Sunday, August 22, 2010

State of the Cinema 2010

If you feel as though this year has been short on good movies and long on filler, well, you'd be right.

Two-thirds of the year has gone by, and I'd say there isn't a film per month I'd call 'quality'. Total, I would count six films so far this year as being really great work. I'm not sure if we had more or less by this time last year, but I have to assume it was better than this.

Sure, there have been some nice guilty pleasures here and there, like Kick-Ass and Hot Tub Time Machine. But good, Oscar-caliber stuff has been so light. What follows is my breakdown of the top six films of the year and how I would rank them, plus Oscar viability.

6. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
An unflinching, fascinating portrait of a woman who has seen defeat so many times and yet continually rises from the ashes due to her undying work ethic. A lock for Best Documentary Feature later this year barring any heavy-handed liberal projects a la The Cove or An Inconvenient Truth (both of which, being a liberal, I enjoyed).

5. The Kids are All Right
A fascinating tale of a modern family dealing with all the problems that arise from being so modern. The acting is first-rate, especially from leads Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, but the plot is a little disheveled at times, leading me to rank this lower than most. It will likely be a Best Picture nominee, as well as a Best Original Screenplay and (double) Best Actress nominee.

4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
What an unfailingly fun film. Full of originality and innovation, there wasn't a moment in this that I didn't find completely enjoyable. The most fun I've had in a movie theater in a long time. I have to resist the urge to rank this higher simply based on how fun it was. No shot at Oscar, unfortunately, which is a sad statement about the Oscars.

3. Please Give
Another movie likely to be ignored by Oscar voters, the sheer acting prowess combined with expert writing and direction created one of the most thought-provoking, in-your-face, fascinating films of the year. Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt all put on a master class in using well-developed characters to make them the heart of the film. Tragically unseen, this is another film it is difficult to rank down. But the next two are just too good.

2. Inception
What remains to be said? A gamebreaker, Inception is a sure thing Best Picture nominee, as well as a likely Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominee. If there were justice, Marion Cotillard would also be a Best Supporting Actress nominee, but I wouldn't wager any money on that idea. Truly spellbinding, this is a movie that truly defined 2010.

1. Toy Story 3
It's sentimental, relies on our knowledge of previously established characters, and is a threequel. So freaking what. It is also the best film of the year so far, and I would be stunned if another film takes that title. There is nothing about this film that is not beautiful, from the animation to the script to the voicework. What a brilliant movie. A lock for the Best Animated Feature prize, and a sure bet Best Picture nominee. Maybe, in this slow year, even a Best Picture winner.

What have your favorite films this year been? Take it to the comments!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The "Cool" Songs

A couple of months ago, I posted a series on my favorite songs of all time with the stories behind each of them. Those were truly my twenty favorite songs of all time.

But no one really mentions their favorite songs when asked, "What are you favorite songs?" No, because those answers and follow-up conversations are too awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone has a set of, say, five or so songs they name-check in conversation as being their favorites because it's easier and others will respect you more. They still love them, but they're not the real top tier. Don't pretend you don't. You may do it with albums or artists instead of songs, but it's the same concept. What follows are my five so-called "cool" songs.

"Folds in Your Hands," Passion Pit
I absolutely love this track. A lot more than most Passion Pit, actually, which usually strikes me as heavily overproduced (don't waste your time telling me that's the point, I've heard it before). It's infectious, fun, well-written, and interestingly and conservatively produced. An iPod playlist staple.

"Alone Apart," The Swell Season
I've profiled The Swell Season and this song in particular before, and "Falling Slowly" is actually my favorite song from the duo, but this one is just so soul-stirring and touching I can't help but feel really connected every time I listen to it. Markéta Irglová's voice is stirring.

"Citizen," Broken Bells
Another duo with a far superior song ("The High Road") but with another that I often prefer simply for sheer musical quality from time to time. The transitions from melodic sing-a-long to moody, introspective ballad are beautiful. And "Call on a bright star/Or play your hand as idiots" might be one of the most gorgeously rendered couplets in any modern song I've ever heard.

"In The Waiting Line," Zero 7
An indie take on a siren song, the vocal is so sensuous and seductive that the lyrics almost become obsolete. Closer examination of those lyrics, however, reveal an aching, meticulously constructed tune that few people have in their iTunes libraries, but more should.

"That's Why You're Beautiful," Beyoncé
Oh, you didn't really think you'd escape a music-based post on this blog without a little Sasha Fierce, did you? The resident R&B diva has several catchy songs in her repertoire, but this lilting ballad about a lover's beauty through time is, quite honestly, her best. It might not be just one of my "cool" songs, it might be my favorite song of hers overall.