Sunday, December 20, 2009

...Working Towards a Top 100 Movies of the 2000s List

So, three of us have put together lists of our respective top 50 films of the decade, and here's the rundown of what movies made our respective lists and how many votes each movie received. We're hoping for a few more contributors on the top-50 project, and then we'll begin weeding this down.

Here we go:

Kenny's List (in order)

1.                   The Lord of the Rings
2.                   There Will Be Blood
3.                   Kill Bill
4.                   United 93
5.                   Traffic
6.                   Munich
7.                   A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
8.                   Inglourious Basterds
9.                   The Royal Tenenbaums
10.               The New World
11.               Children of Men
12.               Requiem for a Dream
13.               Million Dollar Baby
14.               The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
15.               No Country for Old Men
16.               Man on Wire
17.               City of God
18.               Memento
19.               Amores Perros
20.               Zodiac
21.               Mulholland Drive
22.               Best in Show
23.               Brokeback Mountain
24.               Where the Wild Things Are
25.               Pan’s Labyrinth
26.               The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
27.               Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
28.               The Dark Knight
29.               Spirited Away
30.               The Passion of the Christ
31.               Waltz with Bashir
32.               The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
33.               Adaptation
34.               Gosford Park
35.               Finding Nemo
36.               Letters from Iwo Jima
37.               King Kong
38.               The Pianist
39.               In the Bedroom
40.               Y Tu Mama Tambien
41.               I’m Not There
42.               Catch Me If You Can
43.               The Man Who Wasn’t There
44.               District 9
45.               Borat
46.               Apocalypto
47.               O Brother, Where Art Thou?
48.               21 Grams
49.               Finding Neverland
50.               Let the Right One In

Jonathan's List (no partcicular order)

Royal Tenenbaums
25th Hour
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Inglorious Basterds
Assassination of Jesse James
The Dark Knight
Road to Perdition
The King of Kong
Casino Royale
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
About Schmidt
The Incredibles
Half Nelson
Amores Perros
Inland Empire
The Class
Me, You, and Everyone We Know
Best in Show
New World
Walk Hard
The Departed
Lost in Translation
No Country for Old Men
The Pianist
Mulholland Drive
There ill Be Blood
I'm Not There
Ghost World
Before Sunset
The Wrestler
Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Sin City
History of Violence
Russian Ark
Y tu Mama Tambien
Pan's Labyrinth
Brokeback Mountain
Talk to Her
Team America

Joe's List (not in order)

LOTR Trilogy
Gosford Park
Monster's Ball
Mulholland Drive
Royal Tenebaums
The Pianist
Minority Report
Catch Me if You Can
Spirited Away
Kill Bill
Lost in Translation
City of God
Finding Nemo
Million Dollar Baby
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Passion
Sin City   
Match Point   
King Kong   
Brokeback Mountain
United 93   
Children of Men   
Pan's Labyrinth   
The Departed   
Letters from Iwo Jima   
The Lives of Others
No Country for Old Men   
There Will Be Blood   
I'm Not There   
The Assassination of Jesse James   
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Slumdog Millionaire   
Let the Right One In   
The Dark Knight   
Man on Wire   
The Fall   
The Wrestler
Inglourious Basterds   
O Brother Where Art Thou
Requiem for a Dream
Artificial Intelligence

Combined List, w/ Votes

The Lord of the Rings (3)
Mulholland Drive (3)
The Royal Tenenbaums (3)
The Pianist (3)
Kill Bill (3)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (3)
Brokeback Mountain (3)
Pan’s Labyrinth (3)
No Country for Old Men (3)
There Will Be Blood (3)
I’m Not There (3)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (3)
The Dark Knight (3)
Inglourious Basterds (3)
Traffic (3)
Memento (2)
Amelie (2)
Gosford Park (2)
Catch Me If You Can (2)
Spirited Away (2)
Lost in Translation (2)
City of God (2)
Finding Nemo (2)
Million Dollar Baby (2)
The Passion of the Christ (2)
Sin City (2)
Munich (2)
King Kong (2)
United 93 (2)
Children of Men (2)
The Departed (2)
Apocalypto (2)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2)
Let the Right One In (2)
Man on Wire (2)
The Wrestler (2)
O Brother Where Art Thou? (2)
Requiem for a Dream (2)
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2)
Borat (2)
The New World (2)
Amores Perros (2)
Zodiac (2)
Best in Show (2)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2)
Waltz with Bashir (2)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2)
Where the Wild Things Are
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
In the Bedroom
Monster’s Ball
Minority Report
The Fall
Match Point
The Man Who Wasn’t There
District 9
21 Grams
Finding Neverland
25th Hour
Road to Perdition
The Lives of Others
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Slumdog Millionaire
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Casino Royale
About Schmidt
The Incredibles
Half Nelson
Inland Empire
The Class
Me, You, and Everyone We Know
Walk Hard
Ghost World
Before Sunset
A History of Violence
Russian Ark
Talk to Her
Team America: World Police

Friday, September 18, 2009

5 More Songs from the 2000s

La de da de dee...

Joanna Newsom "Monkey & Bear"
I downloaded a leaked copy of this album, so it felt like I had been listening to it at least a month before it came out. Of all the songs on Ys, this is the one that struck me the quickest and has stayed with me. Like most great albums, I have been obsessed with other tracks ("Cosmia" and "Sawdust and Diamonds") for periods of time, but this is really the track I listen to most. Quite simply, I think Joanna Newsom is the best lyricist in pop music. She keeps rolling over rhymes that slant against each other and vary in rhythm and line length:
My heart is a furnace
Full of love that's just, and earnest
Now; you know that we must unlearn this
Allegiance to a life of service
And no longer answer to that heartless
Hay-monger, nor be his accomplice
"Hay-monger" cracks me up because it shows she has humor too. "But still...they had got to pay the bills...hadn't they...that is what the monkey'd say" which is such a delightful turn and reveal on perspective. I saw her perform the entire album live with the Atlanta Symphony and the finale with its descending melody and long couplets was mesmerizing. Did I mention Van Dyke Park's arrangements? Subtle and effective on this track. I think this song works as an allegory for Newsom's own relationship to art (Newsom as bear possibly?), especially given this album's antiquated references, long songs, and general weirdness/lack of crossover potential.

Rogue Wave "Publish My Love"
Once the cool kids got off the Shins bandwagon, they smartly started liking Rogue Wave. This is the song I heard on WUSC that caused me to pick up the phone and find out who this band was. A rather simple alternative rock song with a terrific bridge and verse rather than a soaring chorus.

Midlake "Roscoe"
I think of Midlake as the indie version of Fleetwood Mac, and this song just bubbles with pathos and heartache. But it's all covered in this 70s shagginess that I really take to. I liked one other song from this album, so this song happens to be an anomaly. That's sad, because if they don't have a Rumours in them, they might have a Tusk.

Vampire Weekend "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"
Perfect little guitar riff with really exquisite percussion/drums (love the sound of the ride symbol hit with the snare during the second verse). This song reminds of the beach and summers and songs with choruses that won't get out of your head and your feeling that that's perfectly ok because it's a great chorus.

Sun Kil Moon "Carry Me Ohio"
It's the glockenspiel that comes in at the song's end that seals the musical deal here. Kozelek can conjure up romantic pathos with the best of them, and this was my jam when I first heard the song in 2003 before the album came out. In between the almost kitschy reminiscences of the acoustic "Glenn Tipton" and the Neil Young/Crazy Horse fueled "Salvador Sanchez", this song mixed distorted guitars with Koz's penchant for memory-conjuring. The quintessential Kozelek line: "Can't count to all the lovers I've burned through / So why do I still burn for you...I can't say." Such articulation in a line that claims an inability to articulate. Love it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

5 more songs from the 2000s

And the beat goes on...

M83 "Don't Save Us From the Flames"
I heard this song first in a car commercial that ran during the Texas/USC Rose Bowl in 2006. Apt, as this is the BEST car driving song of the decade. I love the sound of M83's drums and the two single note guitar lines that keep crossing against each other in Interpol-esque ways. And the vocals. Well, I can't really understand much of anything the frontman's saying, but that only means I get to falsetto my brains out with whatever comes to mind during the insane rush of the chorus.

Feist "I Feel it All"
I know. "1, 2, 3, 4." Well, that song is great, but it didn't grab me. The two songs I listened to 30 times each when I first got this album was "My Moon, My Man" (the drums in the middle eight and the vocal harmonies that immediately follow it) and this song. Again, it's about the musical touches. The first chorus: "I love you more" and you have this great little trilly piano line. And THEN after "I don't know what I knew before" you have the same line, but in a two note harmony form. I LOVE that. That's the song for me.

White Denim "I Can Tell"
White Denim is the 60s one hit rockers Nuggets project rolled into one band. The drums on this song just swing (More cowbell!), and the bassist remains the hidden ingredient of this band's success. That stacatto roll he goes on during the riff is great. Love the tiny touch of keyboard as well. "Did you forget to take your medicine, honey?"

Team America "America, Fuck Yeah"
The companion piece to Frank Stallone's "Peace in our Life" EXCEPT it's hilarious as all get out AND manages to distill every bad patriotic song of the last decade into a high-octane call and response frenzy. And if you don't like it, well, lick my butt and suck on my balls.

Ryan Adams "Carolina Rain"
This is the best story song that Adams has ever written. It has a great opening guitar line and earns its vocal and musical climax. As anyone who has heard "The End" knows, he's always eating eggs. "One night at the diner over eggs...over easy she showed me the length of her legs." And the next couplet is the kicker: "But that gold plated cross on her neck it was real / And you don't get that kind of money from pushing a meal." And the fantastic blending of Caroline and Carolina. "29" is one of those albums that I instinctively say I like even though I only listen to three or four of the songs just because those 3 or 4 songs (this one, "29", "Nightbirds", "Elizabeth, you were born to play the part") are SO good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Five More Songs of the 2000s

The list continues...

Death Cab for Cutie "For What Reason"
In the fall of 2001, I studied abroad. I brought three albums with me, and two of them were awful. As a result, I was eagerly eating up anything anyone gave me, and a fellow MSU student gave me this album by Death Cab (their second) in exchange for Jeff Buckley's Grace. Great picked riff and a soaring chorus. But it was the words in the verse/chorus transition: "so slick with that sarcastic slough." Ben Gibbard never bested this album's lyrics.

Mindy Smith "Come to Jesus"
If Christian music were more like this, I would listen to it. I saw the video for this song on CMT, and I immediately loved it. The production isn't too slick and Mindy doesn't blow out her pipes. Understated, soulful, and far more moving than anything the CCM market generated this decade.

Of Montreal "Lysergic Bliss"
The night I found out that the pastor of the church I was attending commited suicide, I decided to go to an Of Montreal show. It was a great show, when they were still making rock music and not trying to recreate Berlin-era Bowie glam. Lysergic Bliss hit me and still does with its use of the word "vertiginous", three-part structure, and accordingly conflicted thoughts on love: "somehow inside hopeful and sad." The coda is pure Steely Dan keyboard circa "You'll go back, Jack" with killer harmonies draped over the top. Alright, children. Remember your breathing.

Strokes "Barely Legal"
"Aw Mama running out of luck / and like my sister, don't give a fuck." I came to this party six years after the room had cleared. There was still something left for the late crowd though, like...a string of terrific bass lines, for instance. But this particular track stuck because of its two-note guitar lead in between verse and chorus. The bass takes over the melody in the chorus, and when I listened to it, I hear a week spent in St. Louis during Summer 2007.

Omarion/Mylo Mash-up "Drop the Icebox Pressure"
I discovered the mash-up a couple of years ago, a wonderful musical concoction where two songs become one in ways both beneficial and horrifying. Underrated? The Sexual Healing/High and Dry Gaye/Radiohead mash-up. But this my favorite. Its canvas is two run of the mill songs; in fact, I can't stand the Omarion song in its original form. But the result is better than any other R and B song this decade (excepting Amerie's One Thing...more on this later).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fave Songs of the 2000s

Laudable post by T. Azimuth. I'm not going to compete with his in-depth analysis. Over the the next couple of weeks, I want to get out my list, but I'm not going to cap it. I'm going to try to do five tracks at a time and add some commentary. The order of these songs does indicate some preferential treatment. They're the ones I remembered first.

Andrew Bird - "Weather Systems"
The exact moment Bird stopped being a frontman and became a chamber-pop maestro. Love the whistling at the track's end. Search out the Blogoteque version of this song with him walking down the streets of Paris with just his violin.

Deerhoof - "The Galaxist"
I really loved two songs off the Friend Opportunity album: this one and "Believe E.S.P." Both have fantastic breakdowns. I chose this one because of its internal variety; it's a two minute forty second mini-suite with compressed dynamics/pop sensibility/crazy uncanny drum figures/killer three note guitar lick in the breakdown.

Mates of State - "Ha ha"
It's in the song's first minute. The drums cut, and the keyboard plays the repeating riff over a changing bass line. The the drums come back in on fire. The day I got this album, I probably listened to that part alone ten consecutive times. Really fantastic live song too.

LCD Soundsystem - "Us v. Them"
Starts taking off about three minutes in when the hi-hat tightens up and starts getting pelted with sixteenth notes. Great bass line in that middle section too. Didn't like this song initially until they led off with it when I saw them at Virgin Music Fest in 07. Then I couldn't get enough. Terrific running song/slow burn/dance groove with intricate percussion.

My Brightest Diamond - "Golden Star"
If you don't like the last minute of this song, you don't like MBD. Her dead on female Buckley impersonation reaches a peak on the album's second track. LOVED this entire album, but would always give people this song first because her strengths are so crystallized here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kenny's Top 25 Songs of the 2000s

ED. NOTE: This was supposed to be comment on the previous post, but it was too long. Please think of it as a continuation of that conversation.

Here's a crack at the top 25 songs of the decade. Even moreso than last time, this list is highly, highly personal and (obviously) subjective. I had two requirements: 1) the song needed to stand on its own merit as, at worst, a 4 out of 5 star song, and 2) it needed to reach me in a way that I couldn't shake. Now, what that looks like changes: in some cases, it was a guitar solo or a hook in the melody--something that would get in my head and then come pouring out whenever I tried to write. In others, it was a line, a lyric or a rhyme that struck me as so profound, my 2002 self couldn't help but post it as his "away message" on AIM. Lastly (and maybe worst of all) are songs that fused so completely with a place, person or moment in my life this decade that I don't have any choice but to love (or maybe hate) them. Unlike the albums list, I'll try to offer explanations for my choices. Here goes, in chronological order:

*** "Song" by Artist (Album) ***

"The Cedar Room" by Doves (Lost Souls)
The first sprawling arena rock song I ever heard that nonetheless felt intimate. Amazing bass hook, tight and memorable chorus, and one of Doves' often stunning and simple lead lines.

"Storm: Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven)
I could never review this song or its impact on me. The first 7 minutes are so, so incredibly beautiful and triumphant...and from there, the song does everything--everything--post-rock can do right. Eye-opening. Gorgeous. Perfect.

"Daylight" by Aesop Rock (Labor Days)
I know this is embarrassing to admit, but this was the first rap song I ever liked. I still struggle to like the genre, but because of this song, I feel like I can see a glimmer of what makes it so appealing for so many people. It's intelligent, angry and challenging.

"The Luckiest" by Ben Folds (Rockin' the Suburbs)
Rockin' the Suburbs was the album where my '90s-long love affair with Ben Folds as a musician and (especially) as a lyricist came crashing to the ground in a crazy, beautiful fireball. There are so many things I love about that record--"Fred Jones Part 2," especially, which finished off my favorite BFF song, "Cigarette"--but it also marked the beginning of my decade long hatred of overproduction. "The Luckiest" is everything wonderful and terrible about Ben Folds in a single song: strong lyrics, a genuine heart beating inside it...but wrapped in gloopy reverb, swelling with unironic strings, and so awkwardly placed at the end of the record as his "closer." But I nearly cry almost every time. It's also the rare song Meredith and I have shared: she walked down the aisle to a harp rendition of it.

"Idioteque" by Radiohead (I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings)
While I'm doing confessions, here's a doozy: I listened to my first Radiohead album during the fall of 2001, 4 years after "OK Computer" made them the default "best band" of their generation and another year after "Amnesiac." To say I was late to the scene is an understatement. In any case, my roommate that fall was a big fan of "The Bends," and at his prompting, I listened to it while delivering pizza for a month. I was hooked by the obvious fare: "Fake Plastic Trees" was a beautiful and haunting song, "Just" ripped it up, etc. I followed "The Bends" a few weeks later with "OK Computer," which I had always heard was good but which I had never listened to at all. I was so out of the loop with that record that I literally didn't know Radiohead had written "Karma Police" until I heard it on the CD. That record grabbed me like no record has before or sense--I was totally overwhelmed, again for all the reasons you would expect. But perhaps strangely, my love for "OK Computer" was so intense, I refused to go on to "Kid A" or "Amnesiac" for months afterward. I had never listened to anything but alternative rock, and I was sure I would hate what everyone called their "electronic" album. So, at Christmas, I picked up "I Might Be Wrong" on a whim, figuring live versions of a smattering of songs from "Kid A" and "Amnesiac" might ease me into those records. I also bought it for "True Love Waits," which I had heard on a mixtape. To condense this story a bit, the version of "Idioteque" on that record became the bridge for me between Radiohead as a "rock" band and Radiohead as a band honestly attempting to explore the aesthetic boundaries of music to the full extent their talents would carry them. I had never, ever thought of music that way before. After "Idioteque," for better and often for worse, I didn't want to think of it in any other way.

"This Magnificent Bird Will Rise" by Deerhoof (Reveille)
I'll keep this entry short: this song allowed me to see Deerhoof as a bridge between the soundscapes of post-rock and the pop experimentalism weaving its way through indie rock during the decade. This was good for me. Without it, I would never have gotten to Danielson, Deerhunter, The Books, Joanna Newsome and so many other artists.

"Cinema Air" by The Gloria Record (Start Here)
I know I am the only person in the world that loves this band, and I'll admit its not entirely warranted. But this song is brilliant, and it spoke to me so deeply and truly in 2001-2004, as I was seeing 50-70 movies in the theater a year, collecting 400+ DVDs and basically glutting myself on what has remained my favorite art form. Great opening line, too: "They say the city swallows trees / And I am responsible / Because I am indifferent to these things. / Got blood on my windshield / Why, there must be hundreds / Of movies in my head" Love the wandering piano, too.

"Hurt" by Johnny Cash (American IV)
This is not a revolutionary pick, I know...but if you don't immediately agree with it, listen to it again. Maybe the best cover of the decade.

"Untitled 8" by Sigur Ros (())
That was fun to type. This barely edged "Untitled 3," which marked the single most amazing moment in a concert I have ever experienced in my life. The difference: that bad, bad, bad ass drum solo at the end of "8." Gorgeous, and more emotionally ragged than most of their songs.

"Red Right Ankle" by The Decemberists (Her Majesty)
God, this is a beautiful and fragile song. It should never work, but it makes me want to weep. Fantastic pairing of his voice, lyrical style and music.

"Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky (Earth Is Not A Cold, Dead Place)
I don’t remember why I bought Explosions in the Sky’s first record anymore. I don’t remember the first time I listened to it. But I do remember when I first realized how amazing it was. My friend Alex and I were building a puzzle in his dorm room, strangely enough, while we waited on my brother to come by so we could go to lunch. After being underwhelmed by “Those Who Tell The Truth…,” I had given the CD to Alex, who had earlier turned me on to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. He hadn’t remarked on it, but while we were waiting, “Have You Passed Through This Night” came on the stereo. The track opens with dialogue sampled from Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. We recognized the voice, but before we could place it, the drums kicked in on the song, stuttering through a two-measure fill before the guitar and bass erupt on the track. It took us both by surprise, and we listened to the rest of the song without talking or working on the puzzle or looking for my brother. When it was over, we immediately burned him a copy of the CD and I took my original back to listen to that afternoon in my room. I was floored by it. Two years later, when Explosions in the Sky released “The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place,” I bought it on the day it came out, and there at the end of the album, I found what still seems to me to be the perfect distillation of what stunned me sitting in my friend’s dorm room, wedded to a love for melody and beauty that is missing in the work of so many other post-rock bands. A few years later, Explosions remixed “Your Hand In Mine” for the Friday Night Lights soundtrack, and again, the result proved to be that rarest thing in my ultra-cynical, hipster-ironic music catalog: something simply, honestly beautiful.

"Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)" by Sufjan Stevens (Greetings From Michigan!)
This is an odd choice for me. There are Sufjan songs that I love more: “Predatory Wasp of the Palisades,” “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “To Be Alone With You,” “Pittsfield”—maybe even a half dozen more. There are also better Sufjan songs: “Romulus,” “Gacy,” even “Chicago.” But “Flint” is the song that sold me on Sufjan. It’s a haunting and sincere track, and the quavering of Sufjan’s voice during the chorus which is just a bit too high for him was so moving to me, even on my first listen, that I trusted him for the rest of that album. If it hadn’t been for “Flint,” I don’t think I would have been ready for some of what Sufjan was doing (and continues to do) as a musician.

"Pancho Villa" by Sun Kil Moon (Ghosts of the Great Highway)
This write up is shorter: I am madly in love with the rhythm on the acoustic guitar in this song. Madly. In. Love.

"Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes (Elephant)
Short again: I am madly in love with the bass riff in this song. It was hard to pick a White Stripes song, and in some ways, it seemed like a bit of a put on—but anybody that knows me knows how much I love the intersection between indie rock and blues rock. I love Jack White’s guitar tone. I love the simplicity of his chord structures. I’m not always sold on his lyricism, but this song just flat out rocks.

"Sonho Dourado" by Daniel Lanois (Friday Night Lights: Soundtrack)
Cheesy pick, but an important one for me (and a song that, in all sincerity, is totally underrated). For me, “Sonho Dourado” was the song that finally changed my mind about guitar solos. I had postured for a long time that “real” guitar solos were ones that enhanced the melody and emotion of a song, not dick-waggling exercises in petty showmanship. But deep in my heart, I still envied Eddie Van Halen (and even worse, the douche in the music store finger-tapping Van Halen on a ruby red Stratocaster). With this track, Lanois showed me how to merge these two ideas: he finally showed me how impressive—truly impressive—the right kind of lead guitar work could be. Don’t get me wrong; I still can’t do it. But now I know what I’m looking for.

"I Don't Believe You" by The Magnetic Fields (i)
Greatest. Opening lines. Ever. It took me a long time to figure out why my gut kept insisting the Magnetic Fields were amazing (“69 Love Songs” was the answer), but this was definitely the song that kept them on my mind. Also: who else has ever rhymed “ampersand”?

"Ocean Breathes Salty" by Modest Mouse (Good News for People Who Love Bad News)
Another song with lyrics that I’ve never been able to shake. “You wasted life / Why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife”? Awesome. Not my favorite Modest Mouse song (easily “Wild Pack of Family Dogs”), but a really good mix of everything they do well: thought-provoking, occasionally rocking, and always hovering just outside the mainstream, taunting the emo kids. I love it.

"Against Pollution" by The Mountain Goats (We Shall All Be Healed)
Still my favorite Mountain Goats song. Again, devastatingly sincere lyrics do the trick, but I have to add to that the way this song reminded me so profoundly of my brother in 2004-5. Not to get too personal, but my brother was and is my best friend, and in the year or so following my getting married and moving to Columbia, he sunk into a bit of a pit. He was out of school, in a job with devastating hours and (although he wouldn’t admit it to this day) a bit alone. But deep down, he was, of course, still the amazing and loving guy he always was…that guy was just getting beat up a little bit. Anyway, there’s something in the resignation of Darnielle’s protagonist here that struck me as hauntingly and achingly true: when the narrator says after shooting a robber that he “would do it again,” he’s not being cruel, macho or masochistic: he’s being horrifyingly honest.

"3xO" by Pinback (Summer in Abaddon)
Two stories for the price of one! I ALSO discovered Pinback via Alex’s stereo shuffle while building a puzzle in his dorm room. The weirdest part is that we only built two puzzles in three years. Maybe we should have built more. A brief note on the song: awesome drums, guitars that don’t sound like they could possibly be normal guitars, and hooks that don’t give you a sugar rush after you hear them. Also: one of the most amazing codas I have ever heard. Totally rocks.

"Masterfade" by Andrew Bird (The Mysterious Production of Eggs)
Again, lyrics carry the day. Bird’s depiction of a man struggling with the mathematics of faith is stunningly and perfectly managed.

"The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades" by Sufjan Stevens (Come On, Feel the Illinoise)
Love, love, love the bridge, and this is by far my favorite use of horns in any Sufjan song.

"European Oils" by Destroyer (Rubies)
Holy of holies, the pause and kick-in to the solo on this song is so, so awesome. I’m not really sure what else to say about it—I like most everything about it, despite its strangeness.

"Chinese Translation" by M. Ward (Post-War)
It seems to me there’s a timeless hum to Ward’s vocals—something warm and familiar, but also adrift, as if he was unaware of an audience—that is so well matched to the subject material in this song. I can’t think of anyone else’s voice pulling off a song like this, which recites, in back-to-back verses, the questions of a wandering youth to a prophet and then that prophet’s reply (which, awesomely, are the same). A wonderful match of singer, song and musicianship.

"Nantes" by Beirut (The Flying Club Cup)
Is there anyone on the indie scene under 25 doing more interesting work than Zach Condon? Beirut doesn’t always get things right, but they fuse sincerity and curiosity so well, their music is always, always worth hearing. For me, “Nantes” does it best: the song is catchy and, in essence, a pop song; but inexplicably, the solo is a sample of a French woman in an argument with an unnamed man, accented by the (deliberately in tune) sound of breaking dishes. Who in their right mind would expect they would be humming THAT all day?

"In Our Talons" by Bowerbirds (Hymns For a Dark Horse)
At a loss, here. I love the accordion, I reeeally love the bass drum, and the echoes are all excellent. I guess I’m not sure exactly how to explain this song, other than to say that there’s something strange and familiar in it, and I keep coming back to it, again and again.

"7/4" by Broken Social Scene (Broken Social Scene)
Of all the songs on this list, I’m sure this one needs the least explanation. It’s technical exercise that, by some combination of brilliant musicianship, turns itself into an absolutely convincing pop song. Brilliant, memorable and unshakable.

"The Gardner" by The Tallest Man on Earth (Shallow Grave)
I’ve had this song on my iPod for less than two months and it had already made its way into my top 20 most played songs. Crazy-brilliant lyrics and a wonderful rhythm guitar line make for the best coffee shop song ever…or at least that would be the case if anyone else could sing it and make it seem so effortless. Best verse of the year: “I know that runner’s going to tell you / There ain’t no cowboy in my hat / So now he’s buried by the daisies / So I could stay the tallest man, in your eyes, babe.”

Whew. That took an incredibly long time, but to be honest, it was a lot of fun. I hope you guys made it through this. If not, that’s okay, too.

I look forward to your lists.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Best Music of the Decade

What? Me want to make a list? I know, it's incredible.

But seriously. Just read this:
and I'm pissed.

No Andrew Bird? 1 mention of Sufjan Stevens? No Outkast? No LCD Soundsystem? No retroactive votes for Frank Stallone? Did no one listen to music this decade?

So, let's start with albums and songs that got you. Twenty albums. Twenty songs. No numbers needed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Recommended Viewing

Okay. It's been awhile since anyone has posted here. I thought I would start a thread concerning must see television and film. I've been listening to more film podcasts, and there are probably fifteen films I want to see reasonably badly, but the question is always time. I haven't seen Umberto D yet. I haven't seen F is for Fake or any number of other cult classics. Why spend time going to see Funny People?

So, I'm going to start a list of things I want to see/feel like it's a shame I haven't seen and then hopefully get some responses back from the peanut gallery. So many films/ little time.

TV: I want to watch the 3rd season of Dexter. I really enjoyed the first two, and I simply haven't had the follow through to get through the rest of Season 3.
I want to finally watch the rest of Twin Peaks Season 2. I always get bogged down after they catch Laura's murderer.

Film: I want to go on a Kurosawa tear. Yojimbo, Ran, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, etc. etc. etc.
In general, I want to beef up on my foreign film library. Those films force you to sit and pay attention, and my short attention span just isn't allowing me extending viewing.

What say you?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Few Projects for the '00s

It's been awhile, but I came to a realization this weekend that I think warrants a discussion or two. About a month and a half ago, we went through each decade and tried to set aside the five 'most essential' films for that period. I thought that process went really well, but I think we missed a pretty interesting conversation: this year is 2009, technically the last year of the '00s, and we haven't talked about what this decade's 'essential films' are. So, my suggestion is that we do that. I think all the contributors/readers here should try to put together a list of at least 5 and no more than 10 movies from this decade that they deem 'essential,' and then we'll duke it out in the comments.

I'm also interested in having a conversation about what films are looming on the horizon this year that might be worth getting excited about (and might make these lists). Let me know if you think that's a good idea, and I'll start a new thread.

Okay, I'll get to work on at least the first project and have a list up some time tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

2004 "Shouldawonit" Oscars

BEST ACTOR (Jamie Foxx / Ray):
Johnny Depp / Finding Neverland (1 vote)
Jim Caviezel / The Passion of the Christ (1 vote)

BEST ACTRESS (Hilary Swank / Million Dollar Baby):
Hillary Swank / Million Dollar Baby (2 votes)

BEST DIRECTOR (Clint Eastwood / Million Dollar Baby):
Clint Eastwood / Million Dollar Baby (1 vote)
Mel Gibson / The Passion of the Christ (1 vote)

BEST PICTURE (Million Dollar Baby):
Million Dollar Baby (2 votes)

2005 "Shouldawonit" Oscars

BEST ACTOR (Philip Seymour Hoffman / Capote):
Heath Ledger / Brokeback Mountain (2 votes)

BEST ACTRESS (Reese Witherspoon / Walk the Line):
Felicity Huffman / Transamerica (1 vote)

BEST DIRECTOR (Ang Lee / Brokeback Mountain):
Ang Lee / Brokeback Mountain (1 vote)
Chan Wook Park / Oldboy (1 vote)

Munich (1 vote)
King Kong (1 vote)

Monday, March 2, 2009

2006 "Shouldawonit" Oscars

Next verse, same as the first:

BEST ACTOR (Forest Whitaker / The Last King of Scotland):
Tommy Lee Jones / The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (1 vote)
Forest Whitaker / The Last King of Scotland (1 vote)
Ryan Gosling / Half Nelson (1 vote)

BEST ACTRESS (Helen Mirren / The Queen):
Kate Winslet / Little Children (3 votes)

BEST DIRECTOR (Martin Scorsese / The Departed):
Paul Greengrass / United 93 (1 vote)
Alfonso Cuaron / Children of Men (2 votes)

BEST PICTURE (The Departed):
United 93 (2 votes)
Pan's Labyrinth (1 vote)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

2007 "Shouldawonit" Oscars

Same drill. Here's a list (actual winners are in parenthesis):

BEST ACTOR (Daniel Day-Lewis):
Daniel Day-Lewis (3 votes)

BEST ACTRESS (Marion Cotillard):
Cate Blanchett (2 votes)
Ellen Page (1 vote)

P. T. Anderson (3 votes)

BEST PICTURE (No Country For Old Men):
There Will Be Blood (2 votes)
No Country For Old Men (1 vote)

2008 "Shouldawonit" Oscars

That's it: I'm throwing down the gauntlet. Gaston, we talked the other night about a new list project: the "Shouldawonit Oscar Awards." We take the 4 Big Categories--Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture--and we list the REAL winners for each year. I think the smart way to do this is to work backwards from 2008. So, let's get to it: I declare this post the post for 2008. Let's use the comments section to actually haggle the nominees. I'll keep a running tally of vote-getters here in the main post.

Mickey Rourke (3 votes)

Kate Winslet (3 vote)

Danny Boyle (3 votes)

Man On Wire (1 vote)
Slumdog Millionaire (1 vote)
There Will Be Blood (1 vote). Yep.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Greatest Living Directors

Did you see this? If not, read it. Then discuss.,,20259843,00.html

Friday, February 13, 2009

50 Fave Albums

What Azimuth, a pretty accurate list of the albums I've listened to the most all time. I may actually think another album by the artist is BETTER, but I like more songs on this one or have spent much more time listening to another.

Allman Brothers / Allman Bros.
The Beatles / Revolver
The Beatles / Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Beach Boys / Pet Sounds
Andrew Bird / Mysterious Production of Eggs
Jeff Buckley / Grace
Neko Case / Furnace Room Lullabye
John Coltrane / Africa Brass Sessions
John Coltrane / The Complete Live at the Village Vanguard
Miles Davis / Kind of Blue
Death Cab for Cutie / We Have the Facts, and We’re Voting Yes
Nick Drake / Pink Moon
Bob Dylan / Bringing it All Back Home
Hedwig and the Angry Inch / Film Soundtrack
Jimi Hendrix / Live at the Fillmore East
Jefferson Airplane / Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Michael Jackson / Off the Wall
LCD Soundsystem /Sound of Silver
Led Zeppelin / I
Model Engine / Lean Years Tradition
My Brightest Diamond /Bring Me the Workhorse
Neutral Milk Hotel / Aeroplane Flies Over the Sea
Nirvana / Nevermind
Oasis /What’s the Story, Morning Glory
Pavement / Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Pearl Jam / Vs.
Pink Floyd /Dark Side of the Moon
The Posies / Frosting on the Beater
Radiohead / OK Computer
Red House Painters / Rollercoaster
Rogue Wave /Descended Like Vultures
Rolling Stones / Let It Bleed
Rolling Stones / Exile on Main St.
Ryan Adams / Jacksonville City Nights
Sigur Ros / Aegytus Byrjun
Smashing Pumpkins / Siamese Dream
Elliott Smith / Self-titled
The Smiths / Hatful of Hollow
Son Volt / Trace
Soundgarden / Superunknown
Bruce Springsteen / Born to Run
Starflyer 59 / Americana
Sufjan Stevens / Greetings From Michigan!
The Sundays / Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Sunny Day Real Estate / How it Feels to be Something On…
Supergrass / I Should Coco
Uncle Tupelo / Still Feel Gone
The Who / Who’s Next
Weezer / Pinkerton
Wilco / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top 50 Favorite Albums

So, this is a pretty big shift from our last few topics. I'm not going for "Top 50 Albums Ever"...I'm not even going for the "Top 50" I own. Instead, this is a list of my "Top 50 Favorite Albums," defined here as the albums I couldn't live without. Now sure, some of these are indispensable to me because I think they're great--hence, Beatles, Who, etc.--but what's motivating my selections is not objective quality but rather totally, irresponsibly subjective love. To that end, this is my list. If anyone else wants to post a list as a separate entry, go for it: we can use the comments on this entry as a place to discuss these albums. But if you want to add a list here under the comments section, that's fine, too. The goal here--in addition to simply sharing--is to try and open a dia(b)logue about music we love and why it is we love it. I'll begin, in alphabetical order:

1. Aesop Rock / Labor Days
2. The Beatles / Revolver
3. Beck / Odelay
4. Beirut / Gulag Orkestar
5. The Black Keys / Rubber Factory
6. Blind Willie McTell / Atlanta Twelve String
7. Bob Dylan / The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
8. Bob Dylan / Highway 61 Revisited
9. Bruce Springsteen / Nebraska
10. Built to Spill / Keep It Like A Secret
11. The Clash / London Calling
12. Dead Kennedys / Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
13. Destroyer / Rubies
14. Elliott Smith / XO
15. Explosions in the Sky / The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
16. The Flaming Lips / Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
17. Fugazi / 13 Songs
18. Godspeed You! Black Emperor / F#A#[infinity]
19. Godspeed You! Black Emperor / Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
20. Jeff Buckley / Grace
21. Joanna Newsom / Ys
22. Joni Mitchell / Blue
23. Lauryn Hill / The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
24. The Magnetic Fields / 69 Love Songs
25. Modest Mouse / The Moon & Antarctica
26. Mogwai / Young Team
27. The Mountain Goats / Tallahassee
28. Neutral Milk Hotel / In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
29. Nick Drake / Bryter Layter
30. Nirvana / MTV Unplugged in New York
31. Pavement / Slanted and Enchanted
32. Pedro the Lion / It's Hard to Find a Friend
33. Pixies / Surfer Rosa
34. Pixies / Doolittle
35. Radiohead / The Bends
36. Radiohead / OK Computer
37. Rage Against the Machine / Rage Against the Machine
38. Ramones / Ramones
39. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals / Jacksonville City Nights
40. Sex Pistols / Never Mind the Bollocks
41. Sigur Ros / Agaetis Byrjun
42. Silverchair / Frogstomp
43. Slint / Spiderland
44. Smashing Pumpkins / Siamese Dream
45. Stone Temple Pilots / Core
46. Sufjan Stevens / Greetings from Michigan!
47. The Velvet Undergrond / The Velvet Underground & Nico
48. Weezer / Pinkerton
49. The Who / Who's Next
50. Wilco / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desert Island Mixtape

You've got one 80 minute CD-R to take with you to a desert island. Cram it full of songs and post your list.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

90s Films

Gaston's Films

Hoop Dreams
All About My Mother
Pulp Fiction

Honorable Mention:
Schindler’s List

Azimuth's Films

1. Schindler's List
2. Pulp Fiction
3. Life is Beautiful
4. Miller's Crossing
5. Unforgiven

Honorable Mention:

6. Fargo
7. Goodfellas
8. Silence of the Lambs
9. Beauty and the Beast
10. The Shawshank Redemption

80s Films

Gaston's Films

Blade Runner
Blue Velvet
Do the Right Thing
Raging Bull

Honorable Mention:
Once Upon a Time in America

Azimuth's Films

Best Films, 1980-1989

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
2. Raging Bull
3. Ran
4. The Elephant Man
5. Blade Runner

Notable Films, 1980-1989

6. Brazil
7. E.T.--The Extra-Terrestrial
8. The Last Temptation of Christ
9. The Right Stuff
10. Platoon

70s Films

Gaston's Films

Godfather II
Days of Heaven
The Deerhunter

Honorable Mention:

Azimuth's Films

Best Films, 1970-1979

1. The Godfather
2. The Godfather, Part II
3. Chinatown
4. Annie Hall
5. Jaws

Notable Films, 1970-1979

6. Star Wars
7. Taxi Driver
8. Days of Heaven
9. Apocalypse Now
10. Network
(tie: Nashville)

60s Films

Gaston's Films

8 ½
Lawrence of Arabia
2001: A Space Odyssey

Honorable Mention:

Azimuth's Films

1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. The Graduate
3. Psycho
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
5. Dr. Strangelove

Notable Films, 1960-1969

6. To Kill A Mockingbird
7. Easy Rider
8. The Apartment
9. 8 1/2
10. Midnight Cowboy

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The 50s

Gaston's Films

Singin’ in the Rain
Seven Samurai
The Searchers
Seventh Seal

Honorable Mention:

Azimuth's Films

Best Films, 1950-1959

1. The Searchers
2. Seven Samurai
3. La Dolce Vita
4. On the Waterfront
5. The Seventh Seal

Notable Films, 1950-1959

6. Rashomon
7. Vertigo
8. A Streetcar Named Desire
9. High Noon
10. Sunset Blvd.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The 40s

Gaston's Films

Out of the Past
Citizen Kane
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bicycle Thieves

Honorable Mention:
Shadow of a Doubt

Azimuth's Films
Best Films, 1940-1949

1. Citizen Kane
2. Casablanca
3. Bicycle Thieves
4. The Maltese Falcon
5. The Third Man

Notable Films, 1940-1949

6. The Great Dictator
7. It's A Wonderful Life
8. Sullivan's Travels
9. The Lost Weekend
10. Double Indemnity

The 30s

Okay. Here's what we start with. Five films per decade, one honorable mention. Between the two of us, that's a possible twelve films, which should approach the cream of the crop. My choices are my faves which are functionally my choices for best. Once we work our way through each decade we can start the responses about the best decade...

Gaston's list

City Lights
Trouble in Paradise
Duck Soup
Gone With the Wind

Honorable Mention:
The Lady Vanishes

Azimuth's List

Azimuth's Films

Best Films, 1930-1939

1. Gone With the Wind
2. It Happened One Night
3. Duck Soup
4. Bride of Frankenstein
5. The Wizard of Oz

Notable Films, 1930-1939

6. All Quiet on the Western Front
7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
8. King Kong
9. M
10. Modern Times

My Best Records of 2008

These are the records I would set aside as the ten best of 2008:

1. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver
2. Fleet Foxes
, Fleet Foxes
3. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
4. Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, Sigur Ros
5. Microcastle, Deerhunter
6. The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow
7. Volume One, She & Him
8. Nouns, No Age
9. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT
10. Attack and Release, The Black Keys

These would be my "honorable mentions" for the year, in order:

11. Fur,
Blitzen Trapper
12. Dear Science, TV on the Radio
13. Modern Guilt, Beck
14. April, Sun Kil Moon
15. 13 Blues for 13 Moons, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
16. Vampire Weekend,
Vampire Weekend
17. The Stand Ins, Okkervil River
18. Heretic Pride, The Mountain Goats
19. Consolers of the Lonely, The Raconteurs
20. Distortion, The Magnetic Fields
21. Brendan Canning's Something For All of Us, Broken Social Scene

I have not listened to the following records, but I really want to:

Saturdays = Youth
, M83
Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
You & Me, The Walkmen
Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, Grouper

I listened to and didn't give too much of a shit about:

Re-Arrange Us, Mates of State
Third, Portishead
Let the Blind Lead Those Who..., Atlas Sound
Songs in A & E, Spiritualized
Partie Traumatic, Black Kids
Death Magnetic, Metallica
Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did, The Twilight Sad
Youth Novels, Lykke Li
Off With Their Heads, Kaiser Chiefs


People who talk up Stay Positive can go fuck themselves. That record is the definition of "wheel-spinning." I'd rather listen to Viva La Vida.

Top 2008 Albums...

I listened hardcore to maybe 25 albums this year. I browsed end of the year lists and sampled things that looked interesting. I did a bunch of Top 500 all time listening too, so this list is necessarily truncated. My taste this year tended towards things that 1) I could run to 2)sounded like a beach that I was at or that Bruce Springsteen would sing about and 3) sounded right in the dozens of airplanes and metro rails I rode throughout the year.

In no particular order:
Anathallo/Canopy Glow
Blitzen Trapper/Furr
Bon Iver/For Emma, Forever Ago
Fleet Foxes/Fleet Foxes
Gaslight Anthem/The ’59 Sound
M83/Saturdays = Sound
My Brightest Diamond/A Thousand Shark’s Teeth
Sun Kil Moon/April
Vampire Weekend/Vampire Weekend

The individual songs I listened to most (again in no particular order):
Blind/Hercules and the Love Affair
Blue Ridge Mountains/Fleet Foxes
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa/Vampire Weekend
Furr/Blitzen Trapper
Inside a Boy/My Brightest Diamond
The Light/Sun Kil Moon
Kim and Jessie/M83
Noni's Field/Anathallo
Nothing Ever Happened/Deerhunter
Re: Stacks/Bon Iver
Time to Pretend/MGMT

Top films 2008, in media res...

Current Top Five, in no particular order:
The Dark Knight
Man on Wire
Synecdoche, New York
Tropic Thunder

Ten films I want to see from last year:
1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
2. Waltz with Bashir
3. Slumdog Millionaire
4. Frost/Nixon
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
6. The Reader
7. Happy Go Lucky
8. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
9. The Wrestler
10. Che

Rated, Over and Under

Laura Linney, a perfectly acceptable three star actress...

That's the assertion I'm building this post on. Let's forget individual best lists for awhile and start making larger categories. Four star, three star, two star, one star, etc. actors and actresses...

Who is rated (perfectly in tune with their critical legacy)? Who is overrated? Who is underrated? How do you choose?

For example:

Four Stars:
DeNiro, Brando, Streep, Hepburn, Stewart

Three Stars:
Bale, Crowe, Linney, Depp, Winslett, Kilmer (underrated in my book)

Two Stars:
Wayne, Pitt, Clooney, Portman, Johannson (overrated in my book)

One Star:
Keanu Reeves, Diaz, Roberts

Zero Stars:
LeBlanc, Alba, Van Damme

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Actors, and the Directors who love them

Something tangential.

What do you think about the relationship between particular actors and directors...and because there are WAY more male directors than female directors, this consequently means less chance of this for women?

1. Ford and Wayne
2. Hawks and Grant
3. Capra and Stewart
4. Hitchcock and Grant
5. Hitchcock and Stewart
6. Scorsese and DeNiro
7. Scorsese and Dicaprio (last three films, PLUS next two films)
8. Anderson and Wilson
9. Soderbergh and Clooney
10. Kurosawa and Tofune
11. Herzog and Kinski
12. Scott and Crowe
13. LaBute and Eckhart

There are some director/actress relationships.
1. Griffith and Gish
2. Cukor and Hepburn
3. Hitchock and Bergman
4. Hitchcock and Kelly
5. Lynch and Dern

Any ideas about this phenomenon?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Criteria call

I'm talking to you, T. Azimouth.

I want a positive argument from you. What is the rationale for any number of bad films erasing DeNiro's list? We still haven't talked about all the stink bombs in Brando's column (The Island of Dr. Moreau, anyone?).

My argument against Brando is NOT based on the fact that the bad films erase the power of Streetcar OR On the Waterfront. The argument instead is that he has FEWER great films than DeNiro.

I want a positive argument that demonstrates why a bad film in somebody's category should diminish their legacy. If this is true, should the LACK of bad films be seen as a positive? How many STINKER Cary Grant films can you come up with? Jimmy Stewart?

DeNiro could make 57 sequels to Rocky and Bullwinkle, in my opinion, and still be the greatest male film actor. You can't match him great film for great film, great performance for great performance. Is it a coincidence that almost all of his iconic performances correspond to great films, unlike some of the other actors we discussed?

De Niro Takes...De Nero?

Since 2000:

Righteous Kill
What Just Happened
The Good Sheperd
Arther and the Invisibles
Hide and Seek
Meet the Fockers
Shark Tale
Godsend (shudder...)
Analyze That
City by the Sea
The Score
15 Minutes
Meet the Parents
Men of Honor
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

More considerations

I've been buzzing about, skimming through these actor discussions. I have seen far fewer films than you two gentlemen; nevertheless, I shall offer my opinions.

As far as the number of quality films a person acts in, I suppose we have to think about the length of a person's career, which I'm sure you've considered. Someone like Elizabeth Taylor, who was quite captivating in her early career hasn't continued. What do we do with someone who has a career like hers? And are you all thinking specifically about leading roles, or can someone be a supporting actor/character actor? What if the person has the potential to be both and has played integral roles and less-visible parts? I guess I'm asking if a person's versatility should be a factor in determining said actor's greatness.

For me, it seems to be about being able to dissolve one's public persona (say, who we the public think DeNiro or Eastwood or Streep *is*) and becoming this other person. That sense of versatility then becomes the trump card when considering greatness, and I think it's particularly remarkable when an actor's appearance (ie his or her physical beauty or age or unattractiveness or something like this) fades. Someone like Joan Crawford I enjoy a great deal, but her later pictures, she's just Joan Crawford being another version of herself (the public persona we attach to her), the melodramatic bitch-goddess. That's why I can get behind someone like Gene Hackman being considered as a masterful living actor.

That being said, I can think of a couple of living actors who may not be the tippy-top of the poll but certainly deserve a second look:

1. Sissy Spacek

2. Tommy Lee Jones

3. Shirley McClaine

Maybe I'd throw in a Sally Field or a Ralph Finnes, because of their abilities to sort of dissolve into their roles.

Also, Judi Dench has a long TV career too. She's quite good in As Time Goes By. And for the record, I'd like to say Paul Newman and Peter O'Toole are two of my favorites. Kudos to considering Cary Grant. I think he was an equally adept comedic and dramatic actor.

Lastly, and this is more tangential, I have less a problem with using the term "actress" to mean "female actor," simply because it's more descriptive and specific than "actor."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Exceptional Meryl Streep Performances:

The Deer Hunter
Kramer vs. Kramer
Sophie's Choice

Strong Meryl Streep Performances:

The French Lieutenant's Woman
Out of Africa
The Bridges of Madison County
The Hours
Angels in America
The Devil Wears Prada

Totally Crazy Meryl Streep Performances:

Death Becomes Her
A Prairie Home Companion

OSCAR Nominations:

The Devil Wears Prada
Music of the Heart
One True Thing
The Bridges of Madison County
Postcards from the Edge
Evil Angels
Out of Africa
Sophie's Choice (won)
The French Lieutenant's Woman
Kramer vs. Kramer (won)
The Deer Hunter.

That's right: she's been nominated 12 times. 12. With a 13th for Doubt a near-certainty. She also has two Emmys. 6 Golden Globes. An AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. 2 National Board of Review Awards. 4 NSFCA Awards. And 2 SAG Awards.

I think her pedigree stands up, and I think she's a pretty solid pick for best female actor of all time.

Some mini-arguments

I'm still working out my top ten lists. I have done a little bit of work, though.

1. Robert DeNiro
I can tell you right now that this cat should be on top. Perhaps not the most talented among the bunch (you could say that Brando had more raw sexuality and chops), but definitely the best all around candidate with range and an amazing list of films (by far, the best out of the top 300, imho).
Check these out: Raging Bull, Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in America, Mean Streets, Deer Hunter, and King of Comedy and Casino somewhere in the top 500...
If we needed a tiebreaker between him and Brando (more on him in a sec), check out GF II where I think ONLY he could have pulled off a performance as the young Brando-Corleone.

2. Brando
Influence? Hear it. Strength/quality of individual performances? Okay. The breadth just isn't there though. Sandy Koufax of acting. He's hurt by the fact that he only has two leading roles in Top 100 flicks. He's at best a bit player in Apocalypse, something akin to Welles in Third Man (though not as good as Welles's turn as Harry Lime). Incidentally, the lack of great FILMS to support the great PERFORMANCES is one reason why I've rethought Nicholson and Hoffman. Just not there.

3. Cary Grant
WTF? Why isn't he on our top list...maybe top 5? Talk about no respect! Look at this guy's list from the top 300:
North by Northwest, Notorious, Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday, Philadelphia Story, Only Angels Have Wings, The Awful Truth, Gunga Din...
We have range and quality in spades.

4. Intriguing also rans (those who won't quite make it but who are analogous to Oldman as best supporting nods...)
a. Joseph Cotton
b. Sterling Hayden
c. Gene Hackman
d. William Holden


Cross reference each actor with a list of the Top 100 films (your list, The National Film Critics list, AFI, just something); how many Top 100 films is each actor in?

Evaluate range; is DeNiro the same character in each of his top movies? No. Does he have good performances across a range of genres? I would say yes.

Subtract points NOT for bad films but BAD performances in BAD films; thus Oldman can't be blamed if JFK gets crushed under the weight of Kevin Costner. His performance as Oswald is terrific.

Tiebreaker? Boxoffice. Possibly Oscars.

Holla back.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Actors, Living, Dead, Men, Women, and Otherwise

My thoughts on your list, Jonathan, then my lists:

I like a lot of the love you're giving out here, even though I don't agree about Dame Judi Dench (care to highlight some notable work I might not be thinking of?) or Angela Bassett (same question?); however, I am a total loss as to why in the freaking world you included Charlize Theron. Yes, she's good in MONSTER, fine in a few other movies...but where is she transcendent? REINDEER GAMES? TWO DAYS IN THE VALLEY? THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE? AEON FLUX? She's spent the majority of her years as gratuitous T&A, and although her recent push towards "serious" work has been successful so far, she's hardly spent enough time doing it to really rank among the elites. My opinion? You're giving an ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT bump here...

Okay, gripes are done for now. So, first the (co-ed) list of living, working actors:

Daniel Day Lewis
Meryl Streep
Benicio Del Toro
Cate Blanchett
Tom Hanks
Robert De Niro
Kate Winslet
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Dustin Hoffman
Willem Dafoe

Honorable Mentions:

Gary Oldman
Sean Penn
Ian McKellen
Johnny Depp
Helen Mirren
Anthony Hopkins
Clint Eastwood
Jack Nicholson
Emma Thompson
Christian Bale

Now, for Best Actors Ever, in order:

Marlon Brando
Robert De Niro
Meryl Streep
James Stewart
Paul Newman
Katherine Hepburn
Daniel Day-Lewis
Bette Davis
Henry Fonda
Charles Chaplin

**a caveat: I'm thinking of almost exclusively American/Hollywood actors here, with a few Brits-this isn't to suggest there aren't excellent Asian and European stars-it's just that I'm not sure it's fair to evaluate them based on the limited work I've seen. But one gratuitous shout-out feels about right:

Word to Toshiro Mifune!

Alright, let me have it, already.

Synecdoche, New York

Two and a half Stars

Riotously funny for about 45 minutes while the film establishes Philip Seymour Hoffman's character. Much less so for the next hour and a half. Kaufman is still obsessed with what living in this world means given there is no God or immortality. In fact, the only surprising thing about this film is that there is no attempt at spirituality. Immortality? There's only art. God? There's only the director/writer, and this time Kaufman's both.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Top Ten Actors

AFI says this:

1. Marlon Brando
2. Laurence Olivier
3. Robert DeNiro
4. James Stewart
5. Alec Guinness
6. Humphrey Bogart
7. Gregory Peck
8. Jack Nicholson
9. Henry Fonda
10. Spencer Tracy

What say you? Give me a list and we can talk about it.