I’m pretty 2013-ed out at this point, but I suppose this is the path we’ve chosen. The set quota I’ve made for myself now is to listen to 40 albums and see 40 movies in a given year, though I came in a bit short this year by seeing 38 films. But I listened to 42 albums. So maybe it balances out? Anyways, my list isn’t that exciting considering it features a lot of middle-of-the-road consensus favorites, but let’s take a look at it anyways… Continue reading
Is the golden age of television over? Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, The Office, and at least one other show that’s been mentioned too many times all came to an end in 2013. And while there might be some hope in fresh meat like Rick and Morty, The Americans, Axe Cop, some people seriously believe TV will never be as good as it has been. Well, this week we take the diplomatic approach and punt that problem down the line for a later day. Instead, we sit back and discuss the shows that meant the most to us last year. We have done this before. But this time, it’s more in the future. Man, I miss watching Star Trek.
I’ve never struggled to put together a “Top Ten Favorite Albums” list as much as I did in 2013. I agree with my colleague Mr. Colin Wessman that 2013 peaked in May, leaving the rest of the year to flounder. I literally spent the last month of 2013 desperately scrambling to put together something that didn’t suck. In the end, I’m satisfied with my choices and now have the confidence to live my life to the fullest.
I’m really happy to not be living in 2013 anymore; thank god we process time linearly! Can you imagine how terrible it would be to always (and conversely never) be stuck in that dump of a year? Anyway, just in case this is your first time reading one of my album lists, a quick recap: I don’t consider myself a music critic, and I spend my time listening to a lot of albums (over 90 last year) searching for something that just gets me. It’s not a very scientific process, but it is a quick moving one – let’s go!
Stop! Before we go any further, I’ve got to give some shout-outs. Because believe me, a year with new releases from basically all my favorite bands – Arcade Fire, David Bowie, Phoenix, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sigur Rós, Neko Case, the Shout Out Louds, Atoms for Peace (featuring Thom Yorke), Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) – would have to be pretty interesting to not see any of them making my favorite ten. So… I still don’t know what to say about CHRVCHES. Tegan & Sara fucking rocked it at Bumbershoot and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot for Heartthrob. That new Los Campesinos! album is actually pretty cool too. Spreading Rumors, by Group Love, was a pleasant surprise. I just checked out that Magical Cloudz album, it seems pretty sweet, but I need to listen to it way more. Actually, this might take too long, there’s a bunch more that a liked a lot. Of course basically anything in the 2013 Rundown that didn’t make the cut was certainly close to it. Running out of time, I’m sorry! OK, list!
As far as music is concerned, 2013 was kind of a weird one for me. Mainly because it was a year filled with one great month of new releases, while the other eleven months paled in comparison. Because looking at my list as it is, all but one of the albums in my top five came out in May of last year. But for now, how about we take a look at the other spots on my list before this devolves into a loving tribute to the magnificent month of May 2013. Continue reading
Can I call Her the best sci fi movie of 2013? Maybe Pacific Rim is my favorite, but I’d look silly calling it the best. Gravity is really, amazingly good – but just because it’s set in space doesn’t make it sci fi, does it? I mean, we’ve been hanging out up there for a while now, and as far as I can tell that movie’s set in the present. Really, it’s just a disaster movie. But Her? Now that is some good old fashioned, hard core sci fi. You just might not notice it when it’s wrapped in such a relatable, dare I say human, shell.
I bet the pitch for this movie was: “What if someone fell in love with Siri?” It’s the future. Not the distant future, not some dystopia, but a few years from now. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in LA, and he’s been trying to deal with his divorce from Rooney Mara by giving up much of his social life. He spends his time quietly coasting, listening to his computer read email and play melancholy music when he’s out in public, hardly interacting with anyone. But it’s been hard, especially because he spends his days working at a company that writes beautiful, heartfelt, handwritten letters. It is in this state that one day, seemingly on a lark, he buys a new operating system; the first with artificial intelligence. But as he gets to know his new digital companion, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), Ted quickly finds out he got a lot more than he paid for.
There are a few predictable paths I could go on from here: I could talk about how Scarlett Johansson’s performance is confounding award shows across the country is fitting, given that how to treat an OS is one of the central dilemmas of the movie. But that’s probably more overhyped marketing than a real, significant controversy. I could write about how great sci fi always deals with real problems, whether they be the issues of the day or ideas bigger and more universal than that. But everyone knows that’s the case already, and it doesn’t speak to why this movie is unique.
So what makes Her special? For one, it’s deeply intimate. A movie like this, with only one physical lead, demands that actor bear his soul for us. Joaquin Phoenix, hot off his stellar, challenging performance in The Master, shows us something very different, but just as insightful, here. A lot of Her is spent in close up, looking at Ted as he processes his new life. But thankfully, he is never made to seem overly sad or pathetic. He’s lost, but he wants to be found, and he wasn’t always this way. As easy as it is to fall in love with ScarJo’s Samantha, the movie also makes it clear why she would love him.
Samantha is charming, and watching (or listening to) her growth is the joy of this movie. I don’t know what inspired the casting of Scarlett Johansson, but let any doubts be cast aside – she gives a great performance. She’s immediately disarmingly compassionate and hits all the right beats as she transcends her programming and begins to wonder what she really is and how she really feels. I did wonder if the knowledge of how beautiful a woman Scarlett Johansson is in the real world affected my reaction to Samantha in the movie. After all, in the movie she has to compete with a Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde as a voice in a box, which might have been a tougher sell without knowing that yeah, she’s actually really beautiful too. I mean, maybe, right?
The movie has a distinctive, colorful, clean look. There are some weird visuals, but mostly everything is as spartan and pretty as tech companies like Apple would want the future to be. The movie’s set in future LA, but it doesn’t really feel like anything but itself; a metropolis full of people and spectacle, but easy to feel alone in. That feel is surely enhanced by the score by Arcade Fire, which, for my money, is better than Reflektor. As I left the theater I started to wonder if “Supersymmetry” had just become my favorite song on that album just because of this movie. It’s really good.
I also loved how gentle and open-minded Her was in its approach to its subject. It would be so easy for a story like this to twist itself into a story about perversion and sickness, about a character’s disconnection from reality. Her almost entirely avoids that pitfall. The movie never really fights against that idea that an AI has rights or deserves to be treated well, despite it being the centerpiece of so many iconic Star Trek episodes. It never looks down on anyone for following their heart. At most, it just questions the logistics of certain things. Her embraces love in any form, and I love it for that.
We are the first generation in human history that is being directly shaped by technology. We are growing up in a time when online connections are not only important, but can take precedence over real world ones. Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde exist in this story to remind us of the potential downside of that. Maybe it’s not ideal, but Her shows us that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world, either. This is a story about a bunch of people whose lives are shaped by technology. It’s a story about love. It’s a story about life. And it’s hard to find fault in that.
It’s a tradition older than the royal baby, the PlayStation 4, and SnapChat. More respectable than Duck Dynasty, Paula Deen, and probably some not racist things too. That’s right, it’s the Mildly Pleased Awards, America’s chance to look back at a year of mediocrity. Even though 2013 seems to have been particularly grueling and painful to get through, it’s easy to get lost in all the bad shit. Or in all the really great shit. But what about the day-to-day, you know? Life’s not all peaks and valleys, sometimes it just is, you dig? Like Tony Shalhoub said, in his immortal role as Tech Sgt. Chen in Galaxy Quest, “It’s the simple things in life you treasure.” And these are some simple-ass things.
Check out our nominees for best viral video of the year after the break!