The A List: May 2006
Christian Clemenson, David Alan Basche (R)
Director Paul Greengrass has crafted a harrowing reenactment of the final hours of the doomed flight that plunged out of the Pennsylvania sky on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s a tense and agonizing experience, and by letting the events unfold in real time, he compels audiences to notice the ordinary — and thus keeps a cataclysmic story scaled to the vulnerable men and women involved.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
This Cannes-honored Romanian drama — a heartbreaking tale of an ailing old widower who spends his last night on earth in the cold embrace of a modern health-care system — is rich and riveting and made with infinite tenderness.
Mobb Deep Released on 50 Cent’s G-Unit label and featuring such luminaries as Mary J. Blige, the Alchemist, and Fiddy himself, Money finds rappers Havoc and Prodigy in fine and furious form. The radio-friendly tracks got cred, but the rest (like ”The Infamous”) are gloriously dark and gritty.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Brian Eno & David Byrne In 1981, a perfect union of sensibilities — avant-garde studio genius Eno and pioneering Talking Heads frontman Byrne — created a set of sound collages that still feel haunting, hypnotic, and fresh.
The Boxing Mirror
Alejandro Escovedo His recent brush with death informs Escovedo’s triumphant CD — clearly influenced by Lou Reed’s noirish 1978 rock operetta Street Hassle and produced by Reed’s ex-bandmate John Cale — and gives a poignancy to his familiar themes of mortality, spiritual yearning, and redemption.
Wolfmother The latest thunder from Down Under comes from this band, who proudly worship at the altar of Led Zeppelin. Their ample Page/Plant-level mojo may unclog rock radio’s weakened arteries.
A Blessing and a Curse
Drive-By Truckers A less political, more personal songwriting approach yields a career-best album from these Southern country rockers.
The Animal Years
Josh Ritter Huge in Ireland, Idaho-born bard Ritter should find Stateside success with his sumptuous third CD, on which his personal tone poems resonate like big-screen epics.
The Long Good Friday
Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren (R)
A reissue of the cool and brutal 1980 British crime drama. The film’s boiling center is the criminally underappreciated Hoskins, whose embattled crime boss — with his turtle-eyed glower and short-necked rage — is every bit as menacing and mythic as Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone.
(R) Director Terry Zwigoff has an affinity for the graphic-narrative form. Before his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World (and upcoming Art School Confidential), he made this bittersweet portrait of underground cartoonist (and longtime pal) Robert Crumb.
Liza With a ‘Z’
(Unrated) Choreographer-director Bob Fosse and a top-of-her-game Liza Minnelli conjure 55 minutes of song-and-dance magic. The 1972 TV special has been polished and given enough extras to turn it into a veritable Liza-palooza. We especially liked the commentary track furnished by (a giggly) Liza herzelf.
Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection
The subtitle of this five-movie set is redundant, as Dietrich is the cinematic embodiment of that now-devalued adjective. Three films in particular — The Devil Is a Woman, Morocco, and Blonde Venus — are timeless reminders of that fact. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, they are precisely crafted chiaroscuro dreamscapes across which strides this unearthly beauty.
(HBO On Demand) A handsome miniseries that adds to the ever-expanding body of work based on the life of Good Queen Bess. As played by an imperious Helen Mirren, Elizabeth was a ruler governed by her own emotions. If you were a court favorite, like the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), this was a good thing. But if you were someone who pissed her off — well, not so good.
City of Men
(Sundance Channel, Tuesdays, 9-9:45 p.m.) Picking up where the emotionally wrenching and astonishingly kinetic 2002 film City of God left off, this Brazilian series follows the lives of two wise-beyond-their-years 13-year-old boys as they navigate the gang-infested slums of Rio de Janeiro.
Degrassi: The Next Generation
(The N, Fridays, 8-9 p.m.) Girls kissing girls. Teachers kissing principals. And Kevin Smith dropping by to shoot a comedy. That’s how the fifth season of the sharp, issues-oriented Canadian high school drama draws to a close.
King Dork by Frank Portman
(Novel) Musician/writer Portman has created an unforgettable character in Tom Henderson, the cynical but utterly charming high school narrator of his brainy, multilayered, outrageous, and compassionate first(!) novel.
My Life in France
by Julia Child
(Nonfiction) Child’s inspiring memoir (published after her 2004 death) is a love letter to both the country and the cuisine that influenced her epochal Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
The Secret River
by Kate Grenville
(Novel) Loosely based on real-life events, this eloquent frontier tale is set in the wilds of early-1800s Australia.
by David Maraniss
(Biography) A stirring account of the late Roberto Clemente, the Hall of Fame baseball player whose heroics on and off the field have made him a saint in Latin America.