10 Year Recall: Starfield’s “I Will Go”

It’s quite appropriate that just before sitting down to re-listen to Starfield’s 2008 album I Will Go, the band’s third after a self titled debut in 2004 and 2006’s Beauty in the Broken, I gave another shot to U2’s latest album, 2017’s Songs of Experience. That particular album continues to be pretty post-All That You Can’t Leave Behind U2, but that’s not why it was an appropriate lead into I Will Go. The Christian music industry is often (and most of the time rightly) accused of latching onto the rest of the world’s musical trends, and for better or worse, the first several years of the 2000’s were the heyday of the particular trend rearing its head.

U2 is an easy target because the band’s signature sounds–delay heavy lead guitar, driving rhythm section and big, soaring choruses–have essentially become the defining musical characteristics of modern worship music (see: Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman’s records during that period and since then as proof, as well as scores of other worship leader/songwriters). Starfield fell nicely into that box, although an argument can (and will, right here) be made that the Canadian rock band fits better into the modern/alternative rock of the early 2000’s than the lazy U2 comparison.

Certainly there are elements of I Will Go that delve into The Edge’s guitar tones, but that isn’t necessarily because they are influenced directly by Bono and Co. Instead, it’s easy to forget that secular rock bands of that era were also borrowing pretty heavily from those sonic choices, so it makes more sense to say that Starfield were working to implement the most modern rock sounds they could rather than steal from a band whose best recent album came out a full four years before Starfield made its debut.

The point here isn’t to argue that Starfield weren’t trying to sound like U2, though, but instead to make a case for the quality of I Will Go ten years later. The album came out on March 25, 2008, a little less than two years after the band’s previous album, Beauty in the Broken, which was the album that first introduced me to the band. That album was essential for me in 2006, because at the time I was finding myself less and less enthusiastic about the Christian music scene, so it was important that I found a band that seemed to share both my musical sensibilities (albeit a little muted) and my faith. While I think both albums have incredible moments of rock songwriting, the band clearly finds itself of two minds when it comes to song selection and writing, as well as when considering how heavy they allow their sound to become. The album features some noticeably huge sonic choices, especially on the opening track “From the Corners of the Earth,” which features cranked-to-eleven guitars and some electronic textures, and the title track, which almost sounds like punk-rock lite.

On the other side of things, however, is a band that recognizes who its audience is. The lyrics of the record are unabashedly Christ-centered, leaving no room for the band to ever find itself on non-CCM radio stations, which causes Starfield’s sound to often feel like it’s been run through a Christian-radio-friendly filter. The guitars can chunk and chug-chug, just not too much; the vocals can soar, but they better stay clean. This leads to sonically diluted songs like “Reign In Us” and “Great In All The Earth,” which toe the line, but never jump into the modern rock musical space as much as they could. And of course there’s a Sunday morning friendly cover of Brooke Fraser of Hillsong’s “Hosanna,” which features a guitar solo, but a not too crazy one, the perfect compromise for a band that can’t seem to figure out what it wants most.

All that said, listening to the album again is definitely an enjoyable experience. The songs aren’t complex, and I find myself wishing the band had taken more musical risks at several point during the record, but to my mind, they band accomplishes what seems to be its ultimate goal: to write songs they felt connected themselves and others closer to God. The problem with that, though, is that the statement suggests that harder guitars or a different vocal delivery would have precluded someone from that goal, something I take issue with. I get that there is a time and place for different styles of music, but the audacity of people who believe that loud, heavy and even scream-y music can’t also connect the faithful to their creator is beyond me. And I think it often leads to stale, less daring artistic choices.

I want to be clear: this isn’t just a Starfield thing (in fact, amongst the ranks of Christian artists, they’ve done well to continue to at least make attempts to take some calculated risks, especially on their 2012 independent release The Kingdom, probably their most interesting album from start to finish). This is an issue that exists across the Christian music scene, and it’s a difficult argument to dive into, but the question comes down to this: if we’re creating to worship a God who is greater than all things and worthy of our best, why wouldn’t we want to challenge ourselves as artists and as those who experience the art created by others? It’s a wildly complicated issue that I’ve touched on before, and one that I don’t have a final answer on other than to say that I believe God deserves our best, even if it doesn’t fit into a prescribed formula or box.

This took an unexpected turn, but it feels appropriate given the topic at hand. To sum everything up, here’s this: I Will Go is a solid Christian rock album that I’d place in third place behind Beauty in the Broken and The Kingdom as far as Starfield’s albums are concerned (in fourth is 2010’s The Saving One; I’ve never listened to their debut). As far as finding the right balance of music that speaks to my faith and what I want my heart to cry and musical choices, Starfield is always going to be one of my top choices. In that regard, I Will Go is definitely an album worth revisiting.

Final 2018 Oscar Predictions

The hour is almost upon us. Sunday night starting at 8 PM, Jimmy Kimmel will once again kickstart the biggest night in Hollywood (at least for those to whom things like awards matter, anyway); an event that takes place, strangely, in the middle of the LA afternoon, bringing out all the glitz and glamor of Tinsel Town.

Thing is, to me, little of that matters. I won’t take any time to watch the pre-awards show, take almost negative stock in who is wearing whom and frankly just want Kimmel to hit the stage to try to make jokes that appeal to massive audiences. I’m ready for the handing out of the first trophy (Best Supporting Actor, for some reason) and for the show to feel bloated and overlong by the middle section, before picking up steam into its final third, hopefully avoiding a fiasco like last year. And with this year’s show, we have a crop of nominees that could go in so many different directions, it’s really anybody’s guess who will walk out the big winner or the most decorated film of the night (not necessarily the same thing).

So since it’s anybody’s guess, I’ll venture a few myself. Because I am insane, I will select predictions and who I’d like to see win (again, not necessarily the same thing) for ALL TWENTY-FOUR OSCAR CATEGORIES, and add more details to some of the more notable awards. Strap in, folks, it’s about to get wild.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

Prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes

Preferred winner: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Commentary: I could really be good with either of these films, or even Blade Runner 2049, winning, but in this case I’m going with the film I liked the best since it’s essential a wash in the category.

COSTUME DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

Prediction: Beauty and the Beast

Preferred winner: Phantom Thread

Commentary: Feels odd that a film about fashion design isn’t getting more attention here.  No problem with the second highest grossing film of the year getting one here, though.

MAKEUP AND HAIR

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

Prediction: Darkest Hour

Preferred winner: Meh

Commentary: History tells us that making someone old and/or fatter than they are goes well for this Oscar. See: Click is an Oscar-winning film.

ORIGINAL SONG

“Mighty River” from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common

“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Prediction: “Remember Me”

Preferred winner: “Mystery of Love”

Commentary: I haven’t heard any of these songs. This category is remarkably ridiculous in the best of years. I picked Stevens’ song mostly because I want to see him up on stage accepting an Oscar.

ORIGINAL SCORE

Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell

Prediction: The Shape of Water, unfortunately

Preferred winner: Phantom Thread or Dunkirk

Commentary: Nothing really wrong with Desplat’s score, it just doesn’t feel interesting or innovative to me, both adjectives with describe Zimmer and Greenwood’s scores. Both scores make the films tick (literally in Zimmer’s case) and ratchet up the tension and emotions of the films in which they are found. Williams is great, but he’s got a million Oscars now (note: it’s 5, with a total of 51 nominations, and a win for the original Star Wars already in tow) and I barely remember there being a score in Three Billboards. Pulling hard for an upset here.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Prediction: Beauty and the Beast (but really, probably The Shape of Water)

Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk

Commentary: These categories where TSoW is featured will tell us a lot about how much the Academy at large loves the film (I didn’t, but I don’t get a real vote), so the swing towards Beauty could tell us something; a win for something like Blade Runner 2049 or even Dunkirk tells us something else, although at that point it’ll be too early to tell (remember that year when Mad Max: Fury Road swept all these tech awards and then disappeared, for example?).

SOUND MIXING

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Prediction: Dunkirk

Preferred winner: Dunkirk

Commentary: I read recently that a Star Wars film has never won in this category, which I think is insane. Still, the sound in Dunkirk is enveloping and unsettling, just as it should be. The Academy loves to give these awards to war films, and Nolan’s film should fit nicely into that, even if it is an unorthodox war film.

SOUND EDITING

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Prediction: Dunkirk

Preferred winner: Dunkirk

Commentary: It’s actually strange to see these categories match up exactly, but I think the  winner is the same for both. It’s just phenomenal work on all fronts (pun intended).

FILM EDITING

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Baby Driver

Preferred winner: Baby Driver (great with Dunkirk, too)

Commentary: The quirky, rock-and-roll quality of the editing in Baby Driver is similar to the jazzy editing in Whiplash, the winner from a few years ago. It’s note-perfect, and makes a lot of sense here.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

The Insult (Lebanon)

Loveless (Russia)

On Body and Soul (Hungary)

The Square (Sweden)

Prediction: It’s a guess, because I haven’t seen any of them, but I’ll go with The Square

Commentary: I have no dog in this fight. Maybe I root for Ikea?

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

DeKalb Elementary

The Eleven O’Clock

My Nephew Emmett

The Silent Child

Watu Wote/All of Us

Prediction: Shrug emoji; DeKalb Elementary as a random guess.

Commentary: Now starts a string of films/shorts I have no idea about. This is where Oscar pools are won and lost; on random guesses.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Edith+Eddie

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Heroin(e)

Knife Skills

Traffic Stop

Prediction/Commentary: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is both a great title and something I’m glad will not be true.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

Prediction/Commentary: I’ve heard a lot about Last Men in Aleppo, so let’s go with that.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Prediction: Blade Runner 2049

Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049 (Dunkirk in second)

Commentary: It’s time to give Deakins his due and his Oscar. For all its faults, Blade Runner is a gorgeous film and well deserved of a victory here (though, to be fair, so were Skyfall, True Grit and No County for Old Men, if not more).

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

Prediction: Get Out

Preferred winner: Lady Bird or The Big Sick

Commentary: Two things. First, I don’t think Peele’s film is going to win anywhere else, so this is a way for the Academy to acknowledge it (even if I think it’s pretty overrated); so while I don’t think it’s that deserving and that the screenplay is the thing dragging it along most, I expect to see Get Out win. Second, either of my preferred winners are worthy, and I actually pretty bummed not to see more from The Big Sick, but a win here for Gerwig could be telling about how much the voters like Lady Bird.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams & Dee Rees

Prediction: Call Me By Your Name

Preferred winner: Logan

Commentary: A lot like Get Out, I think this essentially it for Call Me By Your Name, which came into the world around this time last year to rapturous adoration and has sort of dissipated in the conversation since. Logan, on the other hand, is a superhero movie that really isn’t; its characters are so grounded and seem so real, if it weren’t for the adamantium claws and telepathy, the film wouldn’t function as a superhero movie at all. It would show a lot of good faith by the Academy to not only nominate, but award a trophy to a film of its massive success in a category like this.

ANIMATED SHORT

Dear Basketball

Garden Party

Lou

Negative Space

Revolting Rhymes

Prediction/Commentary: Again, no real idea here, other than I hope that we don’t have to start calling Kobe Bryant an Oscar winner. Go for Garden Party or Revolving Rhymes, just for fun.

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Prediction/Commentary: Coco. I caught a few minutes of the end of The Boss Baby and it is remarkably dumb, but that is because it is expressly written to entertain children, especially those under 5 (my three-year-old finds it incredibly impressive). I just don’t see a world where Pixar loses this one.

BEST DIRECTOR

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

Preferred winner: Nolan, followed by Gerwig and PTA

Commentary: Look, I have nothing against del Toro, and honestly think he’s a great, imaginative filmmaker. I just didn’t think much of The Shape of Water, which feels like a more mainstream attempt at the adult fairy tale he talked about way back when he release Pan’s Labyrinth, which, to my eyes, is a far better, more interesting film with much more at stake. This is also a bizarre category that nobody really knows how to predict, other than the fact that del Toro has pretty much swept like-minded awards throughout the last few months. I’m always going to root for Nolan, a first-time nominee in this category, and feel he’s overlooked because he’s not only incredibly talented, but also directs blockbusters. If he wins, I think we can pretty much assume the Best Picture category has gone an unforeseen direction, too.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Prediction: Allison Janney

Preferred winner: Laurie Metcalf

Commentary: Janney has been a runaway winner in this category most of the awards season, but for me she doesn’t factor into the narrative of I, Tonya enough to justify her scenery-chewing performance win here. In terms of that, Metcalf’s performance is both more important and nuanced, so I’d like to see her come out the winner when it’s all said and done.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Sam Rockwell

Preferred winner: Rockwell is fine, although I wasn’t enamored with any of those I saw (unseen: Dafoe and Plummer)

Commentary: Speaking of scenery-chewing performances, that’s what Rockwell is doing here, although his is more essential to keeping the plot of Three Billboards moving along, even if the ending feels a little cheap and unearned. To me there were other, better performances in other, better movies (I continue to beat the snub-drum for Tracy Letts, who plays Saoirse Ronan’s father in Lady Bird in a thoughtful, charming and subtle manner that the film requires), but since this is what we’ve got, I’m okay with Rockwell, who is always a fun and interesting performer, no matter the film he’s in.

BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

Prediction: Frances McDormand

Preferred winner: Saoirse Ronan

Commentary: Nothing against McDormand–she’s strong and terrifying and remarkable and the best thing in Three Billboards–but I’m ready to see Ronan take home one of these things. It’s weird to think an actress is due at 23, but this is already her third nomination–for her incredible supporting turn in Atonement and her wildly underrated leading role in Brooklyn–and yet Lady Bird might be her best and most interesting performance to date. Even if she loses this year, I’ve no doubt she’ll be back and will eventually win an Oscar; I just think it should be this year.

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Prediction: Gary Oldman

Preferred winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Commentary: I don’t get it. Are we ignoring Day-Lewis’s performance simply because of the “been there, done that” element of it? Because that hasn’t stopped us before, and I really think it shouldn’t here. That said, while I haven’t seen Oldman’s performance, I have no issue giving him an award for a role that is tailor-made for such a thing (see: Day-Lewis’ last Oscar win for Lincoln). He’s a gifted actor who is well deserving of recognition, I’m just not sure we should dismiss the grade, anger and nuance of Day-Lewis just because he’s always this excellent.

BEST PICTURE

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: The Shape of Water

Preferred winners: Dunkirk or Lady Bird or Phantom Thread

Commentary: There doesn’t seem to be a lot of mystery to this, where the race seems to be between The Shape of Water and Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) winner Three Billboards. I was underwhelmed by both, and can’t believe it’s all going to end in a whimper like this, after what is shaping up to be a pretty good, well-divided show. I placed my preferred winners in order of preference, but also in terms of what I think is most likely. The Academy obviously liked Phantom Thread a great deal more than many expected, and it does stand a chance to win in a few other areas, but Lady Bird is starting to get the feeling of a “happy to be here” film, which is sad, because the film is engaging and charming in ways that other nominees simply are not, including the supposed front-runners. If this were a few years ago, Dunkirk would win in a landslide, but the timbre of Academy voters has changed, leaving the film on less than stable footing. However, if a situation arises where various guilds and groups in the Academy divide the vote amongst the two in the lead going into the final turn, Dunkirk feels like a movie that is well-respected enough to slip in and take the whole thing, thanks in part to this bizarre preferential voting system. I could see a scenario where Shape and Billboards get more first place votes than Dunkirk, but end up losing to the latter because it takes all second and third place votes. Depending on how the math works out, that seems like an opportunity for Nolan’s film to win, even if that seems like a longer shot than it likely should be.

 

 

Oscar Re-Do: 2017 Edition

This is the one that is going to be the most difficult to look back upon, seeing as the awards were only given out about a year ago, not to mention all the back-and-forth surrounding the possible winners leading up to the ceremony. Still with only a week until this year’s awards, I will press on and take on this compelling and controversial year at the Oscars.

One final time: actual winners in bold, my new winners in italics.

Best Original Screenplay

Manchester By The Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Hell or High Water – Tyler Sheridan

La La Land – Damien Chazelle

20th Century Woman – Mike Mills

The Lobster – Efthymis Filippou & Yargos Lanthimos

I should say up front: I have a La La Land poster in my living room and am probably the biggest champion of Chazelle’s film that I know. Its screenplay, however, was not the major strength of the film, so much as the overall puzzle strung together. It is, however, one of the two movies in this category I have seen, leaving me to give the award to the literally most original screenplay of that year (and maybe most other years) in The Lobster. To call it quirky would be an understatement; but it also manages to tell us something about society and our detachment from one another, and how we still need each other. The ability to do all those things at once makes it the winner here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight – Barry Jenkins 

Lion – Luke Davies

Arrival – Eric Heisserer

Hidden Figures – Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder

Fences – August Wilson

Might as well get this out of the way here, too: I haven’t seen Moonlight, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Most of that is because of how much praise it has gotten in the last two years, so I don’t think there’s any way it can live up to it. That said, since I’m making these picks based on movies I’ve seen, you can count the eventual Best Picture winner out of the conversation all along the way. This category is also a short conversation, seeing as I only saw Arrival, which I felt was a considerable piece of work across the board, but especially in the way its storytelling twists and turns on itself, leading to a top-notch final reveal. It’s a sci-fi film that uses its effects wisely, but doesn’t skimp on the story or the character building. Heisserer’s script packs a punch and keeps you captivated whether the aliens are on-screen or not.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis – Fences

Naomie Harris – Moonlight 

Nicole Kidman – Lion

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures 

Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

Welp, I’m out of on this one. Literally saw none of these movies. So mostly I abstain, even if I know for a fact that Davis’ role was essentially a female lead and even though I really want to see Williams win one of these things one day. Sight unseen, however, I’ll leave it alone.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges – Manchester By The Sea

Dev Patel – Lion

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

See above, mostly. My understanding is that Ali is fantastic in his scenes in Moonlight, and that the rest of the bunch are just here to fill out the nominations. Fine by me. This is the one place where not having seen anything else keeps Moonlight in its place.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

This is another interesting group, filled with directors of films of various sizes and genres. I don’t think I’m being a homer or inconsistent by keeping this trophy in Chazelle’s hands, as I’ve stated all along here that the magnitude and scope of the production matters a lot in this category, at least from my point of view. Arrival is also meaningful in that way, but Villeneuve didn’t manage to reclaim a nearly lost genre with his film (go ahead, argue with me about that, I believe it’s true). I didn’t see the rest of the bunch, but don’t think I need to. Chazelle is the right winner in this particular case.

Best Actress

Emma Stone – La La Land

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Ruth Negga – Loving 

Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Again, this is a one pony show for me (is that even a phrase people use?), and honestly, I would have liked to see Amy Adams here instead of bazillion time nominee Streep. If that were the case, I’d probably make Adams a first time winner; instead, in my world, Stone wins her second Oscar in three years, after winning my award for her supporting turn in Birdman a few years ago. This is obviously a fully different performance, showcasing her range and multi-faceted talents. Stone is great here, and I have zero problems keeping the trophy in her hands.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea

Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic 

Denzel Washington – Fences

Admittedly, I find myself in an odd place here (and honestly this is starting to feel like a strong argument for why you should wait to revisit this type of thing). Having only seen La La Land, I’d be compelled to give the Oscar to Gosling, but honestly, while I liked him in the movie and found him to be charming, I’m not sure this is the movie he should win for (that’s likely still to come). By my own rules, that means I should leave the trophy with Affleck, but that’s a loaded decision in this day and age. So I’m going to go full on left field with this one and just give it to Denzel, who was, by most accounts, in second place here, and actually took a few critics awards from Affleck, including the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Actor, along the way. I have no problem awarding Washington another Oscar here, sight unseen.

Best Picture

Moonlight

Arrival 

Fences 

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water 

Hidden Figures 

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

I mean, I told you this was coming way at the beginning. Of the nominees, I saw two of them–probably a low in terms of Best Picture nominees I’ve seen going into a ceremony in years–and while I loved them both for different reasons, my adoration of La La Land knows few bounds (my wife and I used it as entrance music for our reception at our wedding, if the living poster doesn’t convince you). Yes, I understand it isn’t your typical Hollywood love story, but really that statement gets to the heart of what it really is: a love letter to Hollywood and a story of living out your dreams, even if that means a relationship you thought that mattered can’t work. That’s the part of this story that matters.

Spoiler alert!

 

The two stars don’t end up together, no, but they both get what they wanted all along, and for those two people, and for most of the people who made the movie happen, this is an important point to make.

I can’t speak to the quality of most of the rest of the nominees, and I’m sure in its own way, Moonlight is well-deserving of the win, but I simply cannot say at this point, or do I even need to see it so I can find out. Not every movie is for everyone, and I’m okay living in a world where, in spite of my narrow view on the subject, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway really did read La La Land for Best Picture, not just a mysterious second envelope for Emma Stone’s Best Actress trophy.

In the end, that’s what this exercise was all about: recognizing that film fans don’t have to agree about everything. That award shows don’t always get it “right,” and that’s mostly because “right” is subjective when it comes to art. For me, the best picture of 2016 was La La Land, no doubt in my mind. The votes of a few thousand actors, actresses, directors, writers and the rest isn’t going to change that for me.

 

 

 

Oscar Re-Do: 2016 Edition

Round 3. Fight!

Yet again, please note: Original winner is in bold, new winner is underlined.

Best Original Screenplay

Spotlight – Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy

Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen

Ex Machina – Alex Garland

Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley; Story by Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen

Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff; Story by S.Lee Savidge, Alan Wenkus & Andrea Berloff

To me, this is a no-brainer. Before that, however, let’s reflect on what a strange group of nominees this is. There are three so-called original screenplays based on actual events. And yes, I understand that means the writers had to form those events into a coherent screenplay, but still, the writers for Spotlight, Bridge of Spies and Straight Outta Compton were working within predefined parameters in a way that neither Ex Machina nor Inside Out were. In that case, either of the latter two would be deserving, but Garland gets it for me because the film was mesmerizing and bonkers, certainly one of the most original films I’ve seen in a while. I really harp on the original part of the category name, and feel it is overlooked by most voters. Not me. Garland wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short – Adam McKay & Charles Randolph

Brooklyn – Nick Hornby

Carol – Phyllis Nagy

The Martian – Drew Goddard

Room – Emma Donoghue

This is a spectacular category. Minus Carol, which I did not see, these are all impeccably written scripts, properly paced for their genre and thrilling in terms of each script’s ability to do what it set out to do. This is difficult. I think Hornby is a top-notch writer (his book High Fidelity is fantastic and was adapted into one of my favorite films ever) and Brooklyn was a beautiful and overlooked movie, due in no small part to the quality of the writing. Goddard turned a rambling, 4th wall destroying novel into one of the funniest and most entertaining and remarkably moving films of that year. I thought The Big Short was properly rated–neither the best film of the year nor the worst of the Best Picture bunch–and was way more fun and compelling than a book about the federal reserve and stocks had any business being. But for me, it’s Donoghue’s emotional and complex retelling of her own novel. One of the hardest parts of that adaptation was always going to be condensing the first half of the book into compelling cinema, and somehow she managed to get the horrid nature of the situation just right without allowing it to become overwhelming. This makes the rest of the film work, along with the performances of its two leads, and it is a major credit to her understanding of how the story works, no matter the medium.

Best Supporting Actress

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight 

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Back to a less than compelling category, unfortunately. Along with Carol, I also didn’t see The Danish Girl or The Hateful Eight, so I don’t have much to say on this one. My hand is forced, then, to decide between McAdams and Winslet. The former is good in her scenes in Spotlight, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do. As far as transformational scene stealing goes, there’s no doubt that Winslet fits the bill, playing a fictional amalgamation of various people in Steve Jobs’ life. She’s good, but without much information, I can’t confidently say she was better than Vikander, Jason Leigh or Mara, the latter of whom I find to be the most compelling of actresses. It’s Winslet by default, but little else.

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Sylvester Stallone – Creed

This is another stacked category, even if Ruffalo is a sort of strange addition here, since he feels like the lead of his film. I’ve actually seen all five movies here (including Creed, which I just saw this past November), so I feel confident is saying that the Academy fully got this one correct. Rylance is winning and captivating in the role, and it is mainly because of him that the movie works (which is nothing against Tom Hanks, who is his usual trusty self in the film, but the movie belongs to Rylance). Hardy broods, as he usually does, and Stallone didn’t impress me all that much, at least not to the extent I expected when people were gushing as if it were some mind-blowing performance. Bale is incredible to watch in The Big Short, but feels like a bit of an afterthought, as he is a little separated from the rest of the film and doesn’t really interact with much of the rest of the main cast. That said, he’s one of the few actors who could have pulled off what is asked of him, but this award is all Mark Rylance and his fedora.

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

A rare back-to-back for Iñárritu, and really this one makes more sense than Birdman did for me. It’s more of a director’s film, filled with spectacle and complicated set pieces, most of which were filmed outdoors in real life winter conditions. One could make an equal argument for Miller, but the lack of a strong narrative in Fury Road makes it all feel like fluff to me. McCarthy isn’t asked to do a lot to make Spotlight work (also counting against him might have been that he also made one of the worst reviewed movies of the same year with the Adam Sandler film The Cobbler) and while I adore Room, the visual sensibilities of the film don’t give Abrahamson much of a leg to stand on for this race. I’ll keep it where it went, especially since I took the other one away from Iñárritu.

Best Actress

Brie Larson – Room 

Cate Blanchett – Carol

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy 

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

I sort of feel bad for taking away Blanchett’s Oscar from 2014, if only because she has no shot here for me, both because I didn’t see the film and because there’s only one winner in my mind, and that’s the woman who actually won the award. There were so many ways this part could have gone sour, but Larson manages to keep everything on the exact right note, where it be faking happy for the sake of her son or as she slowly falls apart dealing with her re-acclimiation into the real world. I didn’t see 45 Years, so I can’t comment on Rampling’s performance, but I can say that Lawrence did her best to make Joy work, and in spite of all her hard work, she and David O. Russell couldn’t pull it off this time. My runner-up is Ronan, who is gorgeous and captivating in Brooklyn, a film I think I liked more than the Academy did; but it’s mostly a more understated performance, which, while showing off a great deal of control, is also part of the reason why she can’t overcome Larson for this one.

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

I already gave Leo his Oscar for what I feel was a more deserving performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, so I don’t feel bad about not giving him another one here. That leaves the winner from the previous year in a film I didn’t see (but by most accounts trying to strike gold twice in almost the same way and not making it work as well), the man who created one of the best television characters in recent memory starring in a film nobody I know saw (including me), a tortured genius in a bizarre take on a biopic and a man who carries a movie pretty much on his own and still manages to be funny, heartbreaking and engaging all the way through. Call me crazy, but when it comes down to Damon and Fassbender, I’m left conceding that the former should be the winner. It would have been an unusual winner, as it isn’t the type of performance that usually gets this kind of awards attention, but the work Damon did to make that movie work (it literally doesn’t function without him) is well deserving of recognition.

Best Picture

Spotlight

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn 

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant 

Room

I’m very fond of this list overall, actually. I will admit that it wasn’t an overwhelmingly great year for the Best Picture category, as I’m not sure any of these movies will stand the test of time, but on the whole this is a very, very solid list, even if I didn’t think Mad Max was all that great (sorry, I just remember being mad that it won all the tech awards). That said, I could make an argument for several of these movies. Bridge of Spies was Spielberg’s most compelling work (for me) since 2002, where he dropped Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report in the same year. Brooklyn was absolutely breathtaking filmmaking, and I’m not afraid to say that I found it quite an invigorating movie. The Martian was one of the most entertaining movies of the year, and even though it was by far the highest grossing movie of the bunch, it still managed to carry its own weight emotionally and seemed to want to say something about the power of persistence and perseverance. The Revenant was a movie I’ll likely never watch again, mostly because of how visceral an experience it was; this is both a compliment and a slight negation of the movie, as rewatch-ability matters. Room was beautifully acted (Jacob Tremblay belonged in that lead actor category) and emotional without being manipulative, all the while expressing our need for other people and the power of the human spirit. Spotlight tells an important story, and that, ultimately, is the reason it won, at least to my mind. It’s an actor’s film, and seeing as actors make up a giant chunk of the Academy’s voting body, it makes sense on a logical level. But it didn’t move me, not the way that most of the others did, for better or for worse. This was a difficult one to pick even at the time, but I’m going to go now with the way I wanted things to go then, even if I knew it wasn’t possible: Oscar gold for Room.

 

 

10 Year Recall: Ivoryline’s “There Came A Lion”

Yes, folks, I’m bringing the 10 Year Recall series back in 2018, this time with (hopefully) more consistency and thoughtful planning. The goal is to tackle the records in the month they were released back in 2008, usually as close to the actual release date as possible.

I’ll be honest, compared to 2007 and its relative bevy of quality/impactful releases, 2008 is a bit of a wasteland. Still, I managed to find several records to cover throughout the year, and it’s especially important to note that my opinions on the records/artists in question will likely have changed over time in a way things didn’t for many of the 2007 releases.

This year’s 10 Year Recall kicks off with the debut record from Tyler, TX rock band Ivoryline, who released There Came A Lion on February 5, 2008 via Tooth & Nail Records. At the time, I was a few years removed from college (I graduated in the summer of 2005), and still leaning heavily on T&N for my musical choices. I liked that they released artists who were thoughtful, challenging and, to be fully honest, mostly safe to listen to with anyone around in terms of content, all the while allowing me to expand my listening interests. In the case of Ivoryline, they fell under the category of bands I listened to automatically because of the record label their record was released through, although upon listening, I was immediately drawn to their high energy rock music, featuring soaring vocals from frontman Jeremy Gray, who also penned the lyrics to the songs.

There Came A Lion was a fun, upbeat album pretty much from beginning to end, save for a small drop in energy and tempo to start off album closer “The Last Words,” the song on the album that best expresses Gray’s ability to emote effectively and write about said emotions. The record isn’t clearly Christian, but the subtext of Gray’s lyrics certainly present a central message, with suggestions about God rather than direct references to His existence in the life of the band’s members. This allowed the band to straddle the CCM/secular music line, even though its connection to Tooth & Nail meant they were seen, first and foremost, for better or worse, as a Christian band. Anyone who knows anything about T&N’s roster, both past and present, knows this is a complicated notion, but Ivoryline fit into the band’s mid-2000’s mold quite well. It wasn’t a remarkably challenging or thought-provoking record, but Ivoryline write catchy, upbeat music, and Gray’s lyrics were sincere and delivered deftly, making it impossible not to like them.

Listening back to the record the other day for the first time in a long time, I discovered two things. First, I still remembered a lot of the lyrics, in spite the fact that my go-to Ivoryline album tends to be their sophomore (and final) record, 2010’s Vessels, which came out with little fanfare in the middle of the summer, just before the band disappeared, seemingly forever. Secondly, I was struck by how simple the songwriting was. Most of the songs followed the same formula: kick off with a few lines from the chorus or some instantly catchy repeated line or two, straight into verse one, chorus, verse two, chorus, bridge, chorus(es), sometimes wrapping up with those opening lines again to give the song a “full circle” feel. While this song structure is nice at times–it keeps the album at an even keel, making the listening experience all the easier–it becomes overly repetitive, making the album’s 11 song run feel longer than that. The main reprieve from the formula doesn’t come until the aforementioned final track, and by then the band has lost all chances to impress further.

Gray’s lyrics sometimes suffer from a similar repetition, as there are various times throughout the album where two lines in a row are just the same lyrics repeated back to back; again, as an every-so-often idea, this is fine, but as a lyrical motif, it starts to feel a little less creative than Gray might have had in him. On top of that, Gray didn’t take the time to explore the range of his vocals, leaving most of the song’s verses in one lower timbre and most of the choruses in a higher one (he explores more range on Vessels, but not to an extreme effect). In the end, There Came A Lion feels like one long song with some breaks in the music and lyrical content, but mostly hanging around in the same tempo, keys and patterns.

This isn’t to say that the album is completely worthless. Like I said, it’s a fun, upbeat and energetic record that, due to its repetition, doesn’t require a listener to pay a great deal of attention to follow along. It is music that is great for the right atmosphere, like an upbeat party or while exercising, but doesn’t ebb nor flow enough to capture your full focus. The good news is that not all music needs to do that; we shouldn’t have to think hard about everything we consume, and as far as pop music goes, I’d prefer Ivoryline to most of the garbage playing on the radio these days. There Came A Lion deserves to be recognized for all the things it is, and that’s why I can still revisit it all these years later. It’s a shame the band didn’t make it past their second album, because they could have become a great pop/rock band if pushed properly. It just didn’t work out exactly as it might have.

 

Oscar Re-Do: 2015 Edition

Here we are, back to making Oscar winners of those who might not have been actually awarded a trophy. The ceremony in 2015 was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, who danced and sang his musical theater loving heart out. In any respect, not much to add other than to move right along.

Note again: Actual winner is bold, new winner is underlined

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

I actually don’t have much of an issue with Birdman winning this, because it’s an insightful, powerful and biting script, but I have an incredibly soft spot in my heart for the films of Wes Anderson, especially the last few–which includes Moonrise Kingdom, which came before this–that I can’t help but hand him the award. He’s been nominated three times in this category, and to me, this is one of his best scripts. It’s funny and engaging, but manages also to have a sense of purpose to it. This also makes up for the travesty of Fantastic Mr. Fox not winning Best Animated Feature in 2010.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Imitation Game – Graham Moore

American Sniper – Jason Hall

Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten

Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

This category baffles me most years, but my goodness is it bad this year. There’s nothing wrong with The Imitation Game, it just isn’t that interesting or thoughtful (it’s a fairly by-the-book biopic). Alternatively, we have two of the most off-kilter and daring movies of that year nominated against one another and they lose to someone who was an unknown, first time writer who didn’t really do anything spectacular. The win goes to Whiplash here, because it is a dialogue driven movie and Chazelle’s writing is complex and layered. I almost went with the Anderson sweep, but Inherent Vice isn’t as deserving of other PTA films.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Laura Dern – Wild

Keira Knightly – The Imitation Game

Emma Stone – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Again, I don’t have any major issue with the winner. Arquette worked hard to help carry this unusual project, and manages to stay steady throughout the film. She isn’t spectacular, though, which is pretty strange for a supporting category at the Oscars, which often goes to a showier performance. That’s where Stone comes in, who, even though she goes onto win her Oscar two years later, does a lot of moody and interesting work here. It feels like more of an Oscar performance, at least in the supporting category. It also looks more challenging, even if Arquette’s work might actually have been.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Robert Duvall – The Judge

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Edward Norton – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

This category makes me cringe a little because a) it’s very obvious nothing should change and b) that isn’t only because the rest of the field is less than enticing. Simmons’ powerful, acerbic performance won running away that year (he won 51 of the 54 Supporting Actor awards he was up for at various shows and publications, so yeah, I’d say he had it pretty well in hand), and the lifelong character actor deserved every bit of the attention. Hawke was fine, Norton was his usual zany self and Ruffalo is a fantastic actor who will get his Oscar one day–this was not that time.

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

All of these nominations, save for Tyldum who was the big “what!?” of the category, make a lot of sense. Iñárritu manages to make the insanity of Birdman work, and ties together the biting satire with a true love for actors and acting. Linklater took on the most massive project of all five, shooting his film over 12 years and then managed to hold the entire thing together; that alone puts him high on the list. Miller’s film is moody and, at times, terrifying, but he just couldn’t direct enough acting out of Channing Tatum. That leaves the quirky Anderson and his quietly huge film, probably the largest, most intricate production of his career. This category is always tough because it’s difficult to argue how a view sees exactly what the director did when the answer is “they oversaw everything.” In that regard, I’m going with the film that felt like it brought all the pieces together the best.

Best Actress

Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon – Wild

I did not see Still Alice, but my understand is that the film is quite poor, in spite of an Oscar-winning turn from the always excellent Moore. Tellingly, it was the only nomination the film received at the Oscars and, so far as I can tell, her performance was the only piece recognized in other arenas as well. I should also mention that I didn’t see Cotillard or Witherspoon’s films either, so I’m a little handicapped on this one. I adored Jones’ performance in The Theory of Everything, her ferocity and power, while still being sensitive and caring, but found it to be a little less engaging than I’d like. Pike, on the other hand, was tremendous and committed all through David Fincher’s under appreciated film, which was like more by the Hollywood Foreign Press (4 Golden Globe nominations with no wins) than the Academy (Pike stands alone, but they also might hate Fincher). Her’s is a terrifying, mesmerizing role, and one that should have gotten more attention than it did. She’s the best thing in what is really a better film than most give it credit for.

Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Redmayne’s performance is thrilling and transformative, one that I can’t even imagine considering how it might be done, let alone doing it. Normally I’d argue that it’s one of those clear Oscar-bait roles, but the degree of difficulty is so high, it’s difficult to make that argument with a straight face. That’s why I’m keeping things the way they went. Keaton is doing some heavy scene chewing in Birdman, but I never really forgot I was watching him on screen. Carrell is steady and scary in Foxcatcher, but he doesn’t get a lot of chances to show out. Cumberbatch is effective, but the movie itself doesn’t hold up. Cooper, well, that movie was just so poorly executed, he should have just been happy to be there. Not even close to his best role. Why not Miles Teller here, Academy?

Best Picture

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

American Sniper

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

The last film alphabetically is far and away my personal favorite from 2014, and the fact that it wasn’t a “reasonable” contender for this award is mind-boggling to me. For a long time, this was a two-horse race: Birdman and Boyhood, with the latter seemingly the frontrunner after the Globes named it Best Picture-Drama (and gave Best Picture-Musical or Comedy to Grand Budapest). In reality that didn’t hold up, with Boyhood only winning the one award (for Arquette, a trophy I took away from her in my version of the Oscars) and Birdman taking four, including the top prize (a total that Grand Budapest equaled, by the way). American Sniper was here mostly because it was a late-season box office smash (it wasn’t even screened in time for the Globes); The Imitation Game was fine, but nothing special; Selma felt weighed down by what it wanted to say rather than what it wasn’t to show; and The Theory of Everything was solid, but lacked something besides its lead actor to push it over the top. That leaves me going with Whiplash, with The Grand Budapest Hotel coming in a close second. Both movies were intricately and obsessively made, but the former literally laid that obsession out on screen, with two of the year’s strongest acting performances trading punches for an unrelenting hour and forty-five minutes. But yet, in spite of its claustrophobic story about a supposedly dead art form, it manages to create a connection between the audience and the characters, because pretty much everyone knows what it feels like to want something so badly like that–and many of us know what it feels like to give up on that. To top it off, the Oscar-winning editing done by Tom Cross makes the entire film feel cohesive and deliberate in a way you don’t often see. The entire film is a jazz riff, and each moment leaves you hoping there’ll be a lot more coming.

Oscar Re-Do: 2014 Edition

I’m stealing from myself a little here, but indulge me, if you would. On my podcast a few years back, my co-host Ryan and I decided to go back and choose alternate Best Picture winners going back as far as the 2011 ceremony (for films released in 2010, mind you; winner was The King’s Speech, we chose Inception, because it’s better). With a few weeks before this year’s Oscars–delayed from their usual February date due to the Olympics–I decided to take on a similar task, this time selecting my own winners for the top awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress and both Screenplays), with a little rationale for a change. I’ve heard a few people–namely Bill Simmons of The Ringer–state that they think the Oscars should be presented like this, and I think it would be interesting. The staying power of the films would be more indicative of the movie’s quality and importance as opposed to the immediate reaction, due to things like political climate and overreactions to previous years. That, in short, is my rationale. But also because I think it will be loads of fun.

We’ll begin, I think, with the 2014 ceremony and do this once a week until just before March 4, when the 2018 edition gets handed out. And away we go.

Note: Actual winners will be bold, new winner are underlined.

Best Original Screenplay

Her – Spike Jonze

American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Nebraska – Bob Nelson

This first one is easy because the Academy fully got this right. In terms of originality, you don’t get much more of that than you do in Jonze’s heartfelt, heartbreaking futuristic romance. The rest of the nominees are well deserved, especially the under appreciated Nebraska, but there’s no way this award goes to anyone else.

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years A Slave – John Ridley

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke

Captain Phillips – Billy Ray

Philomena – Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope

The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter

I thought that 12 Years A Slave was a good film, but I wasn’t taken by it as a great film, so I’m going a different direction with this one. Winter’s script for the 3+ hour Scorsese film is really smart and engaging, not to mention hilarious, even as it rips through years of history and a story about a person who isn’t exactly a role model. The only other contender here would likely be the third entry into the Midnight film saga, but at this point, the fact that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke were still getting recognized is a feat in and of itself. That’s enough.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

Nyong’o’s performance is obviously powerful, and if you factor in the fact that this was her first film role, this makes sense as the winner here. My alteration is not because I think the actual winner was undeserving, then, but because I was so impressed with the quality of Squibb’s performance in Nebraska. She isn’t in much of the film, but she manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking in her scenes, and her presence is vital to the film unfolding the way it does. Controversially–and slightly off-topic–but I feel like Sally Hawkins is more effective here than she is in this year’s The Shape of Water.

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

I cannot believe I live in a world where Jonah Hill has been nominated for not one, but two Oscars (essentially playing the same character, too, mind you). That said, this is a tough category. I wasn’t taken by Leto’s turn that much, and Abdi didn’t really have a lot to do besides yell at Tom Hanks. The Academy has always thought highly of David O. Russell’s actors, as American Hustle became his second film to have nominations in all four acting categories, but Cooper isn’t as good here as he was in Silver Linings Playbook. I’m left with Fassbender, who wins not only by default, but also because of the precision of his performance. It’s nuanced in a way that much of the film wasn’t for me, even if “cruel slave owner” is the basic trope of the role. Mostly I’d like a pass here, but I’ll take Fassbender over the rest.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

I’m also not bending here. Cuarón’s work here is second to none, as he managed to build an expansive world, shoot everything as realistically as possible and actually tap into the emotions that his small cast, especially Sandra Bullock, feels. Scorsese’s feat of making a 3 hour movie feel half as long is an achievement, but the movie isn’t great. And while I’d love to see Russell or Payne win one of these someday, they’ve both made better films.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Blanchett is undoubtably fantastic in the film, and I had no problem with her winning at the time (and still don’t, really); but I’m undoing a previous wrong here, too. In handing Bullock a much deserved Oscar here, I’m also taking away her by-the-numbers performance in The Blind Side and giving that trophy to someone else (Carey Mulligan from An Education, you’re now an Oscar winner). The work that Bullock does, acting essentially against herself and the perils of space, that’s top-notch stuff. This is the film she should be remembered for, not that mindless, white-privilege propaganda film.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave

McConaughey’s better performance of that year was actually a supporting slot alongside DiCaprio. I had major problems with Dallas Buyers Club, and didn’t really think much of it as a movie. The lead actor was the best part about it, but DiCaprio’s deranged, kinetic and confident performance in Wolf should have been the one to break his streak (he’s good in The Revenant, too, but that one felt more like “it’s time” than “this is the one!”). I love Dern’s performance, too, and even Bale is having fun hamming it up in his role, but for me, there’s no comparison. Also, if Joaquin Phoenix was here like he deserved, this becomes a totally different conversation. First major non-nominated snub.

Best Picture

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

What we have here is a reason that the Oscars should wait a few years. My goodness this list is a mess. Half of these movies are underwhelming head-scratchers (Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club especially), some are fine (Captain Phillips and American Hustle) and the actual winner certainly has its merits, but I’d maybe rank it 4th or 5th on my preferences. For me, it came down to two: Gravity and Her, both films made by talented and thoughtful directors who wanted to showcase their skills, and each featuring a tragic, terrific performance from a lead actor playing against technology. Her wins because, even though it is wildly quirky, its inventiveness is unmatched in this category and it also feels like the movie with the most to say, especially four years later. The dependency on technology is one thing, but the way we prioritize our lives and turn elsewhere to cope is a large part of the message here, and it is well made on all fronts.

(Note: for what it’s worth, my rankings would be 1. Her 2. Gravity 3. Nebraska 4. The Wolf of Wall Street 5. 12 Years A Slave 6. American Hustle 7. Captain Phillips 8. Dallas Buyers Club 9. Philomena)

 

One Year Anniversary and Oscar Thoughts

This morning I awoke to an email informing me my credit card had been charged by WordPress. This was expected, but also allowed for a lovely moment to grin to myself and reflect on a year of blogging. It hasn’t been as consistent as I would have liked, mostly due to all that wedding stuff and getting married and all that, but I will say the site has pushed me to write more than I have in other areas in the past year. Part of the reason I paid for my own domain last year was to force my hand a little; and while I can still do better, I think there’s something to be said for the starting point.

I’ve always been more of a fits and spurts creative person. It’s actually how I tend to deal with a lot of stuff in my life. I go for weeks listening to podcasts in my car because they take up chunks of time, before I realize I need to take a break from the unseen talking heads and go back to music in the car. I find myself gravitating toward certain activities for several weeks at a time before I either fulfill the desire or it passes. When I was spurred on by a book idea over the summer, I wrote several thousand words (something about 15,000, if I recall) before I saw the inspiration skid out for a while, only to see a recent uptick in my output in that department (I still intend to finish it, hopefully before the summer). I can go months without writing a song and then, bam, write what feels like a complete album in days. Welcome to my brain.

All that said: I’m pretty proud that I’ve been able to keep up with this blog as well as I have. Maybe I undershot my once-a-week expectation, but at least I’ve set one; now I know better, but can still push for something resembling consistency. In any case, I’m looking forward to more frequent blogging and writing in general in 2018. I’m hopeful that you, dear reader, are as well.

But wait, there’s more…

The Oscar nominations for the 2018 ceremony were announced last Tuesday, which means enough time has gone by for me to have thoughts and also have figured out what I still need/want to see before the broadcast, which will take place on March 4 (later than usual because of the Olympics). First a few category-by-category thoughts for the headliner awards.

Best Picture: For the most part this held pretty flush with the Golden Globes and the major guild awards save for two: Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour and Paul Thomas Anderson directing Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed acting swan song in Phantom Thread (two titles that seem like they should have a “the” at the beginning but do not, interestingly enough). The other nominees were all pretty much expected: Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Post, The Shape of Water and Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the nine, I’ve seen five as of today, with only Hour, Phantom, Call Me and The Post as of yet unseen by me. Obviously I’m partial to Nolan’s Dunkirk, but I think it’s going to be a tough sell in light of the current climate in Hollywood, even if it is a traditional Oscar movie in many senses. Otherwise, of those I’ve seen, Lady Bird was the most impressive; while I understand why people love Guillermo del Toro’s film, I just didn’t find it to be a very interesting story, and I feel similarly about Three Billboards. And although I know I’ll probably be ripped apart for this, Get Out didn’t seem to me to be the masterwork people are painting it to be. I get that it has “things to say,” but it felt a little lightweight in that regard, hinting at ideas rather than hitting on the issues, as vital as they are. So my heart says I’d love to see Nolan and Co win, but barring that, I’m rooting for Lady Bird.

Best Actor: The conversation here is, by all accounts, mostly a moot one, as Gary Oldman has been gobbling up awards left, right and center for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and it feels like the type of performance, sight unseen by me, that will propel him toward the Oscar. Interestingly the Best Picture films I haven’t seen line up almost perfectly with this category, with Daniel Kaluuya’s leading role in Get Out standing as the only one I’ve seen thus far (he’s fine, but isn’t asked do much besides look a little dumbfounded by the proceedings until the last 15-20 minutes), so I don’t have much to say at the moment. The aforementioned Day-Lewis would tie Kathryn Hepburn with his fourth trophy, but it seems like the momentum is with Oldman, who has never won and is, ironically, giving the same type of performance that won DDL his third for Lincoln a few years ago.

Best Actress: Another category with what seems like a foregone conclusion, with Frances McDormand’s angry mother from Three Billboards being very much the front-runner here. I’ve seen more of these performances (Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, with Margot Robbie in I, Tonya and Meryl Streep in The Post rounding things out), and would have to say that McDormand is really quite good in her role. It’s wildly different from her Oscar-winning turn in Fargo all those years ago, and the script allows her more to do than simply seethe, which is kind of what the trailers suggest. Hawkins does a lot with no dialogue in Water, but as I mentioned the film doesn’t do a lot for me and the performance isn’t as showy as McDormand’s; same with Ronan’s turn, which is beautiful and subtle, but likely as the “she’s going to be back in this conversation again” talk behind it, given how young she is and the fact that this is already her third nomination at just 23 years old.

Best Supporting Actor: And yet again, we seem to have a major leader coming into the final stretch, in the form of Sam Rockwell in his performance from Three Billboards (it did really well at the SAG awards, too, so this isn’t a surprise, really). The rest of the crew (Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards, Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water and Christopher Plummer in All The Money in the World) all just appear to be along for the ride. Harrelson does good work, but is gone about halfway through the movie, and Jenkins doesn’t have a ton to do other than sort of play a version of himself. I haven’t seen Florida or Money, but the lack of nominations elsewhere for either film doesn’t bode well for either, especially in the case of the latter, who is likely here to represent the feat of his having taken over the role vacated by Kevin Spacey after the film was already shot and mostly finished. Dafoe reportedly plays heavily against type, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough. The name I would have loved to see here: Tracy Letts for his moving and vital performance as Larry McPherson in Lady Bird.

Best Supporting Actress: I saw about 25 minutes of I, Tonya, and while I think Allison Janney is immensely funny and talented, she doesn’t seem to be playing a character so much as a cruder version of herself in costume. The other nominees are Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread, Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, and the honest truth is that only Metcalf seems to have an outside shot. She and Spencer are the only ones I’ve seen in full, and Metcalf’s performance is more intricate and nuanced, not to mention pivotal, of the two; she isn’t chewing on scenery the way Janney does, but Metcalf’s work is impressive nonetheless. For a film so driven by subtle, thoughtful performances, it is a surprise to me that Lady Bird is only represented in two acting categories, and that the Academy is still sort of driven by the showiness of a performance, but that seems to be the case here again.

Best Director: I see this as a situation where there will be a split in the votes. I could see the Academy giving this award to someone like Nolan or del Toro simply because of the massive nature of the movies they produced, whereas “smaller” films like Get Out, Lady Bird and Phantom Thread might be overlooked here, no matter how much the voters admire the work. Del Toro won the Globe, so that seems to point to a first time victory for the Mexican director, although once the DGA Awards are handed out on February 3, we might have a better idea on this one. None of the three veterans has ever won this award, and neither Nolan nor del Toro has even been nominated before, so this feels like a two-horse race here, even if neither of those films ends up winning Best Picture.

Best Screenplay(s): For Adapted Screenplay we have Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly’s Game and Mudbound; for Original Screenplay we have The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards. The big news here is the first ever writing award for a comic book movie in Logan, a dark, gritty and difficult to watch final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s career as Wolverine. It’s impeccably written and paced, and likely should get more attention than it probably is. The adapted category is probably the place where Name, with only three other nominations in tough categories, might see victory, although with Aaron Sorkin in the mix, it’s tough to call it a lock. The original bunch is really one of the best overall group of nominees this year, with arguments to be made for most of these films. A win for any of the Best Picture nominees might be telling, especially if it’s either Get Out or Lady Bird, two films that aren’t as likely to win the top award. For my money, I’m all in for The Big Sick, which should have gotten more love this year, or Lady Bird, which I think I’m leaning toward being the movie I want to see clean up this year.

Other thoughts:

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi ended up with a total of four nominations (Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing), which I’m in favor of. It’s got stiff competition in all four categories, especially in the technical categories, where films like Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk might prove to be the biggest winners.
  • Speaking of Blade Runner, will someone please give Roger Deakins his well-deserved Oscar already?
  • Kobe Bryant is now an Oscar nominee. I’m so confused.
  • The Best Animated Feature category is a mess. I haven’t seen any of the films yet, but there’s no way The Boss Baby is one of the best five animated movies of the year, is there?
  • I really hope Sufjan Stevens performs his song from Call Me By Your Name at the show. I haven’t seen the movie, but I really enjoy Stevens’ music, and I think he would be a standout part of the telecast.
  • While The Shape of Water is the leader with 13 nominations, I’m conservatively going to say it doesn’t end up winning the most trophies on the evening. It likely won’t win any of the three acting nominations it’s up for (so down to ten), I’m calling wins elsewhere in Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing and Mixing as well as Original Screenplay (leaving it with three), so it is down to Best Picture, Best Director and Original Score (2 of those 3 it won at the Golden Globes). If Jonny Greenwood or Hans Zimmer sneak in to take Score, the nominations leader could end up losing 92% of its categories, assuming del Toro is a lock. The fun part about this year is this: there just aren’t that many foregone conclusions, which should make the show all the more interesting, since anything is bound to happen.

No, I have not fallen off the planet (and other things)

Dear Reader (whomever you might be), I do apologize. The holidays tend to do this to me, especially over the past two years, where they no longer just mean time with my own family, but now time with my family, and parents/relatives on both sides. So while this is a bad excuse, this is the basic reason for my lack of communication in recent days (or weeks).

I really wanted to write about my favorite albums of 2017, but every time I looked at the list of things I listened to last year, I felt unmoved by the clutter. The prospect of paring down the rather long list (I’ve been keeping a log of every album I’ve listened to for a few years now, and it gets really, really long) never appealed to me, and eventually it started to feel too late to write much. This top ten will have to suffice (in no particular order):

  1. Sinai Vessel – Brokenlegged
  2. The Classic Crime – How To Be Human
  3. John Mark McMillan – Mercury & Lightning
  4. Acceptance – Colliding by Design
  5. Lo Tom – Lo Tom
  6. Colony House – Only the Lonely
  7. Paramore – After Laughter
  8. Have Mercy – Make the Best of It
  9. Racquet Club – Racquet Club
  10. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Very difficult to mention honorable mention: Brand New’s Science Fiction, an album so loaded in light of recent allegations against lead singer Jesse Lacey that it makes it a complicated listen on multiple levels. Unfortunate. On its own, it’s a masterclass work.

All these albums spent a lot of time in my ears this past year; but 2017 was a year where I spent a lot of time in the car (I drive an hour to teach classes every other day each Spring), so podcasts tend to fill up the bulk of driving time. I’m still struggling with the balance there. That said, there’s a melancholic feeling to all of these records (save, maybe, for Colony House and Paramore, but I think the argue could be made that deeper listens to both supports my original statement), and this, I find, is what often draws me to  music in the first place. I don’t want music to inform my general mood; instead, I choose to create a tone to my life via the music I enjoy, and I think, given the proper balance, this helps keep my overall mood a little more where I prefer it to be.

For many, sad music makes them feel sadder; for me, it reminds me I’m not the only one who feels that way sometimes, and this is enlightening and empowering.

*****

I also wanted to write about all the films I saw this year and which ones I liked the best. However a quick perusal of the year in film for 2017 indicates that I’ve missed a great deal this year (I mentioned this in an earlier blog, and much of that remains unseen by me), partially because life happens and partially because a lot of the “important” films of 2017 haven’t appealed to me (thankfully I purchased MoviePass for my wife and I, so 2018 promises to be better on that front). My “haven’t seen” list hasn’t shrunk too terribly much, mostly because I didn’t list most of the year’s awards contenders, which have become the preferences when it comes time to actually go see a movie.

Again, I offer a top ten list, with few thoughts added:

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Lady Bird
  4. The Disaster Artist
  5. Blade Runner 2049
  6. The Big Sick
  7. Spiderman: Homecoming
  8. Logan
  9. Thor: Ragnarok
  10. War for the Planet of the Apes

I did see The Shape of Water recently as well, but wasn’t as taken by its story as others have been (although it’s beautifully made, as expected). Still plan to see The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Coco, Darkest Hour, and Phantom Thread before the Oscars in March.

Also, I thought The Last Jedi was a brilliant addition to the Star Wars canon, and if you didn’t get it, then I question your ability to have an open mind. Rian Johnson massively expanded the universe that used to exist only as a Skywalker saga, but now is free to literally go anywhere it wants in a galaxy far, far away. How that isn’t good for the series is beyond me.

*****

My final thoughts pertain to my number 3 movie of the year, and its a piece of the film that I haven’t seen anyone else write about (if I missed it, I’d love to read what else has been written). The father in Lady Bird is played masterfully by Tracy Letts, an actor I don’t think I’ve ever seen before (although a quick IMdB search tells me I have in U.S. Marshals and The Big Short, and that he’s also in The Post). To me, he is the hero of the movie, or at the very least he is the glue that holds the whole thing together; and while I understand this might come across as a misogynistic viewing of the movie, for me, Letts’ nuanced, thoughtful and caring performance is what gives the ever-fluctuating relationship between Lady Bird and her mother (fantastic performances both from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf) a counterbalance; Lady Bird never hates her father, instead he’s responsible for holding them together. Hence the glue metaphor.

Yes, ultimately the film is about a young girl coming of age and leaving a home she actually loves more than she thought she did (the scene where the nun points this out to Ronan is charming and telling), but it’s also about how important each relationship in our lives can be, even the ones we tend to overlook. Ronan’s Lady Bird insists on being her own person, but it is the sacrifice of her mother combined with the steadfastness of her father that allows her to do so. She isn’t who she is in spite of her upbringing, something that is often hammered into audiences by movies year after year, but because of this. Writer/director Greta Gerwig (who, by the way, is at the very least the inspiration for Ronan’s performance, as the cadence and timbre of Ronan’s American accent seems to match Gerwig’s to a T) seems to know this instinctively, but I believe the publicity for the film undersells itself. This isn’t just a mother/daughter dramedy; it’s a film about how our families (and, really, almost all our relationships) shape us, even the ones who do so a little less quietly.

Double Show Recap

This week started out with a bit of a bang for me. I got to attend not one, but two, shows featuring three bands that I have a great deal of respect for, two of which I’d count amongst my favorite bands ever. This is a rare 1-2 punch of live music, and while it made for two very long days (other than sleeping, I was probably home for 5 minutes…God bless my wonderful wife), it was a cool experience that I haven’t had in a long while.

Monday night featured my good friends in Emery (only slightly exaggerating on the friends part), along with a pretty expansive list of opening bands that included Tooth & Nail label mates Civilian (whose 2016 LP You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs is one of my favorites from last year) and LOYALS, a new T&N band that I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for moving forward. Emery has moved away from the standard touring model in recent years, trading in long weeks away from home for shorter stints in strategic groupings of 8-10 shows at a time, making their appearances feel a little more like major events. This show, at Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theater, kicked off this leg of their 2017 Fan Appreciation shows, where they charged a paltry $10 per ticket in an effort to play larger venues and bring in more fans (by comparison, the last few times I’ve seen them have been either in support of a larger band or headlining shows at smaller venues, like Columbia, SC’s tiny New Brookland Tavern). While I would have paid more to go see them, it certainly was nice to not spend a ton of money to catch one of my favorite bands.

The night began rather uneventfully. I wasn’t really drawn in by Washington, DC’s In Your Memory, who sound exactly like you might think they would based on their hometown. While they worked hard to get the small-but-growing crowd into it, there was an obvious disconnect; the audience didn’t know them and didn’t care much that they were trying hard. The band that followed, Atlanta’s The Funeral Portrait, didn’t seem to have their sound nailed down (was it punk? screaming? weird goth stuff?) and the singer  was either affecting a Southern accent or was so nervous it came out of his mouth weird, but his speaking voice felt off. Thankfully, LOYALS came on next and turned the show around. Their synth-infused pop/rock breathed new life into the proceedings, especially because this was the first vocalist of the night who could actually sing, an irony that will never cease to amaze me (call me crazy, but I think the guy/girl who is singing in the band should actually be able to). I’m looking forward to hearing their T&N debut, whenever that comes out. Civilian followed as direct support, and while their set was pretty much the same as it was when I saw them open for The Classic Crime this summer, it was still a quality set, made up mostly of songs from You Wouldn’t Believe, including album standouts like “Reasons,” “I Told You” and “Caroline.” While they brought the pace of the show down again (their music is mostly moody, mid-tempo jams), they certainly continued the uptick in quality of songwriting presented throughout the show.

Emery, to their great credit, doesn’t feel like a band of guys in their late-30’s/early-40’s still trying to maintain relevance in their genre. To be sure, they’ve mellowed out a bit (2015’s You Were Never Alone is by and large their most “laid back” album, which is in quotes because its relative to other parts of the band’s catalog), but they also don’t ignore the heavier parts of their discography. In fact, the set is littered with massive doses of their debut, now-13-year-old The Weak’s Ends, which, depending on your point of view, can either be the best way for the band to handle their shows or a stab at nostalgia (I lean more towards the latter personally, but I never really felt emotionally attached to that record the way I do others in their catalog). But the energy remains top notch, probably at least partially fueled by the massive cutdown on shows from year to year. Instead of having to “bring it” for 200+ shows a year, the band can focus their energy on significantly fewer shows, and in my opinion, allows them to give more to these shows, even as they age. Guitarist Matt Carter and keyboardist/screamer Josh Head are especially energetic, with both men ascending the drum riser and (somewhat carefully) leaping off, along with otherwise dancing and moving around the stage. It was also good to see Devin Shelton back in the fold full time, as his voice feels like an important part of Emery’s sound, providing not only harmonies and countermelodies with Toby Morrell’s voice, but also taking over lead on a few songs (this back and forth has long been a part of Emery’s MO). My biggest disappointment was the lack of songs from You Were Never Alone and The Question, my two favorite records from the band. Otherwise, the band continues to be a musical force even after all these years.

Emery, 11/13/17

Fractions

Less You Say

As Your Voice Fades

The Smile, The Face

I Never Got To See the West Coast

The Secret

So Cold I Could See My Breath

Can’t Stop The Killer

In A Lose, Lose Situation

By All Accounts (Today Was A Disaster)

Rock, Pebble, Stone

The Note From Which A Chord is Built

Churches & Serial Killers

Dear Death, Parts 1 & 2

In Shallow Seas We Sail

Walls

From Crib to Coffin

 

Tuesday night was another show night, this time a co-headling tour featuring Thrice and Circa Survive at The Fillmore in Charlotte. I’ve seen both bands several times over the last few years, but I’d have to say that Thrice is the band that was the bigger draw of the show for me, and I’m quite glad they decided to bring their hiatus to an end and come back. At this point, they straddle the line between the incessant full-time touring that a band like Circa engages in and the more deliberate, muted version that Emery follows. Since their return in 2015, Thrice has played more consistently on tour, but so far as I can recall, this extended stint with Circa, which followed a summer run opening for Incubus (yeah, kind of weird), is the longest they’ve been out essentially consecutively. I’ve been fortunate to see them twice already since they’ve returned, first in the summer of 2016 with La Dispute and Gates, and now with Circa, Chon and Balance & Composure, both at Fillmore.

Balance & Composure opened the show, but due to traffic, we missed a few of their songs, although we ended up hearing most of their set, which featured songs from both their 2013 release The Things We Think We’re Missing and last year’s Light We Made. Having just seen them on their headlining tour a few months ago, I got what I needed out of BalCo (as Anthony Green called them) for this particular show. They were followed by Chon, an instrumental band out of San Diego, who presented their wordless, fusion virtuosity rather effectively. I’m usually torn on instrumental bands live, as the lack of a singer/frontman can make it difficult to connect with the band, turning them into nothing more than background noise; but it’s difficult to ignore the skill of each member of the 4-piece, and so I found myself intrigued in just watching fingers and arms flail about, all the while creating some really complicated and interesting musical sounds (I felt the same way watching Animals As Leaders open for Thrice on their farewell tour, as well as Caspian, who played with Underoath on their Rebirth Tour).

Thrice followed, since a co-headling tour just means that the two bands play for the same amount of time, not that each band gets to go last (how would that even work?). I’ve heard different things about co-headling tours from different places, but my general understanding is that sometimes the bands switch who plays last each night, but that the set length is the most defining element here. That said, each Thrice and Circa got an hour on stage, giving each ample time to cover as much of they could of each band’s catalog (Thrice’s is now 9 albums long, if you count each piece of The Alchemy Index as one album, while Circa’s now spans 6 records, including recently released The Amulet). Thrice covered a wide array of their discography, including a song from each album except (sadly) 2011’s Major/Minor and choosing a B-side from 2009’s Beggars in favor of album cuts, including a mid-set from each element of the now-10-year-old The Alchemy Index (and announcing a soon-to-be-released vinyl repress!). The set was mostly high energy, with only a few of the Alchemy Index tracks bringing the tempo down. The band was as tight as they’ve ever been, and Dustin Kensrue’s voice was in top-form, although I could tell he was holding back a little on the scream-heavy portions of some songs, either because he was saving his voice or wasn’t as interested in the guttural growls found on the recorded versions of some of those earlier songs. They even included longtime fan favorite “Deadbolt” without audience prodding (even though I would be fine if I never heard it again). The set was unsurprisingly heavy on songs from their most recent album, which leads to the only downside of the show as it was: the co-headling designation forced the band to decide how many deeper cuts they played versus new songs; the band obviously decided to focus on the latter. Not a bad thing, since To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is a stellar addition to their discography.

Circa Survive closed things out for the evening, and this is where I have to admit something: I think I’m kind of done with these guys. I’ll probably still pay attention to their albums moving forward, but the days of making their shows a priority are likely over. I wasn’t floored by The Amulet, as it feels like the band is in a bit of a rut, and it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate the band’s songs from album to album. I’m not even sure a novice listener would be able to tell any major differences. That’s fine, because there’s a lot of music out there, and I don’t think being a cursory fan of Circa will hurt me in any way. The biggest thing is the live show. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Circa live, but it’s a lot (sneakily, I remember seeing them open for Mae, of all bands in the world, back when Circa was getting started and just thinking they were super weird), and it’s turning into a law of diminishing returns. Anthony Green, in contrast to Kensrue, doesn’t feel capable of pulling off the high pitches and screams of his records live all the time, and I couldn’t tell you if that’s vocal fatigue or merely lack of ability, because he’s all over the map, even within the context of the same show. My ear tells me that he’s capable (and I’ve heard him be more successful than he was last night), but there was a lot to be desired about his performance last night. I get that he puts a lot of importance on the performative element of the show, as he dances and jumps around stage like a maniac, but it also prevents him from fully delivering on the songs themselves; this, to me, is a detriment. To be honest, I’d have preferred about half an hour less of Circa and thirty minutes more Thrice last night, not only because of Green’s struggles, but also because the latter was forced to cut a lot of great songs from what could have been a 90-minute set, whereas Green needed to focus his energies on a shorter group of songs.

And now I feel better having said that. I don’t feel bad for feeling that way; it’s an opinion. My sister and her friend love Circa more than I ever could, and they were ecstatic about their show. They probably could have done with less Thrice in the same way I could have done with less Circa. I’m trying to turn my emotional response into logic (one of my favorite things to do), when really all I have to say is “that’s just how I feel about it.” Thrice’s deeper feeling and easier means of expression has always connected more with me, and nothing about last night did anything to change that.

Thrice, 11/14/17

The Earth Will Shake

The Window

The Artist in the Ambulance

Hurricane

Blood on the Sand

Firebreather

Open Water

Broken Lungs

Come All You Weary

Deadbolt

Silhouette

Red Telephone

Black Honey

Of Dust and Nations

The Long Defeat

 

Circa Survive, 11/14/17

Child of the Desert

Glass Arrows

Lustration

Strange Terrain

Sharp Practice

Rites of Investiture

Tunnel Vision

In Fear and Faith

Stop the Car

Premonition of the Hex

Frozen Creek

The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is the Dose

Get Out