Best Song of August:
I LOVE MAKONNEN- “Club Goin Up on a Tuesday”- August had songs that were more meaningful (Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage”) and more propulsive (Twin Peaks’ “Mirror of Time”); but no song had me humming it at 5:00 AM on a weekday like “Club Goin Up on a Tuesday.” I can’t claim to enjoy I LOVE MAKONNEN’s brand of warbly weirdness across an entire EP. He kind of sounds like Robert Smith on lean, and it gets tedious over time. But this song captures a blessed haziness, as well as an authenticity, that I can’t resist. For example, there’s the line ”My P.O. think I’m in the house / Don’t give a damn ‘bout what she think.” Call me sexist, as many people already have, but my mind still flashes to a man when I hear about the tough profession of parole officer. I LOVE MAKONNEN finishes with the feminine pronoun so that I know it’s real. The version without Drake please.
Best Album of August:
Rustie- Green Language- ”Punishing” is the first word that comes to mind when I consider Scottish producer Rustie’s follow-up to his admittedly dense debut Glass Swords. That’s a weird descriptor that a lot of people would not want out of an album. It’s okay to want something less relentless and undeniable. But the sounds that Rustie crafts on “Raptor” or “Velcro,” as well as the less successful half with vocals, are so punishing. They’ll address a part of your speakers that has not been touched. They will freak out your dog. They will make you believe in the guttural ghost of dubstep, and they will force you to define it as something else.
Honorable Mentions: Lucki Eck$’s dilatory “Count on Me,” J. Mascis’s wise Tied to a Star, Ariana Grande feat. Zedd’s era-ender “Break Free,” Riff-Raff’s ingenuity at the VMAs.
Robert De Niro’s auditions for the role of Sonny in The Godfather. The part was, of course, ultimately given to James Caan—while De Niro would later go on to play the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II.
I’m not prepared to say whether or not I “like” “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift’s new slice of Toni Basil-core, but I’m sure I’ll get a couple hundred listens to make up my mind. That is, if someone can like Taylor Swift in the same way that he likes other music anyway. Tay-Tay’s a force of nature at this point. She just is, and she’s going to do whatever she wants regardless of what you like. No one asks if you like the sun.
In the livestream that introduced “Shake It Off” and its accompanying album 1989, Swift said: “People can say whatever they want about us at any time. The only thing we can control is our reaction.” And Swift is so far into the second tape of Casino that no one is going to call her out on that illogical hubris. Of course, I understand what she means: She has built such a well-known persona as a kiss-and-tell songwriter that, no matter how she grows as a person, she’ll be scrutinized and condemned by some vultures no matter what.
But that kind of finger-pointing averts the choices that she does have control over. She doesn’t have to be a vulture herself. She has control over the personas that she appropriates in her videos, and they don’t have to recall Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga. She doesn’t have to sack-dance on two figures whose relevance she has outlasted.
She doesn’t have to swallow up hip-hop culture, and she definitely doesn’t have to keep projecting the aw-shucks, regular girl schtick. A large part of the video is Swift performing poorly at rhythmic gymnastics or cheerleading or ballet because she’s soooo clumsy, just like you or me. Or maybe—just maybe—because none of those pursuits are her job, so why would we expect her to excel at them? Why not show her, like, doing a bad job of working as a metallurgist? It would be just as arbitrary. And it wouldn’t have the added implication that all of those other traditionally feminine activities would. By depicting herself with a fumbling femininity physically, she is able to further the lyrics’ idea that her critics think she’s failing in her emotional maturity as a woman. Not that she can control anything beyond her own reaction.
In some ways, Swift can’t help herself from exposing her own phoniness, and that’s part of what makes her endearing.* We all know that Taylor Swift is not terrible at being a woman. Look at how exquisite the tailoring is on this waist. But if she can cement an idea into a song and take ownership, then she can make it so. That’s why, to her own detriment, she writes so publicly about break-ups. She actually believes that the truth of her music will outweigh any rupture of the social contract.
In that sense, she has met her perfect match in Mark Romanek, the director of this video. So far I’ve discussed her as the auteur of this whole shebang, but Romanek is an able co-conspirator. Both of them are master craftsmen under the impression that they own everything. While Swift’s appropriation often can be excused as the trying-on experienced by most young White girls in America*, Romanek’s experimentation is a bit more pernicious, and he excuses it with his own artistry. “Oh, the entire ‘Got ‘Til It’s Gone’ video is repurposed Malick Sidibe photography? I was just really inspired by it. ‘Can’t Stop’ owes everything to the one-minute sculptures of Erwin Wurm? Well I’m such a big fan of his that I guess I just internalized them.” The guy is great at what he does. He cuts into movement better than anyone else cuts out of it. You might be able to argue that he invented speed-ramping. But he’s a cultural thief all the same.
I’ve been so interested in these other wrinkles that I haven’t even mentioned the most notable aspect of the track, obvious from the first note. It’s a shiny pop song. Although Swift has been transitioning out of country for half a decade, “Shake It Off” is a clean break. It’s a Max Martin-assisted code-switch. And even if it harkens back to her detractors, it’s more sugary and less confessional than most of her other work. Now what does that mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s just a superficial but provocative lead single, and the rest of the album (named, after all, after the year she was born) will be confrontational, tortured, and raw. You know, like every Eminem album cycle ever.
There’s another possibility too. “Shake It Off” is, on its face, an empowered kiss-off to the haters, but it’s also an implicit retreat from vulnerability and guitar. If the songs become anthemic jokes, then they actually validate the idea that she shouldn’t be writing about her own pain. Thus the song about how wrong her critics are becomes a sad admission that they were right all along. I can deal with Taylor dropping a pom-pom. I don’t know how to react to the aural equivalent, her suspicion that she has outgrown the way that she got us to love her. Then again, the only thing we can control is our reaction.
*- Her misplaced candor could make for some hilarious SNL skits. In a way it’s a shame that she is such a successful musician, since I can imagine her as the perfect awkwardly familiar boss. Just picture Swifty sidling up to you in the breakroom with a bag of microwave popcorn, all like: “What’s the gossip, girlfriend? You can tell me. I’m not like the other bosses. I’m the cool boss.” Oh, man. “Shake It Off” is such a “cool boss” song.
*- Although, let’s get real, your girl’s twenty-three. When is she old enough to know better? If you think she’s going to be shucking and jiving in her fifties, taking wholesale from other people’s cultures, you’ve got another thing coming. I think.
"It might seem strange now, but there was a time when the average social media patron did not consider Robin Williams the single most transcendent talent of several generations. That time was six days ago."
I know. A little late.
Best Song of July:
Alvvays- “Archie, Marry Me”- In July I read a lot of Grantland’s Romantic Comedy Week, which bemoaned the absence of rom-coms in today’s cinema. It wasn’t until Wesley Morris’s piece at the very end of the week that anyone had something approaching an answer. Morris posits that romantic comedies used to be sparked by the tension and inequality of the workplace, and that kindle isn’t there in a modern society where men and women are actually more equal. I would take it a step further: Traditional romantic comedies are about differences between men and women, and people are afraid that acknowledging any difference at all is bigoted. Whether or not men and womenare equal is moot; no one wants to get think-pieced about it. An entire genre is passe because people don’t feel equipped to discuss gender.
I say this because Molly Rankin of Toronto’s Alvvays offers a pretty traditional romantic sentiment in “Archie, Marry Me.” The song’s speaker is talking to a stubborn man who cites student loan debt as part of his “contempt for matrimony.” The speaker is more complex though. On one hand, she acknowledges that marriage is “signing some papers.” But it is important to her and is informed by the pressure that “They’re talking about / Us living in sin.” The song goes from a description of the man, to a description of how content they are—such a telling word—to a promise of fidelity, to a lowering of stakes, to an ultimatum. There’s a real desperation to that movement, and by the time the solo claws up the walls, we feel it too. Of course, Rankin’s dreamy roll of a voice, all the more soaring because of its thinness, is backed up by sixty years of rock and roll music—climbing guitar, flag-planting drum fill, and a wily bridge. But she’s also just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to love her. And in 2014, if it’s honest, that sounds kind of revolutionary.
Best Album of July:
A Sunny Day in Glasgow- Sea When Absent- How about another film analogy? Not to poke a hole in the sixth best movie of the ’90s, but Paulie is an underdeveloped character in GoodFellas. So it helps when Henry describes him with “Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.” A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s music isn’t necessarily slow, (“The Things They Do to Me” is a brisk 140 BPM.) but it knows where it wants to go and gets there when it feels like it. A lot of bands find a groove and stick with it though. The difference is that A Sunny Day in Glasgow can do that within the context of experimentation, and their music can sound assured and dynamic at once. My favorite is the ebullient “In Love with Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing),” but ”Crushin’” probably illustrates the band’s determinism the best. The shoegaze introduction shuffles until it can’t really be considered an introduction anymore. Then there’s a construction paper crumple of a guitar solo that flips the elegance of that first part. And then they slap an 808 coda on top of that. But those different pieces all sound as if they’re of one grand, fluid, organic piece. I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this, which is why the album deserves even more listens than I’ve already given it.
Honorable Mentions: The whole Alvvays album, Cut Copy’s steady Free Your Mind, Jenny Lewis’s Stevie Nicks channeling on The Voyager, Chance the Rapper’s beatific “Wonderful Everyday,” and Kirk Walker Graves’s awestruck 33 1/3 book on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
THE QUEST FOR THE MOST ’90s FILM OF ALL TIME
Considering that I had trouble finding a suitable image of its poster, this soccer comedy, a relic from a time when we demanded far less from children’s entertainment, might not be a cultural touchstone. But The Quest has never been a popularity contest; it’s about respect. Like the tagline of this film, it knows that “Respect is one big goal” [+1]. Get it? Respect? Like Rodney Dangerfield? You know how he says, “I get no respect” all the time? And then “goal” has a double meaning because it’s also a soccer term, and this is a soccer movie? If you think I drove that joke into the ground by over-explaining it, then please do not subject yourself to Ladybugs, which drills its jokes into the center of the earth and then drowns you in magma.
- Actors Who Are Unquestionably Tied to the Decade- Rodney Dangerfield [+10]
Rodney Dangerfield’s best stand-up and best film work was in the ’80s. But as a caked-up parody of himself, recycling his own tropes to the point that a nine-year-old could still get the “no respect” thing, I have to declare him a ’90s star.
In Ladybugs he of the exophthalmos plays Chester, a middle manager at something called Mullen Industries [+1]. The film never explains what this company does, which is sort of maddening. I imagine it’s some sort of non-profit workshop for insult comics because Dangerfield is just walking around the office chopping wood. Here he is insinuating that the receptionist is a prostitute [+1]. Here he is saying, “If I’m an asshole, there’s a reason for it: You’re contagious!” [+1]. All appropriate things to say if you’re desperate for a promotion [+2].
- Other Notable Actors/Characters- Jackee, Jonathan Brandis, Ilene Graff, Vinessa Shaw [+5]
Dangerfield is angling for a promotion because he needs to scrounge up the cash for a wedding to his sweetheart, who’s wandering around her garden talking about how desirable Tom Cruise is [+1]. He tells her, “My promotion’s in the bag,” and she replies, “That’s great, Chester, but I’ve heard it all before” [+2]. The same screenwriting crutches that demand expository dialogue and direct address also necessitate a disapproving jock stepson. And we get one of those in the dreamy Jonathan Brandis, whose Matthew character comes into play after Dangerfield’s showdown with The Boss.
Mr. Mullen, played by Dangerfield’s real-life weed carrier Tom Parks, is the real engine of this ship. He doesn’t have much time for Dangerfield’s promotion entreaties until he remembers that he needs a coach for his daughter’s youth soccer team. Dangerfield does that bad-lying movie thing (“What position? I, uh, played them all.”) [+3], as if he doesn’t even know what a goalie is, but he agrees. Maybe if he can continue the Ladybugs’ winning tradition, he can gain the respect of his boss, which would translate into a promotion, which would translate into love and happiness. Mr. Mullen is my favorite character because he provides the worst dialogue of the entire film. Here are his most absurdly expository lines:
1. “As you know, I’m a very competitive man. I love being the best.”
2. “Well, Mr. Vice President, I’m very proud of you. This new year-round sports program of yours has been very good for Mullen Industries’ profile. By the way, how’s married life?” [spoilers I guess]
3. “You’ve forgotten what’s important.”
4. “We’re in the championship!”
Anyway, after he hands out the SCORE-brand uniforms [+1], reads from a book about soccer, and cracks a few double entendres about balls [+1], Dangerfield learns that it’s a rebuilding year for the ‘Bugs. Most of these girls have never even played before. He’ll have to depend upon his sarcastic assistant Jackée, who delivers her usual complex and sophisticated performance. She says things like, “You know Black people are the best at sports,” [+1] and it isn’t even really a bit. That’s just the character’s contribution.
I have to mention this. Throughout a whole scene, Jackée does this totally bizarre thing in which she eats a sandwich starting with the middle [+10]. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It seemed like an Andy Kaufman bit. What if I completely reimagine something people do every day by doing it in the least logical way?
At the same time he’s trying to create a winning team, Dangerfield finds out that his home-life is falling apart too. As his fiancee communicates through more garbage dialogue, “It couldn’t get much worse. Because of his poor grades, they kicked Matthew off the football team and the JV soccer team.” Lightbulb! Before Dangerfield can ridicule an Asian player named Chu by making sneezing noises [+1], he turns Matthew into Martha, his new girl soccer star. Because clearly someone who is expendable on a boys’ JV team would automatically be the best girls’ player ever, right [+3]? Bring on some contrived conflict.
- Could the Plot Reasonably Occur with Current Technology?
No [+10], because I’m guessing one of these girls would try to approach Martha on social media or, like, want to know her last name and would find out quickly that she’s made up. Apparently, Dangerfield never had to present any paperwork to let her play in the league. Matthew never even changes his voice or does anything beyond putting on a wig to disguise himself [+3], so wouldn’t they just recognize him from the nearby school? The audience: We don’t get no respect.
You can tell Martha is intense because she says things like, “Save this, sweetheart!” as she’s playing [+2]. Wouldn’t you know it, the team starts to win as she comes up with new soccer techniques, such as pushing players down and not toeing the ball (Thanks for nothing, Soccer Technical Advisor Garry Moore. [+1]). The Ladybugs start to win, as we see in a Things-Turning-Around Montage, which is SOUNDTRACKED BY A RODNEY DANGERFIELD/JACKEE DUET OF “GREAT BALLS OF FIRE” [+5].
(You know who loves the Ladybugs’ winning streak? Mr. Mullen, who, on one hand, doesn’t care enough about the team to even vet the coach in any way, but on the other hand is willing to restructure his entire company based on its potential success. Peep him at the games with his sweater tied around his shoulders and a flute of champagne in his hand [+1]. During this montage, Mullen dedicates a blackboard of his office to chalking up wins and toasts with champagne in the boardroom. Is this how corporate America works?)
Martha obviously runs into some sticky situations. For example, there’s a post-game pool party, and all of the girls are skinny-dipping. And no girl is allowed to leave unless her parents pick her up personally! What is Martha going to do amidst this exploitative sexual abuse? Say, “No. That’s creepy. You can’t force me to strip naked”? Or call up Coach on the corded car phone [+1] and have him show up in drag as Martha’s mother [+3]? Path of least resistance, you know?
Similarly, we have a Twelfth Night scenario in which Matthew is attracted to one of the other players—he even fantasizes about their wedding, like most fifteen-year-old boys do [+2]—but she only knows him as a girl. So that creates one of my favorite devices: As the young couple watches MTV on a wooden furniture TV [+2], we get the quick-change “Hold on one second while I check on something in the other room!” [+5]. Zany madcap hijinx.
I’ve gone pretty long on this. Uh, Martha gets found out and can’t play, but the Ladybugs win the championship against some aggressive military squad because the kids play as a team [+3]. Dangerfield gets his promotion, though I wonder how Mr. Mullen explained that to the board. I’m leaving out a lot of Exaggerated Homosexual Panic and Explaining What Yellow Cards Are, but you get it [+4].
To make a joke about Jonathan Brandis hanging himself in real life or to not make a joke about Jonathan Brandis hanging himself in real life: That is the question.
Most of the female characters are in soccer uniforms, so the men have to pick up the slack in the form of suspenders with t-shirts, jean jackets, snapbacks, Color Me Badd suits, overalls, all-over-print shirts, high-waisted jeans, and black hi-tops with white socks. Don’t sell the women short though: We’re treated to a lot of scrunchies [+9].
’90s FILM CONVENTIONS
You’re So Pretty Once You Change Everything about Your Appearance! [+3]
Reading from a Book about How to Play Soccer While the Opposite of Those Suggestions Plays Out on the Field [+3]
"Go long" [Dives for the ball and gets a girl to notice him] [+3]
"Oh, uh, why am I taking you so high up? Uh, you see, this seat is actually much better. You can see everything!" [+3]
A Kid Commiserating Over Milkshakes As If They Were Alcoholic Drinks [+3]
Tommy Lasorda cameo [+1]
This is an awful movie, and it’s an awful movie that doesn’t even have an audience. It’s too pandering and unimaginative for adults—plus, it looks as if it was filmed for $127. At the same time, Dangerfield’s comedy, tired as it is, is inappropriate for kids. Everyone stands around, and the entire movie grinds to a halt so that he can toss out, “The only thing faster than that is when I’m having sex.” And it’s not even as funny as one second later when a kid says, “Holy boogers” [+1]. Sometimes Dangerfield doesn’t even make sense. For example, Mr. Mullen says, “I understand Matthew and my daughter are becoming very close.” And Dangerfield responds with “Ha—more than you know.” What does that even mean? You’re aware of the sexual relationship between these fifteen-year-old minors under your care? Why is that funny? Who is that for? I complain a lot about how focus-grouped entertainment is, how rigged everything is to score with certain demographics. But if Ladybugs is the alternative, then we’re all better off.
For obvious reasons, the scores favor abysmal films made in the first part of the decade. Accordingly, Ladybugs scores a hearty 112, which makes it number four all-time. In case you were wondering, here are the standings. I can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for four years. Thanks to my buddy Dr. Travis Jacobson for doing most of the leg-work on the scores.
Man of the House (120)
Singles (114 )
Can’t Hardly Wait (111)
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (107)
Blank Check (101)
I Know What You Did Last Summer (101)
The Truth about Cats and Dogs (100)
Independence Day (96)
The Lawnmower Man (95)
Point Break (95)
Little Big League (93)
Jurassic Park (90)
Cruel Intentions (89)
You’ve Got Mail (88)
The Bodyguard (87)
Jerry Maguire (84)
The Santa Clause (83)
Varsity Blues (82)
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (82)
The Net (78)
Encino Man (75)
3 Ninjas (74)
Happy Gilmore (73)
Ace Ventura (70)
Home Alone 2: Lost in new York (69)
Devil’s Advocate (64)
All I Want for Christmas (63)
The Mighty Ducks (62)
Mrs. Doubtfire (62)
The Fan (60)
Fight Club (47)
Kindergarten Cop (33)
The Indian in the Cupboard (28)
This is a really interesting article, but The Dissolve ain’t got no love for “Treefingers” in Memento?
2nd Quarter of 2014
I haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Locke, or Obvious Child yet, but I feel pretty caught up otherwise. In addition to the films below, I also liked We Are the Best! and Snowpiercer.
1. Only Lovers Left Alive- Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch’s films always have a tinge of elegy (cf. Broken Flowers), but this time the stakes are different. His mouthpiece for the despair of an aging hipster is a pair of people who actually have seen it all. The Swinton and Hiddleston characters are so fully realized, disengaging from the world until they find their separate breaking points, clinging to each other with Gothic promise. It would almost be too much to take without the non-stop wit on display. Some of that comes from the injection of life that Wasikowska’s character brings in the second half, but I kind of preferred the Ozymandias-core of Hiddleston cruising around the ruins of Detroit, focusing on the matter at hand of finding clean blood so that he doesn’t have to think about everything else. (It should be mentioned that Jarmusch explains all of these circumstances of being a vampire. Usually when an auteur makes a genre film, none of the genre elements hold up. You have to excuse it with: “Well, he doesn’t actually care about the science of it. It’s just a device.” Jarmusch is completely willing to let us in on what is myth and what is real in this universe.)
I’m actually not a big Jarmusch fan, but his work here seems more elegant and careful than it has in years. Not just in the screenplay that gracefully tells me everything about these characters, but also in the visual storytelling. There’s a pointed shot of a musician finishing a set and setting his guitar down so that it faces an amp and emits feedback for a few minutes. That feedback is kind of what this whole world is to the protagonists: the remnant of something that used to be quite pleasing, giving off just enough of its essence so that you can remember what it used to be. The end of the world doesn’t come with a bang. It comes when you no longer recognize yourself in anyone around you. Which is actually a lot worse.
2. The Immigrant- James Gray
The Immigrant is about opportunity. Since it begins with characters checking in at Ellis Island, you would probably assume what type of opportunity it analyzes. But you would be wrong. It’s actually a dire, direct interpretation of what happens when people reduce a human soul to only an opportunity. Phoenix’s character takes advantage of Cotillard’s character when she is at her most vulnerable, using her body for his own purposes, lowering her to an object. He starts as gracious, then becomes despicable, then becomes desperate. The film then morphs into something more tragic and fascinating because she does the same thing in response, projecting any chance to survive on him or his cousin. The film comes down to how much humanity someone has to have left in order to be redeemed. That’s a complicated thing to get across, but James Gray has the help of Marion Cotillard, whose haunting desolation here elevates her to the absolute top of her class. The type of lonely hope she shows is uniquely religious, and kudos to Gray for addressing that head-on. It’s a shame that the film is unique in its even-handed treatment of faith.
Every one of James Gray’s films has been better than the last. God bless the foreign money that allowed him to make this. The budget is estimated at $16.5 million, which is either a lie or a miracle since the period detail, shot on gauzy, grainy, luminous film by Darius Khondji, rivals any other Ellis Island film, including the big dogs. And it’s available on Netflix Instant starting today!
3. Godzilla- Gareth Edwards / RoboCop- Jose Padilha
In the second half of Godzilla, there’s a bus full of kids stranded on the Golden Gate Bridge as the title character goes ham all around them. One of those kids is the son of Ford, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s lead. Most films of this type would exploit the viewer’s natural instinct to protect a child, any child, from harm. In Godzilla I wanted the kid to live so that Ford didn’t have any more pain in his life. That’s such a crucial difference of audience investment and character building. This is the first post-Nolan event film to matter because, unlike something like Man of Steel that is checking off boxes, it actually understands the foreboding austerity that it’s lifting from The Dark Knight. My initial reaction might have been, “I could have used a joke here or there.” But Edwards’ discipline pays off by not wasting one cutaway on an office drone who is, I don’t know, upset that Godzilla destroyed the Excel file he had just saved. No one is playing, so it has some weight when Edwards evokes the imagery of every American disaster of the last fifty years. Just when I thought, “What’s next? A plane crashing into a skyscraper?”—yeah, a plane crashes into a skyscraper. And on top of that, there were still at least three visuals that, in the theater by myself, made me say “wow” out loud.
Similarly, The new RoboCop is the remake that everyone promises but no one actually delivers. How many times have we heard “a Movie X for our times”? While most remakes are trying to work their way around the changes in the world since the original—as in, “Hmm, how do cell phones not make this all irrelevant?”—RoboCop is actually more appropriate in 2014. For example, Detroit is just kind of a nondescript Metropolis in the ‘87 RoboCop, but Detroit means something in ‘14. Calling a mechanical cop a “drone” is just a synonym in ‘87, but it means something in ‘14. The relentless need to expand through innovation existed for a company like Omnicorp in ‘87, but it’s essential in the post-Google market. And just as it took a Dutch outsider to critique American fascism and spin control in ‘87, it takes a Brazilian outsider to do it today. Padilha’s hand is creative and knowing in the way it depicts American greed, political division, and technology. The film is futuristic in some intriguing ways, but there’s no need to jam it down our throats with flying cars. To use those remake buzz words again, this is a “more realistic” update and, despite its PG-13 rating, a “grittier” one because, like Godzilla, none of the violence is a joke.
And these actors! Samuel L. Jackson relishing his chance to mimic cable news outrage, Gary Oldman projecting genuine disturbance. Playing a studio franchise with absolute commitment and sincerity is the new version of cashing a check.
4. Palo Alto- Gia Coppola
"April, I love you."
"That doesn’t even make sense."
Despite my theater’s crappy presentation of this film, I was quite taken by it. Coppola’s characters live pathologically in the present tense: Twice, the words of adults are heard in voiceover as the next scene advances, the young people traveling further and further away from their admonishments. (One of those disembodied voices is an uncredited Grandpa Francis as a judge.) The one time that the Emma Roberts character is faced with the future, she retreats to the bathroom to cry; the one time that she contemplates the past, she seems so unpracticed that she can’t even do it (“…that was fun…”). Yet the film is in so many ways about that moment in a person’s life when he is the person he’s going to be and has to live with the consequences and possibilities beyond just today. One day those cars won’t swerve for you, and one day you won’t just get community service. You’ll just have to sit with yourself and live. The screenplay, along with Devonte Hynes’ feathery score, seems to know that, but it’s never precious or preachy about it. The kids will learn.
I had seen Roberts only in a few studio offerings (Scream 4—never forget) and her Manic Pixie Dream Girl trilogy (Lymelife, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Art of Getting By). She’s pretty great here, full of nervous fidgets and upcast eyes. Franco, especially in his pathetic fumblings with her, is ego-free and relaxed.
5. Joe- David Gordon Green
Joe is missing the profundity—real or feigned—that would have put it over the top. But even more than last year’s tone poem Prince Avalanche, it’s what I would like to see from David Gordon Green. Just as Winter’s Bone, Wendy and Lucy, and Frozen River established a neorealist microgenre documenting America’s new poor, Green and Jeff Nichols seem to be at the head of a new take on the southern gothic. This one has the generational curses and chained dogs and depressing trips to brothels that would have made Faulkner proud, but the performances keep the film from being paint-by-numbers. People raved about Cage’s restraint here, but he’s still doing very Cagey things—we just wanted to see him in a movie worth a damn. I think Green might care more about non-professional actors than he does about the real deal, and the world around the principals is much fuller as a result.
You Can’t Tell Me That You Kiss Your Mother with That Thing: Best Songs of 2014 So Far
Ranked sloppily and limited to one song per artist. This counts as the June mix, but my favorite album of the month is How to Dress Well’s “What Is This Heart?” My favorite song of the month is Riff Raff and Childish Gambino’s “Lava Glaciers.” Or maybe Hamilton Leithauser’s “11 O’Clock Friday Night.”
1. Rick Ross feat. Kanye West and Big Sean- “Sanctified”
2. Frankie Cosmos- “Birthday Song”
3. How to Dress Well- “Words I Don’t Remember”
4. White Hinterland- “David”
5. Woods- “Moving to the Left”
6. Mas Ysa- “Shame”
7. You Blew It!- “Gray Matter”
8. Bleachers- “I Wanna Get Better”
9. Future feat. Young Scooter- “Special”
10. Lykke Li- “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”
11. Pharrell Williams feat. Justin Timberlake- “Brand New”
12. Cam’ron feat. A-Trak- “Humphrey”
13. Frank Ocean, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Diplo- “Hero”
14. Drake- “Trophies”
15. Real Estate- “Talking Backwards”
16. Hamilton Leithauser- “Alexandra”
17. Parquet Courts- “Instant Disassembly”
18. Todd Terje- “Delorean Dynamite”
19. DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon- “Turn Down for What”
20. James McMorrow- “Cavalier”
21. YG feat. Drake- “Who Do You Love?”
22. Doughboyz Cashout- “Started As a Worker”
23. Taking Back Sunday- “Flicker, Fade”
24. Migos- “Peek a Boo”
25. Neon Trees- “Voices in the Halls”
26. Beck- “Wave”
27. Cymbals- “The Natural World”
28. Girl Talk and Freeway feat. Waka Flocka Flame- “Tolerated”
29. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- “Eurydice”
30. Ivry- “Thru My Veins”
31. Modern Baseball- “Your Graduation”
32. Nicki Minaj feat. Young Thug- “Danny Glover (Remix)”
33. Mac DeMarco- “Brother”
34. Coldplay- “A Sky Full of Stars”
35. Caribou- “Can’t Do Without You”
36. Evian Christ- “Propeller”
37. A$AP Mob, A$AP Nast, Method Man- “Trillmatic”
38. Damon Albarn- “Everyday Robots”
39. Tiesto feat. Matthew Koma- “Wasted”
40. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX- “Fancy”
41. CEO- “Ultrakaos”
42. Freddie Gibbs feat. Madlib and Danny Brown- “High”
43. Mac Miller feat. Earl Sweatshirt- “Polo Jeans”
44. Tune-Yards- “Water Fountain”
45. Capital Cities feat. Andre 3000- “Farrah Fawcett Hair”
46. Curren$y feat. Action Bronson- “Godfather Four”
47. Wild Beasts- “Wanderlust”
48. CyHi the Prynce- “Mandela”
49. Riff-Raff feat. Childish Gambino- “Lava Glaciers”
50. Jamie XX- “All Under One Roof Raving”