Friday, January 18, 2013

Top Songs: 2012

Like I said in my Top Albums post, while this year may not have been as top-heavy as last year, I think it's a deeper overall year. That is reflected in my Top Songs list(s) below. Each of the three lists (Greatest Hits, B-Sides, and Demos) is around 80 minutes (fits on a CDR!) of awesome. As a bonus, I'll give you some Top 10 hits that I liked/hated. All songs are listed alphabetically by title. Enjoy, and let me know what I missed!

* = hyperlink to a music video (a link to audio only otherwise)

"45" - The Gaslight Anthem*
"Closer Than This" - St. Lucia
"Comeback Kid" - Sleigh Bells*
"Cut You" - Cloud Nothings*
"Flowers in Your Hair" - The Lumineers*
"Friends of Friends" - Hospitality*
"The House That Heaven Built" - Japandroids*
"In Sleep" - The Bouncing Souls
"Lies and Eyes" - Minus the Bear
"Lost & Found" - Eve 6*
"Navy" - Kilo Kish*
"Piano Hits" - P.O.S
"Roadie" - Tenacious D*
"Skin and Bone" - Heartless Bastards*
"Speed the Collapse" - Metric
"Survivor Blues" - Cory Branan
"Sweet Life" - Frank Ocean
"Take a Walk" - Passion Pit*
"Take the Heartland" - Glen Hansard
"When I Was Young" - Lucero

2012 B-SIDES
"About to Die" - Dirty Projectors*
"All the Rowboats" - Regina Spektor*
"Baby Get Worse" - Divine Fits
"Better Girl" - Best Coast
"Burn It Down" - Linkin Park*
"Draw a Crowd" - Ben Folds Five
"East St. Louis" - Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds
"Fine Foods Market" - Tim Barry
"Ghost" - Ingrid Michaelson*
"How the Hell Did We Get Here?" - Matt Skiba and the Sekrets
"(I Am The) Electric Man" - Titus Andronicus*
"I Dare You To Break My Heart" - Reel Big Fish*
"Lakeside View Apartment Suite" - The Mountain Goats
"Mean Spirits" - Silversun Pickups
"Mean to Me" - Ben Kweller*
"On Momma's House" - Del the Funky Homosapien
"Paddling Out" - Miike Snow*
"Rise Again" - Brandi Carlile
"State of Grace" - Hot Water Music*

2012 DEMOS
"3, 6 ,9" - Cat Power
"Circles" - B.o.B.
"Dead" - Jukebox the Ghost
"Doomsday" - Hacienda
"Fell for You" - Green Day
"Heartbeat" - Kopecky Family Band*
"Heaven" - The Walkmen*
"Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" - Father John Misty*
"Honolulu Blues" - Craig Finn
"Manhattan on Mute" - Cheap Girls
"Simple Song" - The Shins*
"Sixteen Salteens" - Jack White*
"The Streets" - Foxy Shazam
"Sunset" - The xx
"The Theory of Relativity" - Stars
"To: Chicago" - The Spill Canvas
"True Romance" - Motion City Soundtrack*
"What Makes a Good Man?" - The Heavy*
"Write This Down" - Maxïmo Park*
"Your Own Ghost" - Gold Motel

"Call Me Maybe" / "Good Time" - Carly Rae Jepsen*
"Gangnam Style" - Psy*
"Lights" - Ellie Goulding*
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" - Kelly Clarkson*
"Part of Me" / "Wide Awake" - Katy Perry*
"We Found Love" - Rihanna*
(One of these things is not like the others...)

"Everybody Talks" - Neon Trees
"Somebody That I Used to Know" - Gotye
"Starships" - Nicki Minaj
"Too Close" - Alex Clare
"We Are Young" - fun.
"Whistle" - Flo Rida
(I will not link to the videos -- and to be fair to fun., the rest of the album was decent.)

I hope you enjoy checking out some of the tunes you may have missed. Make sure to let me know your favorites as well. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Golden Globes Guesses

Most people think the Oscars are kind of stuffy and boring (and after the last couple Best Picture winners, they may be right). If that's true, then the Golden Globes are their crazy drunk cousin. You're never quite sure what they're gonna do, but it's always entertaining. That drunk cousin is due for another yearly visit tomorrow evening, so now's the time to try to figure out what they're gonna do. Here's my best shot.

^ = A film or performance I haven't seen
bold = my prediction

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy^

Logic: There are few certainties when it comes to the Globes and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but this is one of them. Hathaway can add this Globe to her already impressive duo. Yup, that's a boobs joke -- I'm bringing the good stuff tonight. Of the other performances, Hunt's is the only other one that I actually enjoyed -- a nuanced blend of empathy and vulnerability (and, again, boobs). Field's melodramatics stood in stark contrast to the rest of the cast's finely-tuned dramatic performances, and, while finely acted, Adams' shrewish wife is just not easy to root for. (Bonus points for the most uncomfortable hand-jibber in cinema history though.) Finally, while I usually go out of my way to see nominated performances, I did and will not see The Paperboy.

Second choice: None
My vote: Hunt

Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin, Argo
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Logic: While TLJ (all the cool actors get acronym-ized) seems to have a bead on the Oscar win, the HFPA is a maverick that doesn't play by the same rules. Really, this category is more open than a Denny's at 4:00 a.m. The case for any of the nominees is easy to make -- Argo is right up the HFPA's alley (and a darkhorse in the Drama race); DiCaprio is a big star and had a showy performance; Hoffman is in the conversation for Best Actor Working Right Now; Lincoln has the look of a film that could win all of the awards; and Waltz is a recent winner with a very likeable performance. But star power is always something to consider with the Globes, and DiCaprio has it in spades. (And, holy crap, there's got to be a better way to say that.)

Second choice: Jones or Waltz
My vote: Waltz

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy:
Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel^
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Maggie Smith, Quartet^
Meryl Streep, Hope Springs^

Logic: Even though I've only seen two of the performances, it doesn't matter -- Lawrence has got this locked down tighter than her character's wardrobe in Silver Linings. She'll also figure into the discussion for the Best Actress Oscar for her manic, livewire performance. Blunt was perfectly pleasant in surprise nominee Salmon Fishing, but perfectly pleasant doesn't get you a statue. As for the other nominated performances, I didn't see the movies because, old people, ZZZZZZZZs.

Second choice: None
My vote: Lawrence

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy:
Jack Black, Bernie
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Ewan McGregor, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Bill Murray, Hyde Park On Hudson^

Logic: I'm supremely unconfident (which is totally a word) in this pick. It's either him or Cooper. I'm going with Jackman because he had the higher degree of difficulty (live singing, losing/gaining weight, spending 98% of the movie in extreme closeup) and the fact that Les Miz is one of the most widely revered works in the history of European literature. Not sure a bipolar Philadelphia Eagles fan is quite in the same category. Which brings me to one of the only things I don't like about the Globes -- the Musical/Comedy dichotomy. Yes, Les Miz is a musical, but it's nothing if not dramatic. Jackman's performance clearly belongs in the other category. That said, Cooper could easily pull off the victory, what with his chiseled good looks and charming (in its own way) rapport with co-star Lawrence. Remember, star power. Of the remaining nominees, Jack Black is the only one who qualifies as something other than window dressing for his conflicted, eponymous Bernie. Dark comedy gold. McGregor was also perfectly pleasant, and it's unclear if anyone actually saw Hyde Park.

Second choice: Cooper
My vote: Jackman

Best Actress, Drama:
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marian Cotillard, Rust And Bone
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea

Logic: This is another close race, and one I'm taking a chance on. You can safely rule out Mirren -- she's just category filler for her humdrum work in the very humdrum Hitchcock. Next, while Weisz' re-envisioning of the classic Saffron Burrows role was quite good, her film is just too small and she can likely be ruled out as well. That leaves three possible -- and deserving -- candidates. Cotillard was magnificent in a movie that managed to crack my top-10 list (forthcoming), and she's French, but I just don't see it happening. (The fact that she wasn't nominated for an Oscar has no real bearing on this race.) Of the two remaining nominees, Chastain is widely considered to be the frontrunner (and perhaps for the Oscar as well), and she was very good, but she has a couple things working against her. One is the obvious torture controversy surrounding her film. The other is that, a few scenes aside, the film doesn't provide her with many chances to show her acting chops -- instead, her performance is a study of determination and resolve. That leaves Watts, whose performance may have been the most impressive, both from a physical and emotional standpoint. Her movie is also a lot more international, which I think gives her an edge. I think she takes the statue in an upset.

Second choice: Chastain
My vote: Chastain

Best Actor, Drama:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Logic: While this is another lock for Daniel "All Your Statues Are Belong to Us" Day-Lewis, this is actually an impressive group of nominees, and one I actually prefer to the Oscar shortlist. Gere, forced out of the Oscar running by Jackman/Cooper, delivers what I would probably call a career best performance, if I had actually seen more than a handful of his movies, in Arbitrage as a patriarch desperately trying to hold on to his crumbling family and financial empire. Similarly snubbed, Hawks (a longtime favorite) was fascinating as a polio victim trying to lose his virginity. Denzel did Denzel things to great effect in Flight and would be a worthy contender in another year (like, say, last year). We all know D-Day is going to win for his masterfully honed portrayal of Honest Abe, but, to me, Joaquin Phoenix delivered the performance of the year (if not the past few years -- maybe since Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler) in The Master. Phoenix, perhaps not surprisingly, knocked it out of the park as a man operating on the edge of sanity. It's too bad he won't have a statue to show for it.

Second choice: None
My vote: Phoenix

Best Screenplay:
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Chris Terrio, Argo

Logic: Fuck me, I have no idea on this one. I could see any of them winning it. ZDT was Boal's baby, constructed from the ground up from his research and reporting, and impressive in the same way as Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network script (although not quite as good). Kushner deserves similar accolades for his work on Lincoln (and he should probably be drafting his Oscar speech by now). Russell gets kudos for his spastic take on the screwball comedy. Terrio's taut Argo script is perhaps the movie's strength. All are deserving, but in keeping with the "star power" theme (which will probably wind up blowing up in my face), I'm going with QT for his equally verbose and profane work on Django.

Second choice: Kushner or Russell
My vote: Boal (or Tarantino)

Best Director:
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life Of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Logic: This race is infinitely more interesting than the Oscar "race," where Affleck and Bigelow were both righteously snubbed. Bigelow's non-nomination is especially stunning now that I've seen the film: ZDT is masterfully orchestrated -- as white-knuckled and impassioned filmmaking as you'll see this year. Although not quite in the same class as ZDT, Affleck's Argo was also well made and he's a deserving nominee here -- and you know the HFPA loves their movie stars. Lee and QT are both wildcards -- Life of Pi is the biggest international hit of the bunch, and QT is, well, QT. Most prognosticators (that I've read) seem to give Spielberg, the prohibitive Oscar favorite, little chance to win here. All that adds up to another tough call. Might as well stick with the theme at this point -- Affleck takes the statue (although Spielberg and Lee are close).

Second choice: Spielberg
My vote: Bigelow

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel^
Les Misérables
Moonrise Kingdom
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Silver Linings Playbook

Logic: We should know the winner of this category when the give out the Best Actor, Musical or Comedy statue -- I can't imagine a split. If Jackman takes the hardware, Les Miz should win here. If Cooper takes it, a Silver Linings victory is likely. Obviously, since I tabbed Jackman to win Actor, I think Les Miz will win here (even though it's a !@#$ing drama). That said, Silver Linings does have more star power... but too late to change my mind now. The actual best movie out of the bunch, however, is clearly Moonrise Kingdom, which actually shows real life human emotions (Les Miz is largely a series of histrionic set pieces) and actually manages to tie all its various subplots together neatly (Silver Linings very much failed at this). Oh, it's also sweet, tender, funny, and, Wes Anderson, duh, quirky. Salmon Fishing was, of course, perfectly pleasant, and, man, old people sure did seem to love Marigold.

Second choice: Silver Linings Playbook
My vote: Moonrise Kingdom

Best Picture, Drama:
Django Unchained
Life Of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Logic: Unlike the now-castrated Oscar race, there could actually be some, ahem, drama here. While I still expect Lincoln to win, the only surprise for me in this category would be a Django victory. It just doesn't have the same sheen of prestige as the other nominees. My pick for best film of the bunch, ZDT, is probably only a fringe contender at this point, mostly for the reasons listed above in the Actress category. Also, remember that Oscar darling The Hurt Locker was shut out at the Globes in 2010. Of the remaining three films, Life of Pi has the whole international thing going for it, so it has a chance to pull off a mild upset. I actually think Argo has a decent shot to win this thing -- it's Entertainment with a capital 'E' in the same way that Lincoln is a Film with a capital 'F', and I think that carries a lot of weight with the HFPA. (Remember, Avatar won over Hurt Locker that year.) Still, Lincoln just has the (very subjective) look of a winner, so I'm going with that.

Second choice: Argo
My vote: Zero Dark Thirty
Other awards: I'll be rooting for Wreck-It-Ralph for Animated Feature, Adele for Original Song, Rust and Bone for Foreign Language Film (caveat: haven't seen Amour), and Louis C.K. for TV Comedy Actor. I really don't care about any of the other TV races (I really, really need to catch up on TV).

Looking over my predictions, I think I'm actually more confident in my "Second choice" guesses. But even though I wield the mighty power of the 'Delete' key, I'm sticking to my original picks, even though I'm likely way off. Stay tuned for my Top 10 Films list (in the next week or two), then my Oscar picks (most of those races are way easier to call). Thanks, as always, for reading.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And the nominees may or may not be...

With the announcements in T-minus a few hours, it's time for me to toss my $.02 in on who will be nominated for the Oscars in the morning. I haven't done nearly as much research (i.e. reading Oscar blogs) as I usually do, but I have been catching up on my prestige films lately, so that's got to count for something. Predictions listed in rough order of likelihood.

* = early winner prediction
^ haven't seen it

Zero Dark Thirty^*
Les Misérables
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Next in line:
Beasts of the Southern Wild^
The Master

Comments: The top-six are shoo-ins, while any of the next five could be nominated in some combination. I think this is the year that a tentpole crowd-pleaser finally cracks through -- interesting that it's not The Dark Knight Rises, though. Django is on the edge, but Inglourious Basterds did well with the Acedemy, so there's no reason to think this won't. I think either Moonrise or Beasts will make it -- but not both (so I just went with the one I've seen). Finally, Amour seems to be well-liked critically, but foreign language pictures have always been a tough sell in this category, and The Master has lost most of its buzz (where's the torpedo juice?). That leaves us with nine nominees, the same as last year -- which also leaves the door open for an Extremely Loud-esque surprise not listed here.

Wishful thinking: The Grey, Prometheus

Steven Spielberg - Lincoln*
Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
Ben Affleck - Argo
Ang Lee - Life of Pi
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Next in line:
Tom Hooper - Les Misérables
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
Michael Haneke - Amour^
Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master

Comments:  Remember that "top-six are shoo-ins" thing from, you know, a couple minutes ago? The directors of those movies are your likely field of six contenders. I'm always down for QT, but most people seem to recognize that Django is one of his lesser works, and while Haneke and Anderson are respected, neither of their films showcased the kind of directorial chops/hubris that got Terrence Malick a nomination here last year. Of those six, I think Hooper falls out because, a) he just (un-FUCKING-deservedly) won two years ago, and b) 158 minutes of facial closeups does not good directing make (obviously, no, I did not enjoy Les Miz). I'm going controversial now and saying that ZDT wins Picture, but they give Spielberg the Director statue. Wouldn't be the first time it's happened.

Wishful thinking: Steven Soderbergh - Magic Mike/Haywire, Leos Carax - Holy Motors

Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln*
Denzel Washington - Flight
Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
Next in line:
John Hawkes - The Sessions
Denis Lavant - Holy Motors
Richard Gere - Arbitrage

Comments: The only real lock here is D-Day (no, not Bruce McGill from Animal House) for both the nomination and win. The next five listed are likely battling it out for four spots, and any of them dropping out would not surprise me. Denzel is a presumptive lock, which can be dangerous; Jackman will benefit from his film's perceived prestige (although he was actually very good); Cooper gets love for playing against type (kind of); and, hopefully, the Academy will recognize a truly transcendent performance in Phoenix's (which would get my vote). Hawks, while excellent in a demanding role as a polio victim confined to an iron lung, just misses the cut due to his film being seen less (and the earlier release date). He has an excellent shot at a nomination, though. A surprise here is unlikely, but Lavant (his performance was *incendiary*) and Gere (smooth yet conflicted) would be worthy

Wishful thinking: Liam Neesons - The Grey, Matthias Schoenaerts - Rust and Bone

Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty^*
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Naomi Watts - The Impossible
Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone
Emmanuelle Riva - Amour^
Next in line:
Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild^
Helen Mirren - Hitchcock
Rachel Weizs - The Deep Blue Sea

Comments:  This is another one with some wiggle room. Chastain and Lawrence are locks and are your two main (read: only, at this point) contenders. Watts is close to a lock, but her missing out on a nomination isn't... wait for it... impossible. Cotillard should be there as well -- and for an excellent performance in a film I absolutely loved -- but her performance was unquestionably aided by CGI (the whole "no legs" thing). If you accept those four as locks, and Mirren (so-so, would be in on reputation only) and Weisz (very good in a small film) as outsiders, then the Academy has a choice to make: either nominate the youngest or oldest actress ever in this category. If Beasts gets a Picture nomination, expect Wallis to be nominated here. But I agree with this article in thinking that she shouldn't. So Riva it is.

Wishful thinking: None (haven't seen enough great female performances this year)

Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln*
Alan Arkin - Argo
Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
Robert De Niro - Silver Linings Playbook
Samuel L. Jackson - Django Unchained
Next in line:
Javier Bardem - Skyfall
Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained
Dwight Henry - Beasts of the Southern Wild^
Matthew McConaughey - Magic Mike
Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
Eddie Redmayne - Les Misérables

Comments: Obviously, this is a competitive category. Jones and Arkin are locks, and Hoffman feels like one -- but it wouldn't surprise me to see The Master completely ignored either (a difficult, but worthwhile, film, that one). De Niro is the sentimental favorite, and seems a safe enough bet. The last spot seems primed for one of the Django trio -- I'm going with Jackson for a few reasons: 1) he was the best of the three, 2) the surprise factor, and 3) he is the least-recently nominated. Either of the other two are deserving though (Waltz especially). Bardem wouldn't surprise me, but I don't think he deserves it for simply making Anton Chigurh gay. Haven't seen Beasts, so I won't comment on Henry. I'd love to see McConaughey instead of De Niro, but I don't see it happening. Redmayne was solid in Les Miz, somewhat making up for his dreadful performance in last year's My Week with Marilyn, and could benefit if AMPAS goes musical crazy.

Wishful thinking: Michael Caine - The Dark Knight Rises, Scoot McNairy - Killing Them Softly

Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables*
Sally Field - Lincoln
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Amy Adams - The Master
Ann Dowd - Compliance^
Next in line:
Nicole Kidman - The Paperboy^
Judi Dench - Skyfall
Samantha Barks - Les Misérables
Maggie Smith - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel^

Comments: These Supporting categories are always tough to project -- it's so easy for a WTF? nomination to slip in there. Hence Dowd, who got excellent notices early in the year for Compliance, slipping into the fifth spot. After Hathaway and Field, not much would surprise me, but Hunt's nudity and Adams' handjobbery (in addition to the critical and precursor love) seem to have them firmly in the field. As for the rest, I hope Kidman doesn't get nominated so I have to watch The Paperboy (I HATED Precious), but it's a very real possibility after the Globe and, especially, SAG nominations. Dench could be the beneficiary of a push for Skyfall, and if the Academy likes Les Miz more that most seem to (which would not be a surprise), Barks would slip in (who was another highlight). Finally, Marigold made such a splash over the summer that the Academy could choose to reward it somehow, with here being a likely spot (Adapted Screenplay being another).

Wishful thinking: Emily Blunt - Looper, Édith Scob - Holy Motors

Mark Boal - Zero Dark Thirty^*
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola - Moonrise Kingdom
Rian Johnson - Looper
Next in line:
Michael Haneke - Amour^
John Gatins - Flight
Ava DuVernay - Middle of Nowhere^
[insert left-field film here]

Comments: I'll begin with a caveat: There is almost assuredly a film not listed here (probably something like The Intouchables^) that will be nominated. Happens every year (Margin Call last year). But I like this list for now. Boal is the only sure thing, but PTA and QT are solid bets, as always, and the Academy always seems to have a soft spot for Wes Anderson -- even better that Moonrise is his best film in years. I think Rian Johnson's Looper snags the final spot -- popular and unique. Can't go wrong. Of the others, Haneke has the best shot (and I will be seeing the film when it starts next week). Flight was good, but more because of the strengths of the performances (and direction, incidentally). I have no idea what a Middle of Nowhere is, but the name came up a couple times in my limited research. Further investigation required.

Wishful thinking: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon - The Cabin in the Woods, Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee - Wreck-It-Ralph

Tony Kushner - Lincoln*
Chris Terrio - Argo
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar - Beasts of the Southern Wild^
Ol Parker - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel^
Next in line:
David Magee - Life of Pi
William Nicholson (+ foreign dudes) - Les Misérables
Stephen Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower^
Tom Stoppard - Anna Karenina^

Comments:  Kushner is a lock for both nomination and win at this point. Terrio and Russell should be his main competition. The rest is up in the air (not like the movie, which wasn't nominated here). Beasts is buzzy enough to get love somewhere; ditto Marigold. Pi was great, but Magee's script was actually a weak point (I generally hate framing a movie -- Saving Private Ryan, for example, definitely didn't need one). The Les Miz script could get in on name alone (definitely not worthy though), and a wild card like Chbosky or Stoppard is always lurking.

Wishful thinking: Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain - Rust and Bone, Michael Bacall - 21 Jump Street

*I'm probably giving too much love to Django Unchained and The Master 
*I'm probably not giving enough love to Beasts of the Southern Wild (on its way via Netflix)
*Skyfall really could crash the party in some major categories
*The nominations I most want to see are Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, Sam Jackson, and Rian Johnson

These are almost all "safe" picks, due to the lack of research, but the Academy always has surprises in store. I'll end with my usual claim of attempting to watch the nominations live, but I never actually do. I'm sure I'll be checking them on my phone in bed sometime in the morning. I'll be back this weekend for a Golden Globes post, then again before the Academy Award ceremony next month. Until then.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top Albums: 2012

Since the world didn't end, I guess I should go ahead and post my usual end-of-year lists. (If the Mayans had been right, it would have saved me a lot of work.) As usual, there are a host of big movies that have yet to come to the cultural cesspool that is Arizona, so that list won't come for a couple weeks. But we can start with my favorite albums. 2012 was a good-but-not-great year for music -- deeper than last year, but not quite as top-heavy. At least, that's my initial impression. Who knows what 2012 records will still be on rotation in a year, 2 years, 5 years. There's probably a 2012 chestnut or two that I haven't even discovered yet. My point, as always, is that these lists are subjective and volatile and will probably be irrelevant sooner rather than later. But I enjoy putting them together anyway. So, keeping with that theme, let's start with a few records that I enjoyed but just wasn't able to spend enough time with to confidently rank:

Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Life of the Mind
Father John Misty - Fear Fun
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Jack White - Blunderbuss
The xx - Coexist

Now, the Honorable Mentions, in alphabetical order (* = saw live this year):

Beach House - Bloom
Ben Kweller - Go Fly a Kite
Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Cory Branan - Mutt
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Eve 6 - Speak in Code
Hospitality - Hospitality
The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond
Lucero - Women & Work*
The Lumineers - The Lumineers
The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth
Reel Big Fish - Candy Coated Fury
Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods
Titus Andronicus - Local Business

With 15 down, the next 10 will make a pretty good list of my 25 favorite records from 2012. Here we go:

10) St. Lucia - St. Lucia [EP]
Genre: Electronic/indie/pop
Standout tracks: "All Eyes On You," "Before the Dive," "Closer Than This"

It's only six songs long, but they're good enough to snag the #10 spot on this list (and hey, spoilers, my #2 only has 8 songs). St. Lucia is dreamy, dancy electropop in the same vein as Passion Pit, The Naked and Famous, et al., -- Drive soundtrack music, if you will (and I, for one, will). "All Eyes On You" sports a chanty chorus and mid-song saxophone solo that totally works; "Before the Dive" is is a jaunty little number, replete with jangly keys and smooth synth; disc-closer "Closer Than This" is on the shortlist for my favorite song of the year. On it, Jean-Philip Grobler, the Brooklynite (of course) behind St. Lucia, allows his sonorous voice to take center stage to tell a simple love story that would sound perfect over a Ryan Gosling/Carey Mulligan (deleted) love scene -- or maybe just your own private night drive. Either way, it should whet your appetite for the upcoming (James Iha-produced) full length. You can also watch the video for their new single "September" right here. I'll be right here saying, "You're welcome" when the full-length is on your top 10 list next year.

9) The Bouncing Souls - Comet
Genre: Punk/rock
Standout tracks: "Baptized," "Fast Times," "In Sleep"

I've long been of the opinion that music doesn't have to be "arty" -- complex, aesthetically-challenging, innovative, or what have you -- to garner a spot of "best of" lists. You just have to fucking like it. And I fucking liked the new Bouncing Souls record. The Souls have always been effortlessly likeable ever since I first heard "Hopeless Romantic" on a Punk-O-Rama compilation years ago. An improvement on their last outing, 2010's somewhat minor Ghosts on the Boardwalk, Comet combines the band's staple sub-2:30 punk chestnuts ("Baptized," "Fast") with the kind of longer, more contemplative jams ("In Sleep") they've been experimenting with since about 2006's The Gold Record (which might be my favorite Souls record). So while Comet may not be the most "arty" record on this list, it was also on constant rotation all year (and I think I probably listened to it about 4-5 times straight right after I got it). That's good enough to slot it at #9. Now, if only they would come back to AZ and play a show where the band is decently sober...

8) P.O.S - We Don't Even Live Here
Genre: Rap
Standout tracks: "How We Land," "All Of It," "Piano Hits"

It seems like a hip-hop album or two always makes its way onto my top 10 list, and this year is no exception, with the new P.O.S record coming in at #8. P.O.S is an interesting character, one who actually got his start in the Minneapolis punk scene. That brash punk aesthetic has always bubbled to the surface in his music, and is what sets him apart from a lot of other rappers (at least the ones I listen to, anyway). The beats, for the most part, come hard, fast, and angry, and the rhymes are acerbic, antagonizing, iconoclastic. Then there are song titles like "Fuck Your Stuff" and "Lock-Picks, Knives, Bricks and Bats." Kanye West, this is not. The obvious exception to this is "How We Land," easily the record's most "radio friendly" song, and also perhaps its best. It also features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who also featured on Kanye's "Lost in the World," which is also perhaps the strongest track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy -- maybe P.O.S and West aren't that different after all. Also: Justin Vernon, hip-hop savant. Who knew?

7) The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten*
Genre: Rock/punk
Standout tracks: "45," "Handwritten," "Desire"

It's actually a little surprising to me to rank a Gaslight Anthem record this low, as their last two releases (2008's The '59 Sound and 2010's American Slang) were perhaps my favorite albums of those years. Tough racket, this music thing -- you release my 7th favorite record of the year and it's still labeled a disappointment. But the band just explored so much musical territory on their two records that they probably had to return to a more simple approach. The result is a record that, while still very good, gets slapped with the dreaded "same-y" label -- there are just too many mid-tempo, verse/chorus/verse, inspiration-on-its-sleeve jams here. The record starts out very strong -- "45" (another song of the year contender) and the title track are the first two songs -- but then gets bogged down by a succession of lumbering 4:00-5:00 minute slow burners, and it's never really able to recover. Hopefully, lead singer/songwriter Brian Fallon remembers there is more to his musical palette than -- and to think, I almost got through a Gaslight write-up without mentioning Bruce Springsteen -- Springsteen odes, and the next Gaslight Anthem record can battle for the #1 spot, instead of settling for #7.

6) Heartless Bastards - Arrow
Genre: Rock/garage rock/indie
Standout tracks: "Got to Have Rock and Roll," "Simple Feeling," "Skin and Bone"

Much like an early Black Keys record, you might mistakenly think the Heartless Bastards were some forgotten '70s band that you'd never heard of before upon first hearing Arrow. But, just like their fellow Ohioians... Ohionites... Ohioans, the Heartless Bastards are a contemporary band that only *sounds* like a band your dad might have listened to on LSD in the '70s. All of that is to say that the Heartless Bastards very much appeal to the classic rock fan in me. And how could they not, as Arrow is scattered with references/homages to various '70s stalwarts as varied Led Zeppelin (especially III), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, etc. What sets the Bastards apart, however, is their vocalist, Ms. Erika Wennerstrom, possessor of one of the most entrancing voices I've heard this year. Her forceful, low croon -- but she can also soar when need be -- is a perfect accompaniment to her bandmates' driving rhythms and stomping chords. Listen to "Skin and Bone" to see what I mean -- hell, listen to the entire album while you're at it. You won't be disappointed. This is an album that showcases its influences, yes, but one that doesn't dawdle in them, either.

5) Tenacious D - Rize of the Fenix
Genre: Rock/humor
Standout tracks: "Rize of the Fenix," "Roadie," "39"

The first thing I'd like to point about about this record is that the phoenix on the cover is shaped like a dick. With flaming wings. That's about all you need to know about this record. But I'm going to write some more anyway. Rize of the Fenix is yet another record with an eye to the past (our third straight). But this one is the best-ranked of the three because it takes influences as disparate as Iron Maiden ("Rize"), Survivor ("To Be the Best"), and Bob Seger ("39") and combines them with the reverential-yet-warped genius of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, who are back in rare form. After a creative and commercial dip with The Pick of Destiny album/film, Fenix is filled with the same kind of shenaniganry that made their self-titled debut so successful. There are the extended story-songs ("Rize," "The Ballad of Hollywood Jack..."), short, silly numbers ("Low Hangin' Fruit," "They Fucked Our Asses"), and, of course, skits ("Classical Teacher" is excellent, while "Flutes and Trombones" is... not). The highlight of the record, for me anyway, is "Roadie," a 3:00 acoustic ballad to that most under-appreciated denizen of the music industry. I have included the Danny McBride-starring video below, for your viewing pleasure. Come for the jokes, stay for the songs.

4) Passion Pit - Gossamer*
Genre: Electronic/indie/pop
Standout tracks: "Take a Walk," "Carried Away," "Constant Conversations"

I didn't get into Passion Pit's debut LP, 2009's Manners, until about a year after the fact, but I've been hooked ever since. Their brand of poppy, synth-y, immaculately-produced confections isn't just catchy, it's contagious -- infectious, even. Of course, I can somewhat understand the band's detractors and their claims of too much production, their perhaps saccharine qualities, and, most notably, Michael Angelakos's distinct falsetto voice. But if you can get past that, it's the dark underpinnings of the lyrics -- substance abuse, recession, interpersonal strife -- that separate the band from any number of other sunshiny electropop bands. "Little Secret" from Manners and this year's "Take a Walk" are exemplary of this -- perhaps the poppiest (and best) songs on each album are cut with somber, sobering lyrics. That said, I actually *like* those other qualities -- the production, the saccharine-ness, the falsetto. This is the year's most aggressively buoyant record (in spite of the lyrics), and absolutely perfect dance party music -- oh, and it plays amazingly live as well. Those boys, keyboards and computers and all, really know how to put on a live show.

3) Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Genre: R&B
Standout tracks: "Sweet Life," "Super Rich Kids," "Bad Religion"

I first encountered Frank Ocean when listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West's excellent Watch the Throne album -- Ocean's outstanding hook on "No Church in the Wild" *made* that song and, along with his also outstanding mix-tape, Nostalgia, Ultra, signaled the arrival of a major new talent. But whereas Ocean's appearances on Throne and many of the tracks on Nostalgia were reliant on others (Ocean samples acts such as MGMT and the freaking Eagles), Channel Orange is all Ocean -- and it's easily better than both Throne and Nostalgia. The entire record is confident, assured, and the smoothest thing since Sean Connery. Many critics point to tracks like "Thinkin' 'Bout You," "Bad Religion," and especially the almost ten-minute album centerpiece "Pyramids" as the best tracks, but for me, "Sweet Life" is not only the best song on the album, but also one of the best of the year. It has tight production and gorgeous vocals (this dude can SING), yes, but it is also phenomenal lyrically (this dude can WRITE). The chorus is absolutely stunning, and "Why see the world / when you've got the beach?" just might be the line of the year. I know I've ranked two albums ahead of this, but trust me when I say that if you need to hear one album -- *need* to -- from 2012, that album is Channel Orange.

2) Japandroids - Celebration Rock*
Genre: Rock/indie
Standout tracks: "The Nights of Wine and Roses," "Adrenaline Nightshift," "The House that Heaven Built"

Talk about all killer, no filler -- at a brisk 8 tracks and 35 minutes, Vancouver-based duo Japandroids' second album is a punchy, riotous powder keg of an album. It's also the most aptly-titled release of the year; each song, almost all between four and five minutes, feels celebratory -- of life, of youth, of music. The effect is vitalizing, and this record is one of the most vital of the year. This is another one whose influences aren't hard to decipher -- Zep, Who, Tom Petty ("Evil's Sway" lifts its "Oh yeah / All right" refrain right from "American Girl") -- but it's done with such glee and abandon that you can tell guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse (and that's the entire band) are merely celebrating their progenitors, calling back to a time when rock 'n' roll was simpler, more visceral. Each flailing chord, each cymbal crash, each group-chanted lyric is a paean to writing, to performing, to hearing, to *living* rock music. Lead single (and yet another potential song of the year) "The House that Heaven Built" is the best of the bunch, a glorious five-minute romp full of "whoa-oh-oh"s and an instantly classic chorus -- "When they try to slow you down / tell 'em all to go to hell." Check the video out below -- and yes, their live shows are as fun as the video makes them look.

1) Metric - Synthetica*
Genre: Indie/rock
Standout tracks: "Youth Without Youth," "Speed the Collapse," "Dreams So Real," "Synthetica"

Following 2009's stellar Fantasies was always going to be a tough task. While I may not have been as kind to it at the time, it has since gone on to become perhaps my favorite record of the past 5 or so years. From Synthetica's placement at #1, you can probably tell that it followed up Fantasies just fine, thank you. I think, overall, Fantasies' strongest songs ("Gold Guns Girls," "Gimme Sympathy," "Collect Call") are probably stronger than the strongest songs here, but I think Synthetica works as a more cohesive album, so it's probably a wash (but ask me again in a year or two and I might tell you something different). Synthetica, a concept album, deals with some pretty weighty philosophical themes -- real vs. artificial, analog vs. digital -- combining cryptic lyrics, atmospheric instrumentals, electronic flourishes, and, for good measure, some out-and-out poppy segues. At the center, as always, is singer Emily Haines, who easily shifts guises from song to song, from rebel ("Youth") to messiah ("Dreams") to pop goddess ("Lost Kitten"). The result is a dreamy, dynamic album, but not one without an edge and an ever-so-slight hint of abject terror below the sleek production and coy vocals. This is just an impressive record on all fronts. Finally, not only did Metric deliver my favorite album of the year, but they were also responsible for the best show I went to this year. Don't you just love it when high expectations aren't just met, but exceeded? Me, too.

Unless you were busy stockpiling for the apocalypse all year, you probably listened to some music as well, no? Feel free to comment and/or tell me what I missed. Or just lurk like a creepster, either way. I'll post my favorite songs in a day or two, and my movies list sometime after that. Enjoy, or not. Until then...