What’s the Point? A Review of Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beast

Why would you make a live action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? Other than to make a hell of a lot of money, that is. The 1991 musical is one of the crown jewels in Disney’s history, the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and a family classic whose popularity endures to this day. The fact that everybody already agrees that the original is great is both the reason this movie got made, and the reason why it should’ve never been made in the first place. When you’re working with such a beloved property, it doesn’t make sense to make any big changes that could potentially anger the fans. But if you’re not going to make anything new to the material, well, then what’s the point of remaking the movie in the first place?

That doesn’t matter to the stockholders. For almost a decade now, Disney has been cranking out live action versions of its most popular movies.They started out with clever twists, like re-telling the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of villainous enchantress Maleficent, but somewhere between Cinderella and The Jungle Book all pretensions of originality were dropped, and so we are presented with a Beauty and the Beast that doesn’t pretend to be anything but a reenactment designed to feed on nostalgia and make lots of bank.

The biggest problem with Beauty and the Beast is the conundrum I already mentioned, the fact that it must exist in this weird place of trying to update the story to our contemporary cultural moment, while not changing anything too much, so as to not anger the people who grew up loving the original. The second biggest problem with Beauty and the Beast is that every time director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and his collaborators are presented with this conundrum, they settle in the worst possible decision.

For example, why would you cast Emma Watson, an actress who simply does not have the vocal power to star in a musical, as the star of a musical? I imagine Condon wanted to play off of Watson’s public persona as an outspoken feminist, trying to bring some 21st Century relevance to a character who was designed as a “strong female lead”, but still received criticism for falling in love with the talking buffalo who imprisoned her. Regardless of the motives, it was a bad decision. Watson can’t sign well enough to not need considerable auto-tune help on her tracks, and she isn’t completely comfortable spending most of her scenes acting against computer generated characters. Despite coming of age with the Harry Potter movies, Watson has always been better with contemporary material. Her one truly great performance remaining Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

Even if Watson was able to extract pathos out of having a conversation with a candlestick and her only set-back was the singing, there wouldn’t be a particularly good reason for her casting considering how lazy and half-baked Condon’s attempts at updating the material are. There is a scene in which the town’s people punish Belle for trying to teach a girl to read, a seriously clunky moment that tells us nothing we already didn’t know from listening to the lyrics of the opening number. The inclusion of a trip to Paris courtesy of a time-travelling book also goes nowhere, and doesn’t add any real value to the themes of the movie.

There are hundreds of similar little changes that don’t really have a reason to exist. Not only do they make the movie longer, but they muddy the plot and the message of the movie. One of the most admirable things about the animated version is how streamlined it is, how it doesn’t waste any of its 84 minutes and manages to tell a captivating and beautiful story. What’s the real reason why you would add an eleven o’clock number in which the Beast sings a ballad saying “I let her steal into my melancholy heart”, when we’ve already witnessed that happen on screen? We don’t need a CGI singing wilderbeast to recount the plot for us, especially since everyone in the audience will already be familiar with the story.

I know what you’re thinking. Is everything about this movie so bad? Isn’t there anything redeemable about it? The truth is the movie isn’t really all that bad, or all that horrible. It’s simply mediocre. I didn’t feel particularly bored or restless watching it, but the movie kept tripping on its own feet, reminding me that I had already seen this very story, told in a much better way. If there is a silver lining to this, it’s Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou, who benefit not only from having extensive experience as musical theater performers, but from being able to play off each other and not having to constantly interact with computer generated characters. You know, acting.

This is particularly noticeable in Gaston’s show-stopping number, “Gaston”, which Condon stages like an old-fashioned musical, with a set of extras dancing around the tables and singing along. A good musical number will get you a long way, even if you decide to cut and re-arrange some of Howard Ashman’s magnificent lyrics for no valuable reason (I could go on a tirade about how incredibly stupid and disrespectful it is to change a score that is the crowning achievement of one of the great lyricists in the history of musical theatre but I don’t want to sound like too much of a maniac).

We are so familiar with the animated version that even the slightest change to a musical number feels like a betrayal, and every change made to the script feels like a deterioration of the original. The most successful parts of Beauty and the Beast are the ones that adhere closest to the animated classic. But if the best possible version of this movie is a frame-by-frame recreation of another movie -and if there are already remakes of Mulan, Aladdin, and The Lion King scheduled for the coming years- one can’t help but ask the question: is there any legitimate reason for this movie to exist?

Grade: 4 out of 10

The Future is Nigh: A Review of Logan

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Hugh Jackman has spent almost two decades playing Wolverine, and although it is never safe to assume a comic book character has been put to rest (especially one that makes as much money as this one), Logan makes a very compelling case for letting this be Jackman’s last outing as the immortal mutant with deadly metal claws we’ve all come to love. I do, and don’t, mean this as a compliment to the movie. Logan is a thesis statement for a more creative and liberated future in superhero movies, but also a suggestion that the genre might be doomed by its own blockbuster success.

The movie is set in the future, Logan is one of the very few mutants left in a world that has hunted them into extinction. He sports a grizzled beard and makes a living driving a limo in a Texas border-town. Logan is done with this bullshit. He is just trying to make some money to buy a yacht so he and his beloved mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), a telepath suffering from degenerative brain disease, can finally sail into the sunset and away from this horrible future.

That is, until he crosses paths with a young mutant. The first child mutant he or Charles have seen in years. Her name is Laura (Dafne Keen), and she’s a runaway. She is being chased by an evil corporation that has been experimenting on mutants south of the border or something like that. The details aren’t as important as the nature of the mission: grizzled old Logan now has to take this little Mexican girl all the way across the United States so she can find safe haven in Canada. Ain’t that something?

It’s possible that James Mangold and the other people who worked on this movie could sense where the country would be heading by the time the movie came out, but could they possibly have imagined how timely and bittersweetly Logan‘s story would play to a  post-inauguration audience? Whether the filmmakers intended for Logan to play as political allegory for our times is beside the point. One would have to be truly disconnected from the world around them to not see the parallels.

Many people -including those behind this film- are saying that Logan is more of a western than a superhero movie. There is even a large section in the film in which the characters watch George Stevens’ classic western Shane. Logan shares a lot of similarities not only with the plot of Stevens’ movie, but with the kind of social messaging westerns used to have in the culture.

The best westerns of the past reflected certain truths about America and its relationship to its own mythology. The clearest example is probably John Ford’s The Searchers, which reflects the anxieties of the white establishment about the changes that were coming about thanks to the rise of youth culture and the civil rights movement.

Similarly, Logan tells us something about the time we live in. The old white man (mutant) takes a last stand, and sacrifices himself for the well being of the future generation. A generation lead by a Spanish-speaking girl and her multi-racial cohorts. The movie is superficially the last chapter of a beloved character, but could also be read as the last chapter of a type of hero. Is Logan the story of the righteous white man seeking redemption?

Sadly, it’s more interesting (and entertaining) to think of the wider political and social ramifications of Logan than to actually watch the movie. This is Jackman’s ninth appearance as Wolverine, and I can’t help but tip my hat to a performer such as him, who has committed to truly perform, and give it his all every time he plays the character. It’d be really easy to phone it in when you’re doing one ridiculous sequel after another, but Jackman is a pro, and it’s nice to see him get a farewell movie such as this.

Dafne Keen, the little girl who plays Laura, is also pretty awesome, and I would potentially watch a movie about her own crazy adventures. But that’d be another movie. Despite Jackman’s commitment and a number of cool ideas, Logan mostly disappoints, particularly as an action movie. The action set pieces are a disaster, impossible to follow, and with no sense of action geography whatsoever. The movie is incredibly violent, but also brute, with not enough precision to its filmmaking and not enough pathos to its bloodshed (in an aesthetic sense, there is lots of sad moments in the movie). The plot churns along, but other than Jackman’s commitment, there is little to keep us going.

Here is where I come down on Logan: It’s quite an interesting artifact about our times. It’s the first superhero movie in a while to actually want to say something about who we are, and why our culture has taken to this kind of storytelling. It also suggests an alternative model for blockbusters, in which the necessity to always go bigger could be replaced with an interest in exploring different genres and kinds of stories. At the same time, and this is the saddest part, it suggests that if our superheroes do go down that path, quality filmmaking won’t come with them.

Superheroes are men of action, but the action sequences in their movies are rarely great anymore. They don’t reflect an interesting thought, a unique vision. They don’t reflect the themes of the story, and they rarely stand out from each other. Action movies say a lot about themselves with the way they present their action, how it’s choreographed, and how it’s edited. Sloppy action sequences belong in sloppy action movies. If you’re an action movie, tell your story through action.

Grade: 6 out of 10

P.S. The trailer for Deadpool 2 played before the movie, and Jesus Christ, if it isn’t the biggest and most depressing evidence that superhero blockbusters have lost whatever interest they had left in competent filmmaking. This trailer is basically one joke. A joke that has been done before and is easy to pull off. And it can’t even do that!

 

What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Basic White Women?

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This is an observation. I’ve noticed something in the last couple of years regarding our reactions to depictions of women in the media. It’s something I’m not completely comfortable talking about, so I want to make one think clear out front. This is not me suggesting I have the answers to what I’m going to write about, or trying to tell society -let alone women- how they should react to these things, but rather me trying to start a conversation on a subject I am very eager to understand better.

Now, the last few years have been invaluable in addressing and correcting certain weaknesses of the second wave feminism. Feminism experts please feel free to correct me, but the way I understand it, the feminist wave of the seventies, while being a huge stepping stone in the fight for women’s equality, was rather narrowly focused on the experiences of a very specific type of woman. Broadly speaking, one could describe this woman as white, educated, and upper middle-class.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the rise in popularity not only of feminist causes, but of intersectionality, thanks to which we understand that social causes don’t exist each in a separate vacuum, but are connected to each other. We, as a society, are making an effort to understand the plight of different groups of women. The experience of being a black, latino, asian, gay or trans women is similar in many ways, but each group has struggles of their own. We are striving to understand what makes each struggle different and worth discussing. The reception to creative works such as Lemonade, Insecure, Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, Tangerine, and Transparent all suggest we are willing to have these conversations, and I think this is great.

Now, let me talk about something that, it seems to me, is an unfortunate by-product of the conversation about intersectional feminism that we seem to be having. Before I get into it I want to make clear, once again, that I am not writing this with the intention of telling anyone how to be a “good” feminist, let alone a “good” woman. I just want to point out something that is bothering me. If you are a woman reading this, and have something to say about the subject, please reach out to me in the comments or in any other form of social media because I am very interested in having a conversation and learning more about how the people most affected by what I’m writing about are feeling.

With that out of the way, here it goes: The other night I was watching HBO’s new miniseries Big Little Lies, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as rich women living in Monterrey California. The show has something to do with a murder mystery, but it seems most interested in exploring the inner lives and relationships of these women (the cast also includes Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and the great Laura Dern). I enjoyed the first episode quite a bit, but when I went looking for reviews of the show, I encountered a very large number of critics who were dismissing it as silly, trashy, shallow, etc. These comments rubbed me the wrong way, as they do every time a piece of media is dismissed as unworthy of discussion for being for and about women.

It is true that we have a lot of voices sticking up for many other shows and movies starring strong women, but I also see a pattern as far as which shows get praise and which shows are dismissed. The shows (or movies) that get praise either A) fit in traditionally masculine genres, by which I mean genres which have a history of male protagonists. Examples of this include Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Or B) fit in with the intersectional discussion, like Insecure. There is obviously nothing wrong with sticking up for these shows and movies, which I love, but what about shows, movies, and music that appeal, for the lack of a better term, to “basic” white women?

Society seems to be unable to find room for all women at once. Every time a type of woman is elevated by culture, another must be put down. We are at a point in which art about diverse, unique, different types of women is being embraced more than ever, and still, we seem to insist that one type of woman is acceptable while another is not. I feel like it’s become increasingly acceptable to dismiss art centered on the lives of white women as disposable, not serious, basic. I’ve experienced this push-back a lot, being a person who has stuck up for Taylor Swift’s music as a worthy expression of teenage womanhood and the first Fifty Shades of Grey movie as a subversive tale of female empowerment (which is sadly undone by its sequel).

Before you take out your pitchforks and chase me out of town, please let me say that I in no way think that it’s women that are responsible for this or anything like that. I don’t think it’s women who are putting each other down. I think the fault, as with so many things wrong in this world, is with men. Or the patriarchy, which is always content to move along as long as women don’t get too much power and respect.

What I hope to see is a reevaluation not only of these shows, movies, and music that appeal to white women, but of the kinds of conversations that we have about them. I believe every piece of art that is looking to engage with the reality of being a woman is worth exploring and analyzing. This doesn’t mean that we should always praise them, but that the conversation should be had. This goes into another subject that is bothersome to me, which is our insistence that everything has to be either the best or the worst. Many of this “white woman” media is problematic, yes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy things about it.

It bothers me when I say I like Taylor Swift and someone says “I hate that bitch”, or I say I enjoy watching Girls and everybody in the room groans in disgust. There is much to talk about and analyze in both cases. Yes, Taylor Swift’s understanding of feminism might be problematic, but isn’t it more interesting to think about the nuances of what does and does not appeal to young women about her music than to just leave it at “I hate that bitch”? And yes, Girls has a very real problem with its lily-white depiction of New York (especially in earlier seasons), but it doesn’t mean Lena Dunham doesn’t also have interesting things to say about the way women relate to each other.

I will write my magnum-opus on why I think Girls is a great show after it airs its finale a couple weeks from now, but in the meantime, why not take the time to tell me why I’m totally wrong about this, or share whatever other comments you have on the subject. I really want to hear from you.

2016 Oscar Winner Predictions

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You know the drill, so why write an introduction?

Best Picture

  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water 
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight 

The big question this year, as I’ve written about extensively, is exactly how many Oscars La La Land will manage to win. Will it win more than eleven statues, and thus beat the record for most wins by a single movie? To be determined, but one thing’s for sure: That sort of narrative going into the ceremony must mean that the Best Picture win is all but guaranteed. I suppose there is a chance the overwhelming critical support for Moonlight or the gigantic box office numbers of Hidden Figures could help either of those movies sneak a win Sunday night, but it’s a small chance.
Will Win: La La Land

Director

  • Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  • Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
  • Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  • Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Despite recent history, Best Picture and Director usually go hand-in-hand, especially when the winner is as big an awards juggernaut as La La Land has become.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle

Lead Actor

  • Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
  • Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  • Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
  • Denzel Washington (Fences)

I’m going to be honest. I have no idea who’s going to win. Casey Affleck seemed like the obvious winner for much of the race, until those sexual harassment allegations came knocking. Denzel seems like a good alternative, but he already has two Oscars and Fences doesn’t seem like the busiest title. I even think they might split the vote and open it up to Ryan Gosling, leaving room for La La Land’s clean sweep. I change my mind about this every three minutes, so don’t trust my prediction. That being said…
Will Win: Denzel Washington

Lead Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  • Ruth Negga (Loving)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)
  • Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Here’s my dream scenario: Leonardo DiCaprio opens the envelope and he informs us that there’s a tie. For the second time in Oscar history two women win Best Actress in the same year. Isabelle Huppert will have to share her Oscar with Ruth Negga. It would be the most deserving Oscar decision of all time. That being said, I think Emma Stone is quite good in La La Land and I won’t be upset when she wins.
Will Win: Emma Stone

Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  • Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
  • Dev Patel (Lion)
  • Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Ali has been the presumed front-runner (and critical darling) for most of the season, but he’s won shockingly few of the “big” awards. I see Dev Patel (who has the ridiculous advantage of being nominated here despite being the lead character of his movie) as a very likely contender for an unexpected win. I’m going with Ali, but this is a close call. 
Will Win: 
Mahershala Ali

Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (Fences)
  • Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  • Nicole Kidman (Lion)
  • Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

There is no question about this. Why wait until Sunday? They might as well write Viola’s name on that statue right now. 
Will Win: 
Viola Davis

Original Screenplay

  • Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  • La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  • The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimus Filippou)
  • Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Longergan)
  • 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Two of the best movies of the year only got nominated in this category, which means they have no chance of winning. This is one of the few categories La La Land could lose, and Manchester by the Sea is sure to be tough competition now that Best Actor doesn’t feel like the safest place to reward it. Still, no Best Picture winner in the last twelve years has lost the Screenplay award (except for The Artist, but that was a silent film).
Will Win: La La Land 

Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  • Fences (August Wilson)
  • Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi)
  • Lion (Luke Davies)
  • Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, Tarrell Alvin McCraney)

Wow, this seemed like an easy win for Moonlight when nominations were announced, but I’ve grown less certain in the last couple weeks, as Hidden Figures became a huge box office hit and Lion started winning awards out of nowhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these movies won.
Will Win: Moonlight 

Cinematography

  • Arrival (Bradford Young)
  • La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  • Lion (Greig Fraser)
  • Moonlight (James Laxton)
  • Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Again, the question is how many can La La Land win, and this one seems like a pretty easy get.
Will Win: La La Land 

Production Design

  • Arrival (Patrice Vermette)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Stuart Craig)
  • Hail, Caesar! (Jess Gonchor)
  • La La Land (David Wasco)
  • Passengers (Guy Hendrix Dyas)

In theory, La La Land should be vulnerable enough to lose this category, but I just don’t think any of the other nominees has the right combination of buzz and showy design to challenge it.
Will Win: La La Land 

Costume Design

  • Allied (Joanna Johnston)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Colleen Atwood)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)
  • Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
  • La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Unlike Production Design, I think there is a clear challenger to upset La La Land here. Jackie Kennedy is one of the biggest fashion icons in history, and the movie features the type of flashy period costumes that usually triumph in this category.
Will Win: Jackie

Film Editing

  • Arrival (Joe Walker)
  • Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)
  • Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  • La La Land (Tom Cross)
  • Moonlight (Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon)

It only makes sense for La La Land to win here, considering how Best Picture winners tend to win Editing as well. I’d say Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge have a shot at an upset, but I wouldn’t believe it.
Will Win: La La Land 

Original Score

  • Jackie (Mica Levi)
  • La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  • Lion (Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka)
  • Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
  • Passengers (Thomas Newman)

My second dream scenario: Mica Levi wins. This will obviously never happen with the second coming of the Hollywood musical standing right there in the corner.
Will Win: La La Land 

Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (La La Lad)
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Trolls)
  • “City of Stars” (La La Land)
  • “The Empty Chair” (Jim: The James Foley Story)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)

Lin-Manuel Miranda will have to wait to complete his EGOT, even though his song for Moana is easily the best song in the category. The question here is which La La Land song will prevail. “Audition” features in one of the most emotional scenes in the film, but “City of Stars” has become sort of the movie’s official theme song.
Will Win: “City of Stars”

Sound Mixing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Ironically, there is no way La La Land will lose this award. Even though I couldn’t understand a single word that was sung during that opening number (and I know I’m not alone).
Will Win: La La Land 

Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

Pay attention to this category Sunday night, because if La La Land wins here, it will probably sweep all over the place. You see, it doesn’t really make sense for a musical to win Sound Editing (which used to be known as Sound Effects Editing). It’s not a genre that is known for the use of sound effects, unlike war films and such.
Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge 

Makeup and Hair

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad 

I have the sneaking suspicion that Suicide Squad is going to win this category. It is, after all, the one movie in this category that had a lot of conversation build around the makeup. Sure, a lot of it was people complaining about how silly Jared Leto’s Joker looked, but that’s still a conversation. Anyway, Star Trek Beyond is the only acceptable winner in a rational world, and I must cling to sanity as often as possible.
Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Visual Effects

  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

For some reason, I have this feeling that people really love computer generated tigers. Life of Pi won here, and it makes for The Jungle Book to follow in its foot-steps.
Will Win: The Jungle Book  

Animated Feature

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia 

I will never quite understand why the world fell in love with Zootopia, but it did. And even I must admit it will be nice to award a movie about accepting those who are different from you in a time when empathy has become a partisan issue.
Will Win: Zootopia 

Foreign Film

  • Tanna (Australia)
  • Land of Mine (Denmark)
  • Toni Erdmann (Germany)
  • The Salesman (Iran)
  • A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

I am afraid Toni Erdmann is too funny, too long, too unique, and too good for the Academy. However, I remain optimistic that despite fitting in a genre that the Academy loves, A Man Called Ove is too generic and pedestrian to actually win the award. A nice compromise might be The Salesman, which mixes artistic merit and accessibility with the familiarity of a past winner in this category and the political timeliness of how the movie’s crew will not attend the ceremony due to the travel ban.
Will Win: The Salesman  

Documentary Feature   

  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J. Made in America
  • 13th 

The fact that O.J. is seven and a half hours long should be enough to overcome the voices that insist (rightfully) that it’s not a movie but a television series. Either way, the extreme length makes it look like a titanic achievement that must rewarded.
Will Win: O.J. Made in America 

 Animated Short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes 
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Remember when we all went to see Finding Dory and thought Piper was so much better than the actual movie? This is how it pays off.
Will Win: Piper

Documentary Short

  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets 

Haven’t seen any of this, but I’m predicting the one that’s about the Holocaust, and I’m told, is weirdly the least depressing of the five.
Will Win: Joe’s Violin 

Live Action Short

  • Ennemis Interieurs 
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode 

Sam as the Documentary Short category, my predictions are going off reading about these movie’s subject matters. I’m picking a French movie about the inhumanity of the refugee vetting process.
Will Win: Ennemis Interieurs 

Short Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

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Even having seen and thoroughly enjoyed John Wick, one cannot help but feel like “the surprise factor” played an important part in why it became an instant cult classic (or whatever the equivalent to cult classic is in this day and age) as soon as it did.By the fall of 2014, superhero movies and oversized blockbusters had saturated the market, and we were ready for a streamlined and lower scale action movie. Keanu Reeves had been starring in nothing but stinkers for a while, and was ready for a comeback. It was a perfect combination of exactly what we needed, made even better by the fact that the movie seemed to come out of nowhere. It makes sense, then, that the great fear with John Wick: Chapter 2 was whether it could live up to the freshness of the original. Those in doubt should rest assured that Chapter 2 doesn’t only live up to its predecessor, it surpasses it.

If there was one thing that was going to be hard to replicate in a John Wick sequel, it’s the simplicity of the original’s plot. And it’s true that Chapter 2 cannot come up with a hook as simple and divine as the first movie’s. In case you don’t remember or haven’t seen John Wick, the movie can be summarized thusly: Some ruffians kill John Wick’s dog, and John Wick takes revenge. It’s the plot equivalent of perfectly designed minimalist chair, clean, to the point, and beautiful. The plot of Chapter 2 is much messier, beginning with an action sequence designed to tie loose ends from the previous chapter and then going in circles for a while before finally revealing what it had been building towards. It’s a minor weakness that the movie manages to survive intact, particularly because the payoff is worth it. John Wick Chapter 2 is good throughout, but the movie’s second half is something else.

John Wick presented us with a fantasy world in which assassins use their own currency (some sort of old golden coins) and stay in a private hotel for criminals. The attention paid to crafting a unique not-quite-realistic world was indicative of a meticulously crafted movie. John Wick Chapter 2 takes the world sketched out by the first movie, and blows it up to epic proportions. We are no longer in a not-quite-realistic world, we are in the deep end of movie world. This is a movie so confident in its abilities it isn’t afraid of going big, or indulging in the ridiculous. The ridiculous is actually what makes it so great.

The first thing we see in the movie is a Buster Keaton silent being projected onto the wall of a building. The movie announces the fact that it’s taken its cues from the silent masters of physical comedy, and it doesn’t disappoint. From there, we quickly cut to a long chase sequence. John Wick drives like a maniac through the streets of New York. He is looking for the precious vintage muscle car that was stolen from him in the last movie. It doesn’t take him long to find the car and make an escape, but he is followed by a series of henchmen, who all ride in taxi cabs. This is when, as they say, shit gets real. John Wick fights off the henchmen, but once he’s dispatched them, two more taxi cabs pull over and another bunch of henchmen walk out to fight. Cabs keep pulling up and John Wick keeps dispatching henchmen for a long time. The amount of cabs that pull up in that sequence and the amount of people who are run over by them is excessive and ridiculous. It is also very cool.

That’s just the first example of the kind of cards John Wick: Chapter Two has up its sleeve. Its action sequences are long and indulgent and they are better off for it. The moment when Keanu and Common keep falling down a seemingly endless staircase, the big finale shootout inside what is essentially a hall of mirrors, and particularly the scene in which John Wick has to escape literally every assassin in New York City are all set pieces for the ages. Chapter 2 might not be as tightly plotted and consistent as its predecessor, but it aims for higher heights. It shoots for the stars, and damn it, it succeeds.

Grade: 9 out of 10

Are the Grammys that Bad? Let’s Look at All the “Record of the Year” Winners

smooth

The Grammys are the black sheep of award shows. The televised broadcast is usually kind of fun because you get a lot of musical performances, but as far as the awards are concern, we only really hear about the Grammys when people are upset about the results (like when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album). So, yes, there is no doubt the Grammys do not award the most sophisticated or avant-garde musical acts, but are they really that bad?

I am one of those people who finds a lot of pleasure in a lot of “silly” pop music. I am the kind of monster who prefers to listen to Taylor Swift than Radiohead, so if anyone is going to able to defend the Grammys, it’s me. But can I defend them? The only logical way in which that question can be answered is if I go through all the winners for the “Record of the Year” Grammy (arguably the most important Grammy other than Album of the Year) and see how good they are. And that’s exactly what I’ve done below.

1959 – Domenico Modugno for “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)
I have a special soft-spot for this song because of a parody song a high school friend of mine used to sing in which he would replace the word “volare” with a ridiculous nickname he had given me. It was incredibly stupid, but also very endearing, especially because nobody ever called me by that nickname except him.
Was it a good choice though? Nobody can say this song hasn’t endured since it won the Grammy, because it plays every time a t.v. or movie character rides a Vespa through the streets of Rome.

1960 – Bobby Darin for “Mack the Knife
Originally written for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, this song has had a long life as a jazz standard and it’s easy to see why. It’s a fucking good song. And if you haven’t, I recommend you check out the Ruben Blades’ “Pedro Navaja”, a salsa song inspired by “Mack the Knife”.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, it’s not the Ella Fitzgerald version, but the Grammys have always been milk-toast. It’s a pretty good choice if you ask me, especially when you take a listen to the songs nominated against it.

1961 – Percy Faith for “Theme from A Summer Place
As you can probably tell already this is a song written for the movie A Summer Place, which is about two teenage lovers from different class backgrounds who meet years later and must deal with the love affair of their own teenage children from a previous marriage. If that sounds like it came from a Wikipedia plot description is because it did.
Was it a good choice though? It’s understandable that this won given it was a huge hit at the time (and you definitely recognize the tune, no?), but the songs that lost to it include Ella’s version of “Mack the Knife” and Ray Charles’s “Georgia on My Mind”, so not really the best choice historically speaking.

1962 – Henry Mancini for “Moon River
Another song written for a movie, which is a common occurrence for most of Grammy history (as you’ll learn by reading this). This is, of course, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s an iconic movie that hasn’t aged that well thanks to its racism. It’s a really good movie if you can look past Mickey Rooney’s offensive Japanese character, but I won’t lie, it’s tough.
Was it a good choice though? Come on, who doesn’t love “Moon River”? This is totally deserving.

1963 – Tony Bennett for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Tony Bennett must have won a million Grammys. I’m pretty sure he wins one every time he puts out a new album singing his old classic, or every time he collaborates with Lady Gaga. 
Was it a good choice though? 
I love Tony Bennett as much as the next guy, but this is not my favorite of his.

1964 – Henry Mancini for “Days of Wine and Roses
From the movie Days of WIne and Roses. Like I said, it happens a lot.
Was it a good choice though? This is is no “Moon River”, Mancini.

1965 – Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz for “The Girl from Ipanema
I have a love-hate relationship with the Brazilian genre of bossa-nova, of which this is the most famous song. It’s the English version of the song that won the Grammy (even though Gilberto is Brazilian), but everyone will (rightly) tell you that any Portuguese version is vastly superior (there’s even a couple good Spanish versions of the song). 
Was it a good choice though? 
I mean, the first time you hear “The Girl from Ipanema”, you like it. It’s only after you hear it in twenty different hotel elevators and every time you are on hold with your cable company that you can’t stand it. It’s not he song’s fault. If anything, it’s become that ubiquitous because it is good. It did win this category by beating “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, so it’s questionable whether the win was deserved.

1966 – Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for “A Taste of Honey
You might think you don’t know what this song is, but I guarantee you will recognize the minute you click on that Youtube link.
Was it a good choice though? I don’t know if this is one of those instrumentals that have grown quaint with time, or if it was quaint from the beginning. The most famous song nominated that year is “Yesterday” by the Beatles. I would rather listen to this song twenty times in a row than having to endure the mopey laments of “Yesterday”, so there’s that.

1967 – Frank Sinatra for “Strangers in the Night
It’s hard to believe it took Sinatra this long to win Record of the Year, but it was definitely serendipitous that the Grammys decided to honor him for this song.
Was it a good choice though? Yup. And I don’t want to hear from you if you don’t agree.

1968 – The 5th Dimension for “Up, Up & Away
The 5th Dimension is most well remembered for a different song that also won Record of the Year (more on that later). They were the first black act to win Record of the Year. Previous unsuccessful nominees included Sammy Davis Jr. as well as the aforementioned Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, all of which would’ve made awesome winners.
Was it a good choice though? This is a song about a balloon or some shit, so no… Out of the nominees I would’v voted for Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”, but Sinatra won the previous year, so it was probably not gonna happen.

1969 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Mrs. Robinson
Written, of course, for The Graduate.
Was it a good choice though? I love Simon & Garfunkel, so I’m probably not the most impartial person here, but I do really like this song.

1970 – The 5th Dimension for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In
Thus, we get to the end of the sixties, and The 5th Dimension’s second (second!) win in this category… One can sum up the Grammys quite accurately by the fact that the closest thing to a rock n’ roll song to win the Grammy up to this point came from a hit Broadway show.
Was it a good choice though? Listen, the counterculture wouldn’t be the counterculture if it had been showered with golden statues. It’s probably for the best that The Velvet Underground didn’t win a Grammy. Also, this song is pretty dope.

1971 – Simon & Garfunkel for “Bridge Over Troubled Water
I already said I loved Simon & Garfunkel, right? Well, I loooove “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Was it a good choice though? Duh.

1972 – Carole King for “It’s Too Late
Carole King is obviously a queen, and Tapestry (which won album of the year) is one of the best albums ever recorded…
Was it a good choice though? …that being said, “It’s Too Late” is not my favorite song on the record. The James Taylor version of “Yo’ve Got a Friend” was also nominated, as well as the “Theme from Shaft“! I’m perfectly happy with Carole King winning, though I would have accepted some love for Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, which also came out that year.

1973 – Roberta Flack for “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face
About time some black people started to win the top Grammy award. It’s clear thus far that the Grammys are much more comfortable awarding tame and acceptable big hits instead of the revolutionary music that characterized much of mid-Century America and was produced, predominantly, by black musicians.
Was it a good choice though? The song was a huge hit at the time, and it fits so perfectly into the kind of ballad the Grammys love to give awards to. It’s not a bad song.

1974 – Roberta Flack for “Killing Me Softly With His Song
Roberta Flack had a number of big hits in the seventies, but she is mostly remembered for being the first musician ever to win Record of the Year two years in a row (wanna know who the other one is? Keep reading, I’m guarantee the answer will disappoint you). She is a good vocalist for sure, but I guess not quite iconic.
Was it a good choice though? This is a good song no matter how you slice it, even if I will always think of The Fugees version of the song as the definitive arrangement.

1975 – Olivia Newton-John for “I Honestly Love You
The Grammys were really into cheesy ballads during the seventies, and this is as cheesy and ballady as it gets.
Was it a good choice though? I like my Olivia Newton-John best when she’s in Xanadu mode being fun and campy, so I give this song a hard pass.

1976 – Captain & Tennille for “Love Will Keep Us Together
I was shocked to learn this song had won the Grammy for Record of the Year. It’s such a fun and bouncy song compared to the stuff they usually reward. It’s not the height of songwriting or anything, but it’s a damn fun song.
Was it a good choice though? It is if you look at the stuff it was nominated against. A much better choice than The Eagles or Barry Manilow.

1977 – George Benson for “This Masquerade
I did not know this song  until I listened to it for this blog post and let me tell you it’s giving me some major smooth seventies vibes.
Was it a good choice? Everybody knows the apex of smooth jams in the seventies is Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, but I guess this is an o.k. replacement, especially because you can tell Benson is giving it his all.

1978 – The Eagles for “Hotel California
At this point saying you like The Eagles is most likely to lose you all your music cred. I must admit I enjoy quite a few Eagles songs, but not even I will defend “Hotel California”. As for this growing Eagles-hatred, we can debate how much it has to do with The Big Lebowski another time.
Was it a good choice though? Come on.

1979 – Billy Joel for “Just the Way Your Are
I must admit I have a soft-spot for Billy Joel, no matter how uncool that might make me sound (and no, I’m not from Long Island).
Was it a good choice though? This has never been my favorite Billy Joel song, though I like it. I do prefer Barry White’s version, which helps the song reach the sublime level of on-the-nose smoothness it needs to fully succeed.

1980 – The Doobie Brothers for “What a Fool Believes
Get out of town with this bullshit
Was it a good choice though? Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” lost to this garbage. I assume the tide had turned against disco by that point, but still. One of the best breakup songs ever recorded lost to the Doobie Brothers? That’s just criminal.

1981 – Christopher Cross for “Sailing
Christopher Cross has always struck me as a reasonably talented person whose success doesn’t make a lick of sense. How did this person ever become famous, and for singing romantic songs nonetheless? … Oh my God, Christopher Cross is the Ed Sheeran of his time!
Was it a good choice though? Soft-rock classic is nowhere near to actual classic. Out of this year’s nominees, if you wanted an awesomely cheesy ballad you could’ve gone with Bette Midler’s “The Rose”, and if you wanted something safe yet enduring you could’ve gone with Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York”.

1982 – Kim Carnes for “Bette Davis Eyes
I was surprised to learn this song actually won the Grammy. I was not aware it was as massive a hit as it actually was, though I’m certainly glad to learn that. I kind of love this song. There is something about Kim Carnes’ raspy voice and the sassy way in which she delivers the line “she’s ferocious”.
Was it a good choice though? I dig it, and it was definitely the best of the nominees.

1983 – Toto for “Rosanna
Listen, I can fuck with some Toto, but if you’re gonna go round handing out Record of the Year Grammys it better be for “Africa”.
Was it a good choice though? I cannot even begin to approach this question objectively knowing the wrong song from Toto IV won the Grammy.

1984 – Michael Jackson for “Beat It
You will not hear any trash-talking of Michael Jackson (as a musician) in this blog.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, you could make the case it should’ve been for “Billie Jean”, but there is no denying this song is a classic.

1985 – Tina Turner for “What’s Love Got to Do With It
For some reason I used to really hate this song back when I was a kid. Don’t worry, readers, time has taught me to appropriately appreciate this song.
Was it a good choice though? Sure.

1986 – USA for Africa for “We Are the World
It’s easy to understand why the Grammys would decide to award this song left and right, considering it was a way to award practically every artist working at the time and make an uncontroversial political statement.
Was it a good choice though? It’s fun to watch the video and try to pick up all the celebrities, but listen to the song on its own and you’ll probably get diabetes or something.

1987 – Steve Winwood for “Higher Love
Ok, someone who was alive in the eighties has to let me know if I’m completely crazy for kind of loving this song. What can I say? I like fun music!
Was it a good choice though? It was a good year for Record of the Year, in a very eighties kind of way. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, Whiney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”, and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” were all nominated. I still think Winwood is a fine choice.

1988 – Paul Simon for “Graceland
I know there are certain “problematic” things regarding the use of African music in Graceland, but I fucking love that album and I think it’s a masterpiece. That being said, the song “Graceland” doesn’t strike me as very unlike most of the songs that win Record of the year. I assume it was the swell of support for the album as a whole that got it the award.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, I love the album and I like the song. It’s a win in my book.

1989 – Bobby McFerrin for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy
How unlikely is it that this weird novelty song became a massive, massive hit? It’s a song that could’ve never been a hit at any other moment in the history of music. At least not a hit of this massive proportion. The sheer weirdness of the song is enough to prevent me from hating it, even though I couldn’t in good conscience put it in my ipod or anything.
Was it a good choice though? Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” was nominated that year so of course it’s a travesty that this won instead.

1990 – Bette Midler for “Wind Beneath My Wings
Yes, I am aware that Bette Midler isn’t the edgiest musician in the world. Are you aware, though, that this song rules?
Was it a good choice though? Listen, putting the appropriate amount of cheese on your ballad is not an easy thing to do, as Olivia Newton-John has proven to us already.

1991 – Phil Collins for “Another Day in Paradise
Speaking of cheesy bullshit…
Was it a good choice though? There are many instances in which I will defend Phil Collins. I’ll even defense the songs he wrote for Tarzan. But this is not one of those instances. This song fucking blows.

1992 – Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole for “Unforgettable
As far as I can tell, this is the song that kicks off a Grammy tradition of awarding artists posthumously, as Natalie remixed her late father’s recording of the song in order to be able to have a duet with him.
Was it a good choice though? “Unforgettable” is obviously a good song, but what exactly do we gain by awarding this particular version?

1993 – Eric Clapton for “Tears in Heaven
Nobody wants to be the jerk who tells Eric Clapton the song he wrote about his deceased child is too syrupy and it kinda sucks, so I won’t.
Was it a good choice though? In retrospect, it would’ve been shocking if the Grammy had resisted showering this song with awards. The other nominees weren’t particularly impressive, so I’ll allow it based purely on reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the song.

1994 – Whitney Houston for “I Will Always Love You
Of course I prefer the original Dolly Parton version, but what kind of heathen would make someone have to make such a choice. There is enough love in this world to recognize Houston’s vocal performance here is impeccable.
Was it a good choice though? People must’ve been sick of the song back then, but that key change though. Twenty years later, this win is a great choice.

1995 – Sheryl Crow for “All I Wanna Do
This was a weak year for Record of the Year, and thus, Sheryl Crow’s career was made. The woman has gotten a lot of Grammys since, and I have the feeling she wouldn’t have had the career she did without this big win so early in her career. Then again what do I know.
Was it a good choice though? It’s a fun song, but Record of the Year? I don’t know.

1996 – Seal for “Kiss from a Rose
Cheesy ballad alert! But performed by a man handsome and suave enough to remain incredibly cool despite making a career our of pretty cheesy ballads. Also, a man whose career didn’t suffer for being associated with the movie Batman Forever, which this song was written for.
Was it a good choice though? Do I like this song ironically or do I actually like it? I can never tell, which isn’t great but is better than a lot of these winners.

1997 – Eric Clapton for “Change the World
Another song written for a movie, most specifically the classic John Travolta vehicle Phenomenon. What? You’ve never heard of that movie? I wonder why…
Was it a good choice though? Hell no. This is the definition of boring dad rock.

1998 – Shawn Colvin for “Sunny Came Home
A song so synonymous with the nineties that I had never even heard of it. What even is this and why did it win Record of the Year?
Was it a good choice though? I guess we as a culture have decided to forget this song ever existed and I think it’s for the better.

1999 – Celine Dion for “My Heart Will Go On
Another song written for a movie, but not any movie. This song was written for motherfucking Titanic, which is awesome and I have no patience for anyone who will pretend otherwise so shut your faces.
Was it a good choice though? This is the type of fabulous song that makes you believe you can’t really have too much cheese.

2000 – Santana featuring Rob Thomas for “Smooth
Remember that moment in which we decided to suddenly care about Carlos Santana? I sweat it lasted a couple of years and then we forgot about him forever. At least he got a couple Grammy out of it. Who even is Rob Thomas?
Was it a good choice though? I am aware that people who lived through the time that “Smooth” was on the radio uniformly hate it. Who am I to disagree?

2001 – U2 for “Beautiful Day
The release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind has to be the moment in which U2 went from cool to uncool, right? People of the time, can you tell me if this assessment is correct? I know The Joshua Tree rules, but don’t know exactly when Bono and company got lost up their own assholes.
Was it a good choice though? Not a terrible song, especially by U2 standards.

2002 – U2 for “Walk On
Yup, U2 became the second act to win Record of the Year two years in a row. This is particularly upsetting because they won for a song that doesn’t exist.
Was it a good choice though? Didn’t you read what I just wrote? This song doesn’t even exist, how is it going to win a Grammy?

2003 – Norah Jones for “Don’t Know Why
I’m totally in the camp that doesn’t care that Norah Jones isn’t edgy or cool. I still love her, and sometimes I miss her and her music.
Was it a good choice though? The song didn’t capture the zeitgeist of 2002 in any way, but I guess Norah Jones became the zeitgeist when she won a gazillion Grammys.

2004 – Coldplay for “Clocks
I remember when this song was used in the trailer for that Peter Pan movie everyone has forgotten about but should go back and watch it because it’s actually a pretty good movie.
Was it a good choice though? This is the part of Coldplay’s career that someone could potentially defend as not being terrible, but this song beat “Hey Ya”, so it obviously did not deserve to win.

2005 – Ray Charles and Norah Jones for “Here We Go Again
This is the biggest and clearest example of the Grammys rewarding an artist posthumously. Most people weren’t even aware this song had come out when it got nominated, but considering the then recent death of Charles, the zeitgeist that built around it (including the movie Ray, which came out that same year), it became obvious fairly quickly this was gonna take home the award.
Was it a good choice though? Sentimental wins don’t always age well, and this isn’t a particularly exciting song. It’s quite pleasant, though, and nothing is particularly impressive about the other nominees either.

2006 – Green Day for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I was 13 at the time, so of course I was swept up by Green Day fever. I had a pair of underwear with the American Idiot logo on them. I never wore them because they were quite uncomfortable, but you get the point. This album was a huge deal for me, but by early 2006 I was completely over it and haven’t been able to fully embrace it ever since
Was it a good choice though? It’s come to the point where If I hear this song for some reason, I remember the good old days and say something like “oh right! This song!” So there’s that.

2007 – Dixie Chicks for “Not Ready to Make Nice
I love the Dixie Chicks, and I love them even more for talking shit about George W. Bush and then writing this unapologetic song about the whole fiasco that ensued.
Was it a good choice though? There are some really good songs in this line-up, but the Dixie Chicks are deserving no question

2008 – Amy Winehouse for “Rehab
It is really great that the Grammys got to celebrate Amy Winehouse in her prime, but there is something undoubtedly bittersweet about having done so for the song in which she sings about not going to rehab.
Was it a good choice though? I mean, what were we going to do? Not give her the Grammy? Amy Winehouse is the type of performer that only comes once in a generation.

2009 – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for “Please Read the Letter
This is the moment in which the Grammys started to become truly ridiculous wanting to reward veterans in the top categories. I like Plant and Krauss as much as the next guy, but what even is this song?
Was it a good choice though? No. MIA’s “Paper Planes” was nominated that year, by the way.

2010 – Kings of Leon for “Use Somebody
The difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys is Record awards the performers and producers of a song, while Song awards the songwriters. I mention this because how crazy would’ve been if Kings of Leon had won Song of the Year for a song that has basically ten words worth of lyrics? (They lost to Beyonce’s Single Ladies)
Was it a good choice though? Is it uncool to like Kings of Leon? Because I did, at least back then.

2011 – Lady Antebellum for “Need You Now
My girlfriend at the time watched the Grammy for the first time in 2011, and when Lady Antebellum won Record of the Year swore to never watch the Grammys again.
Was it a good choice though? Probably not.

2012 – Adele for “Rolling in the Deep
This is the year Adele conquered the world and took home a truckload of Grammys. It was a different time, and it was quite a moment.
Was it a good choice though? Absolutely.

2013 – Gotye featuring Kimbra for “Somebody That I Used to Know
I don’t know if I have the wrong impression, but this strikes me as a time in which the fact that a song was featured on Glee could turn the song into a big hit. I am also under the impression that is what happened to this song. I might be completely wrong. Still, isn’t it weird that this strange song became a huge hit?
Was it a good choice though? It definitely is if you think of the Grammys as a time capsule meant to capture a particular moment in music.

2014 – Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams for “Get Lucky
Talking about particular moments in music, in the future, whenever a t.v. show or movie is going to try to convey the year 2013, this is the song they’ll play.
Was it a good choice though? I get the feeling Daft Punk wishes they had known The Weeknd back then, but still, this is a brilliant song.

2015 – Sam Smith for “Stay With Me
Remember when that song “Latch” came out and we were all like watch out for this Sam Smith guy and then he released his own music and we realized how aggressively ok he was.
Was it a good choice though? Might as well have given this award to Blandy McBland.

2016 – Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for “Uptown Funk
I understand that this song is derivative and kind of basic in many ways, but if you’ve ever danced to this song at a party you must’ve realized that it’s pretty damn effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
Was it a good choice though? I’m fine with it, though I understand if you disagree.

2016 – ???
Who will win? My money’s on Adele’s “Hello”, and that would be fine. My personal favorite in the category is Rihanna’s “Work”. And while I appreciate and admire Beyonce’s “Formation”, I don’t think I fully *get* it as much as other songs on Lemonade, but that’s a story for a different time.

Something to Look Forward to: 2017 Movie Preview

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Not unlike the Chinese New Year, which does not start on January 1st but follows its own calendar, everyone knows that the Cinematic New Year does not start until after the Oscars (this year: Feb. 26). Still, the date is approaching, and thus, we begin to look forward to the wonderful movies that will keep our spirits up and help us gain strength to resist while America slowly drifts into a fascistic dystopia. So let’s forget about orange-tinged dictators for a second, and focus instead on the possible bright spots of our future.

The Five Movies I’m Most Excited For:

Wonderstruck If there is anything that is going to make me fight as hard as I can to outlive the apocalypse, it’s the reunion of Julianne Moore and director Todd Haynes. Haynes seems to be changing gears compared to his previous movies, choosing to tell a more family-friendly story from the point of view of two children. But lest you forget, this is the collaboration that gave us such classics as Safe and Far From Heaven. And I assume you don’t need a reminder that Haynes’s last movie suggests he might have reached miraculous levels as a filmmaker.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – This movie was in my “most anticipated” list last year, but didn’t actually get released. It’s still undetermined when we will get to see this movie, but the release of the first official production photo (pictured above) gives me hope it will be sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see what director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) does with source material written by Neil Gaiman, especially with a cast that includes Nicole Kidman and the ever-more-impressive Elle Fanning

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – I named The Lobster as my favorite movie of last year, so it only makes sense I’d be looking forward to whatever director Yorgos Lanthimos does next. He continues his collaboration with Colin Farrell, in a movie that includes personal favorites such as Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy (who was great in Tomorrowland) and wait for it… Alicia Silverstone! I’m so ready for the Aliciassance. Not sure when this will make its way to U.S. cinemas, but a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival is very likely.

The Trip to Spain – What do the Before movies, Three Colors, and Toy Story have in common? They’re some of the best cinematic trilogies ever made, and soon, dueling impressionists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon will have the chance to join that golden pantheon as they take their third culinary trip around Europe. The only reason I wouldn’t want this to be a perfect trilogy is so the series keeps going. There is no country on Earth I wouldn’t like to see Coogan and Brydon travel to as long as they bring their Michael Caine impression along for the ride.

The Beguiled – I’m a sucker for revisionist Westerns, so I couldn’t be more excited for this remake of a Clint Eastwood vehicle of the seventies which will be directed by none other than Sofia Coppola. A peculiar choice for sure, but one that has me super excited. Colin Farrell stars as a Union Soldier trapped in a Confederate girls’ boarding school. He will be joined by -listen to this- Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Angourie Rice (from The Nice Guys), and sure-to-be-2017-MVP Nicole Kidman. The movie comes out June 30 in the U.S. And here’s the trailer!

Five Holdovers from 2016 (That Will Be Released in 2017 and I’m Most Excited For)

The Lost City of Z – James Gray’s period adventure about explorers who venture into the Amazon premiered as the closing film of last year’s New York Film Festival, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. I am a big fan of Gray’s work (at least what I’ve seen of it), so I will definitely be there when the movie is released April 14.

Nocturama – I’ve been intrigued by this movie ever since I heard it focused on a young group of terrorists trying to stage an attack in Paris. It’s the type of daring subject matter that could go horribly in the wrong hands, but director Bertrand Bonello has proven himself capable of good stuff in the past (and reviews have been very interesting). It’s also the tricky subject matter that has kept the movie from getting a U.S. theatrical release. The way things are going, I don’t know if it ever will.

Personal Shopper – I wasn’t a huge fan of Clouds of Sils Maria (the last collaboration between director Olivier Assayas and star Kristen Stewart), but I’ve been wanting to jump into the Kristen Stewart bandwagon for a while now. Most of the film critics I respect have grown enamored by her, and if any movie is going to make me join them, I figure it’s gonna be this one. We’ll find out March 10.

Free Fire – This new movie by Ben Wheatley has the kind of simple premise that gets me excited, as it focuses on a meeting between two gangs that goes horribly wrong and turns into a deadly shoot-out inside a deserted warehouse. Not the stuff of high drama, sure, but bound to be a hell of a lot of fun. It comes out April 21.

Call Me By Your Name – Ok, I’m kind of cheating because this is a 2017 movie, but since it already premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I’ve read enough reviews to get a good idea of it and know that I’m probably going to love it. The fact that director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) is behind the camera would be enough to get me to buy a ticket, but the glowing reviews from Sundance have me really excited.

Five Movies I Want to Be Good But I’m a Little Nervous About (You Know, Cautiously Optimistic)

Lady Bird – If the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig is anything like the movies she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, then this will be one of the best movies of the year. This stars two great young actors in Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges, but then again, I always get a little nervous when actors step behind the directing chair, even someone as talented and unique as Gerwig.

Coco – How could I not be excited by the fact that Pixar has finally decided to make a movie about my life? Ok, so it’s not really about me, but it’s an original story set in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos which should be a lot of fun. Pixar has been hit and miss lately, but the fact that this is an original story and not a sequel gives me a lot of hope. This comes out November 22.

Slice – The only reason this movie is not one of my five “most anticipated” is because it sounds too good to be true. From what I understand, this movie stars Chance the Rapper as a motorcycle-riding werewolf and is directed by Austin Vesely, who is responsible for “Sunday Candy“, one of the most beautiful music videos ever made. I’m trying to be cautious because if this isn’t the most awesome movie of the year, then I’ll be crushed.

Darkest Hour – I am a big fan of Joe Wright, even if Pan was a huge disappointment. He’s made some truly great movies in the past and I will defend them to death, but… I gotta be honest, this biopic about Winston Churchill doesn’t look too promising, especially based on that first picture of Gary Oldman covered in tons of makeup in order to look like Churchill. I’m still hoping for the best. It’s currently scheduled for November 24.

Get Out  Even if the directorial debut of Jordan Peele isn’t that great, it will surely be one of the most fascinating and ambitious movies of the year. A horror movie in which a black man is the tormented by the dark secrets of the (white) community of his girlfriend’s parents sounds like the kind of cinematic experiment that only comes once in a generation. It comes out on February 24.