It’s no secret that the Academy tends to gravitate toward certain types of motion pictures when it comes to handing out their coveted awards. This year’s batch of nominees doesn’t really buck that trend, featuring period pieces set in 1950s New York, stories ripped from the headlines that still apply to today, adaptations of well-regarded recent novels, and of course a dystopian, feminist thrill ride revival of an Australian franchise. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I say. This week it’s best picture or bust as we pitch the ultimate Oscar bait and try to have some fun doing it. Give her a listen!
So we’re fairly deep in 2016 at this point, and that means this is potentially another year in which I could finally finish my epic chronicling of America’s best-selling albums. But considering I’ve got 20 more after this one and I only put out 8 of these during all of last year, well… I guess there’s always 2017.
Album: …Baby One More Time
Artist: Britney Spears
Release Date: January 12, 1999
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 14 million
Have you heard Kanye West’s new album yet? Well, since no one but millionaires and people who love millionaires (which probably isn’t the demographic of this site) are the only people who use Tidal — the only platform the album is available on right now — I’m guessing the answer is probably “no”. So before you figure out some other way of downloading The Life Of Pablo that doesn’t involve Tidal, let’s take a look back at the impressive collection of albums Kanye has put out thus far, and perhaps remind ourselves why we fell in love with this brash knucklehead in the first place.
It’s no secret that the Coen Brothers’ movies have always owed something to the golden age of Hollywood, as film noir and screwball comedies have always had an integral influence on the Coens’ cannon. Granted, these influences usually never take hold of a picture and control the tone of it, but it’s more that elements of these genres are used for perpetuating the Coens’ consistently cynical worldview. The Coens’ latest Hail, Caesar!, sees them reigning in their bleak tendencies a bit (or at least compared to recent efforts like Inside Llewyn Davis or A Serious Man), and in the process more or less have some fun with a lot of the different genres from Hollywood’s golden era. And yet, even though this is technically a “fun” Coen Brothers movie, it still manage to work in plenty of themes relating to politics, religion, show business, and the whole meaning of it all.
Hail, Caesar! takes place over what is basically a day-in-the-life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a guy who works for the fictional movie studio Capitol Pictures, and whose job it is to take care of any problems pertaining to the studio’s movie stars and their needy movie star problems. Mannix has a bit of a pickle on his hand when one of the studio’s biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney), goes missing. We then see that Whitlock has been captured by a bunch of communists hoping to brainwash him, while also demanding a $100,000 ransom from the studio, though if you’ve seen any Coen brothers’ movie, you can probably guess that the money ends up being a bit of a mcguffin. Then as Mannix scrambles to get his star back, we see him dealing with a slew of other problems on different movie sets, which presents plenty of opportunities for what I would call very extended cameos from the likes of Scarlett Johannson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Feinnes and plenty others.
First of all, it’s just a lot of fun to see some of the brightest stars of today inhabit a world in which movie stars were meant to be larger than life, and were almost these beloved objects for audiences to project their hopes and dreams and fears onto, but all for the sake of their own entertainment. Clearly, times have changed, and there are only a handful of working actors that are legitimate “movie stars”, or at least are movie stars in the way that they were in the ’50s. Brolin, Clooney, Johannson, and dare I say it, Tatum are among the few movie actors that have that old-fashioned star quality. So I have to imagine that’s something the Coens were setting out to play around with in Hail, Caesar!, since everybody gets at least one scenery-chewing sequence that maybe doesn’t always have that much to do with the plot, but usually manages to evoke the thrills of good old-fashioned American filmmaking.
Still, Hail, Caesar! is a bit more than just a rosey tribute to old Hollywood, as it tackles the wave of communism that ran through the film industry during the ’50s, much of which was organized by (surprise) disgruntled screenwriters that were pushed aside by the studio system. The scenes where Clooney is having conversations about economics and an individual’s place in society felt a bit more like something out of one of the Coens’ more existential pictures. But I suppose that’s ok, since a lot of the scenes in this movie feel like scenes from another movie, since a lot of them are literally scenes from other movies (i.e. the films within this film). Which perhaps doesn’t make for the most cohesive story, but I think the movie works since there are enough really good stand-alone scenes, including a particularly memorable one that revolves around the phrase “would that it were so simple?”
Even though I did enjoy this movie, this is one of those films were I do have to question if I (and most critics) would have responded to it a little more if we weren’t so aware of the directors’ oeuvre and the expectations of it being one of their films. Like would I think this is a really awesome movie if it didn’t have the Coens’ names attached to it? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. All I know, is that Hail, Caesar! can’t help but attract the phrase “Coens light”, since it doesn’t quite have the gravity of their best work, but is still an inherently interesting film because the Coens are just one of those artists whom it’s always a joy to watch paint.
I like to look at these anticipated movie lists as reminders that we’re not trying to hate movies. That we’re not prejudging anything, that we want to give movies like Chappie a shot. Except for Colin, who decided his role in these would be to point out the most dreadful movies a given year has coming for it. What would Colin’s most anticipated movie list look like? One can only imagine, but it probably wouldn’t fall exactly in the middle of my mainstream tastes and John’s hip, creative inclinations.
What do you do after coming right out of the gate with a fully-formed, ass-kickingly great debut album? It’s a question that’s plagued bands for decades, and though the obvious answer might be to “do something different”, I’d say that “more of the same” is often just as good of an option for album number 2. It’s the reason sophomore releases like R.E.M.’s Reckoning or Led Zeppelin’s second album are my favorites in those band’s catalogues — because it does the same thing as the first album, but in a way that’s even stronger and more confident. This is pretty much the approach Savages have taken, after their 2013 debut established a sound that was about as dark and heavy as anything in indie rock, while their follow-up Adore Life sees them going even darker and heavier.
How dark and heavy you ask? Well, I’d say that even though the band’s sound is still very much steeped in late ’70s/early ’80s post-punk, bangers like “The Answer” or “T.I.W.Y.G.” almost have a slight hint of metal in their DNA. Granted, no self-respecting metalhead would ever call any of these songs metal, and if this album honestly did sound like metal, I probably wouldn’t like it, since you know, metal is mostly stupid. And yet, despite this album’s brooding intensity, you get a nice juxtaposition of tones, as singer Jenny Beth’s lyrics are almost childishly optimistic, considering the songs I just mentioned revolve around lines like “Love is the answer” or “This is what you get when you mess with love”.
And while Adore Life does often see Savages taking an even more muscular and bracing approach to what they were doing on their debut, there are a few shining examples of their softer side. The album’s title track in particular has a more floating, ethereal feel to it, and yet at the same time manages to have that same rattling intensity to it that this band seems to attack every song with. And because of that, this is just a great album to rock out to. Which makes it even more apparent that I need a find a way of seeing this band live, since I can’t imagine them being anything less than exhilarating to watch in person. Unfortunately, the only Seattle stop on their upcoming tour will be at Sasquatch (which I don’t plan on attending, and also happens to be nowhere near Seattle). Ah well, I’ll find a way.
Favorite Tracks: “Adore”, “Surrender”, “T.I.W.Y.G.”