(As with every year I do this, my favourites are chosen from those I experienced this year. Actual release date is irrelevant)
Narconomics applies economic principles to the illegal drugs trade. Why does collusion between gangs make sense for them in one country but not another? Why is destroying drug crops mostly futile? Tom Wainwright isn’t just an economist dryly applying theories at a remove from the reality of the drugs trade, he gets in amongst it. Narconomics is both an original look at the industry and a fascinating insight into how it currently operates.
How can a book about behavioural economists can be so enjoyable? Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field. Michael Lewis, dominator of nonfiction bestseller lists, documents their work, relationship, and their intriguing lives.
Imagine a university economics professor. You’re probably picturing glasses, poor posture, perhaps tweed. Now imagine them leaving work early and rushing to the airport in order to fly home and command a battalion of tanks to protect their homeland. Moments like this (plus great writing and the pair’s strong bond) make a potentially dry book idea into something electric and cinematic. I could see this being another of Lewis’ books adapted into a film, if not for Israel being such a political hot potato (and you can’t really relocate the protagonists because they’re actual people). A great book, both as entertainment and an education on your mental biases and blind spots.
I struggle to explain what I got from this book because I got so much. It covers the rise of, well, us, from hunter-gatherers to farmers to knowledge workers. And religion, geography, slavery, evolution, and more. Its discussion of social constructs affects the way I think about many things now, including money (particularly relevant with Bitcoin currently so popular).
I’ve read a lot of books I’ve loved, but only two have had an effect on my everyday life: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, and this. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
I managed to pick my top three but was unable to prioritise them.
Prisoners is about the abduction of two young girls and the effect that has on their family. It’s sad, brutal, tense and intriguing. There is some symbolism and references that, having researched after watching it, I didn’t fully pick up on. So I look forward to seeing it again
b) X-Men: Days of Future Past
Someone mentioned on Twitter that this was the best X-Men film by a mile. I’m a huge fan of X-Men 2. So I was like, ‘Lol, yeah, whatevs douche’, or whatever youngsters say nowadays. But I decided to actually do some research before commenting (which is not the Internet Way). X2 is great, but Days is greater. The most remarkable thing about it is how it constantly puts the right foot forward. Film-making is a vast series of decisions. Even with the best minds behind it, statistically, something major should eventually go wrong. But it nails everything. Like Professor X in Dude Lebowski mode, getting drunk at home in his dressing gown. It introduces a character (Quicksilver) who moves fast enough to be unstoppable and make others pale in comparison, but has the sense to exit him early. One of the final scenes is surprisingly brutal for this type of film. All great moments done exceedingly well. Days is on the highest echelon of ‘capes films.
c) The Disaster Artist
(I thought about putting this #1 on the list, but figured I may be guilty of recency bias because I just saw it two weeks ago).
I think seeing The Room (which is on Youtube) helps to fully appreciate this film, although you don’t need to have read the book of the same name. Although you should read the book because it’s brilliant.
I was never a fan of James Franco. Have you ever seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians and saw Rob constantly look like he’d rather be elsewhere? That’s how I felt about James Franco on a Hollywood set. The only time I actually enjoyed his acting was the brief moment in Spiderman 3 where his character suffers from amnesia and wanders around without a care in the world. Good films he was in (like Rise of the Planet of the Apes) were good in spite of him, not because.
But he did an amazing job with the Disaster Artist. Playing Tommy Wiseau is a tough gig — Wiseau is a real person (who’s ingrained in the minds of anyone who has seen The Room) with a bizarre accent, and is so weird that even playing him accurately could seem unbelievable to many viewers. Yet Franco absolutely nails him (which shot-by-shot comparisons between The Room and The Disaster Artist make clear) and manages to make the absurd Wiseau sympathetic.
Franco’s direction is even better. This is another film that has no flat moments. The ‘naked Tommy’ scene is incredible, with its humour, handheld camerawork and long takes adding to the tension, and Franco’s complete dedication to his role. I expect to see Franco nominated for Best Director and Best Actor at the next Oscars. Writing that feels wrong.