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Mondays with Schobie: Is the Oscar race already won?

Happy Boxing Day! Let's talk of movies, books, and other foolish things.

• For the film obsessive, the holiday season is a bit stressful. There is lots to catch up on, and quite frankly, if I hadn’t already seen a bunch at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, I might just throw in the towel. Tops on the better-see-this-ASAP list is The Artist, the film that awards pundits have all but guaranteed will take best picture honors at the Oscars, making it this year’s Slumdog/King’s Speech. On paper, it seems an iffy proposition: A silent black-and-white French film directed by and starring a duo known only for the so-so OSS 117 spy-spoof series? But as Sasha Stone wrote last weekend, “If there were any doubts before, there are no doubts now. … There is always that point in the year when you just know. And there is no stopping this movie. If there had been any stopping it, it would have happened months ago. But the hype is not destroying it. If anything, it’s helping it.” It also seems quite clear that director Michel Hazanvicius and star Jean Dujardin are the front-runners in their respective categories.

So … when can you actually see it here? As of right now, there is no confirmed opening date in Buffalo, but it will be arriving soon, for sure. (A critics’ screening was quietly held last week.)

• Since I didn’t know about the critics’ screening and sadly missed it at TIFF, The Artist is not on my current top ten list. I still have plenty of others left to see, too, including some real biggies—War Horse, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, The Adventures of Tintin, J. Edgar, My Week With Marilyn, The Iron Lady, Coriolanus, Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud. So a much longer, more detailed, and more well-thought-out list will be coming soon from myself and Spree’s Jared Mobarak, hopefully including some of those biggies. But here’s my December 26 top ten:

1. Shame
2. The Tree of Life
3. A Separation
4. Hugo
5. Melancholia
6. Drive
7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
8. Take Shelter
9. Mysteries of LIsbon
The Descendants

Interestingly, seven of these films played at TIFF (I saw four of them there). Plenty bubbling under, including The Skin I Live In, Moneyball, A Dangerous Method, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Trip, Midnight in Paris, and Beginners. And while the inclusion of Dragon Tattoo might surprise some, I expect this underrated film will see a bit more critical love after the initital flurry of reviews dies down. (Or, I'm just wayyy overrating it.)

• I find the holiday season is when I gravitate toward light, popcorn-y novels—thrillers, potboilers, what an old professor of mine used to call “airport reading.” They require little mental effort, and sometimes that’s nice. One of the kings of this world was the late Michael Crichton, and his second posthumous book, Micro, was released in November. This was an unfinished novel that found a very apt partner to complete it: Richard “Crisis in the Hot Zone” Preston. And while it’s certainly no masterpiece, it’s a fun bit of techno-fluff, and a fitting end to a wildly successful career. Another ideal December read is Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, a twist-y serial killer drama featuring the Swedish author’s recurring detective, Harry Hole. Many have called Nesbo the most likely next-big-Nordic-author to emerge in the wake of Stiegg Larsson and Henning Mankell, and Snowman shows this might be the case. It’s no wonder Hollywood is calling.

• A quick sports note. Not to bring us all down, but if you haven’t read it yet, the lengthy, exhaustively researched New York Times article on the life and death of NHL enforcer Derek Boogard is simply a must-read. It’s enough to make one contemplate the idea of fighting in hockey, and whether it can be justified on any level. Chilling, and very sad.

• And lastly, while I’ve decided against preparing lists for my favorite albums and songs of 2011—I just having been impressed with enough to bother—frequent Spree contributor Joe Sweeney’s annual list of the year’s best music is always well-reasoned, and indicative of its author’s style. Typically, he has creared another great list. While I strongly disagree with Radiohead’s inclusion (I’ve loved the band since “Creep,” but King of Limbs bores, bores, bores me), I was thrilled to see that Joe included the album that would have been my top choice: P. J. Harvey’s Let England Shake. Enjoy the killer title track here.

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