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Each year, movie studios campaign for their films to be considered for Oscar nominations. “For Your Consideration” posters are often made to accompany the campaigns (you can find official examples for this awards season here). Anyways, there are some films that I think should get Academy recognition, but likely will not, so I’ve decided to create some “FYC” ads of my own. It’s my first stab at it, and I’m basically just using Paint, but I thought I’d share what I’ve created (be sure to click on the image to see the full-size version). Let me know what you think!
When I say that I want Chuck Klosterman’s career, I am not kidding. The guy grows up in rural North Dakota, writes a book about said childhood in the Midwest (with some heavy metal commentary interspersed), wins a few awards, and writes for Spin. Now he gets to write books about whatever strikes his fancy. I’m sure the road wasn’t quite that smooth, and sure, plenty of people seem to hate his guts. But you know, that general career arc sounds pretty good to me.
Eating the Dinosaur is Klosterman’s fifth non-fiction book (he released a quite-good novel, Downtown Owl, last year), and his first containing entirely unpublished material since 2005′s Killing Yourself to Live. And while Killing Yourself to Live was more of a road journal/memoir of Klosterman’s trip across America in search famous musicians’ death sites, Eating the Dinosaur is essay-based, and returns to the winning formula of 2003′s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He covers everything from time travel to the Unabomber, all with his signature sarcasm and “post-modernist” slant.
If you like Chuck Klosterman, I can’t see Eating the Dinosaur as being much of a disappointment. He discusses more of the “low culture” topics that can be found in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, but I also found that he takes it a step further and considers why he likes to discuss such things. He’s always been a self-conscious writer (sometimes painfully so), but in the book’s final two essays in particular, “T is for True” (which discusses authenticity vs. irony) and “FAIL” (which, in part, examines modern technology), he seems very wrapped up in the emotional disconnect in modern culture. “My existence is constructed, and it’s constructed through the surrogate activity of mainstream popular culture,” he writes. “Instead of confronting reality and embracing the Experience of Being Alive, I will sit here and read about Animal Collective over the Internet…Reading about Animal Collective has replaced being alive.” This passage will make some people roll their eyes, but I think it’s some of the most accurate criticism of our modern culture that I’ve ever read. And that’s the genius of Chuck Klosterman. He takes common feelings and opinions, spells them out in purposely obvious ways, and makes it feel like a revolutionary statement.
But a few of Klosterman’s topics feel less fresh. “‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha.’” maligns sitcom laugh tracks. But is there anyone in the world who actually likes laugh tracks? And “ABBA 1, World 0″ offers very few new ideas on the oft-discussed ABBA. But that being said, a good portion of the book’s essays do offer a unique perspective on common topics. “Oh, the Guilt” takes on one of my favourite topics, Kurt Cobain, and compares him with infamous religious fanatic David Koresh. The comparison isn’t totally convincing (which Klosterman admits: “It is unfair to compare Cobain to Koresh. I know that…If you stare long enough at anything, you will start to find similarities.”), but it certainly is interesting. “Through a Glass Blindly” discusses voyeurism, while “It Will Shock You How Much It Never Happened” skewers modern marketing schemes, and these topics fit perfectly into Klosterman’s comfort zone.
My overall feelings on Eating the Dinosaur are a bit conflicted. I feel like “FAIL” and “T is for Truth” are some of Klosterman’s best, most mature work. But I also feel like Klosterman has sacrificed some of his comedic touch in tackling these issues which are “deeper”, but ultimately feel a bit cyclical (he acknowledges that he is the type of person that Ted “The Unabomber” Kaczynski “hates most”, despite the fact that he is defending some Kaczynski’s ideas). Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing – it might just be a natural evolution of his work. But while there were some typically wry Klosterman quips, I found myself laughing less as I read this book than any of his others.
If you’re not a Klosterman fan, this book is unlikely to change your mind, and if you’re unfamiliar with his work, I would recommend checking out Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Killing Yourself to Live first. But for those who have been eagerly awaiting his latest book, this is pretty satisfying. Klosterman offers plenty of interesting ideas, and the evolution of his work is evident. At 37, Klosterman seems less certain than ever about the world, and themes of reality, media saturation, and identity run throughout to satisfying effect.
Serial killer movies aren’t my bag. And despite the public’s general fascination with forensic shows like CSI, I have no interest in watching shows and movies about grizzly deaths. But the draw of leads Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. in David Fincher’s Zodiac overpowered my weak stomach, and I gave it a try. And I’m glad I did, because I found it suspenseful without being squirmy, and it was an all-around great film.
Zodiac follows the lives of newspaper cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) and Inspector David Toschi (Ruffalo) as they each try to uncover the identity of the famous “Zodiac killer” of the 1970′s. San Francisco is rocked by the multiple murders committed by this media-hungry, boastful killer who sends coded messages to the local newspapers, demanding that they print them on the front page. Robert soon becomes obsessed with finding out who is behind the murders for his own peace of mind, while David just wants to close the case. Zodiac alternates between the storylines of the two men as they become more deeply involved in the investigation, and in turn find less leads and more roadblocks.
For a movie about a serial killer, Zodiac has surprisingly little gore. There is one pretty graphic murder scene (and it’s only intensified by the fact that it takes place in broad daylight), but Fincher certainly doesn’t go overboard with the violence. With the mysterious nature of the Zodiac killer and his identity, I think that the film is smart to limit the scenes involving the Zodiac. His actions seem random (though it becomes obvious that everything is actually quite calculated), so to punctuate the story with the occasional shocking death in the first third of the film is very effective. The film takes place over a number of years, and even though Robert continues his obsessive quest to crack the case, the Zodiac killer is no longer sending letters to the press, and seems to have gone into hiding. The film naturally evolves from a story about a serial killer terrorizing a city, into a story about one man’s obsession. I was really impressed by how easily Fincher transitioned between different storylines, and dealt with time lapses of years.
That being said, I did find that the film dragged a little bit in the middle, when a lot of the focus was on Inspector Toschi’s unfruitful attempts to crack the case. The opening hour of the film is undeniably exciting, with the flurry of the killings. To have the story told mostly through the information that the newspaper receives is interesting. When the story switches focus to Toschi, it becomes more conventional. How many movies have we seen about police officers trying to catch a murderer? I loved the last third of the film because, even though it takes place years after the Zodiac killings, it’s fraught with suspense, and personal drama with Gyllenhaal’s character. With a runtime of nearly three hours, I think that Zodiac could have been even stronger if they’d trimmed about ten minutes from the middle.
Although the storylines flip back and forth between Robert and David, I think Gyllenhaal is the star of this movie. He plays the bookish type well, and he handles Robert’s growing desperation perfectly. He doesn’t go over-the-top with his obsession, but he makes the development of his character clear. Robert Downey Jr. makes the best of his limited screen time as a reporter for the newspaper, and steals every scene that he’s in. His charisma is unstoppable, and he adds some welcome humour to the film.
For a movie about a serial killer, Zodiac is surprisingly low-key. But the lack of sensationalism doesn’t mean that it’s not fraught with tension and drama. With three very strong performances, a distinctive mood, and an interesting, thorough character study of Robert Graysmith, Zodiac feels like a fully realised film. It knows what it wants to be, and while it deals with many different facets of an infamous story, it never feels muddled.
Often considered the precursor to the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes announced their nominees at the crack of dawn this morning. I made some predictions for the major film categories beforehand, and I was surprised to see that my predictions were 100% correct for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and Best Supporting Actress. I haven’t seen many of the big Oscar contenders yet (like, basically, I’ve only seen Julie & Julia), but I’ve been following this awards season fairly closely. I might post some predictions for Globe winners, or Oscar nominees later on.
Here are some quick reactions to the nominations.
- I was thrilled to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt nominated for (500) Days of Summer, and for the film to be nominated in the Best Musical/Comedy category. It’s my favourite film of the year so far, and I’m glad that people haven’t forgotten about it in the deluge of big Oscar movies.
- The biggest surprise, for me, in the film categories was probably Tobey Maguire’s nomination for Brothers. I’m sure he’s good in it, but I’ve heard very little talk of awards for his performance. The iffy critical reviews didn’t seem to help his chances, either. I would have expected to see Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker (who I had predicted), Viggo Mortensen for The Road, or Johnny Depp for Public Enemies in the fifth spot of the category (Clooney, Firth, Bridges, and Freeman were obvious nominees) long before Maguire. But I like when the awards shows keep things interesting with some surprise nominees.
- Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, and Meryl Streep got double nominations (and in Streep’s case, it was two nominations in the same category!) And even though I’d been expecting it, I’m really confused as to why Bullock got nominated for The Proposal (I haven’t seen The Blind Side, so I can’t judge the validity of that nomination). She was fine in it, but I thought that category had so many other stronger contenders. I would have rather seen Amy Adams (for Sunshine Cleaning, or even Julie & Julia), Zooey Deschanel (though she was the weaker of the duo in 500 Days of Summer, she was still good in it), or Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) nominated instead.
- Though I haven’t seen their performances yet, I’m still glad to see these actors nominated, just because I like them J: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Homes), Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria – wasn’t expecting that one!), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Julianne Moore (A Single Man)
- I don’t follow the Television awards too closely, but I was really happy to see Glee nominated for Best Comedy, and to see Lea Michelle, Matthew Morrison, and Jane Lynch all nominated! Pretty good for a show in its first season.
- When did it become a rule that Julia Roberts has to be nominated for a Globe for every film that she makes?
- I think that the Best Picture – Musical or Comedy category is a lot of fun. I like Julie and Julia, really liked The Hangover, and loved (500) Days of Summer. I have no idea who’s going to win this category, since early reviews of It’s Complicated and Nine seem a bit mixed.
- Could this be the year that a woman finally wins Best Director at the Oscars? I think Kathryn Bigelow has a good shot for The Hurt Locker. I’m sure she’ll get nominated, but she’ll have tough competition in Jason Reitman, James Cameron (who also happens to be her ex-husband), and even Clint Eastwood. It should be an interesting race.
To read the full list of Golden Globe nominees, click here.
As the title would suggest, last’s night’s fall finale of Glee, “Sectionals”, saw the McKinley High glee club finally perform at the first level of competition. It seemed like a logical point for the series to temporarily leave off at, and the episode satisfyingly tied up some loose ends, but it will be a long wait until the show returns in April (yes that’s right, April) of next year. In the meantime, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the first 13 episodes of the hit Fox show. I’ll be talking about different storylines from all of the episodes, so if you haven’t caught up on the series yet, you might not want to read much further.
Glee earned some great buzz for its pilot, which originally aired after the American Idol finale, last spring. Momentum continued through to the fall, when the show re-aired the pilot, and had its “series premiere”. I think that one of the things that caught people’s attention most about the pilot was the satirical, surprisingly dark edge to the show. With pot-dealing teachers, gay dads, and slushies to the face, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be some second-rate High School Musical.
With such a strong pilot, I was uncertain as to whether the show was going to be able to keep up with the sharp writing. For the most part, it has. I can always count on seeing a one-liner from last-night’s episode of Glee as someone’s Facebook status on Thursday morning. But while the humour of the show is still there, but I do feel like Glee has become a bit uneven in tone throughout the season. I think that part of the problem is that the show set itself up for dramatic situations that weren’t consistent with its otherwise tongue-in-cheek style. When Will Shuester’s wife, Terri, faked being pregnant, and schemed to “adopt” cheerleader Quinn’s unwelcome baby without Will’s knowledge, it was played as an exaggerated, humorous situation. Which is was. But then it was inevitable that Will would find out at some point. Which he did. The show may be a satire, but it still has some basis in reality, so obviously they couldn’t have him laugh the bizarre situation off. And while Will’s freak-out in last week’s “Once Upon a Mattress” seemed very realistic (and it had some surprisingly good acting from Matthew Morrison), the kitchen scene felt more like it was from an episode of The O.C.
That being said, I have no problem with a little melodrama, which is fortunate, because there was plenty more of it this week when Rachel revealed to Finn that he was not, in fact the father of Quinn’s baby (the honour goes to Finn’s best friend, Puck). Finn’s subsequent blow-up was undeniably intense, and it added some great tension to the already exciting episode. But I couldn’t help thinking, when did this show get so serious?
I really do enjoy the show overall, though. Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester is arguably the best part of the show. Her biting, relentless quips are always hilarious. The writers have done a bit to humanize her (“Wheels” contained an unexpected, poignant moment when Sue visited her mentally challenged sister in the facility that she lives in), and I like that all of the characters are starting to become pretty three-dimensional. One of the season’s best episodes came early on, and it centred on Kurt, New Directions’ flamboyant soprano. His reluctant fight to join the football team in order to prove himself to his dad was handled with the just the right balance of humour and human drama, as was his eventual coming out to his father. That storyline was revisited later in the season in “Wheels”, when Kurt’s dad received hateful phone calls about his son, and Kurt had to decide whether or not to compromise who he is to give his dad some peace of mind.
While Kurt’s storyline has been carried out nicely over the course of the season, a few others have felt a bit more fragmented. There are a lot of characters, so obviously not everyone is going to be the star of every episode. But there have been so many one-episode storylines that don’t seem to go anywhere. The Tina/Artie romance seemed to stall before it even got started. And Kristin Chenoweth’s debauched character was a lot of fun, but she arrived and left in the course of an episode. Same goes with the Rachel/Puck romance, and Rachel’s crush on Mr. Shuester. Some of the storylines work as being self-contained episodes, but those kinds of complicated relationships probably would have been better served over the course of a few episodes.
Although I’m not really a fan of musicals, I always enjoy Glee‘s performance numbers. Maybe it’s because they’re actual performances on a stage, so it makes sense in the context of the show. With the talented cast and fun song choices, it’s not surprising that Glee, and its musical numbers, have become such a hit. Here are five of my favourite performances of the season, so far (with links to the audio on YouTube):
- Don’t Stop Believing (“Pilot”) (We first heard it at the end of the first episode, and I think it was the moment that a lot of people were hooked on this show)
- Somebody to Love (“The Rhodes Not Taken”) (You can’t beat Queen)
- Hair/Crazy in Love (“Hairography”) (Great mash-up. It reminded me that “Crazy in Love” is a stellar pop song. “It’s your boy, Artie!”)
- Don’t Rain on My Parade (“Sectionals”) (I’m not a huge fan of Rachel’s singing style, or show tunes. But this number, from last night’s fall finale, was undeniably impressive)
- Sweet Caroline (“Mash-Up”) (Puck’s voice is great, and I liked his “impromptu” moment to shine)
Here’s the second and final part of my “Best Albums of the Decade” list. Be sure to check out part one, which covered numbers 20-11. Feel free to let me know what you think of my list in the comments. Of course, this is all just my opinion, so let me know which albums from this decade struck a chord with you!
10. Amnesiac – Radiohead (2001)
I can see the merit of Kid A. I just don’t find it to be that enjoyable of an album to listen to. And while Kid A and Amnesiac are often lumped together, I see them as totally separate albums. Amnesiac has some typically lovely Radiohead songs, like “The Pyramid Song”. You can also find one of the most debauched, oddly raucous songs in Thom Yorke’s catalogue here – the jazzy “Life in a Glasshouse”. I may be one of those annoying “common” Radiohead fans that love The Bends and OK Computer more than anything from this decade, but Amnesiac is by far the best of their less accessible albums, in my opinion.
9. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)
I don’t want to overstate the importance of Bon Iver’s (aka Justin Vernon’s) debut, but this is an album that I could see becoming something of a classic, over time. The back story is top-notch, as are all of the songs on here. “Skinny Love” is a phenomenal song, and “Re: Stacks”, “Creature Fear” and “Flume” all rotate as my second favourite song on the album. Justin Vernon followed For Emma up with his Blood Bank EP, and if these two releases are any indication, I’m definitely excited to see where his music is headed. Maybe all of the praise is premature, but even if he can never recreate the magic of this album again, at least we have this one.
8. Rockin’ the Suburbs – Ben Folds (2001)
Ben Folds Five is a band that is quintessentially 90′s. Snappy, piano-driven hits like “Kate” (which was on my Sabrina the Teenage Witch soundtrack) and “Brick” seem like nostalgic fun now. So perhaps it makes sense that Ben Folds would go it alone for the new millennium. Rockin’ the Suburbs still has the upbeat, vaguely gimmicky vibe that his music has always had, yet it also feels very honest. It’s power-pop at its best. “Zak and Sara” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” are tons of fun, while “Gone” is just a plain fantastic tune. Ben Folds is fairly popular, but I still don’t think he gets enough serious credit as a songwriter.
7. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes (2005)
Perhaps what I like best about Conor Oberst’s music is that he isn’t afraid to be earnest. His lyrics (while sometimes seeming contrived) are just ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation, but they are also distinct in their sentiment. And I don’t think he’s ever got that emotional-fuck-up sentiment as right as he did on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. He celebrates drugs, women, and making noise, but there’s a naiveté to his tales of rebirth and fresh starts that keep it all relatable and grounded. He might not be the “New Dylan”, but Oberst knows how to pull on people’s heart strings in precisely the right way.
6. Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins (2003)
The Shins hit it big with Oh, Inverted World, but I like their 2003 follow-up slightly better. Chutes Too Narrow is generally far more upbeat, and it suits James Mercer’s off-kilter, yelpy voice really well. “So Says I” is my favourite Shins song, and the rest of the album is an easily digestible, fun set of songs. I know that they’ve supposedly changed the lives of indie kids everywhere, but can’t people just enjoy the Shins for what they are – a really good pop band that writes fantastic pop songs – and stop with all the overstatements?
5. Close to Paradise – Patrick Watson (2006)
I’m always eager to support Canadian music, and even though not as much of it ended up on this list as I had originally hoped, I am incredibly proud to place Patrick Watson’s debut album in my #5 spot. Close to Paradise has slowly been growing on me since its release, and I’m now just about convinced that it’s a perfect album. Every song is lovely, and they all work together to create a fantastic atmosphere. From the piano-driven hymn “The Great Escape” to the slightly raucous “Drifters”, Watson always uses the precise emotion in his voice to convey his ideas. (Side note: if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Patrick Watson’s work with The Cinematic Orchestra on “To Build a Home“)
4. White Blood Cells – The White Stripes (2001)
Jack White is undoubtedly one of the hardest working musicians of the past ten years. People often whine about how rock stars are a dying breed, but this guy is singlehandedly keeping them alive. The White Stripes burst into the mainstream in 2001 with their third album, White Blood Cells. It’s an eclectic collection that even tosses in some country (“Hotel Yorba”), but even though the Stripes hadn’t entirely honed in on their blues-rock niche yet, this album is far from unfocussed. It’s obvious that Jack White knows exactly what he’s doing at all times, and it makes for a nice transition between their scrappier early work, and their more refined albums that would follow.
3. Boxer – The National (2007)
This Brooklyn band has steadily been releasing great albums throughout the decade – it just took people (including myself) a little while to catch on. They earned massive critical acclaim for 2007′s Boxer, which was actually their 4th release of the decade. Boxer is home to a slew of fantastic songs, such as the timely, brooding “Fake Empire”. Matt Berninger’s voice has such wonderful feeling of melancholy in it, and The National extend that feeling throughout the record. I find new things to love about this album every time that I listen to it, and I think that this is an album that I will be listening to regularly for years to come.
2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire (2007)
2004′s Funeral may have been the album that caught most people’s attention, but Arcade Fire’s follow-up, Neon Bible, was the one that caught my attention. The album sticks with the band’s signature grand arrangements, but also makes the songs feel more personal. There’s a desperation here that I like. Not to be morbid, but I like the anger, frustration, and near hopelessness that seems to run through this album. I think the grandness of Arcade Fire’s sound (not to mention the power of Win Butler’s voice) is much better suited to this kind of fare. I don’t know that it’s meant to be a concept album, but I feel like this album takes us through the course of a person’s life. Every song evokes a different feeling, yet they all work together perfectly to create a beautiful statement about what it means to be alive.
1. Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)
Leave it to Ryan Adams to out-brood everyone else on this list just by opening his mouth. Even when he’s singing an upbeat song, he still sounds miserable as hell. Heartbreaker, his debut solo album (his original band, Whiskeytown, imploded around the turn of the millennium) is one of his twangiest to date, but it’s also his most consistent, by far. Every song here is great, and integral to the over feeling of the album. The raw energy of Adams’ voice on songs like “Shakedown on 9th Street” and “To Be Young” contrast nicely with the wistfulness of “Come Pick Me Up”, and it all comes together to paint a portrait of a complicated man. Heartbreaker goes far beyond your typical “break-up album”, emotionally.
Though I was originally going to make this a top 50 list (and I did compile such a list), I decided to trim it down to 20. The list was starting to feel unfocussed, and I thought that it would be more interesting to really focus in on 20 albums from this decade that I really loved, rather than worrying about fitting in the certain albums I felt I had to have on my top 50.
So here is part 1 (#20-11). I think there are some unpredictable choices, which I like. It has some of the stuff you’d expect, but I tried to keep things a bit interesting. There’s lots of indie stuff, but I guess that’s just what I like to listen to most. Let me know what you think of my list, and feel free to share your own picks in the comments.
(UPDATE: Part 2, where I talk about my top ten albums of the decade, is now up! Be sure to check it out here.)
20. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs (2008)
In just one of his many side projects of the decade, Jack White joined forces with some “old friends” (he and Brendan Benson share frontman duties) to form the Raconteurs in 2006. Their first album was something of a success, and they topped themselves (pun somewhat intended) with their sophomore disc. The album is split more definitively between White and Benson, and each bring a lot with their respective styles. Highlights include Benson’s “Many Shades of Black” and White’s “Top Yourself” and “Five on the Five”. Every track is fascinating, and the endless variations on style throughout the track listing are impressive.
19. Youth and Young Manhood – Kings of Leon (2003)
Kings of Leon have recently been spotted invading radio airwaves with “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” off 2008′s Only by the Night. But North America’s just been a little slow to pick up on these guys (which is odd, considering they’re American). Back in 2003, when they all had ridiculous haircuts and moustaches, they released their debut LP, which is full of catchy little retro tunes. I like the new Kings of Leon sound, too, but there’s something endearingly scruffy about their early work. “California Waiting” and “Red Morning Light” are raw, but the Followills’ ability to write an incredible pop song was evident early on.
18. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)
Gold refuses to stick to one style, and the eclectic sound suits Ryan Adams well. Adams handles country stompers (“Firecracker”), lovely ballads (“Good Night, Hollywood Blvd.), and even blues (“The Rescue Blues”, “Touch, Feel, and Lose”) deftly on his lengthy, sometimes erratic sophomore solo album. All of his genre-shifting is fascinating. Every song offers something new, and Gold proves that when it comes to his music, Adams is ambitious and fearless. Some of his best songs to date can be found here, and despite the diversity of styles, it never feels unfocused. Adams is one of the best songwriters of this decade, for sure.
17. Parachutes – Coldplay (2000)
No matter how many jokes people make (or how vehemently Chuck Klosterman hates them), I honestly think that Coldplay is pretty excellent band. Their debut album, Parachutes, certainly showed a lot of promise. “Yellow” became a big hit, but it’s far from the best song of the album. “Shiver” is fantastic, and apparently it was Chris Martin’s attempt to write a Jeff Buckley song. Their signature sound can already be heard throughout the album, but I like that this is a smaller, more personal album than some of their later work. Scoff at the sappiness if you want, but there are some fantastic songs here.
16. Poses – Rufus Wainwright (2001)
I have a pretty huge spot in my heart for Rufus Wainwright. Something about the tone of his voice always makes me feel at ease. It’s hard to describe, but it’s unlikely virtually any other singing voice I’ve heard. On Poses (the follow up to his 1998 eponymous debut), Rufus gives us more of his signature theatrical fare. Though that’s not usually my taste, I love it when Rufus does the over-the-top stuff. He also gets folkier on his cover “One Man Guy” (it’s a wonderful interpretation of his father’s song), which is nice. I’ve heard that Wainwright was at the height of his drug addiction around this time period, but it’s a beautiful album nonetheless.
15. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)
After the success of the song “Fell in Love with a Girl” (and the accompanying Gondry-helmed music video), The White Stripes managed to take advantage of their positive buzz and release another stellar album a mere two years later. It had a couple of songs that have since become radio staples (“Seven Nation Army”, “The Hardest Button to Button), but despite its more polished sound, there’s no way in hell that Jack White is selling out here. “Ball and Biscuit” is mighty, and this album features more of a blues influence than their past three. The White Stripes are a band that is constantly evolving, and following their journey over the decade has been a blast.
14. Trouble – Ray LaMontagne (2003)
His cuddly beard and raspy voice may seem commonplace in the wake of the recent folk movement, but Ray LaMontagne came before all of that. Before I discovered LaMontagne’s music, I thought that the song “Trouble” was some kind of soul standard. And all of his songs have that timeless feeling to them, which I always love. There’s so much soul in his music, and he sings every word with such emotion. I love music that is emotionally raw, and LaMontagne pretty much epitomizes that concept. His subsequent two albums are quite strong too, but his debut, Trouble, is his most affecting work to date.
13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers (2009)
The Avett Brothers have been releasing albums consistently since 2002, but they’ve just recently started making waves in the mainstream with their latest album. I and Love and You was helmed by super producer Rick Rubin, and the expected shiny production is there. But all that gloss doesn’t detract from the wonderfully eclectic collection of songs. There’s not a bad track on the album, and most of the tracks are exceptional. “Laundry Room” and “January Wedding” stay closer to the Avetts’ country roots, while “Slight Figure of Speech” is a spiky little pop gem. The signature rawness, beautiful harmonies, and thought-provoking lyrics that The Avett Brothers are known for haven’t gone anywhere.
12. New Wave – Against Me! (2007)
Fans accused these Florida punks of being sell-outs when they released this radio-friendly set of songs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pretty amazing album. They worked with Butch Vig, who made Nirvana famous with his production of Nevermind, and I can understand how the polished production would put some fans off. But I don’t think that it hurts the album at all. “Thrash Unreal” is an infectious, unexpected anthem, and “The Ocean” boasts lovely lyrics from Gabel pondering what his life could have been under different circumstances. It’s fierce, relevant, and uncompromising, which is all anyone can ask of a band like Against Me!.
11. The Woods – Sleater-Kinney (2005)
Most people probably thought that the “riot grrrl” movement died at some point during the mid-90′s, but Sleater-Kinney proved that they still have what it takes to write an awesome rock record. The Woods is ostensibly their final album (they’ve been on an “indefinite hiatus” since 2006), and I had the unfortunate timing of discovering their music just as they ceased making more of it. But what an album it is to go out on. It rocks harder than most albums released this decade, and “The Fox” and “Modern Girl” are great slices of songwriting. Sleater-Kinney were at the height of their musical career with 1997′s Dig Me Out, and The Woods gives that album a run for its money.
Wintery small-town dramas are not exactly a rare commodity in recent indie cinema, but Snow Angels (written and directed by David Gordon Green) does it well. It doesn’t pull its punches with the gritty subject matter, but if you can get past the bleakness, you’ll find an oddly beautiful film. It stars Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Michael Angarano.
Snow Angels opens with high school student Arthur Parkinson (Angarano) practising trombone with the school marching band when two gunshots ring out from nearby. The films then jumps back in time, and works its way up to that point again. It focuses on two families in crisis. Arthur’s parents are separating, and his co-worker and ex-baby-sitter, Annie (Beckinsale), is trying to deal with raising a young daughter alone. Annie’s estranged husband, Glenn (Rockwell), claims to have made changes in his life, and wants to become part of the family again. He’s become a devout Christian, and on a rare outing with his daughter, tells her that “Daddy doesn’t drink beer anymore”. Arthur’s budding romance with a new student (Olivia Thirbly) and Annie’s gradual re-acceptance of Glenn looks promising, yet all that time, the viewer has that opening scene in the back of their mind. And at around the halfway point, Snow Angels takes a drastic change. To discuss anything after that point would lead to major spoilers, but it’s suffice to say that the last half of the film constitutes a slow, tragic descent, until the film’s shocking finale.
Snow Angels is not an easy film to watch. It’s depressing and bleak. Yet, at the same time, there is warmth to the characters that propels the film along. Green develops every character fully, which is rare in ensemble films. These characters – even those who could potentially be boiled down to “good” and “bad” stereotypes – never seem one-dimensional. Annie is a deceptively complex character. She seems so well put-together, yet she makes awful decisions sometimes, and takes out her anger on her daughter. We follow the arc of her character, and sympathize with her. Green makes sure that we understand the motivations of each character, and that makes the outcome of the movie heartbreaking, but far more rewarding, in an odd way.
The relationship between Arthur and Lila is handled very well, too. Amongst the sadness and fragmentation of every other romantic relationship in the movie, the optimism of these two teenagers is comforting. They’re both kind of geeky, but also very charming, and “young love” is portrayed in a refreshingly low-key way.
The entire ensemble cast is superb. Sam Rockwell has the most bizarre role, and he takes the yo-yo emotions of Glenn and balances them to create a sadly realistic character. One scene later in the film (I’m not giving anything away) is just a long take of Glenn dancing, and while it could have drifted into uncomfortably humorous territory, Rockwell doesn’t let his character become a caricature here, or anywhere else in the film.
Kate Becinsale has a really tough role to play, especially in the second half of the film. She’s solid throughout, whether it be in a rare light moment where she’s flirting playfully with Arthur at work, or a dark scene where she’s yelling at her daughter. The cracks in Annie’s put-together facade are apparent, and as her character crumbles, Beckinsale is there with emotional force to back it up.
Angarano is also a great commodity to the film. His performance is feels very honest. Arthur is a somewhat introverted character, but the few moments of emotional outburst that Arthur has are important, and Angarano’s performance never feels forced.
I don’t really have any gripes with the film. It felt a little bit long, but looking back, I don’t see how any scene could have been removed or shortened. Every part of the film played an important part to the overall story, and the slow development is crucial in order for the ending to have a proper impact.
This is a very carefully put together film, yet it never feels self-conscious. From the cast to the cinematography to the soundtrack, everything works together so well. I think Green has created a dark, atmospheric near-masterpiece with Snow Angels.