L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson (1997). This has held up well. It’s no Chinatown, but nothing is. I had forgotten about the prostitutes who get plastic surgery to look like stars.

The Bad and the Beautiful, Vincente Minnelli (1952). Kirk Douglas is the epitome of Hollywood’s necessary evil: the producer. He makes it possible for three ambitious but flawed people — a director, an actress, a writer — to achieve greatness, but requires them to sell their souls along the way. They each begin by hating him, but then love him, then hate themselves, then hate him all over again. I remembered this as a bit more wicked and fun; on a second viewing it’s a little too mawkish. But it remains one of the great movies about movies, and a nice double-bill with L.A. Confidential. Especially good to watch them back to back in your hotel room at the A.W.P. convention.

Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov (1957). VN’s fourth written in English, based on his experiences as a visiting professor at Cornell and Wellesley. The depictions of departmental politics remain, I assure you, brilliant. But this is as much or more a novel about exile than it is about campus follies. The structural and narrative games here are nowhere near as complex or resonant as in Pale Fire or Ada, perhaps in part because VN was working closer to lived experience here. A brilliant read for a rainy afternoon in a college town. Don’t make the mistake I did and start underlining your favorite sentences; it’s easier to underline the handful that aren’t perfect.

What Goes On, Stephen Dunn (2009).
Mercury Dressing, J.D. McClatchy (2009).
One Secret Thing, Sharon Olds (2008).
Sestets, Charles Wright (2009).
Thousands of books of poetry published each year, and this is what the Old Gray Lady wants reviewed. If I hadn’t had to insulate the basement this winter . . . .

City Dog, W.S. Di Piero (2009).
The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation, Fanny Howe (2009).
Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue, William Logan (2009).
These ones I’ve been living, eating, and sleeping with for months. Review forthcoming in Poetry.

Key Largo, John Huston (1948). Wow. It had been years, and I’d forgotten. Here’s a picture that takes place almost entirely in two rooms — it started as a stage play, by Maxwell Anderson — but never holds still for a second. Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall are mesmerizing to watch, and Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor play their supporting parts perfectly. Anyone who fancies the ear cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs a triumph of violent suspense should watch the scene here where Robinson makes Trevor, a former showgirl turned alcoholic, sing for a drink. Saddest thing in the world.

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