides the utter darkness in the world.   So on that note, my pick for Best Picture is Michael Clayton.   The acting and writing were superb.   A legal-thriller film this good has not come around for a long time.   I don’t think Clooney will walk away with Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis was too good in There will be Blood), but I do hope Tom Wilkinson receives the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This movie dealt with dark issues and the dark side of human nature, but I didn’t walk away wanting to throw myself off the nearest cliff – the story had a redemptive quality sorely  lacking in several of the other Best Picture nominees.  

Lastly, I’m not so sure Juno is Oscar-quality.   It has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Lead Role, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay.   I like this film a lot  and I might give it Best Original Screenplay  but Michael Clayton is also a nominee in the category.   I don’t like it for any of the other categories.   How hard can it be to play an agnst teenager?   After all, we’ve all been one.   That said, it’s interesting a comedy has been nominated for Best Picture two years running (last year it was Little Miss Sunshine).   I like the Academy recognizing comedies takes talent too, but is Juno really Oscar material?   Feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Heidi Town stays Politically Neutral (most of the time)

I was asked today if I planned on venturing into Politics on Heidi Town.   As some of you know, my educational background is in politics and philosophy.

Occasionally I may  reveal some  of my political leanings here (I can’t help it),  but for the most part I’m striving to keep Heidi Town a happy and relatively politics-free zone.    

If you’d like to talk politics, take me out for a beer.  

New Movie Review Posted: The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

An odd French film about the life of Elle Magazine  editor Jean-Dominique Bauby after a stroke leaves his entire body paralyzed.

This movie has been nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Director.

Read my review under Movie Reviews or click here: The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

I have also added a NOTE to my review of There will be Blood, so check it out.

HeidiTown’s favorite non-fiction authors

Jon Krakauer is best known for Into Thin Air,  the story of the fateful 1996 season on Everest and Into the Wild (see my review of the major motion picture adapted from this book under Movie Reviews). Krakauer has written several other books, mostly concerning outdoor topics, however, one of his best books diverts from his usual subject matter. Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith, is an  up-close look at the history and modern day Church of Latter Day Saints, better known as Mormons.

Under the Banner of Heaven is an  eye-opening look at the skeletons in the closet of the fastest growing church in the world. Krakauer’s methodical research and presentation of the facts make for a riveting and  enlightening read.

Mark Bowden is a journalist who can actually put together a fascinating book – this cannot be said of all journalists-turned-authors. Arguably Bowden’s most famous book, Black Hawk Down, made into a film by the same name in 2001, documents the true story of the failed 1993 humanitarian mission conducted  by the  U.S.  military in Somalia.  Over  500  Somalians were killed and eighteen U.S. soldiers lost their lives in the conflict. I enjoyed this book, but sometimes got bogged down in the military lingo; my husband also read the book and had no problem with that particular aspect.

My favorite Bowden book is Killing Pablo: the hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw,  which has also been made into a documentary  frequently shown  The History Channel. The book is the fascinating true story  of Pablo Escobar’s rise to power as a drug lord in Columbia and his eventual  fall from power made possible through the help of the United States government.

While Bowden was on tour for his newest book, Breakfast with the Ayatollah: The  First Battle  in America’s War with Militant Islam,Ryan and I had a chance to hear him speak in-person at Denver’s downtown Tattered Cover. It becomes clear Bowden is a journalist/writer who is interested in finding the facts of a case and presenting them in a straightforward style so the reader may draw his or her own conclusions. He doesn’t appear to have any other agenda, political or otherwise. He is genuinely interested by the stories he writes about and though the audience was able to get him to answer a few questions regarding his personal opinons (many questions pertained to his opinion of the current situation in Somalia), he was able to stay noticeably neutral in his responses.

I believe it is Bowden’s dedication to finding the truth about a story allows him to obtain hard-to-get  interviews with ex-governmental operatives an others who trust he will write an unbiased account  of the subject matter.

Both Krakauer and Bowden  tackle challenging topics and presented them well.

HeidiTown’s favorite authors

I’ve been asked several times recently,  “Who is your favorite author?”

My all-time favorite author is Edith Wharton, who  wrote my all-time favorite book, The Age of Innocence  (see review under Book Reviews).  

However, I have  some favorite modern day authors I’d like to share with you.

In the fiction category my current favorites are Tracy Chevalier and Khaled Hosseini.

Chevalier’s most famous work is Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was made into a movie staring Scarlet Johannson and Colin Firth. While the movie was good, the book was better.

Chevalier has published five books, my favorite  is Falling Angels, a story told in the first-person by many different characters; no small feat for a writer. It follows two families during the women’s suffrage movement in London, England.

I like Chevalier because she writes like a painter; the story unfolds one  colorful brush stroke at a time until a well-crafted, beautiful story is revealed. She develops strong settings through the use of vivid descriptions and strong characters through the use of good, believable dialogue. Chevalier’s most recent work is Burning Bright (read my review under Book Reviews From the Berthoud Surveyor).

Hosseini has published two books, The Kite Runner, now a major motion picture, and A Thousand Splendid Suns.  The setting of both stories is Afghanistan, though The Kite Runner also takes place in the United States. Hosseini writes straightforward, yet haunting stories that are as believable as they are heart-wrenching.  

In A Thousand  Splendid Suns, the two main characters are women. As a female writer, I have never attempted to write anything but female main characters and I  have always been impressed with authors who  take on this  challenge and Hosseini does it well.  

Though many  book critics disagree, I thought A Thousand Splendid  Suns was better than Hosseini’s first book. I enjoyed the intense character development and that  the entire story takes place in Afghanistan (the country  has always intrigued me).    

To learn more about these two authors, visit their  websites:  

Tracy Chevalier –  www.tchevalier.com/

Khaled Hosseini – www.khaledhosseini.com/

A New Favorite – Author Dennis Lehane

Another author I’ve recently discovered is Dennis Lehane. He wrote the book Mystic River, adapted for the screen and directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie earned several Academy Award nominations including best picture; Sean Penn  won in  the Best Actor category and  Tim Robbins winning the  Best Supporting Actor.  Mystic River may  have won more categories, but  in 2003, the last Lord of  the Rings installment was released and Rings  walked away with 11 Academy Awards.

This past Christmas, while searching for a writing prompt at  my in-laws cabin, I picked up Mystic River. I planned to use it  for a  “first sentence writing prompt” – take the first sentence from a book and then free write for fifteen minutes using the sentence as the prompt (you can also use the last sentence of a book or open to a random page and use any sentence).   However, before I realized it, I’d read the first three pages of Mystic River and I was hooked.

Lehane has a gift for writing convincing dialogue; his characters’ voices each have their own distinct tenor. He also writes uniquely memorable descriptions. Mystic River, the movie version, follows the book closely, but even if you’ve seen it, the book is a captivating read.  I had not seen the movie since 2003, so the picture Lehane painted in my mind wasn’t influenced by the screen adaptation. Plus, as in all books-turned-movies, the characters in the book are much more defined and developed than on the screen, especially the female characters.

Lehane has also written a group of books featuring Patrick Kenzie, private investigator extraordinaire.  One of the Kenzie books is Gone Baby Gone, which was made into a major motion picture last year (it is now on DVD – read my review under Movie Reviews).  It has received one Academy Award Nomination in the Best  Supporting Actress catagory (Amy Ryan).  I haven’t read Gone Baby Gone, but I have read the first book in the Kenzie adventures, A Drink Before the War, an easy, less serious read than Mystic River, it retains Lehane’s unforgettable descriptions and adds a dash of humor that threads through the Kenzie books.

I rarely read Lehane’s genre. I seldom read any genre fiction – romance, suspense, mystery, horror, etc. I usually stick with the literature section of the bookstore and the few times I’ve strayed I have been disappointed, until I read Lehane. I enjoy character driven books and genre fiction is often plot driven with little attention given to character development (I realize this is not true of all genre fiction, but in general, it’s true). Though the books featuring Kenzie are plot driven, Lehane take the time to develop the character of Patrick Kenzie so the reader actually cares what happens to him and therefore the plot actually takes on  new, important meaning.

Author’s website: http://www.dennislehanebooks.com/

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