Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Personal Chart, 2/2/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Chasing Pavements - Adele (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
3 .... 3 .... Clumsy - Fergie (3 wks @ #1)
4 .... 7 .... Wow - Kylie Minogue
5 .... 6 .... Work (Freemasons Remix) - Kelly Rowland
6 .... 4 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
7 ... 12 ... Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna
8 .... 9 .... Jigsaw Falling into Place - Radiohead
9 ... 13 ... I Thought It Was Over - The Feeling
10 .. 5 .... No One - Alicia Keys

Monday, January 28, 2008

What I am (and therefore you should be) listening to

Chasing Pavements - Adele. Her first official single, Adele's "Chasing Pavements" is the first great pop single of 2008. It's a lovely, soulful, and memorable tune.

Superstar - Lupe Fiasco Featuring Matthew Santos. I'm not usually one for hip-hop, but then every once in awhile something great like this comes along. The crowd noise in the background is a bit annoying, but the message is a better-than-average take on the "woe-is-me" fame thing. And Matthew Santos sounds kind of sounds like Chris Martin.

You Know Me Better - Roisin Murphy. Not content to just borrow aspects of '80s music, now artists are making music that sounds like it could have come right from the '80s. Seriously, "You Know Me Better" could be a lost track from the recording sessions of Madonna's 1983 debut. Great bassline and synths.

Time to Pretend - MGMT. A standout track from their debut, Oracular Spectacular, this synth-laden, upbeat track is fun ride. It's nice to hear something playful for a change.

Just for Tonight - One Night Only. Here's another upbeat synths and guitars single, although more in The Killers vein.

Wow - Kylie Minogue. Kylie's irresistible second X single is an '80s-flavored Daft Punk-esque romp, in a similar but more frothy vein as her 2002 hit "Love at First Sight."

With You - Chris Brown. Sure it includes the lyric "boo," but don't let that stop you from embracing this nicely melodic, acoustic-guitar and strings driven (i.e. Stargate-produced) follow-up to beat-heavy "Kiss Kiss."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Goldfrapp, "A&E"

"A&E" is the first single from Goldfrapp's upcoming fourth album, out late next month. It's a lovely song, perhaps their most poppy yet. You can also hear the track "Clowns" on their Web site. Here's the video for "A&E":

Paula Abdul Returns

Ever since Paula Abdul made a comeback on American Idol, I wondered how long it would take her to use her new-found fame to re-launch her music career. The answer appears to be about 6 years, as she has finally put out a new single, "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow." The clip below is audio (the video isn't out yet). She's also apparently performing this at the Superbowl half time show, which is a pretty good comeback gig.

I actually think the song is pretty good. Top 40 airplay is negligible at this point, but it's early. From 1989 to 1991, Paula Abdul had six #1 hits and two other top 10s. Her videos were always really cool too. This one, directed by David Fincher, was her best:

UK Singles Chart, 2/2/2008

1. Now You're Gone - Basshunter
2. Chasing Pavements - Adele

Basshunter spends a third week at #1 with the Eurodisco hit "Now You're Gone," holding off the now fully released "Chasing Pavements" by Adele, which spends a second week at #2. Given the amount of attention Adele has been getting this was a surprise, although everything about the fact that "Now You're Gone" has become such a big hit is a surprise. After seeing club tracks languish in the charts last year--far better ones for sure--it is a surprise to see this single embraced so fully. Adele spends a second week at #1 on the airplay chart, which will surely help fuel sales of her debut album, 19, out tomorrow.

3. Rockstar - Nickelback
4. Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna

Nickelback's "Rockstar" scales a new height this week, rebounding to #3. That's a pretty amazing climb for a single that first appeared back in October, but didn't climb into the top 10 until this month. At #3, it's now the band's highest-charting UK hit, beating the #4 peak of "How You Remind Me." Also reaching a new peak this week is Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music," now in it's 7th week in the top 40 but still over a week away until its physical release, making it a good candidate to hit #1.

7. Work - Kelly Rowland

Also making a good pre-release showing is Kelly Rowland's "Work," up 24 spots this week. Out digitally now and physically Monday, the single is surely getting a good boost from its remix by the Freemasons, the British dance team who last year turned out hit dance version's of Rowland's former bandmate Beyonce's singles. So popular was there work that their versions of "Beautiful Liar" and "Green Light" became the de facto versions heard on radio.

The Oscar Race: Best Cinematography


The Assassiation of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Roger Deakins)

Atonement (Seamus McGarvey)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Janusz Kaminski)

No Country for Old Men (Roger Deakins)

There Will Be Blood (Robert Elswit)

Roger Deakins would appear to be the man to beat this year, nominated twice for films that are "westerns" of sorts, one a more traditional period western and the other a more modern noirish piece. These are his sixth and seventh nominations, and he's never won. Jesse James is a beautiful movie as shown in the trailer above. What you don't necessarily get from that though are the films contrasts between the huge wide open spaces of the outdoor settings and the intimate almost claustrophobic indoor settings. I thought the filming, together with the movie's sound, worked well together to create a very realistic and intimate setting to put the viewer close to the characters. The lighting is very well done too, both for day and night scenes.

No Country for Old Men isn't as lavish looking, but it also does well in terms of contrasting night and day scenes. The clip above highlights the constant perspective shifting, such as between Havier Bardem and his victims and between Josh Brolin and the suitcase. This clip also shows why this film in a nominee in both sound categories, both for the quality of the sound effects and how sounds are repeated but modified as they are from different places. The relationship between space and sound is really well done in No Country.

Atonement has gotten a lot of buzz for its Dunkirk tracking shot (see my posting here), so I chose a different clip above to show how its cinematography is good in other ways, such as this lovely segment that highlights how sensual this film is, emphasized by Seamus McGarvey's use of light and mirrors within the scene. (See also the trailer).

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly relies heavily on cinematography to emphasize the actions (and therefore disability) of the main character. Many scenes are filmed from his point of view, using the camera to create blinking (his only remaining movement) and in the clip above, tears. It's quite creative and well done.

There Will be Blood is such an odd movie--the trailer clip captures that perfectly--so how feel about its cinematography is colored by my overall feelings for the film. Visually, it's a bleak, dirty-looking movie, which is appropriate. Elswit won the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) award, which nominated the same five films this year, so he's the front runner. I'd really like to see Deakins win, with my preference being for the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, although it's a close call for me, since I loved the filming of Atonement too.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Album Review: Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (2/5)

At what point does an excess of cleverness become too much? If sincerity was still a concern of contemporary alternative rock, then perhaps the self-titled debut from Vampire Weekend would be the answer to that question.

As if staging an emo backlash, this album tackles diverse topics such as architectural details ("Mansard Roof"), punctuation ("Oxford Comma") and New England life ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"). As if that wasn't smart enough, the music itself is an eclectic mix of post-punk, African and folk influences. It's enough to make you wonder if anyone is interested in simply picking up a guitar and singing about love, depression, politics or life anymore--which of course they are, but this album is apparently too high-minded for such seemingly simplistic exploration. They'd rather make like Kanye West and name drop Louis Vuitton on "Cape Cod..." Vampire Weekend may think they're skewering pretentiousness, but the irony backfires in this case, making the band the ones who are too pretentiously clever for their own good.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I just don't see much reason to like this album. Even "A-Punk," the alternative radio friendly track fails to grab me. "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" tries to be too many things at once. "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance" is bogged down by a poorly sung vocal and some sort of carnival-esque keyboard with a bunch of other instruments.

There are a few songs I do like though. "M79," a melodic opus complete with strings. "I Stand Corrected" has a good bass line and '60s groove. And I don't mind the keyboard and cello on "Walcott," since that is an interesting musical contrast. It rags on Cape Cod again though. Who knew Cape Cod was such an awful place?

Best: I Stand Corrected, M79, Walcott

Introducing: MGMT

Indie/electronic rockers MGMT (pronounced "M-G-M-T" not "the management" as erroneously reported by The Rolling Stone and other publications) are the only artist to appear on both the BBC Sounds of 2008 and Rolling Stone's "ten artists to watch" lists. The band released its debut album, Oracular Spectacular, this week (it had been previously released only on-line). "Time to Pretend" which was a recent freebie on iTunes, is a great single, scheduled for release in the UK on February 25. Best yet, my my friend has met the band. Check out the video for "Time to Pretend" here.

Album Review: Sia - Some People Have Real Problems (3.5 / 5)

Australian singer Sia Furler, or simply Sia as she's known, is getting more than her fair share of publicity for her third album, Some People Have Real Problems. This thing is everywhere, prominently displayed in music stores and Starbucks. As a virtual unknown, she's lucky to get such a push, possibly owing to her last album's track "Breathe Me" being used over the finale of Six Feet Under a few years ago.

The album itself is good, but not great. Nothing objectionable, but only about a third of its 14 tracks really stand out to me. The album opens with the mellow, piano-backed "Little Black Sandals," which is fine but not a highlight. The next two tracks, however, are among my favorites. "Lentil" is a lovely ballad, with a grand strings and piano melody that really soars--surprisingly so--near the climax of the song. "Day Too Soon" has a laid back soulfulness that would make it welcome on a Norah Jones album.

Other highlights include the upbeat "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine," which doesn't sound like it should be upbeat, but the track features a lively dose of piano, horns and drums. I also really like the atmospheric strings- and piano-backed "I Go to Sleep," a remake of The Kinks track. Playful piano and strings ballad "Soon We'll Be Found" is another melodic highlight in the vein of "Lentil," with soaring choruses and tender verses. Hidden track "Buttons," which has an interesting video, is also worthwhile, and more uptempo than most of the rest of the album.

The remaining tracks, while not bad, are less appealing than the ones I've discussed above, like "You Have Been Loved," a quiet, tuneful piano track. "Academia" and "Playground" are quirky and playful. "Death by Chocolate" is soulful. The album closes with the dramatic ballad "Beautiful Calm Driving" and the more restrained "Lullaby."

Sia has an interesting voice with pretty strong pipes, not unlike a pre-Timbaland Nelly Furtado. The album suffers a bit from an identity crisis, mixing the dramatic grandeur of its ballads with the playfulness of its quirky upbeat tracks. Overall I enjoyed the album, but it's not the first best new thing of 2008.

Best: Lentil, Soon We'll Be Found, I Go to Sleep, Day Too Soon, The Girl You Lost to Cocaine, Buttons

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Oscar Race: Best Supporting Actress

Check out the clips first:

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

Ruby Dee, American Gangster

Saoirse Ronan, Atonement

Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

That Michael Clayton clip is actually a better clip for George Clooney than for Tilda Swinton, but it was the only one I could find of her. Cate Blanchett is the front runner in the race for her portrayal of "Bob Dylan" in I'm Not There. This clip makes the movie look a lot better than it is, as it was probably the coolest scene in the film, owing a bit to the great bit part by Michelle Williams. Blanchett was fantastic in the movie, probably the best thing about it, but she won 3 years ago for The Aviator (also playing a real person). This award is notorious for upsets--Marcia Gay Harden over Kate Hudson in 2001, Juliette Binoche over Lauren Bacall in 1996, Anna Paquin over Wynona Ryder in 1994, etc. So being the front runner in this race is a shaky prospect. That means I wouldn't rule out the other two competitive actresses in this race--Tilda Swinton and Amy Ryan. Swinton was fabulous in Michael Clayton as the blood-stained corporate lawyer who George Clooney takes down. She first caught our notice in the 1992 foreign film Orlando. Amy Ryan was also very very good in Gone Baby Gone, as the hard-to-sympathize-with neglectful mother whose daughter is kidnapped. The other two actresses are the ones who are lucky just being nominated. Saoirse Ronan was great in Atonement, but she's very young, and given the guilds backlash against her film was lucky to show up here. Ruby Dee was the most memorable supporting character in American Gangster, but with about 5 minutes of total screen time, does she really deserve to be considered for the award?

Were I a member of the academy, I'd probably cast my vote for Tilda Swinton, but as a betting man, I'd probably say that Cate Blanchett is most likely to win this award.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Album Review: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002) (4.5 / 5)

I promise soon to review a new album from 2008. Until then, I'm still having fun exploring albums from earlier this decade. The Flaming Lips had a major UK hit in 2002 with "Do You Realize?" from this album. It's a great big British rock ballad and I enjoyed it at the time, but didn't venture forth to hear the band's album. Too bad, because it's really quite awesome--very melodic, with a mix of upbeat and sad songs and a good dose of sci-fi rock.

First track "Fight Test" opens and closes with an operator declaring the start and end of "the test," whatever it might be. It's a lackadaisical, melodic track with synths and guitar and a slight retro flavor. Darker "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" ups the electronics and has a laid back loungy vibe. Be sure to let the song play out to the end, which features a warm electronic coda.

Next comes the album's best track, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1," a sweetly melodic mix of acoustic guitar, synths and electronic beats. It tells the story of Yoshimi, who's some sort of female gladiator who fights giant pink robots. I guess that's her on the cover up there. It sounds like a weird song--and it is--but it's oh so good. Too bad "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 2" is a disappointment; an overly repetitive instrumental track.

Fear not, for the album gets right back on track with the gorgeous "In the Morning of the Musicians," which alternates between a Moby-like synth instrumental and acoustic guitar and melancholic vocals for the verses. "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" is more experimental, as well as more electronic sounding, but also quite good. "Are You a Hypnotist?" has a grander sound and trippy mix of drums and sharp spacey keyboard notes.

Then there's that hit single I mentioned. "Do You Realize??" is a sublime song, which you've surely heard in some ad campaign. It has that epic British rock sound you get from combining drums, bass, guitar, strings, and chimes. The lyrics are pretty good, with the depressing (but very true) line, "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?"

The album could end there if it wanted to, but there's still two more tracks. "All We Have Is Now" is another keyboard-driven sci-fi-ish track, that starts out slow and sad, picking up the pace for the chorus. Then finally there's spacey "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)," which won a Grammy for best rock instrumental. Odd, but not bad.

This album really makes me want to check out their 1999 album, The Soft Bulletin, which from everything I've read is supposed to be the band's masterpiece. My expectations are very high, as it would be hard for it to top this surprisingly enjoyable album.

Best: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1, Do You Realize??, Fight Test, In the Morning of the Musicians, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, All We Have Is Now, Are You a Hypnotists?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Nominees: My Reaction

The Oscar nominees were announced today, proving once again the truism that when it comes to the Oscars, there are always surprises. Nobody ever predicts exactly how the academy will vote. The best surprise for me today was to see my favorite film from last year, Atonement, get the best picture nomination I was afraid it wouldn't, along with six other nominations. No surprise that No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood dominated, with eight nods each. Eight is actually a pretty small number for the leading film (it's usually like 11 or 12). Overall I was pleased with the best picture race. Atonement, No Country for Old Men and Juno were my three favorites from last year, so I was pleased they all made it in. Michael Clayton is good too. I'm not a big fan of There Will Be Blood, but it's not bad, and I expected to see it. Here's my take on the surprises and snubs:

Atonement, despite few awards from the guilds, still managed to pull off seven nominations, including best picture and a supporting actress nod for Saoirse Ronan as the young Briony. At 13, she's the youngest nominated actor this year, sharing the category with the year's oldest actor nominee, Ruby Dee (83). Ruby's nomination was a bit of a surprise, as I was expecting the academy would go for Catherine Keener in Into the Wild. That film was actually largely snubbed, despite it having the actor-as-director cache Oscar loves. No nods for picture, Sean Penn as director, Emile Hirsch for actor, or screenplay, which effectively adapted a nonfiction account of a missing person's death of unknown cause into a well-rounded character. The movie did pick up a nod for Hal Holbrook's fantastic supporting role, as well as film editing.

The biggest surprise of the acting races was the actor nod for Tommy Lee Jones from In The Valley of Elah. A well-deserved nod that likely pushed out either Hirsch or Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl). On the actress side I was a bit surprised (but not disappointed) to see that Laura Linney (The Savages) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth the Golden Age) both made the cut over Angelina Jolie (A Mightly Heart). I would have loved to have seen either Keira Knightley (Atonement) or Amy Adams (Enchanted) in the race. Blanchett is actually a double-nominee this year, picking a supporting nod for here turn as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. She was nominated for playing Queen Elizabeth I in 1999 for Elizabeth, the current film's prequel, and has been nominated twice before in the supporting category, last year for Notes on a Scandal and in 2005 for The Aviator, which she won. The last time an actress was a double-nominee was 2003, when Julianne Moore snagged a best actress nod for Far From Heaven and supporting nod for The Hours. In 1994, Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson were both double nominees.

Jason Reitman (Juno) is a surprise nominee in the directors category. Not that a best picture nominees wouldn't deserve to have its director also nominated, but that Sean Penn had been presumed to get a nod. Juno follows closely to the Little Miss Sunshine template, garnering relatively few nominations (four) for a best picture candidate. Diablo Cody's screenplay is the favorite for the original screenplay category, a list of mostly comedies that includes an animated film (Ratatouille) and one drama (Michael Clayton). Michael Clayton actually made out rather well, tying with Atonement for the third-most nominations (seven). On the adapted screenplay side, Away From Her was a surprise, nominated over Into the Wild.

The animated feature category offered up the surprise nomination of Surf's Up over the Simpsons. If the foreign films look unfamiliar it's because most of the year's popular foreign films either didn't qualify (Lust Caution, The Kite Runner), weren't submitted (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), or were eliminated before the final round (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days; Persepolis). The Diving Bell and the Butterfly did however get four nominations in other categories, for director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, and film editing, a pretty good showing for a foreign film. Persepolis was also an animated feature nominee, where the quirky French hand drawn animated film will compete with the polished computer-generated Pixar front runner, Ratatouille. Two of Pixar's previous four nominated films won this award (Finding Nemo and The Incredibles).

FYI -- the picture up above would make a nice background for your computer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Personal Chart, 1/26/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 4 .... Chasing Pavements - Adele (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
3 .... 1 .... Clumsy - Fergie (3 wks @ #1)
4 .... 3 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
5 .... 5 .... No One - Alicia Keys
6 .... 9 .... Work (Freemasons Remix) - Kelly Rowland
7 ... 19 ... Wow - Kylie Minogue
8 .... 6 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
9 ... 11 .... Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead
10 .. 10 .. Be Mine - Robyn

Oscar Nominees Prediction

The Oscar nominees will be announced tomorrow. Whether the show itself will go on is still unclear. The writers strike has made for an interesting awards season, reducing the Golden Globes from a lavish red carpet event to a press conference. Does that reduce its impact on the Oscars or underscore that it doesn't have as much impact as some would like to believe? Here are my predictions based on research, history, and gut feelings:

Best Picture
  • Into the Wild
  • Juno
  • Michael Clayton
  • No Country for Old Men
  • There Will Be Blood
It's a tough race for best picture this year, with very few front runners. Looking at the above list, the only film I feel I can say for certain will appear is No Country for Old Men, the year's most decorated movie, which makes it the frontrunner to win. There Will Be Blood was a dark horse for awhile, but its buzz has been growing, collecting its share of accolades too. Both films were nominated by the Producers Guild of America (PGA), and important best picture barometer, along with Michael Clayton and Juno, which is looking more and more like this year's Little Miss Sunshine. Juno took a bit of a hit by not winning the Globe for comedy/musical, but given its buzz and box office (it's the only indie during the "Oscar quarter" that really made any money), I think it still looks good. It's the last slot of course that's the hardest. I would love love love to have put Atonement in here. Despite its Globe win--and every Globe drama winner for the last 30 years has been a best picture nominee--the other evidence against, no PGA, no Writers Guild (WGA), no Actors Guild (SAG), is still too strong to ignore. Think of it like last year's Dreamgirls--a film a lot of people liked and thought looked Oscar-worthy, but too few loved to give it enough support for a nod. With that aside, another strong contender is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was nominated by PGA and DGA, and won the director's globe. It is, however, a foreign language film, and a best picture nomination for such is fairly rare (recent ones include last year's Letters From Iwo Jima and 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Sweeney Todd, which won the Globe for comedy/musical, could also be a contender, but I see it getting nods more for technical categories. American Gangster at one time looked strong, but has failed to achieve much notice of late. 3:10 to Yuma could be a real spoiler, but I don't see it happening. I think the last slot will go to Into the Wild. The Oscars love actor-turned-director success stories (Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven, Braveheart, Million Dollar Baby, etc.), and Sean Pean is a much-loved actor. It has that feel of being an essentially American movie, uplifting despite its sad ending, and SAG loved it, giving it a cast nod plus nods for three actors. That the actors are the biggest branch of the academy should be enough to push this into the race over Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Best Director
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
  • Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
  • Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
  • Sean Penn, Into the Wild
  • Julian Schnabel, Diving Bell and the Butterfly
I'm going with DGA all the way here, the best prognosticator for this award there is. The Coens, Anderson, Schnabel, and Penn all look really good, with Gilroy being the least probable. That makes Juno this year's Best Picture nominee without a director nod for Jason Reitman, a fate that befell Little Miss Sunshine last year. If Atonement does manage to pull off a best picture nod, then Joe Wright could be in here too. Other longshots include Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd and Ridley Scott for American Gangster, as well as a sentimental pick for Sidney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Best Actor
  • George Clooney, Michael Clayton
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
  • Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
  • Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
  • Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Daniel Day-Lewis and George Clooney look the sure things here, and SAG went a long way in clarifying this race, honoring Emile Hirsch and Viggo Mortensen. SAG also nominated Ryan Gosling for Lars and the Real Girl, but I'm betting he gets passed over for Johnny Depp's late-blooming Sweeney Todd. Depp is a Hollywood favorite, and he's great in the macabre musical. Long shots include Denzel Washington for American Gangster, James McAvoy for Atonement, and Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah, the last of which I would love to see in this race, but probably won't. How come no one ever mentions Josh Brolin for No Country for Old Men?

Best Actress
  • Amy Adams, Enchanted
  • Julie Christie, Away from Her
  • Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
  • Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
  • Ellen Page, Juno
Last year this race was so completely obvious to make it boring, so it's nice to see there's some competition this year. Marion Cotillard, Julie Christie, and Ellen Page look like locks right now. Angelina Jolie looks really strong too, despite not being very interesting, IMO. It's the last spot here that's really tough, and I've seen little consensus among various sources. SAG honored the above 4 plus Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth - the Golden Age, but that film flopped, which could hurt her chances. I would love to see Keira Knightley here, but I'm afraid the lack of Atonement support will shut her out. EW predicts Laura Linney for The Savages, but I've seen little support elsewhere for that, so I kind of doubt it. Helena Bonham Carter was great in Sweeney Todd, but with that film not getting tremendous buzz, I think the support there will be for Depp. I'm going out on a limb and saying it will be Amy Adams, for her comic fish-out-of-water turn in Enchanted that was endearing and very very funny.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
  • Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
  • Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Javier Bardem is the strong frontrunner, and Casey Affleck and Hal Holbrook look like locks too. Tom Wilkinson also should be in there, leaving only one spot that's really up for grabs. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an Academy favorite, so I think he'll get it, but Paul Dano could be a spoiler with late-building buzz for There Will Be Blood. Tommy Lee Jones is a long shot at this point for No Country for Old Men, as is John Travolta for Hairspray.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
  • Jennifer Garner, Juno
  • Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
  • Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
  • Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Cate Blanchett may be iffy in the actress race, but she's the frontrunner in the supporting category for her Bob Dylan portrayal in I'm Not There. Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton look like locks too. The last two spots are fairly open though. SAG went with Catherine Keener, and given my prediction that Into the Wild will do well, I stuck her in. The other SAG nominee was Ruby Dee for American Gangster, who made a big impact in American Gangster, but with a very very small role (less than 5 min screen time). The three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis in Atonement could be in the running, Saoirse Ronan (young Briony), Vanessa Redgrave (old Briony), and Romola Garai (young adult Briony). I'm going with my gut and say Jennifer Garner for the lost slot, who should surprising range as the controlling yet sympathetic yuppie in Juno.

Adapted Screenplay
  • Atonement
  • Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Into the Wild
  • No Country for Old Men
  • There Will Be Blood
I'm going with WGA here with the exception of Atonement. How can you ignore the achievement of successfully adapting Ian McEwan's layered epic novel? I think it will get the hand over WGA's final pick, Zodiac. Charlie Wilson's War and American Gangster could be also be contenders, but I don't see much hope for The Kite Runner.

Original Screenplay

Knocked Up
Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
The Savages

With most of the big dramas this year being adaptations, the original screenplay is an opportunity for comedies to shine. Juno, which will probably win this, leads the pack, along with sure bets The Savages and Lars and the Real Girl. I expect popular Knocked Up could even get in, over more indie choices like Waitress. Some pundits say Ratatouille will be nominated. While it was a cute movie, was it really that original of a story, the rat thing aside?

Animated Film
  • Persepolis
  • Ratatouille
  • The Simpsons
Ratatouille and The Simpsons were major hits, but Bee Movie was a flop, so I'm hoping French Persepolis (which looks really cool) manages to snag a spot here, given that it won't be a foreign film contender (see below).

Foreign Film


Few American film goers see foreign films, but those who do would probably say they would expect to see these films in this list: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Persepolis, La Vie en Rose, The Orphanage, The Kite Runner, or City of Men. Will they? No! None of these movies made the cut to the semi-final round of 9 films from which the final 5 will be chosen. Some of these, like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, were never even in contention. It's a bizarre category.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Personal Chart, 1/19/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Clumsy - Fergie (3 wks @ #1)
2 .... 5 .... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
3 .... 2 .... Apologize - Timbaland Feat. OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
4 ... 10 ... Chasing Pavements - Adele
5 .... 4 .... No One - Alicia Keys
6 .... 3 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
7 .... 7 .... Relax, Take It Easy - Mika
8 .... 6 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
9 ... 18 ... Work (Freemasons Remix) - Kelly Rowland
10 .. 19 .. Be Mine - Robyn

Golden Globes Wrap-up

Because of the WGA strike, the Golden Globes show was a joke last night, which was too bad, because there were some interesting surprises with the winners. Here's my take:

Biggest surprises:
  • Atonement wins best drama. I said last week that if Atonement was going to get back in the Oscar game that it needed to win this award--and it did! Beating out frontrunner No Country for Old Men. Every movie in the last 30 years that's won this award has gone on to be an Academy Award best picture nominee (although interesting, 4 of the last 5 winners of this award has not won best picture).
  • Sweeney Todd wins best musical/comedy. Juno was the obvious frontrunner, so this was a surprise. I don't think it will necessarily translate into a best picture nomination, but it can't hurt the film's overall profile for technical consideration (art direction, costume, etc.).
  • Julian Schnabel wins best director. The least experienced nominee wins for a foreign film over the directors of the movies that won the best picture awards (Joe Wright and Tim Burton), the Oscar frontrunners (Joel and Ethan Coen), and a popular veteran (Ridley Scott). Go figure.
Moderately surprising:
  • Marion Cotillard wins the best actress musical/comedy. She's long been a serious contender, but Juno and Ellen Page have been on a roll, so I thought she might have had a shot.
  • Cate Blanchett wins best supporting actress. She's long been the frontrunner, but a win for Amy Ryan would have reinforced her apparently building buzz.
Not at all surprising:
  • Daniel Day-Lewis and Julie Christie win the dramatic acting awards. No contest. Same for Johnny Depp in the best actor musical/comedy.
  • Javier Bardem wins best supporting actor. It's a hard choice for me, since I love Casey Affleck too, but Bardem is the leader, and this only reaffirmed it.
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly wins best foreign film. No surprise there. Too bad it's not an Oscar contender (only 2 of the globe nominees are--Persepolis and 4 Months, 3 Weeks an 2 Days).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What I am (and therefore you should be) listening to

Work (Freemasons Remix) - Kelly Rowland. The Freemasons, who worked their magic last year on several Beyonce tracks, try their had at another of Destiny's Child's kin, turning Kelly's "Work" into a stomping, disco-flavored workout. Fantastic.

Clumsy - Fergie. The hits keep coming off Fergie's solo debut, The Dutchess. This--its fifth--was great fun when she performed it live on Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve.

Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls. This upbeat British band didn't impress me with their last single, "She's So Lovely," but I love this. It reminds me of The Feeling, who are about to release their second album, so this whetted my appetite.

Moving to New York - The Wombats. The Wombats are a three-piece inide band from Liverpool, and "Moving to New York" is a fun, upbeat rock track, rough and rugged around the edges.

Be Mine! - Robyn. Robyn picked the best single from her album for this release. "Be Mine" is a fanstatic slice of polished Swedish pop, backed with beats, bleeps and strings.

Don't Stop the Music - Rihanna. Rihanna is on a roll with Good Girl Gone Bad, and this clubby hit is its best single yet.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead. I guess this is the "single" from In Rainbows. At first I thought it was an odd choice, but it's a great song.

Piece of Me - Britney Spears. At first I didn't care for this, but I've come around to it. Better than "Gimme More."

Feedback - Janet Jackson. I'm hopeful Janet's new album will be good, and its first single "Feedback" is already way better than anything she released from her last flop of an album. Maybe ditching Jam & Lewis was what she needed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Album Review: Radiohead - Kid A (2000), 4.5/5

With no new releases for 2008 that interest me yet, I thought I might review a few older albums from the decade. I loved Radiohead's In Rainbows from last year so much that it's gotten me interested in really digging in to understand the band. Kid A has to be one of the oddest albums I've ever listened to. In the past, I'd listen to the first track, the brilliant keyboard-rich "Everything in Its Right Place," which sounds like ambient science fiction stuff. After that though, I'd lose interest. So many of the "songs" (if we can even call them that) on Kid A are very unusual. After listening to it last night though (after a few rounds of margaritas), I think I get it. And I like it!

Kid A has to be understood in the context of OK Computer, the band's 1997 album that was heralded as a masterpiece. It was experimental, high minded, award-winning, critically acclaimed, and a global best-seller. Kid A then, which came out 3 years later, is a reaction to that success, but rather than a cliched "fame sucks" exercise, Radiohead basically blew themselves up for the album, ditching the traditional "band" structure (singer, guitar, bass, keyboard and drums) for something entirely new. Those elements do appear, but they aren't the essential ingredients. A lot of the album is electronic, but certainly not techno, as that would be too rigid structurally. Kid A is more free flowing, like improvisational jazz, such as the latter part of "The National Anthem," a cacaphony of sound over a driving bass line. The lyrics, if they even mean anything (that's certainly up for debate), are sometimes distorted to the point they cannot be heard.

"How to Disappear Completely" opens with eerie keyboard effects and acoustic guitar and features an undistorted Thom Yorke vocal. It's a beautiful and sad song, which, if I read it right, is about self-alienation. Strings take over for the last minute, wailing as if they're crying. "Optimistic" is driven by electric guitar and drums and also has a standard vocal. Together these are the most traditional songs on the album, and would sound at home on In Rainbows.

Other tracks would not however, such as the instrumental "Treefingers" or "Kid A," which I can best describe as sounding like science fiction minimalism--the kind of thing that might appear on the soundtrack to some pretentious film about robots. "Kid A" has a vocal, but it's so distorted I have no idea what's being said.

Hyrbrid "In Limbo" blends the sci-fi keyboards with more traditional bass and drums. Most of the vocals are distorted by the music, except a few, like "I'm lost at sea" and "I lost my way," so the sentiment is at least clear if the the meaning isn't. The song get shoved down a sonic blender at the end, churned out like the sound of the sea, before giving way to the hard electronic beats of "Idioteque," which features keyboards that sound like they're from an old sci-fi movie.

"Morning Bell" is mellower and more melodic: keyboards and standard vocals over beats. It's featured in an alternate version on their next album, Amnesiac (2001), which was recorded at the same time as Kid A. "Motion Picture Soundtrack" finishes the album off with distorted organ, which manages to sound both hopeful and melancholic. There's a big pause of silence, then more weird electronic music.

The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Although I still prefer In Rainbows to this, I now appreciate Kid A more than I used to.

Best: Everything in Its Right Place, How to Disappear Completely, The National Anthem, Morning Bell, Idioteque, Optimistic, In Limbo

Will Oscar snub Atonement?

Atonement was my favorite film of last year, and from its pedigree looks like the sort of film that should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for best picture. But looks can be deceiving. Witness last year's snub of Dreamgirls. Prior to the nominees being announced it looked like a lock for a nomination, along with The Departed and The Queen. Yet it didn't get it. Looking back, I read one wise pundit's analysis that said the reason it didn't was because while a lot of people liked Dreamgirls, few loved it, and since the way Oscar balloting works involves a ranking system rather than giving equal credit to all of a member's nominees, a film gets more "votes" if a few people rank it their favorite, rather than if a lot of people have it in on their list at say 4th or 5th place.

That analysis appears to fit Atonement. While it's on a lot of critics' and societies' year-end lists, it's usually not the top pick. No Country for Old Men is the obvious favorite, with significant support for There Will Be Blood too. These people aren't necessarily Academy members, but I think it highlights how the film is being received.

Then there's the guilds, who've all but snubbed Atonement. This is particularly key, since the guild members are likely to closely resemble the Academy members, and at the Oscars actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, etc. Everyone gets to nominate the best pictures. First there was the Screen Actors Guild, who passed over Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan, as well as the cast for their "ensemble" award (the SAG's equivalent to best picture). Then the Director's Guild of America (DGA) passed over Joe Wright. And finally the Writer's Guild of America (WGA--Yes, the ones on strike), didn't nominate Atonement for their adapted screenplay honor. (How could you not nominate the screenplay for having adapted such a complex and difficult novel so effectively? Whatever.) Even the technical guilds are a mixed bag. The cinematographers and art directors nominated the film, but not the editors or sound mixers.

Some of the Oscar prognosticators still have Atonement in the game, but acknowledge its momentum is quickly fading. Entertainment Weekly has their Oscar nominees predictions out this week, and predicted the film for picture, director and adapted screenplay, but I'm skeptical. At this point, there are two things that could help save its chances:

1) A win at the Golden Globes on Sunday. In my lifetime, every film that has won this award has been an Oscar nominee for best picture. Atonement is, of course, up against frontrunner No Country for Old Men in this category, but the Globes have sometimes made surprising choices, Scent of Woman in 1993 being a notable one.

2) A nomination from the Producers Guild of America on Monday. The PGA nod would be a big boost. Like I said, everyone gets to vote in the pictures category, but the award goes to the producers, so getting their nod would be important.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brit Awards Nominees revealed Monday

Here's my prediction of who will be on the shortlists:

Best British Album

Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare
Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly, Angry Mob
Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
Kate Nash - Made of Bricks
Radiohead - In Rainbows

This category generally goes for more critically acclaimed works than the singles category, so I would expect to see these albums on here rather than say the big sellers from Leona Lewis or Mika. In the rare event they decide to re-nominate an album from last year (It's happened before for Radiohead and Craig David), then Amy Winehouse's Back to Black could make a return.

Best International Album

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Linkin Park - Minutes to Midnight
Bruce Springsteen - Magic
Kanye West - Graduation

Best British Single

This generally goes almost just by sales and has either 5 or 10 nominees (last year there was 11 for whatever reason):

If they do 5:

Leon Jackson - When You Believe
Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love
Mika - Grace Kelly
About You Now - Sugababes
Rule the World - Take That

If they do 10, then those 5 plus:

Hoosiers - Worried About Ray
Just Jack - Starz in Their Eyes
Kaiser Chiefs - Ruby
Kate Nash - Foundation
Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse - Valerie

Personal Chart, 1/12/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 1 .... Clumsy - Fergie (2 wks @ #1)
2 .... 3 .... Apologize - Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
3 .... 2 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
4 .... 4 .... No One - Alicia Keys
5 .... 9 .... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
6 .... 6 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
7 .... 7 .... Relax, Take It Easy - Mika
8 ... 10 ... When You Believe - Leon Jackson
9 .... 8 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse
10 .. 27 .. Chasing Pavements - Adele

Saturday, January 05, 2008

BBC Sound of 2008

BBC News has released its annual "Sound of 2008" poll results, the list of 10 acts it thinks will be hot in the new year based on input from critics and broadcasters. Topping the list this year is, no surprise, Adele, the 19-year-old British singer whose single "Chasing Pavements" will be out Jan. 21. Her debut album, 19, follows on Jan. 28. Here's the video for "Chasing Pavements," which is a great song:

At #2 on the list is another British singer, Duffy, whom I wrote about in November. Check out the full list here:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7163404.stm

Even if you don't recognize any of the names on the list, chances are within a few months you will. They've been pretty good at predicting who's going to be big. Last year Mika topped the list, who shortly went on to score the massive #1 single "Grace Kelly," followed by a hit album and several other top 10s. Other acts they named last year that made it big were The Klaxons, who subsequently won the Mercury Music Prize, Just Jack, Cold War Kids, and The Twang. For 2006 they tipped acts like Corinne Bailey Rae, The Feeling, and Chris Brown.

Personal Chart, 1/5/2008

TW LW Title - Artist
1 .... 3 .... Clumsy - Fergie (1 week @ #1)
2 .... 2 .... Call the Shots - Girls Aloud
3 .... 1 .... Apologize - Timbaland Feat. OneRepublic (2 wks @ #1)
4 .... 6 .... No One - Alicia Keys
5 .... 5 .... Love Is a Losing Game - Amy Winehouse
6 .... 4 .... Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis (7 wks @ #1)
7 ... 10 ... Relax, Take It Easy - Mika
8 .... 8 .... Valerie - Mark Ronson Feat. Amy Winehouse (1 wk @ #1)
9 ... 12 ... Elvis Ain't Dead - Scouting for Girls
10 .. 13 .. When You Believe - Leon Jackson

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Welcome to 2008: New Albums Ahead

Happy New Year!!! 2008 is here.

Here's a look at 40 new album releases lined up for the next few months (the * are my most anticipated):

Jan 7/8

Tom Baxter - Skybound. Singer-songwriter based in London. This is his second album, featuring gentle first single "Better."

Jan 14/15

Magnetic Fields - Distortion. The US indie band follows up its 2004 album i (where every song's title began with "I"). Read more here.

Jan 21/22

Eels – Meet The Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1: 1996-2006/Useless Trinckets. Separate releases of greatest hits and rarities collections.

Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine. In a sense the US release of 2007's NB, but it's been heavily reworked. Over half the album are new songs that weren't on NB, and even that album's single "I Wanna Have Your Babies" was excluded.

Nelly - Brass Knuckles. The rapper's fifth album (if you count Sweat and Suit as separate), which was supposed to come out in 2007, but was pushed back. First single "Wadsyaname" did not become a hit.

Jan 28/29

Adele - 19. The debut album from British soul singer Adele Laurie Blue Adkins with first single "Hometown Glory." Check out her myspace page.

The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath. Fourth album from the American prog rock band.

Feb 4/5

Jack Johnson - Sleep Through the Static. His fifth album, featuring first single "If I Had Eyes."

Sheryl Crow - Detours. Her sixth studio album, featuring first single "Shine Over Babylon."

Morcheeba - Dive Deep. Their sixth studio album, featuring a number of vocalists such as Judy Tzuke on "Enjoy the Ride," which can be heard here.

Hot Chip - Made in the Dark. The band's third album, which they say will be more rock, in addition to electronic.

Lenny Kravitz - It Is Time for a Love Revolution. His eight album.

Nada Surf - Lucky. Fifth album from American indie rock band.

Feb 11/12

Michael Jackson - Thriller 25th Anniversay Edition. Can't put out a new album so why not re-release pop music's most famous classic? Includes remixes of old favorites featuring new artists like Kanye West on "Billie Jean 2008" and Fergie on "Beat It 2008" No Joke.

Boy Kill Boy - Stars and the Sea. British rock band's second album featuring first single "No Conversation"

Simple Plan - Simple Plan. Canadian band's third album.

Feb 18/19

*The Feeling - Join With Us. Second album from the British band, following up excellent Twelve Stops and Home. First single is "I Thought It Was Over."

Robbie Williams -Let's Swing Again. Follow-up to his 2001 "Swing When You're Winning" album of swing covers.

Feb 25/26

*Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree. Their fourth album and my second most anticipated new release, after Madonna of course. First single is "A&E."

*Janet Jackson - Discipline. Can Janet get her groove back? After two flop albums, she's hoping this will do the trick. She's jettisonned her longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, bringing on fresher names like Rodney Jerkins, Stargate and Ne-Yo. First single "Feedback" is a good start.

*The B-52's - Funplex. Their first album in 16 years.

Mar 3

*Duffy - Rockferry. Debut release from the Welsh singer, already getting buzz as the next Amy Winehouse (hopefully for the music, not the antics).

Mar 10

*Moby - Last Night. His ninth album, reportedly more dance/electronic.

Mar 18

Ashlee Simpson - Bittersweet World. Her third album.

Mar 25

Panic! at the Disco - You Don't Have to Worry.

Mar/31Apr 1

*R.E.M. - Accerlate

Supergrass - Diamond Hoo Ha

Apr 4

Gnarls Barkley - Atlantis

Apr 14

The Kooks - Konk

Apr 22

Weezer - TBA (sixth album)

No date:

*Madonna - TBA

*Coldplay - TBA (fourth album)

*Dido - TBA

*Will Young - fourth album

*Franz Ferdinand - TBA (May)

*Mariah Carey - TBA

Alanis Morissette - Flavors of Entanglement (April)

Black Eyed Peas - END - The Energy Never Dies

Guns N Roses - The Chinese Democracy (Feb)

Will we ever hear this?

*Whitney Houston - TBA (sixth album)