the Academy Award

The Iranian film A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, seems to me the best film of 2011. It is one of the Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Picture, but by any sense of justice in any nation (let alone the self-assessed greatest in the world) it would have been nominated for Best Picture before anything else. The ways in which the characters in A Separation struggle for truth and honor, while yielding sometimes to compromise and falsehood, is not foreign to us. Few other films made last year give such a striking sense of, “Look—isn’t this life?

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1. An article by David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times reported that three volumes of Muammar Qaddafi’s heavy thoughts had over the years become mandatory reading for Libyans. I don’t know whether Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Mao Zedong’s Red Book is the more apt analogy for this sort of brain-washing. But I do remember from decades ago when many of my fellow graduate students were reading the Mao bible at least as much to absorb the great ideas as for scholarly purposes. Some of these are now full professors at serious American universities.

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In the era of the last presidential administration, Randy Newman, the distinguished elder of pop-song irony, wrote a tune called “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” in which he gave George W. Bush credit for doing no more harm than the Caesars, Hitler, or Stalin. “Now, the leaders we have,” he sang, “while they’re the worst that we’ve had, are hardly the worst that this poor world has seen.” In the same spirit, I’d like to offer a defense of “We Belong Together,” the Newman song from Toy Story 3 that just won the Academy Award for Best Song.

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The Jerusalem theater lights came on, and no man between the ages of 25 and 35 moved. We had just watched Waltz With Bashir, Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's animated documentary about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent Sabra and Chatila massacre. The film deals with Folman's struggle with the surreal trauma that many veterans of that conflict retain.

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DISHONEST WHITE MAN When Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore ambled up to the Kodak Theatre stage on Sunday night to accept the Academy Award for best documentary, he invited his fellow nominees to join him. "They are here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction," Moore explained, "and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president.

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