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The A List: November 2006

A handy guide to movies, CDs, DVDs, TV shows, and books that made the grade (A – or better) in EW during the past month

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MOVIES

CASINO ROYALE
Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen (PG-13)
It’s a thrilling new beginning for the 44-year-old franchise. As the secret agent who’s out to earn his license to kill, Craig injects a dose of menacing virility into James Bond, shaking him out of his classic duds and retooling him into a man dangerous and unpredictable. And one who meets his match in the smoldering Green.

BORAT
Sacha Baron Cohen (R)
At turns uproariously rude and offensively funny, the hapless, small-minded reporter Borat (Baron Cohen), from a village in Kazakhstan, makes us confront some unpleasant truths about our hapless, small-minded US and A.

IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
(Unrated)
Documentarian James Longley patiently tracks a nation torn by invasion and mounting frustrations between 2002 and 2005. The filmmaker quietly allows the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to be themselves in a way that’s both moving and sympathetic without passing judgment.


MUSIC

THE BEATLES
Love On this remarkable album, the songs of the Fab Four have been reimagined by legendary producer (and ”fifth Beatle”) Sir George Martin and son Giles. It sounds sacrilegious, but it works: Chopped up and remixed, the most sacrosanct pop canon of the 20th century is breathtakingly revitalized.

NELLIE McKAY
Pretty Little Head Dumped by Columbia Records for refusing to drop any of the 23 tracks she submitted for her second album, McKay went ahead and released it on her own. Full of big ideas served up in her fetching breathy style, Head shows the dazzling range of a gifted songwriter — and the sad shortsightedness of a big music label.

DEPECHE MODE
The Best of Volume 1 It took only a quarter of a century, but it was worth the wait: a single-disc greatest-hits compilation that traces the band’s career arc, from slick ’80s new-wavers to brooding electro-pop arena rockers.

CHAVEZ
Better Days Will Haunt You A two-CD retrospective from one of the progenitors of a genre known (sadly) as math rock.

WILLIE NELSON
Songbird Let’s forget last year’s reggae-tinged Countryman. Aided and abetted by Ryan Adams, Nelson goes back to what he does best: writing and performing the world’s loveliest ballads.

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Marie Antoinette Original Soundtrack Post-punk, electronic, and baroque classics crowd these two way-cool discs, curated by director Sofia Coppola and music supervisor Brian Reitzell.


DVDs

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE BEST OF SATURDAY TV FUNHOUSE
(Unrated)
From the carefully accessorized adventures of ”The Ambiguously Gay Duo” (voiced to deadpan perfection by Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert) to the bumbling exploits of ”X-Presidents,” these two-dozen-plus shorts — from the warped brain of Robert Smigel — have only improved with age.

CINEMA PARADISO: COLLECTOR’S EDITION
Philippe Noiret (R)
Watch the longer — and decidedly less sentimental — version of the 1989 weepie that director Giuseppe Tornatore wanted audiences to see.

THE MARLON BRANDO COLLECTION
(Unrated/R) Not every one of the five movies assembled here (on DVD for the first time) is essential viewing. But two — 1953’s Julius Caesar and 1967’s Reflections in a Golden Eye — capture the impossibly deep psychological shadings brought to life by the finest actor of his generation.

CARS
(G) The latest offering from the wizards at Pixar tells the story of some handsomely anthropomorphized automobiles who inhabit a bygone America of whitewall tires and gleaming roadside diners. There are some terrific action scenes, but for the most part, director John Lasseter gives the proceedings a touching and elegaic air. We would’ve liked more extras on this DVD, but we can wait for the deluxe version undoubtedly on its way.


TV

SOUTH PARK
(Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10-10:30 p.m.)
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s scatologically bent comedy shrewdly knows where to draw the line between firing cheap shots and earning true laughs. From dishing out myriad variations on the word poo to a spot-on episode on videogamer culture, Stan, Cartman, and crew, now in their 10th season, prove to be as sharp, topical, and pungent as ever.

THE OFFICE
(NBC, Thursdays, 8:30 – 9 p.m.)
Whether they’re gathering for a Diwali celebration or expanding the Scranton branch (welcome back, Jim!), the paper-pushing employees of Dunder Mifflin, headed by dunderheaded manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell), have us laughing out loud each week with squirmingly awkward delight.

WONDERFALLS
(Logo, Thursdays, 8 – 9 p.m.)
Canceled by Fox in 2004, this quippy and quirky series, about a gift-store clerk (Caroline Dhavernas) who just happens to chat with inanimate toys, gets a second life on cable net Logo.


BOOKS

AGAINST THE DAY
by Thomas Pynchon (Novel)
This highly anticipated, mind-blowing, 1,000-page-plus knot of a tome — about people plotting for power at the turn of the 20th century, saturated with jokes, romances, history revisions, and scientific concepts — is a real trip.

THE YELLOW HOUSE
by Martin Gayford (Biography)
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin’s stormy relationship and the art that resulted from it when they lived together for nine weeks in 1888 is documented in this terrific work.

WAS SHE PRETTY?
by Leanne Shapton (Comic)
The deceptively simple lives of men and their exes are depicted in a smattering of sentences and portraits that are both wistful and engaging.

WALT DISNEY
by Neal Gabler (Biography)
A wonderfully animated, comprehensive, and revealing portrait of the mythic man behind the Mouse.

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