Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014: Best Films

Only a few of these films are actually new releases this year--they are just new to me. Though I typically don't see very many movies, I try to make sure that the ones I do see really count. These days, that's not a particularly easy task. At any rate, here is my very subjective list of the best of the year, in no particular order:

1. The Hundred Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallström, starring Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, and Om Puri

2. Still Mine, directed by Michael McGowan, starring James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold

3. Haute Cuisine, directed by Christian Vincent, starring Catherine Frot and Jean d'Ormesson (French, English subtitles)

4. My Afternoons with Marguerite, directed by Jean Becker, starring Gérard Depardieu, Gisèle Casadesus, and Sophie Guillemin 
(French, English subtitles)

5. Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Chloe Grace Moret, Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Griffiths, and Christopher Lee

6. The Book Thief, directed by Brian Percival, starring Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse, and Emily Watson

7. The Words, directed by Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman, starring Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid

8. Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, directed by Peter Jackson, starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood and Andy Serkis.

9. Quiet Bliss, directed by Edoardo Winspeare, starring Celeste Cascara, Laura Licchetta, Anna Boccadamo, and Barbara de Matteis (Italian, English subtitles)

10. Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, and Javier Bardem

11. Chef, directed by Jon Favreau, starring Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey, Jr.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2014: Best Non-Fiction

Here is my very subjective list of the best non-fiction books I was able to read in 2014, ranked here in no particular order:

1. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame (P&R) This is a massive, magisterial work that sets traditional, orthodox, Reformed systematics within the compass of Frame's triperspectival and trinitarian didactae. It is eloquent and cogent. But, it is also invigoratingly inspirational.

2. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, and Pastoral Perspective edited by David and Jonathan Gibson (Crossway) With contributions from J.I. Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, John Piper, Michael Haykin, Alec Motyer, and a host of other pastors and theologians, this fat collection of essays ably unpacks one of the most difficult questions surrounding Reformed soteriology.

3. The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson (Reformation Trust) This latest volume in the Long Line of Godly Men series from Ligonier is, not surprisingly, the best yet. Dr. Ferguson makes the life, work, and legacy of Owen, one of the titans of the faith, fresh and lively for a whole new generation.

4. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim (IVP) This is a very practical and pastoral distillation of the much-larger and more-academic work by Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission. For all kinds of reasons, I love this book even more than the original--and I was wowed by the original.

5. A Small Cup of Light: A Drink in the Desert by Ben Palpant (IngramSpark) Adversity, sorrow, disappointment. None of us ever want it. But, all of us will surely face it. Ben Palpant's beautiful book--beautifully conceived and beautifully written--explores the dark profiles of suffering with the glistening light of hope. I am giving dozens of copies of this book away for Christmas.

6. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by G.K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd (IVP) This a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-deep-into-the-marvels sort of book on hermeneutics and Bible study. Like all of Beale's work, it is integrative and inspirational, academic and practical, theoretical and pastoral. In short, it is a marvel of insight.

7. What's Best Next by Matt Perman (Zondervan) The best single book on time-management/self-management/life-management from a Christian perspective I have ever read--and I've read everything I've ever been able to get my hands on. I have had all of my staff read through this--and I am thinking that we may reread it together later this next year. It's that good.

8. How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit by Witold Rybczynski (FSG) Rybcynski is far and away my favorite writer on the subject of architecture. I have tried to read everything he has written--no mean feat given the fact that he has written voluminously and prodigiously. But, so far every book has been worth it. And his newest, a wonderful survey, is no exception. This book is part history, part sociology, part moral philosophy, and all architecture.

9. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (Doubleday) This sequel to the bestselling Happiness Project focuses specifically on habits that build family vision, family cohesion, family harmony, and family happiness. Though not a Christian work in any way, this is a wonderful sort of DIY-simple, nuts-and-bolts-personal, Pinterest-practical approach to healthy, loving homes.

10. Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein (Penguin) This very slim volume is part travel adventure, part philosophy inquiry, part bibliophile romance, and part coming-of-old-age memoir. This is a most satisfying slow. lingering read.

11. Confessions of a Young Novelist by Umberto Eco (Harvard) I have to confess that any and every Umberto Eco is irresistible for me. I'm fascinated by his omnivorous medieval mind, his gargantuan renaissance erudition, and his wry modern skepticism. In this collection of talks he waxes eloquent about the process of creative writing at the intersection of probing philosophical inquiry and wildly imaginative creativity.