Wednesday 31 December 2014

The last book I'll read this year: Peter Sloterdijk's 'Globes'

I haven't kept a list of the books I've read this year but I know what will be the last I'll read (as I've just finished reading it): the second volume of Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres trilogy, Globes.

At 1,019 pages it is a veritable breeze-block of book. However, while somewhat time-consuming, it is lucidly written and so full of illustrations that the 1000+ page count is in fact somewhat illusory. Moreover, much of the final chapter has previously appeared in another book: In the World Interior of Capital (sections 1-10 and 13-30 of Interior appear in Globes).

While meandering and ponderous in places, the journey is well worth enduring. It is a quite monumental achievement, the purpose of which one only really begins to glimpse towards the end of volume 2.

The book is obviously unsummarisable and so I won't bother. However, I'll be looking forward to the third instalment, whenever Wieland Hoban gets round to finishing that translation (he does a very good job, by the way). I have a copy of the third volume in French but am only planning on reading snippets of it in that format. With my language skills, reading the whole thing would take me up to this time next year!

Next up, if my brain can handle it (it's sore), is Isabelle Stengers' Thinking With Whitehead. I've made two attempts at this book in the past and failed to make it more than half way through. It isn't the kind of book one can read a bit here, a bit there. It demands sustained periods of close attention, which I've struggled to find the time/energy/wherewithal for. I perhaps wasn't ready for it in the past but I'm feeling confident this time around!

My top ten films of 2014

I watched a lot of films this year. Of those released (in the UK) in 2014 here are some of the best:

1) Under The Skin: Mesmerising, disturbing and haunting on every level. Something utterly, brilliantly singular. The pick of a very good bunch.

2) Pride: I cried with laughter, joy, sadness and regret for the loss, or near loss, of a world where solidarity still meant something. Achieving its seamless combination of politics and entertainment is a brilliant achievement.

3) Boyhood: It's amazing that no one has tried this before—although perhaps no one else could have pulled it off. Watching these people age before your eyes in this way is more moving than I thought possible. A perfectly realised vision.

4) Two Days, One Night [Deux jours, une nuit]: Marion Cotillard's portrayal of the egg-shell fragility of depression is heartbreakingly on the mark and the manner in which she musters the strength to discover and accept the love, friendship and solidarity of those around her when it really does seem like the world is against her is astounding. No film has stayed with me more than this one this year.

5) Frank: Funny, brilliantly constructed and with some incredible music. Maggie Gyllenhaal learned the theremin for her role in this film. Nuff said.

6) Leviathan: A complex, intelligent and brave piece of film-making. Utterly without the upliftingness of the other political films on my list but perhaps its lead-coat fatalism is an important counterpoint. Also, no one does alcoholism like Russian alcoholics. Blimey.

7) The Grand Budapest Hotel: Yes, it looks like a cake—but what a cake! Stylised to within an inch of its life but erring just on the right side of brilliant.

8) The Past [Le passé]: A perfectly constructed drama that somehow has all the twists and turns of a thriller. Bérénice Bejo's performance I can only describe as the most explosively kinetic I've ever seen.

9) Calvary: Clunky and heavy-handedly allegorical at times but with a redeeming charm and thoughtfulness. All in all a very clever look at the place of the Catholic Church in Irish society without ever for a moment being, dare I say it, preachy.

10) Blue Ruin: Shoe-string film-making at its best. There are other films I enjoyed more this year but I can't leave this one out. I'll never be able to watch a 'revenge thriller' in the same way again and it's not often that a film permanently transforms your sense of a genre.

And ten of the rest that didn't make it into the above:

The Lego Movie: I enjoyed this as much as any film this year but it is essentially a feature length advert...

Guardians of the Galaxy: Rip-roaring fun. Didn't see Chris Pratt as a muscle-rippling movie star but he wears it very well indeed. Can't wait to see future instalments.

Maps to the Stars: It's quite amazing that Julianne Moore's paranoid, narcissistic monster of a character isn't even the nastiest on show. A dark-hearted piece, for sure.

Snowpiercer: I liked it but didn't love it. It's an interesting concept and was very well realised but I found it to drag a little. I'm not sure why I didn't like it more.

Locke: The kind of film that cannot possibly sound as good on paper as it does on the screen. A bravura one man show from Tom Hardy. I can't imagine anyone else in the role.

Nightcrawler: Very nearly in my top 10. A spot-on satire of the horror economy of cable news with a spookily gaunt and superlatively sociopathic Jake Gyllenhaal.

Mr Turner: Timothy Spall is brilliant and the story was perfectly interesting. However, not exactly life-changing. Probably a little over-hyped.

Foxcatcher: Again, brilliant performances (particularly from Steve Carrell although Channing Tatum's emotionally stunted athleticism is also well done) but not enough to put it anywhere near my top 10.

Cold in July: Michael C. Hall is never less than excellent and this film hops genres with aplomb.

Interstellar: A stunning spectacle (I'd love to see it in IMAX) but 'problematic', as cultural critics like to say.

(Other films could have featured depending on what one counts as the release date. I've counted 12 Years a Slave as a 2013 release, as most people seem to have done. Inherent Vice isn't out here yet but I'm looking forward to it.)

I've by no means seen everything that I've wanted to. Particularly notable in their absence: Ida, The Imitation Game, Winter Sleep, '71, Citizenfour, Merchants of Doubt, The Golden Dream. I'll hopefully catch up with at least a few of these over what remains of my Christmas break (which, so far, has been anything but!).