Critically-acclaimed novelist Jeffrey Eugenides became a literary star with the publication of his debut novel The Virgin Suicides in 1993. Having written only three books over the course of eighteen...
Imagine if Hollywood gathered for their annual tribute, the grand Oscar ceremony, and when they got to the big award — the Best Picture of the Year! — the presenter just shrugged their shoulders and declared no winner. "Sorry guys, the Academy just couldn't decide."
Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize committee, the voting body behind one of the most influential culture and science awards on the planet, pulled a similar movie. They announced their winners, a full slate of top-notch authors, publications and organizations, but one category was blank: fiction. There were three finalists: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and the incomplete The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. According to Pulitzer Prize administrator, "The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded." Ouch.
It's a reasonable idea that the judges couldn't settle on one work and, in an effort to maintain their integrity, passed on anointing a singular piece of fiction with their prestigious award. But isn't that the point? If there was a complete void of quality writing in 2011, that would be one thing, but the Pulitzer Prize committee had three finalists — and more importantly, a slew of other great titles from the past year — to choose from.
The three finalists are there for a reason — Wallce's posthumously published novel and Russell's debut novel stand out as fine examples of American writing. In 2011, the Pulitzer Prizes even had old favorites to go back to, including Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. The book was highly anticipated, even warranting a Times Square billboard, and while it didn't carry the same weight as Eugenides' previous effort (he won the Pulitzer in 2003 for his novel Middlesex), it was sharp and colorful. Too slight for the Pulitzer criteria? Hollywood.com's Aly Semigran stands by The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach's much-hyped, much-loved baseball novel. Even the controversial 50 Shades of Grey finds love from Hollywood.com's Kelly Schremph, who finds the book's prose "sexy and alluring." The novel may not be high literature, but it's a bold exercise from newcomer E.L. James.
The last time the Pulitzer Prizes declined to award a new book with their coveted seal was way back in 1977. That means for 35 years, the literary elite had no problem settling on a top dog. What was the problem this year? Throw your own recommendations for 2011's best work of fiction in the comments. If the Pulitzers aren't going to highlight the year's finest fiction, we should.
Find Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and remember to follow @Hollywood_com!
Best of Pop Culture 2011: Staff Picks
The Top 11 Films of 2011
Oscars 2012: The Artist and Hugo Win Big
Here at Hollywood.com we spend most of the year writing about the big three in pop culture: movies, TV and celebrities. But we're a knowledge-hungy, webby bunch and our interests bleed beyond those constraints, just like most people. And so, in the spirit of a true 2011 wrap-up, we've come together to deliver our favorite pop culture topics from 2011 including those YouTube videos we watched so many times that we make up a decent fraction of the millions of views and the hit songs we're even singing in our sleep - even books (yeah, we read things too!). So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our favorite bits of pop culture from 2011:
Foster The People
Die-hard fans would correct me and say that Foster The People originally enjoyed the popularity of their smash hit single “Pumped Up Kicks” in 2010 when it became a bit of a viral sensation, and they’d be correct. Technically, that’s the year when the song came into our collective consciousness, but (and this is a big but) 2011 is the year in which Foster the People went from an Indie sensation to a mainstream sensation. Even if you can’t recall the name of this Los Angeles based band, you’ve heard at least three of their songs roughly a million times whether it was on the radio, on SNL, in car commercials, in RomComs like Friends With Benefits and schlocky horror flicks like Fright Night, or even on the season finale of Homeland. Hell, half of their 2011 album, Torches, served as soundtrack fodder for the CW’s biggest hit, The Vampire Diaries. The bottom line is: people of all walks love this kitchy, catchy, summery pop-rock. And while “Pumped Up Kicks” is about to go the way of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” – to the land of over-played songs – one of the other nine songs on the album, including “Helena Beat,” is sure to become the “Rumor Has It” or “Someone Like You” of the Foster the People roster. Add to all this that the trio is nominated for two 2012 Grammys and you’ve got a pretty solid case for why these guys landed a spot on this list. -Kelsea Stahler
Watch The Throne
With the record industry in shambles, the only artists that can make a splash in the digital age are those with true clout. Emerging acts occasionally break through the indie scene to the Billboard Top 100, but it’s the icons that are responsible for the few “event albums” in any given year these days. This year, fans responded to the new efforts from Adele, LMFAO and Katy Perry in a big way, but for my money the best new music came in the form of the highly anticipated collaboration of rap’s reigning champs Jay-Z and Kanye West. Their mutual 2011 release, “Watch the Throne”, doesn’t display the kind of growth that Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” did, but is a consistently satisfying and highly addictive audio experience. Not as lyrically inventive as it is from a production standpoint, the album has a little something for every listener, and much praise must be given to the long list of producers and songwriters who contributed to its diversity including Swizz Beats, The Neptunes, Frank Ocean, The RZA and of course Jay and Kanye. From the bass-thumping gangsta-bop “N***** in Paris”, which is about as current as any other track on the album, to the pop-centric “Lift Off” featuring a reliable hook from Beyonce, to the early 90’s drums-n-bass throwback “That’s My Bitch” to the ultra-cool instrumentation on “Why I Love You”, “Throne” is the sonic smorgasbord we knew it would be. -Daniel Hubschman
The Book of Mormon
Trey Parker and Matt Stone's leap to the Great White Way wasn't necessarily a shoe-in for musical comedy success. Even with the creators of South Park teaming up with Robert Lopez, the Tony-award winning writer/composer of Avenue Q, the duo faced an uphill battle. After all, they were risking millions on a lampoon of an entire religion (and one they've previously knocked on their show). But instead of rowdy picket lines blocking the theater's entrance or tomatoes thrown towards stage, Parker and Stone found themselves showered with praise and Tonys of their own—and for good reason. The Book of Mormon melds the low and high brow, weaving together riotous potty humor, sharp satire and classic Broadway tropes into a genuinely uplifting tale of two Mormon missions. In an era where theater struggles to stay relevant (and afloat), The Book of Mormon is a true gift from God. -Matt Patches
Music consumption is one of modern life’s very difficult – albeit obviously inconsequential, in a grand-scheme-of-things kind of way – decisions. Buying CDs is, for many reasons, not a consideration (at least for me) and the same goes for illegal downloading. Which leaves…well, a ridiculous amount of options. The best, in my opinion – and believe me, my opinion could well change greatly over the next few years, if not months – is Spotify. The streaming service, launched Stateside in July after previously dominating Europe’s digital-music landscape, offers virtually unlimited music on your computer; and for $10 a month, you can stream all those songs on your smartphone (or download them, for those times when 3G/4G isn’t available). The latter option has made my music-consumption decision an easier one and my overall listening experience, especially on the go, much more enjoyable in 2011. As an iPhone owner, I’m still unsatisfied with Apple’s more-confusing-than-meets-the-eye (and more complicated than necessary) iTunes Match and iCloud services when it comes to having all my songs in my pocket; that’s where Spotify wins me over. Additionally, the newbie’s social-networking functionality – which admittedly isn’t of great importance for me – blows all music services, including iTunes (remember Ping?) out of the water. Indeed, Spotify has had a huge effect on me in 2011 by offering the hands-down best music option out there. It shows great promise, and will, in turn, vastly improve the competition in the not-too-distant future. However, the prospect of losing all the music I’ve paid for from Spotify if I do someday change to another service, well...maybe we’ll come back to that in our 2012 wrap-up. - Brian Marder
The Marriage Plot
When a new book hits stands, you may see the writer touted on a few morning talk shows, pop up in the big (remaining) book stores on tour. When The Marriage Plot was released, author Jeffrey Eugenides got his own big budget action movie-esque billboard in the heart of New York City's Time Square. That's faith. Eugenides followed up his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex with a lighter, multi-narrative following a group of twenty-somethings in the '80s, struggling with post-college life. It's a groan-worthy, CW-esque premise that Eugenides dives into without restraint, making for one of the year's more compelling, funny reads. Thanks to the period setting, the book has a rare relatability across generations—which may explain why it got the "Tom Cruise blockbuster" ad treatment. -Matt Patches
Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Alright, I’ll admit this book isn’t exactly a 2011 “sensation” for most people. You can’t find it in those airport bookstores that sell the top 25 bestsellers and when I went to pick up a copy at Barnes and Noble, I had such a hard time finding it, I decided to spring for the eBook version instead (it’s better for the environment anyway). The real reason this hilarious, thoughtful book finds its way onto this list is that while part of the reason we’re doing this list is to let you reminisce over the wonderful little distractions of 2011, we’re also helping you catch up on things you’ve missed. And if you missed Kaling’s book, now’s the time to fix that. Most famous for playing the incomprable Kelly Kapoor on The Office, comedian Mindy Kaling has slowly become something of an undergroud female icon. Why, you ask? Well, to put it simply, she gets it. I’m not usually a fan of using Twitter as a public record, but Kaling once tweeted something that stuck with me. She said, “It is so hard when your interests run girly and your temperament runs manly.” And that, in a nutshell, is why Kaling and her book rule. She’s completely admittedly girly – I mean, she’s a girl and girls cry over things like cancelled dates and “You Can Call Me Al,” right? But at the same time, she’s not such a girl about it. There’s an element of honesty, of taking these embarassing girl truths at face value and just laughing at them, accepting the simultaneous mundane reality, urgent importance and complete absurdity of what it means to be the type of girl who doesn’t always say the right thing, or nab the mega babes, or do anything that can be deemed remotely cool (oh except getting a role and a writing job on a little sitcom called The Office, but who’s counting that, Kaling doesn’t understand one night stands and worries that she’ll be a Jane Eyre attic lady forever like the rest of us secret dorks). Essentially, Kaling is the real life version of what Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl purports to be; she gives the dorky, smart girls – who love silly things like smokey eye shadow and pretty, overpriced dresses just as much as the sleek, painfully cool women do – a hilarious voice and I applaud her for it. -Kelsea Stahler
Fight for Your Right (Revisited)
The thing I love most about “Fight for Your Right (Revisited),” the outlying comedy/musical short film starring Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride as a dilapidated manifestation of the Beastie Boys, is how much I don’t quite understand why it was made. Is it a tribute to the Beastie Boys? Is it a defamation of the Beastie Boys? Is it simply an exercise in creative filmmaking? Whatever the motivation, the outcome is brilliant: it’s bizarre, it’s uneven, it stars just about every contemporary comic actor you know and love. It’s definitely something worth devoting a half-hour to. -Michael Arbeiter
The #SixSeasonsandaMovie Save Community Movement
This one is inherently bittersweet—if Community wasn’t suffering from low ratings and a shaky security of residence at NBC, the #SixSeasonsandaMovie movement wouldn’t have been called for. But to see countless Community fans take to the Internet with their Abed-ism hash-tags, their Dark Timeline goatees, and various other expressions of their love for Greendale Community College was an inspiring triumph all its own for those of us who appreciate a good baggle. -Michael Arbeiter
Adele's "Someone Like You"
Who knew one song could evoke such raw emotions? Adele's lyrics seem to do just that time and time again. Unlike most artists who rely on auto-tune and visual aesthetics to help make a song memorable, Adele doesn't need any of those things. Her deep, soulful, powerhouse of a voice is enough to send chills up anyone's spine, especially when you're dealing with a song as heartbreaking and relatable as "Somone Like You." This song offers a look at the bitter realities of love and heartbreak -- and finding the strength to move on in the aftermath. Sure it's a little depressing, but what tragic love story isn't? It still doesn't stop us from curling up with a box of tissues and watching them every so often. Her songs emulate real-life emotions, which makes it easy to personally connect with -- seeing ourselves in her lyrical plots. It's no secret that Adele became a breakout performer this year and this song helped earn her a permanent place in the music industry. Plus, if your songs turn into an AMAZING mash-up on Glee, you know you've hit it big. -Kelly Schremph
The Super Bass Girls
Sophia Grace and Rosie skyrocketed to stardom after appearing on Ellen last October to perform the Nicki Minaj song, "Super Bass," in front of a live audience after gaining YouTube fame for their at-home performance of the song. Not only were they the most adorable little girls you've ever seen, but they were also extremely talented. Sophia Grace's voice is remarkable for such a young age, but what was even more impressive was how she managed to memorize the rather complex lyrics of Minaj's popular hit song -- a feat which even the most respected adults can't seem to accomplish. And Rosie is the epitome of cuteness with her shy little dance moves, helping to give Sophia Grace "more confidence" (say it with me: aww). Seriously, just try to watch these tutu-wearing, pink-obsessed ballerinas perform without breaking out into a smile. It's impossible to do and I'm so happy Ellen brought them to the front and center of our lives (and TV screens). Whenever you experience a bad day of work or just get into a mid-winter funk, just watch this clip and you'll be back to normal in no time. I promise! -Kelly Schremph
Lots can be learned from studying biology and the biosphere and natural habitats and ecology and all the different eco systems. And what happens after we’re done learning about all those things is we take all the knowledge we’ve acquired and generally try and put it to use, so we can make our own lives better! And this is why I love this video of the Honey Badger so much – through watching how the Honey Badger doesn’t care if bees swarm around it and sting its face, WE learn how those kinds of outrageous incidents are survivable! I guess I’m trying to express how much I value the inspirational nature of this video. It’s just – really life changing. -Hannah Lawrence
This video of a mother coming home to a house covered in flour is wonderful for a variety of reasons, but most obviously because of how shocked and paralyzed she is by the situation. She genuinely doesn’t know what to do, and even though she’s walking around the house with her video camera, her mind is GENUINELY at a complete standstill. -Hannah Lawrence
Has Jennifer Aniston's dream of becoming a baby mama finally come true? Close ... but not quite.
Jason Bateman will impregnate Aniston this spring in The Baster. The fertility-themed romantic comedy from Mandate Pictures and Blades of Glory directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon will shoot later this year in NY from a screenplay by Allan Loeb.
Adapted from a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides which was published in The New Yorker, the film centers on best friends Wally and Kassie. When Wally learns that Kassie is planning to get pregnant via artificial insemination, he replaces the donor's semen with his own and must live with the secret that he is the father of her child.
READ: Baster, The New Yorker, June 17, 1996
Bona Fide Productions' Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa will produce. Mandate president Nathan Kahane will executive produce along with Aniston and her Echo Films partner Kristin Hahn.
As Variety points out, the project marks the second artificial insemination comedy to get the green light in recent weeks. CBS Films is moving forward with the Plan B starring Jennifer Lopez. Last year's Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Baby Mama, also about a fertility-challenged woman, was a box-office success earning $64.3 million worldwide.
CHECK OUT: Hollywood Wiretap
MORE NEWS: It's Official: There Will Be More 'Sex'
What does an A-list surname like Coppola get you in Hollywood? Memo to Sofia Coppola, whose directorial debut, "The Virgin Suicides," opens today: It won't necessarily get you famous.
While nepotism is alive and well in the acting trade, your dad's coattails won't give you much of a free ride in the cutthroat world of directing. Case in point: There are lots of famous actors who have passed their occupational torch to their equally famous offspring (Blythe Danner to Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Voight to Angelina Jolie, the Fonda clan), but few big-name directors have given rise to big-name directors.
Instead, great filmmakers tend to spawn auteur-minded kids, whose work never quite measures up to dad's (Witness Nick Cassavetes, Jennifer Lynch and Anjelica Huston).
These second-generation directors tend to have two things in common: They bear the distinguished surnames of some of the most influential American directors of our time, but their behind-the-camera careers are dotted with obscure pictures that fail to leave an imprint.
Sofia Coppola -- famous for being Francis Ford Coppola's daughter and infamous for her awful acting in "The Godfather, Part III" -- tries to defy the odds. "The Virgin Suicides," her first feature film, is an adaptation of the 1991 Jeffrey Eugenides novel about the real-life, self-inflicted deaths of five suburban sisters in the 1970s.
And get this: young Sofia might be just the person to finally achieve the yet unachievable. Already, "Suicides" has received good reviews (the Los Angeles Times marveled at the director's "impressive maturity" and "assured skill" and called it a "highly affecting film") and great advance buzz for the film (except for a tepid reception at the Sundance Film Festival). Not only that, but cast member James Woods unequivocally called Sofia Coppola one of the best five directors he's worked with.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that "The Virgin Suicides" was produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
But, like we said, having an iconic director for a father doesn't make you an iconic director yourself. Just take a look at the scorecards of some other aspiring filmmakers who have followed in daddy's footsteps.
Who: Nick Cassavetes Famous lineage: Son of emotionally high-pitched auteur John Cassavetes and diva actress Gena Rowlands. Directorial offerings : 1996's "Unhook the Stars" and 1997's "She's So Lovely." Neither his mother's performance in the former nor his father's screenplay in the latter film solidified Cassavetes junior's directorial career. However, he continues unabated as a successful character actor in films such as "Face/Off" and "The Astronaut's Wife."
Who: Jennifer Chambers Lynch Famous lineage: Daughter of cult weirdo David Lynch. Directorial offerings: 1993's "Boxing Helena" -- a surreal, freakish little film known more for its surrounding controversies (Kim Basinger backs out and gets sued by movie studio, Sherilyn Fenn replaces Basinger, film goes nowhere) than the product itself.
Who: Anjelica Huston Famous lineage: Spawn of legendary actor-director John Huston. Directorial offerings: A Showtime movie called "Bastard Out of Carolina" in 1996 and 1999's "Agnes Browne," which disappeared from the radar before you could say, "huh?"
Critically-acclaimed novelist Jeffrey Eugenides became a literary star with the publication of his debut novel The Virgin Suicides in 1993. Having written only three books over the course of eighteen years, The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot, the American author found success with each of his novels and attracted a devoted audience of critics and readers who anxiously awaited each of his works. All of Eugenides's novels tackled the transition from youth to adulthood, each drawing upon the author's own experiences to bring a sense of realism and emotional depth.
Jeffrey Eugenides was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 8, 1960. His Greek grandparents, who emigrated from Asia Minor and settled in Detroit, became an inspirational source for his novel, Middlesex. With their three boys, Eugenides's parents eventually moved to the wealthy Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, which would later becoming the setting for both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. Eugenides displayed a passion for literature at an early age, studying Latin in prep school and devouring the classics throughout his school years. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1982. Upon finishing school, Eugenides drove out to San Francisco to pursue a writing career but ended up in journalism instead. He briefly edited for a yachting magazine before heading back to school to receive his Master's in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University in 1986. Despite his academic pursuits, he was unsatisfied with his dearth of published works and moved to New York in 1988, working as a secretary at the Academy of American Poets. Already 30, with little published credentials under his belt and working a 9 to 5 job, Eugenides started working on his novel The Virgin Suicides. The story caught the eye of the founder of The Paris Review, George Plimpton, who published the first chapter of the novel, which led to Eugenides gaining a literary agent, completing the book and selling it to the first publisher who read it.
Eugenides' tragic suburban fable of five sisters who commit suicide remained one of his most potent works. After its 1993 publication, both Granta and The New Yorker championed Eugenides as one of America's best young novelists. Shortly after, he attended an artists' retreat in New Hampshire and met his future wife, a sculptor. Even with the critical success of his debut effort, it would take the author almost nine years to publish his sophomore novel. After being offered a grant from the German Academic Exchange Programme, Eugenides took his wife, his 8-month old daughter and his unfinished manuscript of Middlesex with him and moved to Berlin in 1999. The move provided financial stability and a temporary respite from the pressures of completing a follow-up novel. He would stay there for the next five years, working on Middlesex until its release in 2002. Drawing upon his Greek-American heritage, the novel's unlikely antagonist was a hermaphrodite, who traces his and her history from his/her ancestors in Asia Minor through a heartbreaking and hilarious coming-of-age in Detroit and than San Francisco - mirroring Eugenides' very own migration cross-country. A mix of ancient Greek mythology and contemporary American archetypes, the novel struck a chord with audiences, winning the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. After being chosen for Oprah's Book Club, the author achieved international fame and the novel exploded in popularity. In between his second and third novel, Eugenides moved his family to Princeton, New Jersey in 2007, where he joined the faculty of Princeton University's Program in Creative Writing.
While Middlesex loosely adapted his childhood and adolescence in Detroit, his third novel looked back to his time spent at Brown in the eighties. With a knack for female narrators, Eugenides explored the story of a female student who's pulled into a love triangle and the intertwining fates of her two suitors. Reinterpreting the genre of courtship and marriage canonized by Jane Austen, Eugenides modernized the search for a mate within an intellectual setting mingled with the problems of today in his third novel, The Marriage Plot (2011). The book immediately shot to the bestseller lists and reaffirmed Eugenides' talents as a writer of new literary classics. The book also caught the attention of Hollywood and was slated for a film adaptation by "Adventureland" (2009) director Greg Mottola in 2015. It wasn't the first time Eugenides' writings had been mined for the screen. His short story, "Baster," originally published in 1996 in The New Yorker, served as the basis for the romantic comedy "The Switch" (2010) starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. Eugenides continued to teach at Princeton, while his writings appeared frequently in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and other esteemed publications.
There is a fake twitter account that parodies the author's penchant for vests - https://twitter.com/EugenidesVest
"One of the reasons that art is important to me is sometimes it actually feels more coherent than life. It orders the chaos." - Interview Magazine.
While in college, he thought about becoming a Trappist monk and even travelled to India to work as a volunteer at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta.
" I do remember thinking, however, that to be a writer was the best thing a person could be. It seemed to promise maximum alertness to life. It seemed holy to me, and almost religious." _ The Paris Review
Works with 826CHI, A Non-Profit Writing & Tutoring Center in Chicago started by author Dave Eggers