Archive for January, 2015

Best Films of 2014

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

A little late on this, but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to see as many films that came out in 2014 as I possibly could. Looking forward to comments.

  1. Whiplash – A movie that just hit me in so many ways. It’s raw, it’s significant, and it feels about as real as it could. Sure, I’ll bet there are some issues with the film’s content in terms of accuracy, but the script and the acting is so well executed, those little discrepancies don’t matter much. J.K. Simmons is insane in this movie and well worthy of the praise heaped upon him, and Miles Teller is under-appreciated in his role (although it is a stacked year in the male acting categories) that really makes the film work. Still the most incredible thing about the film is that the director wasn’t even 30 when he made this, a film that is so confident in its existence, it’s difficult to overlook.
  2. Gone Girl – David Fincher, to his credit, never makes the same movie twice. That’s why we’ll never get him to make the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s just not in his nature (well, maybe not: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1703246/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1). In any respect, the director’s latest might be his most bombastic and insane film yet, which, considering his filmography is saying a great deal. This is a film driven by mood and actors, especially Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike as the titular lost wife Amy Dunne, who is absolutely terrifying in a role that no person who’s ever seen her on film could have seen coming (she was a Bond girl, for goodness sake). Fincher has never been one to stray from difficult topics, and this film is not different, and for possibly the first time he hits his viewers in places that they can connect with (just look at how successful this film was and that should tell you what you need to know). If the Academy didn’t have some sort of issue with Fincher, this should certainly have made its way into the Best Picture conversation. Either way, this is certainly one of the best films I saw in 2014.
  3. Boyhood – The scope of this film is really what makes this film as fantastic as it is. On the surface, it’s a simple story about a boy who grows up and the life he experiences along the way. Richard Linklater has done a wonderful thing in that he manages to always find those moments that feel of great importance, even if they feel insignificant as the film progresses. Yet the whole is greater than the some of its parts, and you cannot take away from the hugeness of the project that Linklater takes on. For that reason alone, Boyhood should go down as one of the most important films in recent memory, regardless of what happens in a Los Angeles theater in late February.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I love Wes Anderson, and honestly can’t say that he’s really made a bad film as of yet. He’s made lesser films, for sure (probably The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited would fall into that category), but of late it really feels like Anderson has hit his stride. After The Fantastic Mr. FoxMoonrise Kingdom and now this, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we might be at the height of Anderson’s powers. This is the first time I’ve started to get the feeling that Anderson might have something to say in the midst of his quirky sentimentality. His normal sensibility is still here, but there’s an importance here, a greater reason for existence, and while it doesn’t always work (the slight comeuppance at the Nazi regime doesn’t really work, for example), I give Anderson credit for pushing himself. This might be his best film yet.
  5. Edge of Tomorrow – What a sad thing it is that hardly anybody went to see this movie, but it really is one of the best films that Tom Cruise has ever been a part of, and certainly one of the most overlooked films of the year. It is a thought-provoking, action-packed romp, filled with great performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, who really carries the film in many ways. It says a lot about the failure of this film that Cruise’s response is to go back to his fall back franchises: his next three films listed on IMDb are Mission: Impossible 5, Top Gun 2 and Jack Reacher 2. Sad but true.
  6. The Lego Movie – I just don’t get how one of the most successful and most original animated films of 2014 is not considered to be one of the best 5 animated films of the year. The movie made a quarter of a billion dollars stateside, and has launched a sequel to this film, as well as various other LEGO based films over the next 4-5 years (including a Batman film staring this film’s Will Arnett-voiced Batman). All that said, this is definitely one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie all year (even if I did go at 10PM on a weekday all by myself), and it just doesn’t make any sense to disregard it as anything but a well-exectued, smart film, regardless of how it was made.
  7. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – This is one of the most odd films I’ve seen in a while, and it really is remarkable that it is as well received as it has been. I’m not convinced it’s the best film of the year, nor that it has as much importance as Boyhood does, but I can see why it is so respected by varied groups of film critics. Equal parts uncomfortable comedy and satire, it is very much a departure for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who generally focuses on more sombre topics, yet this works really well, mostly because of the career-defining performances from the likes of Michael Keaton and Emma Stone (who probably as the biggest, most expressive eyes in Hollywood right now), as well as Edward Norton, who is basically doing a quirky riff on himself. I won’t be upset if this wins Best Picture, as I do think it has interesting things to say and takes on experiments in terms of its cinematography and style.
  8. Fury – This one is one I did not see coming. I still have yet to see David Ayer’s End of Watch or Training Day, so I cannot comment on whether this film is better than those two, but I can say that this film did effect me, mostly because of how well shot and acted it is. The claustrophobic cinematography featured throughout allows the actors to go to work, and they are all in top form, especially Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, as the latter gets to handle the emotional progression of the film. Well worth checking out if you are a fan of war films or just films that are really excellent.
  9. Interstellar – Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a Christopher Nolan fanboy, so you may take this with a grain of salt. I’m not willing to say that this is his greatest work, mostly because the scope of it and the master class of technical work being put on here sometimes overwhelm the story that Nolan and his brother Jonathan are trying to tell. I saw it three times in theaters, and each time I was able to appreciate different things about it. One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is Nolan’s commitment to making greatness with whatever he does. He didn’t hit a perfect shot here, but it is yet another fantastic entry into a nearly flawless filmography in terms of making films that have interesting and important things to say and help to progress the field of filmmaking overall.
  10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The final entry in the top 10 is yet another science-fiction film. The second entry in the sequel series of Apes films, this one leaves off where 2011’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left off, with apes and humans cut off from one another in what is essentially a barren wasteland that used to be San Francisco. Once again, this film hinges on the breathtaking motion capture performance of Andy Serkis, who gives life to Caesar, the ape who has taken up a leadership role amongst his species, and wants to, fueled by memories of his past, create a place where humans and apes can live symbiotically. Without Serkis’ fantastic work, the entire movie would fall apart, and it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they understand this and allow him to do great work. Throw in some excellent set pieces and wonderful supporting turns from the human actors (especially a sombre Jason Clarke, who will spend 2015 in both the newest Terrance Malick film and as the new John Connor), and you’ve got one of the better and easier to respect blockbusters in recent memory.
  11. The One I Love
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy
  13. Inherent Vice
  14. The Fault in Our Stars
  15. The Imitation Game
  16. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  17. Big Hero 6
  18. Chef
  19. Foxcatcher
  20. The Theory of Everything
  21. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1
  22. Captain American: The Winter Soldier
  23. Godzilla
  24. The Maze Runner
  25. Wish I Was Here
  26. Big Eyes
  27. Obvious Child
  28. Selma
  29. The Monuments Men
  30. Into the Woods

Movies that were…fine

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Muppets Most Wanted

Divergent

Draft Day

Movies that were anywhere from terrible to disappointing…

Noah

Transcendence

The Giver

American Sniper

Still to see:

Unbroken

The Gambler

A Most Violent Year

St. Vincent

The Book of Life

The Equalizer

Nightcrawler

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Laggies

Dear White People

Frank

Best Albums for 2014

Posted: January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

For those of you who’ve been around me, you’ll know this to be an annual tradition. This year, I upped the ante a little bit by keeping track of every album I listened to at least once this year on my handy Evernote app on my phone. This allowed me to remember a little better what I listened to throughout the year, making this list a little easier to swallow. That in mind, the list itself is a little longer, with a few more categories than in years past. I’m also only including commentary on the top ten, mostly because the list is so long, I don’t really have any desire to muse about each of these records. So without further ado, here is my list of the best albums of 2014.

  1. Colony House – When I Was Younger: This one was inevitable the moment I tattooed some of its lyrics on my left arm. I first caught wind of these guys a few years ago when they were known as Caleb, and was very excited to hear that this record was coming out this year when I saw them back in 2013. The vocalist and drummer are Caleb and Will Chapman, sons of famed CCM artist Steven Curtis Chapman, and the talent apple doesn’t fall far from that particular tree. These songs are different, though, than anything their dad ever put out; and while they are not shy about the faith element of their lives, this isn’t a preachy record, just an honest one. This brand of indie rock manages moments of wild introspection about a particularly difficult time in the boys’ life, but while it is honest, it isn’t shy. The music is well crafted and thoughtful, and, possibly most importantly, this is an album in the truest sense, as the track order feels deliberate, a lost art in this day and age. No matter what else came out this year, there came a point where I just knew this was the record I was going to remember most from this year.
  2. Copeland – Ixora: This one moved up the list rather quickly. A reunion record of sorts, coming 6 years after the Lakeland, FL foursome said their final goodbyes on the road. This album certainly feels like the album they weren’t able to make years ago because they weren’t ready to. Equal parts kin to its predecessor (2008’s You Are My Sunshine) and steps in new directions for the band, it also feels like an album that wants, at least in small doses, to recognize where they’ve come after all these years. Yes, it’s sort of a moody album, but there’s also a wonder in the melancholy, as Aaron Marsh’s lyrics and vocals don’t seem to be crushed by the mood, but alive because of it. This is an album that seems to get better as it ages, so I’m very much looking forward to spinning the vinyl when it finally comes in the mail.
  3. Needtobreathe – Rivers in the Wasteland: I’ll say I’ve always been more of a fringe appreciator of NtB in the past. I’ve listened to earlier records by the South Carolina natives, but, save for 2011’s The Reckoning, never really found much I was interested in. This album really changed my views, so much so that I think I’ll need to go back and give the rest of their discography more time. The latest record feels like better versions of everything I’ve heard from them so far: the folk is folkier, the Southern rock has an edge, as if all the powers have finally combined to create greatness. I think the truthfulness of the lyrics, though, is what sets this apart. These are songs of longing, made clear not only by what is sung about but how, and vocalist Bear Rinehart delivers one of the best performances from top to bottom, showing versatility unseen in most bands.
  4. Manchester Orchestra – Cope: Like with NtB, MO and I were only fringe friends before now. But I knew as soon as I heard the first few chords (and my goodness the drum sounds) of “Top Notch,” the first track off of what I now consider to be the best MO album yet, that this was going to be an album I was going to keep coming back to. This is an aggressive record from start to finish, and Andy Hull’s signature snarl is on full display (this is actually a pretty well-mixed record for all the noise it makes) through all the guitars and drums (speaking of top notch, did I mention how good the drums sound?). To make this album all the more incredible, however, was the late year release of Hope, a companion record to this effort, featuring all of the songs from Cope in more stripped-down, quieter versions. That the songs hold up to the scrutiny of that type of rethinking makes Cope all the more impressive. Either way, these are spectacular songs that should be heard.
  5. Anberlin –  lowborn: What a bittersweet album this is. On the one hand, it’s likely the least accomplished record that Anberlin has put out since New Surrender came out in 2008, as the one-two punch of Dark Is the Way, Light is a Place and Vital (probably my favorite overall Anberlin record) really hit home. It’s unfair to compare what they’ve done with this, their final record, and what came before it, only because this album was recorded in pieces by a band that already knew they were on their way out. Which isn’t to say they phoned it in, just that as an album it isn’t nearly as cohesive a work as maybe any of the rest of their records before this, but is still chock full of good songs, including “Hearing Voices,” which might be one of my favorite Anberlin songs ever. I’m terribly sad to see them go, but I’m fortunate to have been along for the ride all these years.
  6. Crowder – Neon Steeple: David Crowder is nothing if not eclectic. All these years he’s been creeping closer and closer to an album like this, and finally, in the wake of the dissolution of the David Crowder*Band, we can finally see what he was after for the last few years. On one hand, Neon Steeple makes it abundantly clear who was driving the folky, bluegrass side of DC*B all these years (especially in light of listening to The Digital Age, the band that most of the rest of Crowder’s former band created), but it also sheds light on the quirky, experimental nature of Crowder himself. Of all the so-called worship artists, he’s always been the one I’ve admired most for his attempts at creating interesting, artistic music, and in that regard, this album falls right in line. While the record is definitely, as Crowder himself put it, “folktronica,” I think he did a fantastic job of not making it too much like Christian dance music. And while these aren’t necessarily Sunday morning singable songs, they are, more than anything else, Crowder’s attempts to continue to write great songs that the church can meditate on and enjoy.
  7. Mike Mains & The Branches – Calm Down, Everything is Fine: This is one of the earliest albums I listened to this year, and I didn’t even own the record until much later into 2014. I listened to it several times online, and just always came amazed by the pure passion of this album. Having seen these guys live, I can tell you that the emotion and excitement for the songs carries over into that arena, and they’ve done an excellent job of channeling that into the record. It’s hardly groundbreaking musically, but Mains is a talented songwriter who is interested in making his music as interesting as he can. He’s succeeded.
  8. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You: I’d only just heard of this band before this year, having seen them mentioned around different online message boards and the like. And I recalled listening to a few snippets of songs before, and not really being all that interested. It felt like they were trying to bring back some edgier elements of the screamo movement, and I just wasn’t really buying in. Then I heard the first song off this record prior to its release, and I realized this was a totally different band. It turns out the vocalist, Kyle Durfey, can really sing, in a style that just bleeds emotion and grit, and, more importantly for this record, utter sadness. Keep You is a really bleak record, and Durfey’s vocal style fits that perfectly, often distant and pushed a little back into the mix, he’s expressing residual agony over the loss of his father, and the pain is still real, and it seeps through every pore of this record. It’s not for the faint of heart, but this album deserves to be heard by as many people who can survive it.
  9. Yellowcard – Lift A Sail: Another record focused on tragedy, this time the sad tale of singer Ryan Key’s wife and the loss of her ability to continue to ski professionally after a terrible accident. While not nearly as bleak as Keep You, it’s no less honest about the struggle Key and his wife have gone through. Musically, this album is miles apart (see what I did there?) from any other YC album before it. Gone are the steady beats of their original drummer, the man who clearly drove the pop-punk side of the band’s sound. Instead, Key has said this record finds more of its roots in the late 90’s rock scene, and while I’m not entirely sure he and the band hit that goal, this is definitely more of a straight alternative rock album than the pop-punk YC is famous for. In many ways, that changed has been a breath of fresh air for the band, as the sound that was starting to become a little stale has progressed in very interesting, sometimes challenging ways. It doesn’t sound at all like the YC that came before it–even Key’s vocals sound thicker and more mature–and I, for one, am not at all upset about that.  
  10. Tigers Jaw – Charmer: I listened to this record initially because the band did a split with Balance & Composure, a band that put out one of my surprise favorite records from 2013. So I decided to give this album a try, and I’m very glad I did. This is an album that harkens back to the lo-fi days of home recorded emo, as the tandem songwriting/vocals of Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh create a soothing trip from start to finish. This is an album that has a mood to it, one that recalls the mundane elements of small town life (the band hails from Scranton, PA), while still wanting to reflect honestly on the world as it is. That being said, this isn’t a very technically complicated record, with Collins and Walsh handling most of the instrumentation, and the vocal delivery suggests an almost lack of caring, except they’re also dripping with a cool sadness. And really that’s it. This is just a cool record.
  11. Matrimony – Montibello Memories
  12. King’s Kaleidoscope – Becoming Who We Are
  13. Braid – No Coast 
  14. You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You’re Doing
  15. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield 
  16. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Andrew McMahon in The Wilderness 
  17. The Black Keys – Turn Blue 
  18. Spoon – They Want My Soul 
  19. Temples – Sun Structures
  20. Citizens & Saints – Join the Triumph 
  21. From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
  22. Number One Gun – This Is Who We Are 
  23. Clay Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run 
  24. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream 
  25. John Mark McMillan – Borderland 
  26. Coldplay – Ghost Stories
  27. Prawn – Kingfisher
  28. U2 – Songs of Innocence
  29. Circa Survive – Descensus
  30. Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter 
  31. Conditions – Missing Hours 
  32. Switchfoot – Fading West/The Edge of the Earth EP
  33. Jack White – Lazaretto
  34. Artifex Pereo – Time in Place 
  35. Emarosa – Versus 
  36. I Can Make A Mess – Growing In
  37. Young Statues – The Flatlands Are Your Friend
  38. Jukebox the Ghost – Jukebox the Ghost 
  39. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams 
  40. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Unraveling

EP’s:

Moments Like Movie Scenes – Honesty (EP)

Sam Means – Blue Jeans (EP)

House of Heroes – Smoke (EP)

Young Rising Suns – Young Rising Suns (EP)

Park – Jacob the Rabbit (EP)

The World is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Between Bodies (EP)

Best of the rest:

Foster the People – Supermodel

Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes – Kid Tiger

Fairweather – Fairweather 

Animals As Leaders – The Joy of a Motion

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Slingshot to Heaven

Bear Hands – Distraction 

My Epic – Beholden

Bleachers – Strange Desire

Blondfire – Young Heart

J Mascis – Tied to a Star

Interpol – El Pintor

Sir Sly – You Haunt Me

Stars – No One Is Lost

Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

Sovereign Grace Music – Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus in Song

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

Chris Tomlin – Love Ran Red

Special Category (for special projects, revisited albums, etc):

The Classic Crime – What Was Done, Volume 1

David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet – Volume 1

Manchester Orchestra – Hope

Disappointments:

The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Taking Back Sunday – Happiness Is…

Tenth Avenue North – Cathedrals

Not enough time (either came out too late or I didn’t listen to the record enough):

TV on the Radio – Seeds

Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Sullivan – Heavy is the Head

Damien Rice –  My Favourite Faded Fantasy

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruises

Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

Lecrae – Anomoly

Real Estate – Atlas

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager