Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Looking Back: January 1987

1987 was the year I first started listening to popular music, and in honor of that 20-year anniversary, I've decided to take a monthly look back at what was popular that year. An important caveat though is that I didn't actually start listening until August of 1987, but still, much of what was popular that year I've come to know.

January 1987

Unfortunately, this is kind of a slow start, as the two biggest songs of January '87 haven't proven to be timeless classics, although they are good songs: "Shake You Down," an R&B ballad by Gregory Abbott, and "At This Moment" a traditional pop ballad by Billy Vera and the Beaters. Albeit for a couple of minor follow-ups, it's safe to say these guys were both one-hit wonders. "At This Moment" is notable for becoming popular after serving as a love theme for Alex P. Keaton's first major romance on Family Ties.



Probably the most memorable song from January of 1987 is Janet Jackson's "Control," the title track and fourth single from Control, all of which up to this point made the top 5. "Control" was a rallying cry for female independence, and amidst the R&B balladry and hair band rock of '87, still sounds fresh today--way fresher than the music Janet Jackson records now. The video (below) plays like a short film.



Also notable was Genesis' third Invisible Touch single, "Land of Confusion." It was the album's third straight top 5 hit--two more would follow later in the year. The song has one of the '80s most memorable videos, featuring truly creepy puppets, including two that look suspicously like a former president and first lady, as well as a handful of other then-current world leaders.



Finally, there was the debut single from Robbie Nevil, "C'est La Vie," which he was never able to follow-up successfully, and Duran Duran's "Notorious," a #2 hit and their first single since their 1985 #1 single, "A View to a Kill."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grace Kelly - Mika

He's #1 on the British singles and airplay charts, #1 on my personal chart, and I just raved about "Grace Kelly" in my singles roundup. But don't take my word for it (or Britain's), check out 2007's first new music star yourself:

If your toe wasn't tapping during this, there's something wrong with you (or you might not have toes, in which case, sorry).

Singles Roundup

Grace Kelly - Mika (5/5). The year's first great pop song comes courtesy of a newcomer to the music scene, a British-based, Lebanon-born, ambiguously sexual, 23 year-old singer Mika. There's enough attitude, hook, and pure joy oozing through this song to fill an entire album. It's got piano, loud electric guitar, and a vocal delivery like Jake Shears on...well, something really strong. To say it will be one of the year's biggest hits is an understatement. Nobody gets a better launch than this.

This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race (4.5/5) I haven't been a Fall Out Boy fan, until now. "This Ain't a Scene..." is a great song about who knows what but who cares. The title alone makes a great hook when combined with an emphatic swear. Well done.

The Prayer - Bloc Party (4/5). A new album gives me the chance I need to finally get into Bloc Party, which I've been told I'd like, but I just haven't given them a chance yet. Hectic "The Prayer" sounds like a more indie version of The Killers, with its keyboard-backed chorus and dramatic lyrical delivery. I like the chorus, but I find the verses not very interesting musically, although I like the vaguely clubby sound. Not bad, I'm definitely interested in hearing more.

Personal Chart, 2/3/2007

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Grace Kelly - Mika (2 weeks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... A Bad Dream - Keane (1 wk @ #1)
3 .... 3 .... Perfect (Exceeder) - Mason vs. Princess Superstar
4 .... 4 .... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
5 .... 5 .... Starz in Their Eyes - Just Jack
6 .... 7 .... What Goes Around...Comes Around - Justin Timberlake
7 .... 6 .... Irreplaceable - Beyonce (2 wks @ #1)
8 .... 9 .... Patience - Take That (4 wks @ #1)
9 ... 14 ... Boogie 2Nite - Booty Luv
10 .. 30 .. This Ain't a Scence, It's an Arms Race - Fall Out Boy

Lily Allen trades LDN for USA

Lily Allen's album, Alright, Still, was finally released in the U.S. today. Read my review from last October. The U.S. release includes a couple of new tracks that reviews I've read said aren't that great.

Monday, January 29, 2007

US Chart Analysis, 2/3/2007

1. Irreplaceable - Beyonce

It's 8 weeks now at the top for Beyonce and "Irreplacable," matching the peak of her first solo #1, "Crazy in Love." If she can manage one more week at the top, she'll match her longest-running #1 hit, "Baby Boy." The follow-up single is already gaining traction; "Listen," the Oscar-nominated song from Dreamgirls that also appears on B'Day, rises 8 spots to #61 this week.

2. This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race - Fall Out Boy

In just one week Fall Out Boy manages to score their biggest hit yet, by managing the tremendous feat of debuting at #2 with "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," the second single from their forthcoming second mainstream album, Infinity on High, out next week. "This Ain't a Scene..." is the band's third top 10 hit, following "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Dance, Dance."

3. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado rises another notch to #3, and despite the amazing feat at #2 by Fall Out Boy, I expect Nelly Furtado to be the top candidate now to have the next #1 single, as Fall Out Boy's success, while remarkable, is surely due to fans' first-week downloads, and the single will likely fall next week as its sales reach a more normal level. "Say It Right" on the otherhand has the growing sales and airplay power behind to vault to the top.

6. It's Not Over - Daughtry

Another American Idol alumnus scores a top 10 hit this week as Daughtry, the band formed by the show's season 5 fourth place finisher Chris Daughtry, vaults 15 places to #6 and earns this week's sales gainer award. The other seven American Idol contestants to score top 10 hits? Kelly Clarkson (6 top 10 hits), Clay Aiken (2), Ruben Studdard (2), Fantasia (1), Carrie Underwood (1), Bo Bice (1), and Taylor Hicks (1).

14. Push It to the Limit - Corbin Bleu

Speaking of television stars, another High School Musical star makes his Hot 100 debut this week, all the way up at #14 with "Push It to the Limit."

19. The Sweet Escape - Gwen Stefani feat. Akon

Gwen Stefani makes a 12 spot leap to #19 this week with "The Sweet Escape" second single and title track to her second solo album. This is her sixth top 20 hit.

23. Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall

KT Tunstall also makes a 12 spot jump, up to #23 with "Suddenly I See," which looks likely to surpass the #20 peak of her first single, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

UK Chart Analysis, 1/27/2007

1. Grace Kelly - Mika

Up two spots to score his first #1 hit with his debut single is Mika with infectious "Grace Kelly." Under the old rules, this wouldn't be at number one, in fact it wouldn't appear on the chart at all, as its downloads sales wouldn't have been eligible until the following chart out tomorrow. So "Grace Kelly" is notable for being 1) the second single ever after Gnarl's Barkley's "Crazy" to reach #1 on downloads only and 2) the first single to reach #1 two weeks before its physical release.

2. Starz in Their Eyes - Just Jack

Just Jack has to settle for #2 then, despite the availability of his "Starz in Their Eyes" in stores. Like Mika, Just Jack is a newcomer to the music scene this year, and both have been identified as big rising stars that are expected to break out big this year.

3. Same Jeans - The View

Following two #15 singles, The View finally score a big hit with "Same Jeans," up 8 spots this week on its physical release.

4. Too Little, Too Late - Jojo

Jojo's third UK single lands at #4, a bit low, given that it's pre-release downloads have been pretty strong. Still, this is her third top 10 hit following 2004's "Leave (Get Out)" (#2) and "Baby It's You" (#8).

7. I Luv U - Ordinary Boys

The Ordinary Boys score their fourth top 10 hit with ballad "I Luv U." Frankly, I'm getting a bit bored with this song, but it's not bad.

9. Calm Down Dearest - Jamie T

By comparison, this is one I wasn't that impressed with at first, but has been growing on me. Jamie T has been called the new The Streets and the male Lily Allen--perhaps a little of both is accurate. "Calm Down Dearest" is his third and biggest hit--his first top 10.

11. Perfect (Exciter) - Mason vs. Princess Superstar

Ooh! This one is really fun: a mashup of Princess Superstar's "Perfect"--Princess Superstar being known for her 2002 hit "Bad Babysitter" ("I'm a bad babysitter, got my boyfriend in the shower. I make six bucks an hour.")--with Mason's techno instrumental "Exciter," which sounds quite similar to Bodyrox's "Yeah Yeah." The combination works perfectly, one would scarcely know the vocal and the instrumental weren't planned together to begin with. Expect a strong jump into the top 5 next week.

16. I Wanna Love You - Akon Featuring Snoop Dogg

Akon moves up 19 spots to #16 with "I Wanna Love You." The single is still four weeks away from charting on physical sales, so expect this one to be around for awhile.

17. Honey to the Bee - Billie

So here's the first true oddity under the new chart rules. Billie, later Billie Piper, appeared on the scene in 1998. She was an instantly popular teen singer, hitting #1 with her first two singles, "Because We Want to" and "Girlfriend." She had three more top tens and another #1 ("Day and Night") over the next couple of years before chart success started eluding her. Since then, her career has been focused on acting, and she's appeared in a number of British TV productions, including Doctor Who, earning positive reviews for her work. Having been hitless now for over 6 years, morning show DJ Chris Moyles apparently decided to try and revive her chart career by encouraging listeners to go out and purchase "Honey to the Bee" to return it to the chart. Originally a #3 hit in 1999, "Honey to the Bee" became a hit again due to Moyles' influence, landing this week at #17. Expect more similar shenanigans, at least until the novelty of this wears off.

20. Kingdom of Doom - The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Damon Albarn is back with another non-Blur project, this time its new group The Good, the Bad & The Queen. This is their second top 40 single, following November's "Herculean" (#22). The eponymous album, out this week, has been getting very good reviews.

27. Annie Let's Not Wait - Guillemots

The Guillemots got a lot of attention over the summer for their Mercury Prize nomination for their first album. It hasn't led to singles chart success though, as this is their third single to miss the top 20.

29. How to Save a Life - The Fray

Here's another track that's going to be around for awhile. It's already on the BBC Radio1 A-List, but it's not getting a physical release until March 26th, 9 weeks away!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oscar Nominees Announced


The nominees for the 79th Annual Academy Awards were announced yesterday. The one thing that the Oscar nominations day is always good for: a handful of great surprises. Just when it seems that a movie is a lock for a nomination—this year it was Dreamgirls—alas, the Academy has something else in mind. Dreamgirls, despite not getting a best picture nomination, was certainly not overlooked—it was the year’s most honored film with 8 nominations.

The best picture contenders were Babel, The Departed, The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine, and surprise nominee Letters from Iwo Jima, which had been viewed as a possible contender, but falling into 6th place going into yesterday’s announcement. Significantly, unlike in most years, there is no frontrunner for the best picture race this year—not even 2 or 3 frontrunners. At this point, any of these films has a shot at the award, which makes for a very exciting Oscar run-up.

Dreamgirls’ absence from the Best Picture category correlated with a similar absence for Bill Condon from Best Director. While Clint Eastwood had been expected to be nominated for director, the surprise there was Paul Greengrass for United 93, the movie’s only nomination.

Other surprises were Volver being overlooked in the foreign film category, Jack Nicholson being passed over for supporting actor in favor of his costar Mark Wahlberg, and Leonardo DiCaprio being nominated for Blood Diamond instead of The Departed (an actor is allowed to be nominated only once per year in an acting category, so being nominated for both was not possible). Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth did surprisingly well, picking up 6 nominations. Babel received 7, The Queen 6, and The Departed 5. With few films getting many nominations, the honors were spread quite widely this year.

Also noteworthy is the diversity of race and ethnicity in the acting categories: 8 nominations for minority actors, including three African Americans (Forest Whitaker, Will Smith, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy), an African (Djimon Hounsou), two Latinas (Penelope Cruz and Adriana Barraza), and an Asian (Japan’s Rinko Kikuchi).

Personal disappointments are few. Besides Volver’s snub, I was disappointed Flags of Our Fathers didn’t do better (it received 2 nods, both in sound categories), and that The Painted Veil didn’t get any nominations (it’s beautiful score was overlooked, as was its stunning, if not traditional cinematography). Also too bad The Queen’s Michael Sheen was nominated for supporting actor, as he was amazing and probably still my favorite supporting actor performance for the year. Finally, the long-standing James Bond snub continued, with no nominations for Casino Royale, despite it being arguably the best entry in the 21-film franchise. Surely a Sound Editing nomination was deserved.

Full list of nominees from the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/features/rto/2007/oscars

Click below to keep reading category-specific commentary.

Picture

Babel
The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

Dreamgirls’ omission was the big surprise at the Oscar nominations this year, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a worthy slate. I’ve yet to see Letters From Iwo Jima, but I’ve heard it’s fantastic. The other four films all made my year-end top 10 list, so I’ve no complaints, other than to admit I was hoping longshot Little Children might make the list. While there is no frontrunner in this race—a first since I’ve followed the Oscars (usually there’s 1 or maybe 2 films that are out front)—I have a gut feeling it might go for The Departed, if only because Martin Scorsese is sure to win Best Director. My personal pick: The Queen.

Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole for Venus
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness (sic)
Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland

No real surprises here, other than that Leo’s nod was for his showier work in Blood Diamond instead of his subtler work in the more respected film, The Departed. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) had been tipped as an outside spoiler, but it wasn’t to be. This is Leo’s third nomination (The Aviator and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Will’s second (Ali), and Peter’s 8th. Forest Whitaker is the obvious frontrunner, having won just about every critics’ prize, but don’t count out Peter O’Toole, who’s never won (except for an honorary award), and probably won’t get another shot at it. I haven’t yet seen The Pursuit of Happyness (sic), but as of now my pick is for Forest Whitaker or Ryan Gosling, who I don’t expect to win, but he was so good in Half Nelson. Since Forest is getting so much attention, I’ll say Ryan.

Actress

Helen Mirren for The Queen
Kate Winslet for Little Children
Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
Penelope Cruz for Volver
Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada

Has there ever been an easier category to predict? If these five women weren’t the ones, it would have been a major, major upset. Sure Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Maggie Gyllenhaal were mentioned, but in truth, weren’t really strong competition. Meryl Streep, already the record holder for the most nominations, extends her count to 14 nods. This is the sixth nomination for Dench, the fifth for Winslet, the third for Mirren, and the first for Cruz. Helen Mirren is the clear favorite here, having secured every major critics prize except for the Austin Film Critics. My pick: While they’re all great, particularly Cruz, I have to go with Helen.

Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg for The Departed

I’m surprised how closely this category conformed to my prediction, given that there were so many deserving nominees this year. Some were saying Brad Pitt would be in here for Babel, but I really didn’t expect it. I was more surprised to see hammy Jack Nicholson passed over for The Departed; instead we got mouthy Mark Wahlberg, his first nomination. This is also the first nomination for Eddie Murphy, who is the current frontrunner for his career-reviving performance in Dreamgirls. This is Arkin’s third nomination, Hounsou’s second (In America), and Haley’s first. My pick: Jackie Earle Haley was great as the creepy, yet human, sex offender in Little Children, but I’m going with Eddie Murphy, by a hair.

Supporting Actress

Adriana Barraza for Babel
Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

Exactly the slate I was expecting. While there was more potential for upset here than in the leading actress category, I really didn’t expect Emily Blunt or Toni Collette to make the cut. Three-time nominee and recent winner (for The Aviator) Cate Blanchett is the only Oscar veteran of the bunch—all the others are first time nominees. Jennifer Hudson is the obvious frontrunner for her star-making turn in Dreamgirls. Still, Oscar has a historical soft spot for children (remember when The Piano’s Anna Paquin ran off with the award 13 years ago?), so don’t count Abigail Breslin out, and this category more than any other of the acting categories has a history of upsets. My pick: I was really moved by Adriana Barraza’s performance in Babel, so I was so sure she’d be my favorite, until I saw Dreamgirls last weekend, and now I have to go with Jennifer.

Director

Paul Greengrass for United 93
Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima
Martin Scorsese for The Departed
Stephen Frears for The Queen
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel

The only surprise here is that Dreamgirls’ Bill Condon wasn’t nominated, but in light of the film not getting a picture nod, it really isn’t a surprise. Missing is Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine’s directing team of Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Farris. Instead we have Paul Greengrass for his amazing work on United 93, which looks so realistic you forget there’s a director pulling the strings. Babel is noteworthy too for pulling off three storylines in very different parts of the world that all ring true. While Clint Eastwood (his fourth nomination) deserves the honor just for his powerful one-two punch with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, Martin Scorsese, a six-time director nominee with no wins, will surely finally get his Oscar. My pick: Second-time nominee Stephen Frears. How could I not honor the director for my favorite film of the year? And while I like Scorsese, I’m not a fan of using Oscar as a capping award.

Adapted Screenplay

Borat
Children of Men
The Departed
Little Children
Notes on a Scandal

Borat was a surprise here, as I felt the story was fairly straightforward—a “foreigner” travels across the country—it’s interest lying more in the unscripted reactions to him. I’d have chosen clever Thank You For Smoking or expansive The Painted Veil. Even The Devil Wears Prada could have been nominated for turning a pretty pulpy work into something with meaning and better characters. As the only Best Picture nominee among the bunch, The Departed seems like an obvious favorite, although Little Children certainly deserves respect for the impact of its story, as does Children of Men, which many people think deserved a Best Picture nod. My pick: Little Children.

Original Screenplay

Babel
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen

Here’s a rare and interesting twist—most of this year’s best picture nominees are original scripts, rather than adaptations. So these are all best picture nominees, with the exception of Pan’s Labyrinth. Combined with the fact that it’s in a foreign language means it’s probably out, although don’t forget that Spanish film Talk to Her won this four year’s ago. The Queen won the Globe, so I’m guessing it’s the frontrunner. My pick: The Queen.


I'm sleepy. I'll write about the other categories later.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Last minute Oscar predictions

Here's some last minute predictions, not the category-by-category kind, but some general observations:
  • Babel and Dreamgirls will lead with 10 nominations each.
  • Flags of Our Fathers will get more nominations than Letters From Iwo Jima, but Letters' will be in more significant categories.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 2 will get several technical nominations.
  • Pan's Labyrinth will get several technical nominations too, in addition to a Best Foreign Film nomination.
  • A documentary is going to get a nomination in a category other than Best Documentary Feature.
  • There will be a record number of minorities nominated in the acting categories (I predict eight).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Can James Bond win an Oscar?


Casino Royale received an amazing nine nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) last week, an unheard of feat for a Bond film. Will the same thing happen at the Oscars?

Sadly, I doubt it. Despite Casino Royale being an excellent film, when stacked up against the other likely nominees, I expect it will come away with only one--for Sound Effects Editing, although if it can nudge out Blood Diamond, it might also get one for Sound Mixing. Still, if I gets only one, it will end a 25 year run in which no Bond films have received an Oscar nomination.

Bond Films in general have a rather poor track record with Oscar. Certainly none of them have ever been considered in the acting categories. Tragically, John Barry, who adeptly scored most of the films and penned some of their more memorable songs, never received a nomination for this work. Of the 20 official Bond films, only two have won Oscars and it was quite early on: Goldfinger (1964) won for best Sound Effects and Thunderball (1965) won for best Visual Effects.

In total, the series has snagged only 9 nominations. For a well-known movie franchise with 20 entries, that's paltry compared to other leading film franchises like The Lord of the Rings (30 nods and 17 wins for 3 films), Star Wars (26 nods and 10 wins for 6 films), and The Godfather (29 nods and 9 wins for 3 films). Even the Rocky and Alien franchises have fared better at the Oscars.

Here are the list of nominations by film for the series:

For Your Eyes Only (1981): Song ("For Your Eyes Only")
Moonraker (1979): Visual Effects
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Art Direction, Score (Martin Hamlisch), Song (Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better")
Live and Let Die (1973): Song ("Live and Let Die")
Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sound
Thunderball (1965): Visual Effects (winner)
Goldfinger (1964): Sound Effects (winner)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

BBC Sounds of 2007

BBC does a poll of music critics and broadcasters to forecast who the hot new acts of the year will be and then releases a top 10 list. Here's the list for 2007:

1. Mika
2. The Twang
3. Klaxons
4. Sadie Ama
5. Enter Shikari
6. Air Traffic
7. Cold War Kids
8. Just Jack
9. Ghosts
10. The Rumble Strips

Mika, Klaxons, and Just Jack already are making an impact on the chart. Mika in particular looks like he'll break out big. "Grace Kelly" is already #2 on the sales and airplay charts, and the single isn't even out until the 29th.

Judging from their 2006 list, I would expect at least half of these acts to break out big. Last year they named Corinne Bailey Rae at #1, and surely got it right, as she is now vying for record and album of the year Grammys, as well as having had a huge international hit with "Put Your Records On." Other acts from last year's list that did well: The Feeling (#3), Guillemots (#5), Chris Brown (#7), and The Automatic (#10). Their 2005 list was pretty impressive too: The Bravery (#1), Bloc Party (#2), The Game (#4), Kaiser Chiefs (#5), KT Tunstall (#6), and The Magic Numbers (#10). Keane was #1 for 2004.

Singles Roundup

Jan 15-22 release reviews:

A Bad Dream - Keane (5/5). iTunes says I've heard this almost 40 times now, and I still love it. Hands down the most beautiful song Keane has recorded. It still gives me chills. It starts with a ghostly, mechanical sound, like that of an approaching airplane--fitting, given the song is about a disillusioned, lonely fighter pilot. Tom's vocal, the piano, the bass synthesizers blend together effortlessly here. I can't say enough about how much I love this song.

"Too Little, Too Late" - Jojo (4.5/5). Ah, Jojo. This was a huge hit in the U.S. a few months ago, and it looks like it's going to do well in the U.K. too. This is one of those pop songs that manages to hit all the right notes: A catchy, on-key vocal, a lush guitar/strings instrumentation, and a knockout chorus. Jojo, who recently turned 16, deserves credit for taking the high road and turning out a mature pop album for her second disc. From interviews I've heard, she sounds pretty serious too, which is a nice change.

"Perfect (Exceeder)" - Masons vs. Princess Superstar (4.5/5). I don't know why, but I adore this. It's a total rip of the production of Bodyrox, but I like it so much better than that song. I like the '80s swagger meets sharp '90s house sound with '00s production sheen. Great club track and fun vocal too. I guess this is a mash-up of Princess Superstar's "Perfect" and Masons' "Exceeder," neither of which I've heard on their own, so to me at least, this sounds totally natural.

"Starz in Their Eyes" - Just Jack (4.5/5). This is a fun song. Reminds me of of "Starry Eyed Surprise," since the titles sound similar, but his voice sort of does too. It's sort of Lily Allen-ish with a dose of club production. Hard to categorize, but definitely interesting. BBC named Just Jack in their Sound of 2007 poll--a list of 10 up-and-coming musical acts they think will be big this year.

"I Luv U" - Ordinary Boys (4/5). This is just a nice, simple rock ballad. My favorite from them so far. Whistles, acoustic guitars, strings, and the like.

"Famous Last Words" - My Chemical Romance (4/5). Another great single from My Chemical Romance. Not as over the top as Welcome to the Black Parade, but a solid power rock song. The strong chorus, albeit somewhat short, is what makes it really work.

"Golden Skans" - Klaxons (4/5). These guys also made the Sounds of 2007 list. Check out the weird video. This is a pretty good song, with a good, standard rock arrangement of electric guitar, piano, drums, bass, and vocal. Kind of reminds me of the Editors, but not as proficient. A good breakout single

"Annie, Let's Not Wait" - Guillemots (4/5). More electronic than you'd expect, this is probably their best single yet. Pretty upbeat and the lead singer's got a good voice. Strange percussion, but it fits.

"Thinking of You" - Norah Jones (3.5/5). Norah Jones is really more of an albums than a singles artist. So while I'm excited about a new album from her, the single is pretty good but not amazing. This is the kind of soulful, mellow pop we've come to expect from her that's certainly moved more than a few albums.

"Calm Down Dearest" - Jamie T (3.5/5). Sounds like a sloppy version of the Streets. It's got a good beat, but the singer isn't that likeable. The chorus rescues it though, it's pretty good.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Brit Awards: Nominees Announced

The Nominees for the 2007 Brit Awards were announced this week. Some say the Brit Awards are the U.K. equivalent to the Grammys, but that's really not a good comparison, as the Brits are more commercial and have far fewer categories. Perhaps somewhere between the Grammys and the totally inane American Music Awards.

This year, there are only 12 categories, having shed the Pop Act, British Urban Act, and British Rock Act categories. Newcomer Lily Allen leads with four nominations, up for British Album with Alright, Still and British Single for "Smile," as well as British Female and Britsh Breakthrough. Snow Patrol is up for three awards, also garnering awards for both British Album (Eyes Open) and British Single ("Chasing Cars"). Also up for three awards each are Corinne Bailey Rae, Gnarls Barkley, James Morrison, and Muse.

Here's a rundown on the top album and single categories:

British Album

Alright Still - Lily Allen
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys
Black Holes and Revelations - Muse
Eyes Open - Snow Patrol
Back to Black - Amy Winehouse

It's British artists only in this category. Mostly it's no surprise. Arctic Monkeys, Muse, and Snow Patrol were shoo-ins, for having albums both critically acclaimed and solid sellers. Lily Allen isn't too much of a surprise either, as she's surely the pick for best British Newcomer. Amy Winehouse is a bit of a head scrather though, as I would have though Razorlight's Razorlight would have easily joined this pack or maybe even Keane's Under the Iron Sea. Keane were the biggest snub this year--no nods (The Feeling comes close with only one). Muse and Snow Patrol are the only veterans here--both were nominated in 2004 for Absolution and Final Straw respectively.

As for the winner, Arctic Monkeys have the advantage, having already picked up the Mercury Prize and the Q Magazine Album of the Year. Still, the Brits sometimes pick the popular favorite over the critics darling--Keane snagged this award over Franz Ferdinand in 2004--so Snow Patrol, who had the year's best-selling album, is a strong contender too.

International Album

Modern Times - Bob Dylan
St. Elsewhere - Gnarls Barkley
Sam's Town - The Killers
Ta-Dah - Scissor Sisters
FutureSex/LoveSounds - Justin Timberlake

Gnarls Barkley and Justin Timerlake are Grammy Nominees, so it's no surprise to see them here, given that they were very popular in the U.K. as well as the U.S. Also no shocker to see Scissor Sisters, who are a big favorite in Britain. Bob Dylan is a bit of a surprise though, having been chosen over more popular albums by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pink (despite her slide in fame in the U.S., she's still very big in Britain). The Scissor Sisters won this award 2 years ago for their debut, but I'm giving the edge to win this year to Justin Timberlake.

British Single

"Smile" - Lily Allen
"Fill My Little World" - The Feeling
"She Moves in Her Own Way" - The Kooks
"A Moment Like This" - Leona Lewis
"You Give Me Something" - James Morrison
"Put Your Records On" - Corinne Bailey Rae
"America" - Razorlight
"Chasing Cars" - Snow Patrol
"Patience" - Take That
"I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker" - Sandi Thom
"All Time Love" - Will Young

So this is an odd one. Sometimes this category has 10 nominees, sometimes 5, but 11? Weird. The list is what you'd expect, given that the criteria are a combination of sales and airplay among British artists only. It's nice to see the Feeling in there, who were otherwise snubbed, shamefully in my opinion. Will Young is the recent veteran in this bunch, having been nominated in 2002 for his debut, "Evergreen," and crowned the winner in 2004 for "Your Game." The other veteran act is Take That, who won this award in 1995 for "Back for Good" and 1993 for "Pray." I don't have the data to know how many times they'd also been nominated. I bet this race comes down between Lily Allen, Take That, and Snow Patrol, with Snow Patrol taking it.

You can read the full list of nominees here, and check out what my nomination predictions were here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Billboard Hot 100 Analysis, 1/26/2007

1. Irreplaceable – Beyonce

It’s 7 weeks at #1 for Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” It’s run at the top is now 1 week shy of the 8 weeks she had at the top for her first solo hit, “Crazy in Love.” Collectively, she’s now spent 29 weeks at #1 as a solo artist, 12 weeks more than the 17 weeks at #1 she’s had with Destiny’s Child.

4. Say It Right – Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado continues her ascent with “Say It Right,” up one to #4 this week. The song is currently #2 on the top 40 airplay chart and climbing. As of this writing, it’s #1 on iTunes.

9. Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance scored their first top 10 hit last week at #9 with “Welcome to the Black Parade,” which holds steady this week. The band’s previous best was the #33 peak of “Helena” in 2005.

12. What Goes Around … Comes Around – Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake moves up nine spots this week to #12 with “What Goes Around…,” the third FutureSex/LoveSounds single. “Sexyback” hit #1 in September; “My Love” hit #1 in November. “What Goes Around…” looks like it’s on that trajectory as well. If he keeps this pace up, expect another top 10 hit around early April, and probably another in the summer too.

31. The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani (featuring Akon)

Gwen Stefani gets the Sales Gainer designation this week for “The Sweet Escape” and enters the top 40 (up 22 spots) at #31. This is her sixth top 40 hit as a soloist, although she has a little help here from Akon, who’s currently #2 with “I Wanna Love You” and #5 with “Smack That.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Oscar Preview: Other Categories


I'm focusing my attention here on the "other" Oscar categories--the ones outside the big six that honor specific aspects of moviemaking, such as cinematography, costume design, and sound effects. Rather than predict what I think will be nominated, I want to highlight a few films that I think deserve nominations in these categories, but might get overlooked for being less typical of what usually gets nominated.

The cinematography, art direction, costume design, and musical score categories are often dominated by sweeping historical epics, films like Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride & Prejudice, The Aviator, and Finding Neverland. Sound mixing and editing, visual effects, and make-up often go to big-budget spectacles such as King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia, Spider-Man 2, and the Star Wars films.

But sometimes an atypical choice might be just what Oscar called for, a film that uses technical mediums to enhance the story in unexpected ways rather than something in-your-face that wasn't at all surprising.

Babel (Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Score)



Sure Babel will probably get lots of nominations, but since it's not a sweeping historical epic or a big-budget action film, it may come up short in these types of categories. That's too bad, because there's some really fantastic work here combining visual and aural elements. Babel's art direction is subtle but very effective--placing actors in four distinctly different environs that are designed so well as to instantly remind the viewer how important setting is to the story of the film. Urban Japan, suburban California, rural Mexico, and Morocco are all rendered as very different places, and this difference is also highlighted by the film's score, which changes thematically to match the country in which the action is taking place.

Babel should also be considered for sound mixing, for it's powerful use of sound to highlight Rinko Kikuchi's character's deafness. There's this fantastic transition where she, after having taken some kind of narcotic with friends, goes clubbing. The sound shifts from the ambient outside noise, to electronic music meant to score Rinko’s mood, then Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” is mixed in, although muffled at times as if heard from the character’s deaf perspective. All the while the colorful Tokyo visuals are really cool too. Check it out:







Children of Men (Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction)

I’d be surprised if Children of Men doesn’t get Cinematography and Sound nominations for it’s edge-of-your-seat single take action sequences, the car chase near the beginning of the film, and Clive Owen’s rescue of the pregnant girl in the refugee camp near the end. Both are stunning and required an unthinkable amount of setup to get each shot. I read that the car was specially built so that the seats and windows could move out of the way so the camera could go in and out and the actors could move out of the camera’s view when needed. Here’s the rescue scene:







And here’s the car chase scene (warning: it’s pretty violent):







Children of Men is also notable for its art direction, which subtly hints at technological advancement (the film is set in 2027) in realistic ways, without being too advanced. After all, in a post-apocalpytic future the global economy would be dead, and I wouldn’t expect there to be as much advancement.

The Devil Wears Prada (costume design)

To believe that The Devil Wears Prada should be nominated for best costume design (as I do), it’s important to remember that this award shouldn’t be a sewing contest. It always goes to historical epics with lavish costumes—the only film recently nominated with a contemporary setting was Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and that was for drag outfits. One could argue that fashion is as important of a character in the Devil Wears Prada as Andrea or her mean editor Miranda, and the film effectively uses costuming to convey a lot about the personality of the characters. Most stunning is the montage where Andrea learns to dress fashionably. We see her style change over the course of several outfits; what we don’t see, but should realize, is that she’s not just changing on the outside.

The Queen (make-up)

The make-up award usually goes to some fancy work with prosthetics. But why not honor something a little more simple, but just as effective? Sadly, The Queen isn’t on the shortlist of films being considered here, but why not? Didn’t Helen Mirren look stunning at the Globes this week? Compare that to her frumpy presence in the Queen. She doesn’t act at all like her self (that’s acting), not does she look at all like herself (that’s make-up). It’s very well done.

Flags of Our Fathers (Cinematography, Visual and Sound Effects)

The battle scenes of Flags of Our Fathers are obviously impressive. But some of the non-battle scences use impressive visual effects too, like this scene featuring a crowd-filled, historic Times Square:







There’s also this fantastic shot that at first appears to be soldiers in battle, but then you slowly realize that the bombs aren’t really bombs—they’re fireworks—then the camera pans up to show a stadium full of cheering people, it’s a war rally, not the actual war. Very cool scene.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Golden Globe Predictions

The Globes are handed out tonight. I probably won't watch (24 is on!), but I'll be interested to see who wins. The Globes, although fun because they come before the Oscars, really aren't a good Oscar predictor at all, given that its voting bloc aren't Academy members, and they split several categories into two--drama and comedy/musical for the lead acting and picture categories. For the last 2 years for example, their pick for best drama did not go on to win Best Picture.

Still, if something does unexpectedly well, it could be a sign that it might also get more attention at the Oscars than expected.

So quickly, here are my predictions:

Picture (drama): This one's between Babel, the movie with the most Globe nominations, and The Departed. The international sweep of Babel could impress the group, who after all, work for publications in foreign countries, however I'm giving the edge to The Departed.

Picture (comedy): Borat or The Devil Wears Prada would be interesting choices, but I'm giving the advantage to the only film in this set that's also an Oscar contender, Dreamgirls.

Actor (drama): Sure Leonardo DiCaprio has two nominations (The Departed and Blood Diamond), which could make him the leader, but Forest Whitaker is still racking up guild wins for his chilling turn in The Last King Scotland, so I say he's it.

Actress (drama): Easy easy easy. Helen Mirren for The Queen. Is there even any question?

Actor (comedy): If for any other reason, Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) deserves it for sheer guile. Besides, could you really Will Ferrell with a Golden Globe?

Actress (comedy): Again, quite easy. Meryl Streep, the only serious contender of this lot to get an Oscar nomination, should walk away with an award for The Devil Wears Prada.

Supporting Actor: Tough category, and the Globes don't make it any easier by having chosen three guys I don't expect to get Oscar nods. The leaves the other two, Jack Nicholson for The Departed and Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls. I'll vote Eddie Murphy.

Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson's Dreamgirls performance is the frontrunner, so expect her to take it. An upset by Cate Blanchett would be interesting though.

Director: Even if The Departed doesn't win best drama, expect Martin Scorsese to walk away with Best Director.

Screenplay: Hmmm.. A toughie. Some good adaptations here, perhaps because it will get shut out in other spots, I'll say Babel, for telling quite the interesting story.

Song: Give it the year's hot musical, "Listen" from Dreamgirls.

Score: Alexandre Desplat's score for The Painted Veil is gorgeous, but I think the eclectic, globe-hopping Gustavo Santaolalla work for Babel will win.

Foreign Language Film: American films can qualify here, as long as they aren't in English, so there are two in here this year, including Letters From Iwo Jima. Pan's Labyrinth and foreign film favorite Almodovar's Volver are good competitors too though. I say Letters From Iwo Jima by a hair.

Best Animated Film: Haven't seen any of them, but Happy Feet is supposed to be good.

And why not take a crack at the TV categories?

Drama: 24
Comedy: The Office
Miniseries: Prime Suspect

UK Singles Chart, 1/20/2007

1. A Moment Like This - Leona Lewis

It's a fourth and probably last week at #1 for X-Factor winner Leona Lewis and her Kelly Clarkson remake, "A Moment Like This." Thankfully, there's a handful of great new songs that will be vying for #1 over the next few weeks, including two of this year's hottest breakout artists.

2. Proper Education - Eric Prydz vs. Pink Floyd

It was a close chart battle this week, but Eric Prydz was not able to score a second #1 hit, and settles for a second place at #1 with his dance version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."

3. Grace Kelly - Mika

A-ha! The first interesting story of the year, besides the new chart rules, is Mika. The 23 year-old Mica Penniman is based in London. Born in Lebanon, the singer eschewed his classical training to become a pop star, and "Grace Kelly" is a great first step in that direction. Fusing pop, dance, and funk, "Grace Kelly" is instantly the first winning new single of the year. A fantastic debut, certainly generating more than a little interest in his debut album, out next month. "Grace Kelly" isn't out for another two weeks, so this is effectively charting 3 weeks ahead of its release. Aren't the new rules grand?

4. Starz in Their Eyes - Just Jack

And here's another exciting newcomer for 2007. Jack Allsop, who does by "Just Jack," owes more than a little inspiration to The Streets, but exhibits more mainstream appeal, like a male version of Lily Allen. "Starz in Their Eyes" also reminds me a big of Oakenfold's "Starry-Eyed Surprise." His single is out today.

6. Too Little, Too Late - Jojo

Jojo's last appearance on the UK chart was her top 10 hit "Baby It's You," just over 2 years ago. She's back with "Too Little, Too Late." Having already been a huge hit in the U.S. last fall, Jojo is set to score her first #1 single next week--that is if she's able to outsell Just Jack, both of who have singles out today. Should be a good chart battle.

11. Same Jeans - The View

Debuting at #11 and set to become their first top hit next week is British group The View. "Same Jeans" is getting massive airplay, and will far surpass the #15 peaks of both of their previous singles, "Wasted Little DJs" and "Superstar Tradesmen" to finally give them a major hit. This single is also out today, a top 5 contender.

12. Rain Down Love - Freemasons vs. Siedah Garrett

This highest debut that isn't a download is a fairly good dance track from Freemasons, coming in one spot below their highest peak, that of their debut #11 hit, "Love On My Mind." Rather than vocalist Amanda Lewis, this time they secured the talents of Siedah Garrett, best known for her 1987 #1 duet with Michael Jackson, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You."

16. Golden Skans - Klaxons

London group Klaxons had a minor hit last year with "Magick" (#29), but are starting the new year off with a great new single "Golden Skans," with a really weird video too. It's out in 2 weeks, so expect some climbing for this one.

18. You Know I'm No Good - Amy Winehouse (feat. Ghostface Killah)

This is surprisingly low. It's currently top 5 on airplay, and in my opinion, way better than her last single, "Rehab," which is currently only 2 places lower at #20.

22. I Luv U - Ordinary Boys

Ordinary Boys have amassed seven top 40 hits now since appearing just under 3 years ago with "Week In Week Out." Their biggest hit, "Boys Will Be Boys" (#3) came about a year ago, benefiting from one of the band member's appearance on a UK reality show. They subsequently scored two more top 10s to prove it wasn't a one-off, "Nine2Five" (#6), and the recent top 10 "Lonely at the Top." "I Luv U" is the third single from their third album, How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps.

30. Raoul - The Automatic

This is disappointing. "Raoul" had its physical release last week, and managed to make only #30. I've been listening to this song a lot over the last few days, and I really like it. Too bad.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Release Round-Up

Here's some key new singles releases in Britain over the next few weeks:

Jan 15
Starz in Their Eyes - Just Jack
I Luv U - The Ordinary Boys
Same Jeans - The View
Too Little, Too Late - Jojo
Calm Down Dearest - Jamie T
Annie, Let's Not Wait - Guillemots

Jan 22
A Bad Dream - Keane
Perfect (Exciter) - Masons vs. Princess Superstar
Famous Last Words - My Chemical Romance
Golden Skans - Klaxons
Thinking of You - Norah Jones
Phantom Limb - The Shins

Jan 29
Grace Kelly - Mika
The Prayer - Bloc Party
This Ain't a Scene, It's An Arms Race - Fall Out Boy
Me Plus One - Kasabian
What's Left of Me - Nick Lachey
Lost - Roger Sanchez

Feb 5
A Public Affair - Jessica Simpson
My Soul Pleads for You - Simon Webbe
Pac's Life - 2pac feat. Ashanti
This Is a Song - The Magic Numbers

Feb 12
Shine - Take That
I Wanna Love U - Akon feat. Snoop Dogg
Rose - The Feeling
Open Your Eyes - Snow Patrol
5.55 - Charlotte Gainsbourg
I'd Like to - Corinne Bailey Rae
Desecration Smile - Red Hot Chili Peppers
All I Need to Know - Emma Bunton

Feb 19
Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs
Catch You - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
It's All True - Tracey Thorn
Listen - Beyonce
Read My Mind - The Killers
I Won't Be Crying - Infernal
Black Mirror - Arcade Fire

Further on...
Chick Fit - All Saints (2/26)
What Goes Around - Justin Timberlake (2/26)
Real Girl - Mutya (2/26)
Candyman - Christina Aguilera (3/5)
Walk This Way - Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes (3/5)
Tick Tock - Lemar (3/5)
Once Upon a Time - Air (3/12)
Take Control - Amerie (3/12)
Total Eclipse of the Heart - Westlife (3/12)
Say it Right - Nelly Furtado (3/19)

Nick and Jessica

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson are set to release their singles from last year in Britain within the next month, although sadly not on the same date. Nick's "What's Left of Me" is first on Jan. 29, while Jessica's "A Public Affair" follows a week later on Feb. 5. Don't their record companies know a same week release would be mutually beneficial, if not because their fanbase is similar, but because it would make a fantastic chart battle?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Singles Roundup

So the year is off to a good start, particularly for dance singles so far. Here's a look at some of this week's big releases, plus a few over the last few weeks:

"This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way)" - DJ Shadow (4.5/5). This is absolutely fantastic. Sounds retro, soulful, with strings, good guitar solo, and a great vocal. Reminds me of '90s group M People's remake of "Here's Where the Story Ends." Apparently this a big departure for DJ Shadow (not someone I've listened to before)

"Raoul" - The Automatic (4/5). This band came to prominence last summer with "Monster," but I really like their new single "Raoul" even better. They remind of a group that has a male and a female lead, I can't quite think of who it is.

"Boogie 2Nite" - Booty Luv (4/5). Superior club track riding the current '80s revival wave. Interestingly, it's a remake of a song from R&B singer Amerie. Really lends itself to a dance song much better I think.

"Proper Education" - Eric Prydz vs. Pink Floyd (4/5). Another great dance track. Sure the vocal looping this is getting old, but Eric Prydz does it best. Great bass line, and the arrangement works well with "Another Brick in the Wall."

"PATT (Party All The Time)" - Sharam (4/5). Another great dance track that's yet another vocal-loop remake of an '80s hit in the updated '80s style. This was, interestingly, originally by Eddie Murphy, and I believe this track retains his original vocal.

"Learning To Breathe" - Nerina Pallot (4/5). Nerina Pallot is three for three in my book, following "Everybody's Gone to War" and "Sophia" with another great single. Why chart success eludes her, I have no idea. This song kind of reminds me of Liz Phair's mainstream stuff. Great hook. It has that WB quality to it too--like if Dawson's Creek was still around, this would play at some point. That's not a slam by the way, I was a DC devotee.

"You Know I'm No Good" - Amy Winehouse feat Ghostface Killah (3.5/5). "Rehab" got on my nerves, but this is actually not bad. Great beat and cool arrangement. I could do with a little more Amy and a little less Ghostface, but hey, it appears on his album, so he's got to have some facetime.

"Window on the Skies" - U2 (3.5/5). A good, but not great U2 single. Probably better than The Saints Are Coming, but not destined to be a classic. This is the other new track from their recent hits collection. I like the string section during the chorus and the sing-along quality of the song.

"Rain Down Love" - Freemasons Featuring Siedah Garrett (3.5/5). Remember Siedah Garrett? She did that 1987 duet with Michael Jackson, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," where you couldn't tell which one was singing. She also was the power singer in Madonna's "Like a Prayer" choir. Nice to see she's still around, doing duty on a pretty good dance track. At least you're getting a full, non-looped vocal here. Still not as good as Freemasons' "Love on My Mind," but better than "Watchin'."

"Lithium" - Evanescence (2.5/5). Second single from Evanescence's latest album goes for the epic rock ballad sound. I like the piano and strings, but I find whole thing a little trying. Too much.

"Feel Together" - Ben Macklin feat Tiger Lily - Feel Together (2/5). Subparr dance single. Definitely pales to all the other great ones out right now. Dull and too repetitive.

Songs on the release horizon I'm really into right now: A Bad Dream - Keane, Grace Kelly - Mika, Perfect (Exciter) - Masons vs. Princess Superstar, Starz in Their Eyes - Just Jack, I Luv U - Ordinary Boys, Golden Skans - Klaxons, All I Need to Know - Emma Bunton.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Oscar Nominee Predictions - Lead Categories

Entertainment Weekly will likely put out their annual Oscar nominees prediction issue this week, so I want to get my predictions out ahead of theirs. Nominees are announced January 23. Of course, no one from the Academy will be reading my blog, but I put my "for your consideration" picks in here too.

Best Picture

  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Dreamgirls
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen
Competition for the best picture slate is really tight this year, with no clear frontrunner yet for who's going to win. The Departed is probably the surest best to get a nomination, and Babel, which led with the most Golden Globes, looks like a good #2. Dreamgirls would have been a pretty safe pick, but it's buzz is actually beginning to wane a bit; still, it's probably in there. Same story for The Queen; while Helen Mirren has a lock on best actress, the film itself isn't as getting as much notice as a best picture as I thought, but I'll keep it here anyway. By my book, that leaves a handful of films in tight contention for the fifth slot. A nomination for Borat, Little Children, or Flags of Our Fathers would be a true upset, so don't expect it. United 93 picked up a surprising number of critics' awards, but despite its raw authenticity, 9/11 doesn't strike me as something the Academy is ready to honor yet. Up until yesterday I would have put my money on Clint Eastwood's second Iwo Jima WWII picture, Letters From Iwo Jima, but not getting a DGA nomination was a real slam, particularly since you would have expected them to honor his double achievement. Little Miss Sunshine has a better chance, as the year's best comedy with a surprising amount of depth, that's generating a growing amount of awards buzz. (For your consideration: Flags of Our Fathers. Letters from Iwo Jima is getting the better buzz, but that doesn't mean Flags of Our Fathers isn't a worthy film. The battle scenes are gripping and unnerving, it's beautifully filmed, and serves as a powerful reminder of the affects of wars on those who fight them.)

Best Actor
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Tool, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker has a strong lead in this category, having won most of the major critics' awards for his chilling work in The Last King of Scotland--he's a sure thing. Two other actors are looking pretty strong at this point, Peter O'Tool for Venus and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness (sic). Leonardo DiCaprio has to be a sure thing too, but for what? He was nominated by the Globes for both The Departed and Blood Diamond, but Oscar rules don't allow an actor to get two nominations in the same category, and there's no way you consider DiCaprio's performance supporting in The Departed, despite its ensemble cast--he's the central character. So how do you pick? He's got more to do in Blood Diamond, but his work in the Departed required more sublty. Given that the Departed will likely gets lots of other nominations, I'm going to give it the advantage. So again, we have that last slot up for grabs. Ken Watanabe is getting good reviews for Letters from Iwo Jima, but will enough Oscar voters see it in time to consider him? Sacha Baron Cohen could score an upset for Borat--he is the movie after all--but I think his brand of comedy is too edgy for Oscar. I'll give my fifth spot to Ryan Gosling's stunning work as a drug-addicted, middle school teacher in Half Nelson. (For your consideration: Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking. Aaron Eckhart has made a small name for himself in indie pictures like In the Company of Men, but really made people sit up and take notice with his funny and commanding performance in Thank You For Smoking as a detestable lobbyist who has a change of heart.)

Best Actress
  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children

This is by far the easiest category to predict, perhaps the easiest I've ever seen. All five women on the list have a lock for the nomination in my opinion. Even among these clear leaders, the clearest leader is The Queen's Helen Mirren, who has managed the astounding feat of capturing every single critics award I have seen, probably about 15 by now. This certainly must be unprecedented, and if she doesn't go all the way to victory next month, it will truly be a big surprise. The other four will have to be content with their nominations, and they all did amazing work: Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal, Penelope Cruz in Volver, and Kate Winslet in Little Children all did excellent work in dramatic roles. The fifth spot will surely go to Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada. Even though it's comedy, even though it's really is a supporting role, it's Meryl, and no one can resist Meryl. Were they to somehow magically resist though, Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby would be a provocative choice; Running with Scissors was a flop, but Annette Bening gave it her all; and Toni Collette was subtle yet quite effective as the mom holding the Little Miss Sunshine family together. (For your consideration: There's no one I'd want to honor that isn't mentioned above. I say give it to Mirren--she's earned it.)

Best Supporting Actor
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Jack Nicholson, The Departed
  • Michael Sheen, The Queen
While Actress is easy to call this year, Supporting Actor is particularly difficult, as there are about 12 men that have at least a shot of getting it. About the only sure thing in this category this year is Eddie Murphy's well-received turn in Dreamgirls, putting him as the frontrunner to win. Two actors have received a few critics awards and deserve nominations: Djimon Hounsou as a desperate father searching for his son in Blood Diamond, and Jackie Earle Haley, as the creepy yet human neighborhood sex offender in Little Children. From here it gets really hard.

The Departed is likely to be a favorite this year, and it has a strong supporting cast. Jack Nicholson is a perennial awards favorite, but isn't he just being Jack here, chewing up scenery? Still, I expect him to get the upper hand over Mark Wahlberg, who is also getting notice for his quirky performance.

As for the last slot...how much time do I have? Alan Arkin is emerging as a possible nominee, riding the strong buzz for Little Miss Sunshine as the movie's profane grandfather. Steve Carell as that movie's troubled gay uncle is also a possibility. Adam Beach was moving as a American Indian soldier dealing simultaneously with hero worship and prejudice in Flags of Our Fathers, but I'm afraid this movie is going to get totally overlooked. Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland? Didn't see it, but he nabbed a Golden Globe nomination and has some good buzz. Brad Pitt also got a Globe nomination, and if Babel has a strong showing overall, it could push him onto the list. James McAvoy from Last King of Scotland has been mentioned, but I think his performance was really leading, not supporting. Even The Devil Wears Prada's Stanley Tucci is getting some whispers for his subtle performance as fashion director playing second fiddle to Streep's editor diva. In the end, I'm going out on a limb and saying it's going to be Michael Sheen for his winsome performance as Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, providing a fresh counterpoint to Mirren's stiff upper lip. (For your consideration: Michael Caine, Children of Men. Caine has such a warm screen presence, doesn't he? And he adds a nice touch of levity and humanity to the gloom and boom of Children of Men.)

Best Supporting Actress
  • Adriana Barraza, Babel
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  • Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Not as crowded a field as supporting actor, but still pretty contentious. First, there are two surebets, the strongest of which is Dreamgirls star-making performance from former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. Also a shoe-in is Cate Blanchett's work as a pedophilic teacher in Notes on Scandal. Two actresses from Babel are getting strong enough buzz that we should see their names here. Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf Japanese teen is perhaps the more popular choice, but my personal favorite is Adriana Barraza's sympathetic portrayal of a troubled immigrant maid. Catherine O'Hara had been getting buzz for her role in For Your Consideration, in a nice life imitates art twist, but that buzz has since faded. Ditto that for Emma Thompson in Stranger than Fiction. Shareeka Epps gave a powerful breakout performance in Half Nelson, but given that Ryan Gosling will be lucky to be nominated, a nomination for Epps would be a miracle. Emily Blunt was fantastic in The Devil Wears Prada, and garnered a Globe nomination, but I think she's going to get edged out, unless she can steal Barraza's spot. I'm giving the last spot to Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin, who nailed the year's funniest scene for her beauty queen lip sync. (For your consideration: Carmen Maura, Volver. Penelope Cruz crackles with life in Volver, but as her dead (?) mother, Carmen Maura turns in a loving performance too.)

Best Director
  • Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
  • Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
  • Martin Scorsese, The Departed
The Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced its nominees today and I was shocked to see that they overlooked Clint Eastwood. A worthy director anway, Eastwood--at age 76 no less--churned out not one but two masterful films this year portraying the World War II battle of Iwo Jima from both the American (Flags of Our Fathers) and Japanese (Letters from Iwo Jima)perspectives, all while commenting on our nation's current state of war. Quite impressive, but apparently not impressive enough for the DGA, who instead picked directing pair Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine--something which I'm not sure the Oscars will allow (I think you can only have one director). While the DGA is the best predictor of who will win the Best Director Oscar, they're not a sure thing at predicting the nominees, so I'm willing to bet the Academy, who loves actors who also direct, won't snub Eastwood, even if Letters from Iwo Jima doesn't get a Best Picture nomination. Enough ranting. The sure bet this year is Martin Scorsese for The Departed, famously nominated now five times without a win (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Aviator). This will be his year, mark my words. Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) all seem like pretty safe bets too, especially if their movies all get nominated for Best Picture. If there's an upset though, it could come from Paul Greengrass, who's won several critics awards for gripping, documentary-esque United 93. (For your consideration: Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men. Credit Cuaron for achieving both artistic vision of amazing technical acumen with Children of Men, for its noirish futurism and extended one-take action sequences respectively.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

UK Chart Analysis, 1/13/2007

The first chart of the new year ushers in a new era of the U.K. singles chart. Until now, this chart has been governed by some pretty strict eligibility rules: only songs released as actual physical singles, singles could contain no more than three tracks and could not contain a track already issued as another single’s A-side, singles deleted by their record companies could chart for only two more weeks after deletion, singles could not chart after a year of release without re-release, etc.

Download counts were allowed to qualify starting in the second quarter last year, but had to be linked to singles available physically. Download sales were allowed to count for the week in advance of a physical release, so we had lots of examples of singles debuting lower during their first week of download sales, and then shooting up the chart in their second week when their sales total combined downloads and physical sales. It certainly made things interesting.

This week though, all those rules go out the door, as the chart disengages itself from all chart rules linked to physical singles. Starting this week, any track whether it be a single release, an album cut, a new hit, or an old favorite is eligible to appear on the chart. Clearly this is in response to the heavy decline in physical sales of singles and the steady increase in download sales. I forecast it will lead to a pretty quick disappearance of physical singles in Britain, which will basically mean they disappear for good, having already vanished in the U.S.

So what then did this new chart bring us first week out? Nothing too Earth shattering. Being as it is only the second week after Christmas, it looks like the post-Christmas download sales have something to do with a number of recent hits that re-enter the chart; something that might have happened anyway, even under the old rules. There are a number of previously deleted singles that do manage to re-enter the chart though, namely Snow Patrol, Gnarls Barkley, Nelly Furtado, and The Kooks. Also, an Eminem single that had been deemed ineligible gets its first week on the chart, although quite low, much lower than it would have debuted if these current rules had been in place a month ago.

1. A Moment Like This – Leona Lewis

No change at #1 as the X-Factor winner Leona Lewis spends a third week at the top with her Kelly Clarkson remake.

2. Proper Education – Eric Prydz vs. Pink Floyd

Eric Prydz scored five weeks at #1 in 2004 with his remake of Steve Winwood’s “Valerie,” recast as “Call on Me,” which was one of the year’s trendy House remakes with looped-vocals of short snippet of the song. Here he does the same thing, this time with Pink Floyd’s 1979 classic, “Another Brick in the Wall,” recast as “Proper Education.” It’s a great dance track, and another big hit for Prydz; but for The X-Factor, he’d have had a #1.

4. Window on the Skies – U2

Last time out they hit #2 a few months ago with “The Saints Are Coming,” which also featured popular rock band Green Day. “Window on the Skies” is the other new track included on their recent greatest hits set. It’s also this weeks #1 song on the U.K. airplay chart.

9. Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol

This is perhaps the most dramatic song to take advantage of the new chart rules. “Chasing Cars” was a huge hit last summer, managing the unusual feat of slowly climbing to its peak position of #6 in its eighth week. After hanging around the chart for another 8 weeks it was deleted to clear the way for Snow Patrol’s next single, “Set the Fire to the Third Bar.” A combination of post-Christmas downloads and the new rules see the single return to the top 10 at #9, an exciting re-entry this week.

22. Too Little, Too Late – Jojo

Jojo debuts at #22 this week with “Too Little, Too Late,” her second U.K. top 40 hit. Her first was 3 years ago, the #2 hit “Leave (Get Out).” The physical single is out tomorrow, with the album following later in the month.

25. Sorry’s Not Good Enough – McFly

This is interesting only because it’s like someone put the breaks on. This tumbled from #3 to #20 last week, but manages to fall only five more spots this week. Interesting.

30. Crazy – Gnarls Barkley

A triumphant re-entry for Gnarls Barkley’s massive hit “Crazy,” the #1 single of 2006 in the U.K. It had its chart fortunes cut short though when the single was deleted in June though, therefore vanishing after it’s 11th week after falling only to #5. Now it’s back.

31. Hips Don’t Lie – Shakira (featuring Wyclef Jean)

Another rebound, but not too much of a shock here, as it was in the top 40 just a few weeks ago. The single spent 5 weeks at #1 last summer and has been charting ever since, eclipsing the sales of her recent follow-up release, “Illegal.”

32. You Don’t Know – Eminem

Here’s a good story. This single was released about a month ago, but was deemed chart ineligible (broke one of the above rules, not sure which one), but with those rules now gone, Eminem debuts at #32 with his 15th top 40 hit. This actually ruins his perfect record of top 10s though, certainly something that wouldn’t have happened had this single been allowed to chart when it released.

33. Monster – The Automatic

Here’s a surprising downloads re-entry. This was The Automatic’s biggest hit ever, peaking last summer at #4. Current single “Raoul,” actually a re-release of their first single, gets its physical release tomorrow.

37. Breaking Free - Cast of High School Musical (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens)

Re-entry for the Cast of High School Musical, specifically Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Not as shocking as some of the other re-entries, as this #9 hit had been in the top 40 just a few weeks ago. Vanessa is set to release her first solo single, “Come Back to Me” in the U.K. later this month.

38. Maneater – Nelly Furtado

Re-entry of a formerly deleted single, charting now on the new downloads rules. A big #1 hit for Nelly Furtado last summer.

39. She Moves in Her Own Way – The Kooks

This is a re-entry, which had left the chart because the CD was deleted, but based on downloads, it’s back. This was a big hit last summer, peaking at #7.

40. You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse (featuring Ghostface Killah)

New entry for Amy Winehouse with “You Know I’m No Good.” The track features rapper Ghostface Killah, and actually appears on his album, More Fish. Amy scored the hit of her career in October with “Rehab,” which peaked at #7, becoming her first top 10 hit. Pretty good song, expect it to rise next week.

US Chart Analysis, 1/13/2007

1. Irreplaceable - Beyonce

It's a fifth week at the top for Beyonce's Irreplaceable. That matches the weeks at the top for her #1 hit last year, "Check On It," but still a ways behind the 8 weeks of "Crazy in Love" or the 9 weeks of "Baby Boy."

2. Fergalicious - Fergie

Fergie gets this week's sales gainer award (again), and is one of only three bulleted singles in the top 10. I'd like to think she could challenge Beyonce for #1, but I think her airplay is decreasing too quickly for that to happen.

8. It Ends Tonight - All-American Rejects

Rising three spots to a new high at #8 is the All-American Rejects with "It Ends Tonight," their second and biggest top 10 hit, surpassing the #9 peak of "Dirty Little Secret."

13. Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance

This was a huge hit in the U.K. last fall, and now is becoming one in the U.S., edging up three spots this week to #13.

15. Wind It Up - Gwen Stefani
17. Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood
19. White & Nerdy - Weird Al Yankovic

A trio of singles rebound this week, moving back up the chart after a decline, probably because of post-Christmas downloads the product of iTunes giftcard buys perhaps (all look like songs teens would buy).

28. Wait a Minute - The Pussycat Dolls

The Pussycat Dolls' fifth single makes a good leap this week, up seven spots to #28.

35. What Hurts the Most - Rascal Flatts

Here's an odd one. The single's almost a year old now, having peaked at #6 last spring. Since June it's been hovering in the lower portion of the top 40, never going higher than #31 or lower than #50. This week it's up 11 spots, the biggest jump since the week before it peaked, and strangely gets this week's Airplay Gainer award. Who's giving this gaining airplay?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Looking Ahead: New Releases of 2007

Last year it was months before there were any new releases. Here's a look at what's coming down the pike.

January:

Norah Jones – Not Too Late (Jan 29)
Norah Jones leaves producer Arif Mardin for Lee Alexander, a songwriter and bassist on her previous albums, which combined sold over 31 million copies worldwide. Likely not to generate massive hit singles, but should sell well. Will be interesting to see if the critics like it or deem it more of the same (which they might anyway, even if they like it). First single "Thinking About You" is already out.

Kylie Minogue - Showgirl Homecoming Live (Jan. 8)
This recorded on November 11, 2006 in Sydney, Kylie's triumphant return to her interrupted Showgirls tour following her battle with breast cancer. The set includes 25 songs over two discs, focusing on her more recent work (Can't Get You Out of My Head, I Believe In You, Love at First Sight), but with some of her '80s classics thrown in too (I Should Be So Lucky, Better the Devil You Know, The Loco-Motion) .

Madonna – The Confessions Tour (Jan 29)
The Confessions Tour never came to DC, but I'm still interested in The Confessions Tour live set, a CD and DVD of her most recent concert tour, and the second live Madonna album in the last year; her Re-Invention tour CD was released in June as I'm Going to Tell You a Secret.

Also:

The View – Hats Off To The Buskers (Jan 22)
Jamie T – Panic Prevention (Jan 29)
Just Jack – Overtones (Jan 29)
Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future (Jan 29)

February

Kaiser Chiefs – New To You (Feb 26)
The title may or may not be right, but we know that "Ruby" will be the first single from their forthcoming second album. Kaisers' debut album, Employment, was one of 2005's best albums, featuring the big hit "I Predict a Riot."

Bloc Party – A Weekend In The City (Feb 5)
I don't know much about this band, but I'm told I should. The first single "The Prayer" is supposed to be really good. Cool cover.

Also:

Fall Out Boy – Infinity On High (Feb 5)
Feeder – Picture Of Perfect Youth (Feb 5)
Mika – Life In Cartoon Motion (Feb 5)
Good Charlotte – Good Morning Revival (Feb 19)
Infernal – From Paris To Berlin (Feb 26)

March:

Kelly Clarkson (Mar 12)
Clarkson's second album Breakaway wasn't an instant hit, but over the course of nearly 2 years became one of the decade's biggest pop album, giving her five major hits, most notably "Since U Been Gone," and clearly establishing her as a musical force of own totally severed from her American Idol beginnings. Supposedly this will be even more rockier.

Air – Pocket Symphony (Mar 5)
It's been three years now since Air's third album, Talkie Walkie, but the French electronic duo have been busy of late, doing a solo side project (Darkel) and producing Charlotte Gainsbourg's 5.55. Talkie Walkie was brilliant, so I have high expectations for this. Another cool cover too.

Also:

Kanye West – Graduation (Mar 5)
Mutya Buena (Mar 12)
LCD Soundsystem – The Sound Of Silver (Mar 19)
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Mar 26)

And later in the year:

Arctic Monkeys
Avril Lavigne – The Best Damn Thing (April)
Black Eyed Peas
Britney Spears
Celine Dion (May)
Chris Cornell
Dido
The Editors (May/June)
Maroon 5 – It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (May)
Natasha Bedingfield – Blank Canvas (Apr)
Radiohead
Shania Twain
Sugababes
Usher

Album Review: Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (3 / 5)


When this album came out about a year ago, I was disappointed. My reaction was that it was fine, but not the next coming of rock like many music writers were trying to make it out to be. The young band (aged 20-21) has a lot of spunk and a certainly potential, but Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not shouldn't be mistaken for anything other than a solid debut, not a masterpiece.


The best thing to come from the band so far was summer single "Leave Before the Lights Come On." I found the song to be more melodic and musically complex than most of the Whatever People Say... songs, which I why I liked it best. If this is a signal of where they're headed, I await their sophomore album with anticipation.


Back to the album though, it starts out strong enough. "The View from the Afternoon" is pretty good; I like the guitar work. Just when you think it's over, it starts up again, which manages to make this one of the longest songs on the album (most clock in well under 3 minutes). "I Bet that You Look Good on the Dancefloor" has a lot of raw energy and good dueling guitar. "Fake Tales of San Francisco" is good. I like the bass line.


Following those great opening numbers are six songs so short that they're over before they can even really establish their intentions. Fast "Dancing Shoes" is a lot of loud guitar bursts with a good middle section, but hardly any verses, as it lasts only 2:20. The shortest song at 2:10 has the longest title: "You Probably Couldn't See for the Lights but You Were Staring Straight At Me," but not much else going for it. It's the least interesting track so far. "Still Take You Home" is pretty good, again, it has a great middle section, a mellow contrast to the raucous verses.


"Riot Van" is the first slow song, and it's a welcome change from the last three songs, but it's so short that it just doesn't amount to much of a song. I liked the sound, and I expected the song to go somewhere interesting, but then it just ends. "Mardy Bum" reminds me something Franz Ferdinand would do (Franz, along with the Strokes being obvious influences here), but doesn't really distinguish itself from the fray, other than being mid-tempo as opposed to hyped up.


"When the Sun Goes Down" is a late album gem. This was their second single, and second #1 hit, and it's probably my favorite song on the album. It starts off setting up the story of a prostitute being chased by a "scumbag," sung over a simple, mellow guitar arrangement. Then the song takes off as the electric guitars and drums kick in.


"From the Ritz to the Rubble" is about waiting in line for a nightclub, but being rejected by the bouncer. Clubbing and partying is perhaps the primary occupation of the band, not surprising given their ages, but given that no less than eight of the album's songs appear to be set in and around the club scene, it does get a bit tiresome. Don't these boys want to sing maudlin love songs? Maybe when they're older. They actually address this on closing track "A Certain Romance," stating "There's no romance around here."


Some of the songs are quite good, but too many of them fail to distinguish themselves from the pack, and several promising ones are too short, ending just when I expect them to take off and do something interesting. Still, it's not bad, and I do hope the band will do something more interesting for their second act.


Best tracks: The View from the Afternoon, I Bet that You Look Good on the Dancefloor, Fake Tales of San Francisco, When the Sun Goes Down

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Personal Chart, 1/6/2007

The first chart of the new year:

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 2 .... Irreplaceable - Beyonce (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 1 .... Patience - Take That (4 wks @ #1)
3 ... 12 ... Window on the Skies - U2
4 .... 4 .... Littlest Things - Lily Allen
5 .... 5 .... You Know My Name - Chris Cornell
6 .... 3 .... Fergalicious - Fergie (1 wk @ #1)
7 ... 14 ... A Bad Dream - Keane
8 .... 6 .... All Good Things (Come to an End) - Nelly Furtado
9 ... 11 ... Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
10 .. 8 .... Hurt - Christina Aguilera

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Best Films of 2006

Here's my list of the 10 best films of 2006, plus some runners up. As a caveat, I haven't yet seen Letters From Iwo Jima, which has not been released in my city yet, and I have a hunch it could fit in here. I'll amend as needed and repost. Until then...

1. The Queen

This was a brilliant film, well acted and lean (it clocks in well under 2 hours). Helen Mirren is amazing as Queen Elizabeth II, but I also really liked Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. She makes you understand what a completely unique person the Queen of England is, while he makes you feel the exuberance of an exciting change-oriented government leader--both exhibit how larger than life figures are human too. I can't say enough good things about it.

2. Babel

This was a hard choice between film #3, as both, along with The Queen, rate as "5 star" films in my mind. In the end Babel wins out, as it haunted me for weeks. The best thing about the film is Adriana Barraza as an illegal immigrant maid who risks everything to attend her son's wedding, something that wouldn't have been a risk at all had the wedding been held in San Diego instead of Mexico. Amazing how much difference a border makes. There's also this truly amazing film sequence where a deaf Japanese teenage girl (Rinko Kicuchi, also quite good) gets stoned and goes clubbing--a dazzling composition of image and sound. As hard as this film is to watch (nobody comes out happy), I'd gladly see it again.

3. Flags of Our Fathers

I almost cried after seeing this film, as I thought the final images really drove home the point that the people who fight our wars--wars in which countless lives, dollars, resources, etc. are wasted--are really just children (Blood Diamond, another great movie, makes this point too, pointing out that the word "infantry" has "infant" as its root). Clint Eastwood's war film is gripping, visually stunning, and completely relevant to modern times, which is perhaps why it didn't do that well at the box-office, as it is serious reminder of the grimness of war.

4. Little Children

In the Bedroom was one of my favorite movies of 2001, and director Todd Field didn't let me down with this scathing portrait of suburban life, a study of how we "other" those whose sins are on the outside to better cover the sins we keep hidden. Kate Winslet was, as usual, amazing and perfect, and Jackie Earle Haley was completely creepy, yet worthy of compassion too. It didn't hurt that Patrick Wilson was really really hot too.

5. The Departed

Yes, this movies lets you down a bit at the end, but ignore that and enjoy the rest, a tightly-woven, intricately plotted gangster/spy thriller that plays circles in your mind as you think about cop DiCaprio pretending to be a gangster to spy on Nicholson and uncover who in the force is the mole giving him information, while Nicholson finds out through gangster Damon pretending to be a cop that he has a mole in his organization. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. DiCaprio, Damon, and Nicholson are stellar here. Scorsese famously hasn't won a Best Director Oscar yet, but this will be his year. Another gem in his recent line of brilliance that includes such a variety of films such as The Aviator, Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence, and Goodfellas.

6. Casino Royale

I adore James Bond--I just got the previous 20 films for Christmas--and this is hands down the best James Bond movie yet. Yes, better than The Spy Who Loved Me, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and all the other classics. It's action-packed, exciting, funny, thrilling, and shows an awareness of the human side of Bond never before seen. Yes, Bond screws up, bleeds, cries, and sometimes fails, even though he is Bond...James Bond. Daniel Craig is superb as Bond too; I hope he makes many more.

7. United 93

Going into this movie, I knew it would be hard to watch, and it was, since its documentary style and attention to detail perfectly capture what the morning of September 11, 2001 was like. Credit it for showing the facts without sentimentality and for pulling together a compelling ensemble cast who completely melt into their roles. The best part though was despite its grim nature, when the passengers rise up against the terrorists it is perhaps the most moving display of raw courage in a film ever. It warms your heart, providing hope among all the terror--very powerful.

8. Little Miss Sunshine

The summer's best movie was another entry in the expanding line of quirky comedies, bearing easy comparison to films like The Royal Tennenbaums and I Heart Huckabees. This film far surpasses those effforts though, by showing us a family that is completely believable as a family and drawing quirky characters that stand by themselves as well-rounded, true-to-life people rather than archetypes. Little Abigail Breslin also delivers the goods in the funniest scene of the year when she performs at the child beauty contest the title refers to.

9. Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling is amazing here, and I certainly hopes Oscar doesn't overlook his commanding performance of a do-gooder inner city middle school teacher who so badly wants to be a role model for his kids but just can't be because he hides a terrible secret (he's a crack addict). Shareeka Epps as the student he befriends and tries to help is really good too. Heartbreaking movie.

10. Volver

Think Penelope Cruz can't act? Think again, she delivers a stunning, soulful performance here as a headstrong daughter doing what she can to make ends meet while dealing with her crazy sister who thinks their dead mother has returned ("volver" means "to return"). Carmen Maura, who you might remember from Almodovar's '80s classic Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, is great too as the mother.

Honorable mentions: Children of Men (includes two thrilling single-take action sequences not to be missed), Notes on a Scandal (Judi Dench delivers the best lines of the year), Blood Diamond (thrilling drama and Leonardo DiCaprio's other brilliant performance), The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl Streep can do so much with just a look, can't she?), and The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker was totally scary, and James McAvoy was underrated).

UK Charts of 2006

The UK year-end charts are out. Unlike Billboard, the UK Official Chart Company bases their year-end charts on the calendar year, and singles charts are based solely on sales (no airplay). Here are Britain's best-selling singles and albums for 2006:

Top 10 Singles of 2006:

1. Crazy - Gnarls Barkley (9 weeks @ #1)
2. A Moment Like This - Leona Lewis (2 wks @ #1)
3. Hips Don't Lie - Shakira (5 wks @ #1)
4. I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters (4 wks @ #1)
5. I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (with Flowers in My Hair) - Sandi Thom (1 wk @ #1)
6. From Paris to Berlin - Infernal (1 wk @ #2)
7. Maneater - Nelly Furtado (3 wks @ #1)
8. Patience - Take That (4 wks @ #1)
9. SOS - Rihanna (2 wks @ #2)
10. Sexyback - Justin Timberlake (1 wk @ #1)

Gnarls Barkley has the year's biggest hit with "Crazy," a single that topped the UK chart for 9 weeks, the longest stay at the top in 12 years. Sadly, the act couldn't find another hit this year; "Smiley Faces" hit #10, "Who Cares" a lousy #60. X Factor winner Leona Lewis comes at #2 with her debut, a remake of "A Moment Like This." The single had the year's best one-week sales figure, moving 572,000 copies its debut week. Ultimately, the single will likely eclipse the sales of "Crazy" as it continues to sell into the new year.

"Crazy," along with "SOS," "Sexyback," and "Hips Don't Lie" were also big hits in the US this year. "Maneater," however, was a huge hit in Britain, but peaked at only #16 in the US, while "Promiscuous" was the third biggest hit of the year on Billboard. Take That lands their first single on the year-end top 10 list since 1995, when "Back For Good" was #4 for the year.

Top 10 Albums of 2006:

1. Eyes Open - Snow Patrol (3 wks @ #1)
2. Beautiful World - Take That (4 wks @ #1)
3. Ta-Dah - Scissor Sisters (2 wks @ #1)
4. Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys (4 wks @ #1)
5. Inside In / Inside Out - The Kooks (#2)
6. Razorlight - Razorlight (2 wks @ #1)
7. Stop the Clocks - Oasis (#2)
8. The Love Album - Westlife (1 wk @ #1)
9. I'm Not Dead - Pink (#3)
10. Undiscovered - James Morrison (2 wks @ #1)

Snow Patrol has the top-selling album in the UK for 2006. A bit of a surprise to me, as I expected Arctic Monkeys to have the year's #1 album, but they are down at #4. Snow Patrol last album, Final Straw, was #9 for the year in 2004. Scissor Sisters, who had the #1 album of 2005 with their eponymous debut, land at #3. Their sales competitor in 2004, Keane (#2 that year with Hopes and Fears), lands outside the top 10 at #14.

Pink returns to the year-end top 10 this year with her fourth album. Her second album, M!ssundaztood, was #2 for 2002. Oasis and Westlife, two acts that are no strangers to the year-end albums top 10, land at #7 and #8 respectively. This is the fifth appearance for both acts in the year-end top 10. Westlife's previous appeances were Face-to-Face (#7, 2005), Unbreakable (#8, 2002), Coast to Coast (#4, 2000), and Westlife (#9, 1999); Oasis's were Heathen Chemistry (#10, 2002), Be Here Now (#1, 1997), and What's the Story Morning Glory (#3, 1996 and #2, 1995),