Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Films of 2009


Top 5

Up (Peter Docter, Bob Peterson) - A lot has been said and written about the perfection of Up's opening montage, and for good reason. If the lights came up after those 4 minutes, I would have been surprised, but not too unsatisfied. Instead, a story followed that was full of wonder, humor, adventure, and meaning. Everything about this movie after the first 4 minutes should be completely foreign. A house that flies? Talking dogs? A lost, unknown land? Despite all this, I accepted everything without question. That's because the circumstances weren't really important. This is a movie of moments and expressions. It's a movie about people (and dogs and birds) dealing with their personal demons, developing relationships and learning. Done well, these universal themes can touch hearts no matter where the characters are or what they're dealing with. In a sense, I think that Up is one of the most "anime" of any American animated feature. What the best Japanese anime has always been able to accomplish that American animation has not, is to marry the completely bizarre and fantastic with the common and day-to-day seamlessly. Miyazaki could have directed Up. I can't think of a better compliment than that.

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) - The Hurt Locker did a masterful job of creating tension and suspense, but to me it paled in comparison to the nonstop intensity of District 9. It's been a long time since I've actually had to force myself to relax my grip on the armrests at a movie. Add to that a story that is both action-packed and true intelligent science fiction and not just a reason to blow stuff up. It's also a movie that shines a light on the harsh depravity of mankind in a way that is both believable and horrific. Like most real people, it's heroes and villains aren't good or evil.. they're just looking out for themselves.

The Hangover (Todd Phillips) - Hilarious, interesting characters and situations make this comedy/mystery fun and engrossing. Zach Galifanakis' Alan character makes it into my greatest movie personalities of alltime list alongside Jesus Quintana and Napoleon Dynamite.

Moon (Duncan Jones) - What are you afraid of? Loneliness? Loss? Impending death? What if you had a nightmare and woke up to find that the nightmare had followed you into real life? What if your life was a nightmare? Moon asks these questions and more with a quiet, unrelenting pace that is at first puzzling, but then really lets you absorb what's faced by the protagonist. And how he got into that situation will make you think very hard about where all of us are headed.

Avatar (James Cameron) - Reading fantasy novels in middle school (back when I was still imaginative and un-jaded) took me to new worlds with fantastic creatures and magical powers. The good ones were able to take me to places that seemed far greater and more wonderful than the world I lived in. Novels can focus on beauty without the annoyances of reality. For example, living and sleeping in the great outdoors is amazing.. It becomes magical when you take the sweating, mosquitoes, hard ground, poison ivy and crapping in the grass out of the equation. I've seen a lot of movies since then, but none of them have brought back that feeling of transportation like Avatar. Yes, the movie sometimes feels like 5 other movies stitched together and colored blue.. but at least it's a hodgpodge of good movies. I only have 2 complaints about the movie. 1. The arm-in-arm chanting and swaying in unison was lame. 2. A huge opportunity for awesomeness was wasted in the "nature fights back" moment. You mean to tell me that on a planet as diverse as Pandora, only 3 creatures are available to fight for Eywa? And they have to be the same 3 creatures that were introduced earlier in the movie? Where were the massive 6 legged behemoths that can crush a tank with one step? Why weren't there bugs swarming the soldiers? How come the plants weren't joining in the battle? Couldn't sea creatures have been involved somehow? This moment could have been 20 times more awesome.

Honorable Mention

Up in the Air - entertaining, meaningful and clever.
Precious - a window into the lives of people and problems that probably occur within 15 miles of me, but I have no comprehension or awareness of.
Funny People - surprisingly honest and thoughtful.
Inglorious Basterds - Tarantino does what he does best: put together amazing dialogue and characters.

Bottom 5

1. Echelon Conspiracy - Why on earth did I watch this? It was a free screening. I would've considered walking out if it weren't for the fact that the director was in the audience. I should have walked out anyway
2. GI Joe - Just plain terrible and a disgrace to my childhood memories.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine - see above.
4. Transformers 2 - Better than the first one.. or maybe it's because my expectations were even lower.
5. Terminator Salvation - Shame on me for thinking that the man responsible for the Charlie's Angels movies could do something good with this franchise.


Best 5

1 Up in the Air (Jason Reitman): A thoughtful character analysis that continues to make you think and care about the characters long after the film ends. I am also curious to know how Ryan Bingham became this way. In the end, however he may have brought this onto himself, I did feel for him. I also liked how the film ended with a glimmer of hope and potentially even redemption. Sidenote: this film would not have 'worked' without the female lead being able to hold her own against Clooney and Vera Farmiga just does that, if not more.

2 Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson): Despite some pacing issues and slow moments, it did tug at the ol' heartstrings - damn you Pixar! P.S., Russell rocks.

3 District 9 (Neill Blomkamp): This film caught me off guard initially as I was not sure what to expect. Completely unconventional and original. The pacing was also excellent. If I had to nitpick, there was one scene when Wikus does something out of character (I think the scene involved Wikus abandoning or not helping the little son).

4 Moon (Duncan Jones): I am a sucker for sci-fi flix (also see above) and this one intrigued me since I first saw the trailer. Lots of nodding and winking towards 2001. Sam Rockwell was impressive in this. It definitely deserved more attention that it actually received. I liked Duncan Jones use of 90's one hit wonder "I am the One and Only".

5 Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino): I orginally had The Hurt Locker here but swapped it out the last second because although H.L.maybe more cohesive, I have more to say about I.B. First of all, Christoph Waltz indeed gave an incredible performance particularly the scene where he Shosanna are eating in the restaurant. I really like the way there is so much tension built into the scene already given their past and the ambiguity of not knowing whether Col. Hans Landa knows if it is her or not (i think he does). Plus i like the way eats the cake. Speaking of tension, the entire bar basement scene was a film school lesson in building suspense. It reminds me of PTA's Boogie Nights drug deal scene and De Palma's The Untouchables train secene and perhaps better than both. Bonus: Italian scene was hi-larious.

Honorable Mention

The Hurt Locker
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Worst 5

1. (500) Days of Summer: bratty girl
2. Where the Wild Things Are: bratty kid
3. Duplicity: too clever for its own good
4. What Just Happened: unlikeable main character or people for that matter
5. Bride Wards: i'm on team hathaway

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nuevo Orden


Ceremony (1981)
Love the prodigious use of high hat, and that the sincerity and compassion hasn't crept into Sumner's voice just yet - a nice transition from the Joy Division era.

Dreams Never End (1981)
More high hat! The super-short, piercing guitar strums sound like rhythmic gunfire set to music. Peter Hook plays the part of demented robot.

Love Less (1989)
It's a shame that they decided to release the tragically bad "Fine Time" as the lead single because Technique remains an underappreciated treasure. And while reviews have described the album as "house" and "dance," the songs I'm partial to are as warm and inviting as anything they've ever done. My all-time fave NO track.

Run (1989)
The guitars are the centerpiece of this song, especially the melody that kicks off at the 0:18 mark. A tastefully understated acoustic solo caps off a great ending that, while taking up the last 1/3 of the song, doesn't seem indulgent in the least.

Run Wild (2001)
Accompanied by the most traditional of instruments, it's in songs like these that Sumner shines, his everyman voice as comforting as a favorite blankie. I can even ignore the blatant religious references, because when he sings "Good times around the corner," I believe the guy.


Way of Life (1986)
This was my pick from what I think is one of New Order’s more under-rated albums, Brotherhood (also dig “Weirdo”, “All Day Long”, “Every Little Counts”). The song stars off ominous but then later tears into a surprisingly catchy chorus which always catches me off guard every time I hear it.

All the Way (1989)
Strange to find a pair of back to back songs that sound quite organic on an ‘acid house’ influenced album recorded on the island of Ibiza. At 1:05, there’s a nice layering of what sounds like a flute over a piano synth bridge. Wait and it’s not “it doesn’t take a genie, to tell me what I am”?

Love Less (1989)
This is the other hidden gem found on Technique. Like in “All the Way”, there is impressive instrumental layering: here the two guitars complement each other nicely. Interestingly, for a song that sounds so easy-going and benign, it actually contradicts the dark tone of his situation.

Bizarre Love Triangle (1986) [6:44]
I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this song in my lifetime but it still packs a punch everytime I hear it nowadays. I still prefer the Substance 1987 12” version which even though excludes Peter Hook’s distinctive bass line, is constructed of 3 parts – all of which are able to stand on their own. And one will also note that there are several different versions of the single version (some that start with the bass and some with the drums and some incorporating elements of the 12” version).

From a djing stand point, it was and still is a crowd pleaser. Typically, no one will recognize the bass beats kicking in when you’re mixing it in but once the distinctive synth sounds kick in (oscillating from one side to the other) – everyone recognizes it instantly and the crowd rejoices.

Of note, it’s been covered by Frente, Arcade Fire, The Killers and mashed with Madonna and Tiffany.

Temptation (1982) [7:02]
It fades in dramatically as it fades out. It kicks in and never lets you go. Not sure if I ever came across another New Order song that Bernard Sumner sang with more intensity than this. Like “Bizarre Love Triangle”, there are several versions but I do prefer the “Temptation ‘87” version, the one that is also found on the Trainspotting soundtrack. The song ends in a frenzy but I feel nothing has more clarity that when he announces “oh i’ve never…met…anyone…quite like you before”.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Best of 2009


Bat For Lashes - "Daniel"
Is this song about The Karate Kid? If so, Natasha Khan shows true genius in writing such a lush love letter to Ralph Macchio's (in)famous alter ego. I agree with the "futuristic Stevie Nicks" consensus when describing her sound, due to a certain... mystical quality that few artists possess.

Camera Obscura - "French Navy"
With a voice dipped in honey, Tracyanne Campbell weaves a charming girl-meets-boy scenario and somehow manages to not sound corny when singing "Oh, the thing that you do, you make me go, 'oooooh.'" I can't decide if I like the live version better, where the strings are replaced with trumpet.

Charlotte Hatherley - "White"
Starts off mid-tempo, Charlotte Hatherley singing hazily, even lazily... then turns into a disco rave when the chorus hits. Love the drum fills. And while the album as a whole is inconsistent, it never fails to be interesting.

God Help The Girl - "God Help The Girl"
OK, so this is extremely twee but also extremely appealing. I especially enjoy when Catherine Ireton speeds up mid-sentence: "The dawn will touch me in a way a boycouldnevertouchtheirpromisenevermeantsomuchtome!"

Julian Casablancas - "Glass"
A beginning sprinkled with short chirps of arbitrary whistling belies its true nature - an epic ballad sent from outer space. I love that Casablancas pushes this song into cinematic territory. In instrumental form, the sounds - laser beam fire, bits from the Buckaroo Banzai end credits - are beyond gorgeous and I can't help but think his vocals do more harm than good. But then he'll hit the high notes of "You won't have any trouble now," plus the "ooooohooohoooooohoh" that closes the song and I chastise myself for ever questioning the man.

Metric - "Collect Call"
Beautiful, elegant, hypnotic... perfect for when you're slowly riding out the downside of a high. I picture Emily Haines leaning her head on someone's shoulders, arms looped around his neck and dancing with her feet on his, "wishing you could keep me closer, I'm a lazy dancer, when you move, I move with you." Also a rare projection of emotional vulnerability in Metric's mainly socio-political oeuvre.

Metric - "Stadium Love"
Those first arena-sized drums signal an instant adrenaline rush. Shouting "oooeeeoooeeeooo!" back at Emily Haines along with a few hundred people was one of the highlights of my concert-going life. This song is a total blast. Fact is, many more tracks off Fantasies belong on this list: "Satellite Mind," "Blindness," "Gimme Sympathy," "Help I'm Alive," "Waves"...

The Postmarks - "My Lucky Charm"
It saddens me that this song only shows it's full potential on record, as the echo verse is omitted in the live version, thereby leaving an unexpected emptiness. But it does feature perhaps the best "awww"-inducing lyric of the year: "Ever since the first day you arrived, I've been set on autopilot smile." A bouncy, unabashedly joyful treat.

Viva Voce - "Red Letter Day"
Spurred along with some twangy, country-western guitar, Anita and Craig Robinson make perfect harmony grooving on an outstanding bass melody. Cowpoke-ingly atmospheric, I listen with eyes closed and envision a Texas sunset.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Hysteric"
A subtle Karen O is a fine Karen O, despite what the title suggests. "Faces" also rules.

Lucky Soul - "Whoa Billy!"
Mos Def - "Priority"
Pearl Jam - "The Fixer"
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson - Break Up
Phoenix - "1901"


1 Animal Collective - "Summertime Clothes"
Nothing special about how it starts out as you hear Avery's tick-tock vocals but once Panda Bear jumps in, the song really takes off after that. It's like "Ring Around the Rosie" but for grown-ups.

2 Animal Collective - "My Girls"
Unwordly blips and bleeps provide a stark contrast to Avery and Panda's call-and-response vocals. My only ticky-tack knock is the drum verse at 2:30, which doesn't seem to fit compared to the rest of the song. Check out its 2 decent videos.

3 Kid Cudi (featuring MGMT and Ratatat) - "Pursuit of Happiness"
Part Mase, Part Fabolous except he can sing. Song runs a little long but I enjoy his "don't worry, everything going to be alright" vibe.

4 Matt & Kim - "Lessons Learned"
Quite possibly their most 'mature' song. I dig Kim's background vocals and here Matt's synths really add to the build-up near the end. Gives us a sense of hope at the end. Entertaining video.

5 Phoenix - "1901"
Over-played maybe. I don't think I've appreciated anyone's drumming since Matt Tong of Bloc Party (and check out this drumming rendition). Like "Lessons Learned" gives us little bursts of hope. That being said, this song sometimes feel it has potential to be so much more. Certainly it gives this trailer an extra added punch.

6 Thao Nguyen with The Get Down Stay Down - "When We Swam"
I like the laid-back, jingle-jangle feel of the song. It's like the "Hokey Pokey" but for grown-ups.

7 Clare Bowditch and The Feeding Set - "The Thing About Grief"
Her effortless vocals borders being nonchalant. But her indifferent tone works well within the context of the song.

8 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Little Shadow (acoustic version)"
The airy, string arrangements gets the nod over the album version.

9 Cold Cave - Life Magazine
Propelling beats, crescendo/decrescendo synths and echoing vocals makes for a distinct sound and kick-butt tune - what's not to like?

10 Julian Casablancas - Glass
Sounds like something Vangelis produced in Blade Runner. Take out the vocals and the instrumental would stand on its own; if not even stronger (similar to Stroke's bandmate, Albert Hammond Jr.'s "In Transit"). Check out Phrazes for the Young preview.

Fanfarlo - Comets
Matisyahu - One Day
Keri Hilson - Knock You Down
Kelly Clarkson - My Life Would Suck Without You

Animal Collective - "My Girls" (HATCHMATIK Disco remix)
Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks" (Fred Falke remix)
Kid Cudi (featuring Kanye West and Common) - "Make Her Say" (Sammy Bananas remix)
DJ STV SLV - "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare" (Matt & Kim vs Beastie Boys)