It’s the end of another year, and everyone knows what that means — a deluge of countdowns featuring the year’s best releases, of course. While every expert in the world pieces together a list of the best books, movies and music released in 2009, The Smoky Mountain News asked authorities in Western North Carolina to compile their own Top 10 lists for the year. Check out their recommendations below. Happy listening, watching and reading!
By Leigh Nelson • Bryson City movie buff
Without any rambling, here is my list of the best movies of 2009 (in my humble opinion):
10. He’s Just Not That Into You
In this tell-it-like-it-is film, both men and women try to make sense out of the opposite sex by pursuing the wrong one in the wrong way. With hilarious quirks, and often, heartbreaking outcomes, the star-studded cast precariously steps through the world of attraction.
This action-thriller is sure to get your heart pumping. Playing an underappreciated father and ex-“preventer,” Liam Neeson allows his 17-year-old daughter to follow her favorite band around Europe with a disastrous outcome. Neeson will stop at nothing to get his daughter back alive.
8. The Young Victoria
Emily Blunt (also in The Devil Wears Prada) stars as a woman who knows what she wants, as she tries to find her footing as a future queen and overcome her mother’s choking grasp. Two men vie for her attention — one for her heart, the other for her crown. She must decide which is more important, her image or her happiness.
Grossly hilarious, Zombieland runs as a “how-to” in surviving a zombie-infested country. Though the characters can barely tolerate each other, they find they just might need to stick together if they don’t want to end up among the undead. You have never experienced Woody Harrelson to the fullest until you’ve seen this film!
Don’t forget your tissues! Up is an animated film about a boy who needs someone to believe in him and an old man who realizes there’s still time to achieve his dreams. Both end up unwittingly on a nonstop adventure that is sure to bring laughter and tears!
5. Julie & Julia
An ageless delight, Julie & Julia is a tale of two strong women who love to cook. Julie decides to cook all of Julia Childs’ 524 recipes in one year and blog about it. As we see Julie in the present and Childs through the years, we are faced with their heartaches and triumphs, and fall in love with their tenacity.
4. I Can Do Bad All By Myself
Tyler Perry outdoes himself with this powerful drama-comedy about the importance of family. With Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige, the voices of this film empower you to feel the loss, regret and forgiveness that family can bring.
You’re in for a visual feast with this futuristic movie. Earth has depleted its fossil fuels and seeks natural treasures on the planet Pandora to survive. However, the indigenous Na’vi people don’t appreciate the humans trying to destroy their existence, especially since they can’t possibly understand the unique connection the Na’vi have to their surroundings. The Na’vi must find a way to protect their home and send the foreigners packing.
2. Inglorious Basterds
This fictional tale of World War II Jewish vindication is definitely a gore-fest, but you won’t want to miss a second of it by shutting your eyes. “The Basterds” are a group of Jewish soldiers who are intent on destroying the Nazis in a cruel and painful way, and they aren’t the only ones. The Jews will have their revenge, and “The Basterds” will give it to them.
1. District 9
District 9 is a phenomenal alien film set in present-day Johannesburg, South Africa. If you find that setting odd and a bit leading, you are on the right trail. The story of how the aliens get detained “for the greater good,” leads to a hair-raising battle for their survival. Throw the word “apartheid” in there, and you’ll quickly understand the moral to the story.
By Chris Cooper • Sylva musician
In no particular order ...
1. Album that we shouldn’t have liked:
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson’s “Break Up.” Recorded in 2006, but released 2009. A great pop album. Scarlett redeems herself after her first horrible solo album.
2. Howling Bells — “Radio War”
Mix of country-noir and alternative pop/rock. Also check out their 2006 self-titled debut.
3. Passion Pit — “Manners”
Boston-based electronic indie pop band. Incorporates sounds from Animal Collective and Mercury Rev to Prince and New Order.
4. Andrew Bird — “Noble Beast”
The singer-songwriter-violinist moves away from his previous sound to create a more cinematic album.
5. It Might Get Loud
Documentary that features three generations of rock guitarists: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. A creative rock documentary that does not get boring.
6. Angela Faye Martin — “Pictures from Home”
Martin, a Macon County musician, released one of the better local releases of the year. Produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.
7. Music at the 10th annual Play for Peace
An all-day music event in Sylva that also raises awareness and funds for veterans suffering from PTSD. Some of the best local bands play the event for free every year.
8. Music at Guadalupe Café in Sylva
Fantastic place to hang out and hear local bands. Saving grace of downtown Sylva.
9. Jeff Beck — “Performing This Week ... Live at Ronnie Scott’s”
(CD and DVD). 72 minutes and 16 tracks featuring the blues-rock legend. Also includes Eric Clapton and Imogen Heap. Really fun to watch and sold very well, a sign of hope that people still like guitars.
10. The Derek Trucks Band — “Already Free”
A mix of rock, blues, jazz, and Eastern music. Amazing, you’ll never get sick of it.
Compiled by the staff of City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
This is a novel comprised of letters beginning in 1946 between a single author in her mid-30s named Juliet Ashton and a Guernsey Island farmer by the name of Dawsey Adams. When Adams finds her name in the back of a secondhand book, he writes a letter to Ashton, and they begin a correspondence. Juliet Ashton is drawn into the world of this man, and he in turn invites his neighbors and friends to write to her with their stories. She learns all about their island, what books they read, and the powerful and transformative impact that the German occupation had on their lives. The warmth of these characters draws the reader in and makes you feel so thankful that you got to know them!
— Bookseller Margaret Spilker
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel is based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hardworking, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town — riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.
Bon Appetit, Y'all: Southern U.S.A./French fusion recipes by Ellen Silverman and Virginia Willis
Bon Appetit, Y’all is my favorite cookbook of the season. It’s fun to read, the illustrations are mouthwatering, and the recipes I’ve tried are delicious. Virginia Willis is from Georgia, spent some time in France and has combined recipes from her mother and grandmother with her own experiences to create a satisfying blend of new and old. The recipe for Cheddar Cornbread alone is worth the price of the book. And I love having recipes for Fried Fatback and Boeuf Bourguignonne just pages from each other.
— Bookseller Joyce Moore
Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also pretty dark, with our heroine (a 21st century, grown-up Pippi Longsocking) the lead suspect in a triple murder. Prostitution, a biker gang and a blond giant provide plenty of menace in this Swedish mystery. Sadly, the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, due out next year, will be the last in the series as the author died shortly after turning in the manuscripts for the three mysteries.
— Bookseller Chris Wilcox
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
A trilogy. Seriously. There are going to be two more! Those were my thoughts after the first round through The Districts, The Tributes and of course, The Arena. I sank right into this second book in the Hunger Games trilogy knowing that every spare second of the next maybe two days would be spent with Katniss Everdeen. Bliss.
— Bookseller Emily Wilson
D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Antony Beevor
Beevor's latest book, D-Day, is a thorough and quick-paced account of the Allied invasion of France. He uses letters, diaries, interviews and museum archives to create a stunning book with vivid images and crisp details. Beach by beach and through every patch of the bocage, witness the strife and struggle of not only the soldiers of both sides but the citizens living in the towns and villages devastated by the bitter fighting. I rarely hesitate to read a book about WWII, but this one holds a special place on my shelf.
— Bookseller Eon Alden
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Reading Pat Conroy is like smelling honeysuckle on a warm summer night. South of Broad, his first new novel in some years, is a welcome return to Charleston and to the complex characters that live there. Leo King, son of an ex-nun and a gentle father, is a senior in high school in 1969, nearly 10 years after the devastating death of his beloved older brother and he’s finally ready to put his shattered life back together. The friends that are a part of this rebirth, remain an important part of his life for the next two decades and it is the story of these friendships that provides the foundation of the book. I really enjoyed this book, both for the story and for Conroy’s incredibly lush narrative.
— Bookseller Joyce Moore
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
In her dazzling new novel — her first in more than a decade — Moore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.
As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer, has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.
Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny. The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring, she comes to care for, and to protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own. As the year unfolds and she is drawn deeper into each of these lives, her own life back home becomes ever more alien to her: her parents are frailer; her brother, aimless and lost in high school, contemplates joining the military. Tassie finds herself becoming more and more the stranger she felt herself to be, and as life and love unravel dramatically, even shockingly, she is forever changed.
Commandment by Mary Adams
English professor at Western Carolina University. According to Ron Rash, “What makes Mary Adams such an exceptional poet is her ability to fuse formal elegance and profound sentiment. Few contemporary poets can match her combination of craft and feeling, which makes this new collection all the more welcome. She is a poet of the first rank.”
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
This piece of extended journalism is simply fun to read, even for non-runners. Midway through Born to Run, I thought, anybody who has ever gone for a jog would have fun reading this book; by the time I finished it I realized that even folks who never ran, or ran loathing every step, would find plenty to enjoy. Encompassing the world of long-distance running, the focus is the Tarahumara Indians who have fun running continuously for a day or two through the rugged, scorching Copper Canyons of Mexico ... wearing homemade sandals!
McDougall visits the reclusive tribe and compares them to the competitors in ultra-marathon races — often 50-100 miles in extreme environments such as Death Valley or the high Rockies. He cites convincing studies which conclude that modern humans evolved as long-distance runners. Whether this hypothesis is correct or not, the book is a fascinating peak into two misunderstood groups of people brought together by running.
— Bookseller Chris Wilcox