Bob Mondello

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career, "hired to write for every small paper in Washington, D.C., just as it was about to fold," saw that jink broken in 1984, when he came to NPR.

For more than three decades, Mondello has reviewed movies and covered the arts for NPR News, seeing at least 250 films and 100 plays annually, then sharing critiques and commentaries about the most intriguing on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine All Things Considered. In 2005, he conceived and co-produced NPR's eight-part series "American Stages," exploring the history, reach, and accomplishments of the regional theater movement.

Mondello has also written about the arts for such diverse publications as USA Today, The Washington Post, and Preservation Magazine, as well as for commercial and public television stations. And he has been a lead theater critic for Washington City Paper, D.C.'s leading alternative weekly, since 1987.

Before becoming a professional critic, Mondello spent more than a decade in entertainment advertising, working in public relations for a chain of movie theaters, where he learned the ins and outs of the film industry, and for an independent repertory theater, where he reveled in film history.

Asked what NPR pieces he's proudest of, he points to commentaries on silent films – a bit of a trick on radio – and cultural features he's produced from Argentina, where he and his husband have a second home. An avid traveler, Mondello even spends his vacations watching movies and plays in other countries. "I see as many movies in a year," he says. "As most people see in a lifetime."

Like many — perhaps most — Americans, I've never been to Iowa. But I and much of my generation learned a lot about Iowans years ago from a classic American musical. I knew from the age of 8 that Iowans are stubborn. I learned that from the song "Iowa Stubborn" in Broadway's The Music Man. My folks had seen the show and told me how, when traveling salesman Harold Hill got to River City, Iowa, everybody followed him around because he was an outsider — but they were kind of weird and standoffish.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

David Bowie, who died Sunday at the age of 69, is best-known for his music — but he was also an actor of considerable gifts.

When he fell to Earth in 1976, an extraterrestrial seeking water for a dying planet, Bowie was persuasively otherworldly. One eye blue, the other green, hair a flaming auburn, his never-aging, British-accented alien was the first glimpse movie audiences got of a rock star who had already been a "Space Oddity," sung about a Starman, and become internationally recognized as the glammed-up Ziggy Stardust.

I'm not sure why this happened, but as I assembled this year's best-of list, I kept seeing matched sets: Two terrific desert movies, two swoon-inducing romances, two single-minded crusades by men who think they're already dead, and even a pair of riveting mortgage crisis flicks (and what are the chances of that?). The doubleness is a good organizing principle, since my 10-best list nearly always turns into a 20-best — so here goes:

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