November 29, 2015


By Ivan Walters. (2015, 443 pp).

We have a few annual movie traditions at my house. I watch The Poseidon Adventure every New Year's Eve and actually wait until 11:35:19 PM to hit the play button, so when the clock strikes midnight in the movie, it's also midnight in my living room (that's right...I have no life). My daughter and I always watch Die Hard on Christmas Eve because that's the day John McClane single-handedly wastes a dozen terrorists and saves his wife. And though technically not a holiday movie, I celebrate each Easter with Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments, a habit I developed when ABC used to air it at that time every year.

With A Year in Movies, author Ivan Walters has taken the idea several steps further, painstakingly compiling a list of 366 films, both recent and classic, for every single day of the year. All or a significant part of every movie included takes place on a specific calendar date, so you can look up your birthday (as my family did when the book arrived) and read about a film where that date is significant to the story. And if a particular date isn't mentioned in the film itself, Walters often (but not always) includes the novel or historical source which does. Other times we just have to take his word for it.

There are the usual suspects, of course, such as the aforementioned Poseidon Adventure for December 31 and The Longest Day for June 6, along with quite a few surprising - and perplexing - choices. For example, I looked up my own birthday (November 22) fully expecting to read about JFK, but found Tim Burton's Batman instead, supposedly because that's the date the caped crusader thwarts a couple of guys during a robbery (even though the film itself doesn't provide any dates). And while I appreciate the author's attempt to avoid the obvious titles, doesn't it make sense to include original Halloween for October 31, which takes place almost entirely on that day? Instead, that day is reserved for To Kill a Mockingbird, which is an undisputed classic, but come on.

Each entry includes the year of the film's release, genre, running time, primary cast & crew, availability on home video, major awards or nominations and alternate titles taking place on the same day. In that respect, this volume makes a nifty historical reference guide. There's also a one-to-two paragraph synopsis of the plot (including mild spoilers). Less essential is the author's extremely brief personal assessment of each title, one or two lines at-most, and seldom in complete sentences. Considering the serviceable detail of each synopsis, the sudden shift in style to sound bites of praise - he loves a majority of the films selected, though significantly, not The Godfather Part II (!) - almost reads like they were written by a different author.

Still, the basic concept of A Year of Movies makes it unique among film reference books, one that'll be fun to grab off the shelf every now and then when pondering a particular calendar date. And I suppose the book also poses the ultimate challenge to any film view each of these titles on the dates in which they take place. I wish I had the time and resources to accept such a challenge. What a journey that would be.

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