I glance at you like Moses gazing toward the promised land, His sight the only starving sense to perish satisfied. No such content will compensate my ears, my lips, my hand, For God has deemed to make the gulf between us two too wide.
My covert dreams alone can see you near me, arm in arm, The scorn of cruel reality that jostles me awake. I cultivate my nobler traits, my eloquence and charm, Yet never do they seem enough for your transcendent sake.
I spy so many all around, in stories and in song, Who find their love without the threat of mockery or laughter. I’d whisper every secret of this lonely love lifelong If only I lived not in fear of what might follow after. ___________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
It’s so easy to associate musicals with Broadway since Hollywood usually only seems interested in adapting musicals into film if they have a reliable following that promises a decent box office. I can understand that instinct; no one wants to take a risk for a flop, especially when musicals are considered more effort with extra talents of singing or dancing required of their cast. Yet there are a host of excellent musicals out there that have never made it to Broadway, like Tick, Tick… Boom!or Frank Wildhorn’s The Count of Monte Cristo. I may never have heard of Erica Schmidt’s Cyrano stage production if not for this film adaptation, which only deepens my love of musical cinema and my desire for more like it.
Many things fell into place for the creation of this film based on a musical play based on Edmond Rostand’s classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, the original catfishing story. Schmidt’s husband Peter Dinklage played the title role on stage, along with Haley Bennett as Roxanne, and Bennett’s involvement no doubt helped convince her partner Joe Wright of Atonement and Darkest Hour to take up directing the film version. Both Dinklage and Bennett reprise their stage roles and prove how well-cast they were from the beginning, joined by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., as Christian, the soldier who loves Roxanne and is aided by the eloquent Cyrano to woo her via love letters. Instead of the traditional abnormality of Cyrano’s large nose explaining his self-loathing and hesitance to pursue his love for Roxanne, Dinklage’s short stature is used instead, yet there are only a few direct references to his height. Indeed, the songs seem to be written so that any uncommon or “ugly” physical quality could take the place of Cyrano’s nose, even down to the series of taunts he lists for himself while dueling.
Musicals come in many different forms, and Cyrano is certainly not the typical Broadway product with big showstoppers. The choreography is decent but never vies for any kind of wow factor, and some of the lyrics are less than inspired in terms of rhyme and complexity, particularly a rather drab villain song for Ben Mendelsohn. Yet the songs, provided by rock band The National, still work on a more subtle level, with layers of sensitive piano and violin seamlessly folding the musical numbers into the score. Dinklage may not have a wide range, but his baritone complements his ever-expressive face, while Bennett gets more musical highs in songs like “Every Letter” and “I Need More.” I think “Every Letter” is my favorite, achieving its goal of making the sadly outdated act of letter-writing sensual with its beautiful staging of fluttering pages falling around the three overlapping singers. I’ve listened to the soundtrack quite a bit lately, and my love and appreciation for the songs have only grown with time.
It must be said that Dinklage absolutely deserved a Best Actor nomination, and the Academy’s ignoring of him is probably the worst snub since Amy Adams was passed over for Arrival. His eyes alone convey Cyrano’s latent heartache as he pines for Roxanne, especially when he is so close to her as a friend. Heck, the film could have deserved multiple nominations – Best Actress for Bennett, Cinematography, Score, Original Song for “Every Letter” – instead of just the one nod for Costume Design. Yet despite an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ve seen many articles labeling Cyrano a “failed musical” or a flop, which may be true in a purely box office sense but certainly not for the film’s quality. I don’t know what the moviegoing public wants in a musical, but their apathy toward recent movie musicals breaks my heart.
Though I may just be easier to please, I found Cyrano to be a perfect mixture of sincere and superb for any fan of tragic romance, elevated further by Wright’s elegant direction and a palpable fondness for the written word that rivals Violet Evergarden. To be honest, Steve Martin’s Roxanne was my previous touchpoint for Cyrano before this and sort of spoiled me with a happier ending than the source material had, but this Cyrano is the new gold standard for me, an exquisite film and a personal one for any sufferer of unrequited love.
Best line: (Roxanne, singing) “What is it you’re so afraid of losing?” (Cyrano, singing) “That I might lose everything if I lose the pain.”
(Best sung to the tune of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers)
If you watch this, You should know they’re gonna sing, They’re gonna sing their lines as lyrics and a tune. If you hate this, You should know it’s gonna sting, It’s gonna sting ‘cause even cynics aren’t immune.
But I like this, I like musicals galore, And by galore, I mean there’s plenty to embrace. If you don’t like this, Then it’s better to ignore, But you ignore what puts a smile on my face.
And I would watch this musical And I would watch 500 more If it means they’ll make more musicals, No matter how the haters roar. _______________________________
MPA rating: PG (mainly some innuendo)
When I choose my Blindspots at the beginning of each year, I usually don’t give any thought to how exactly I’ll watch them. With so many streaming options nowadays, there must be some way, right? When I decided to watch Sunshine on Leith, I realized that might be difficult, considering the Scottish musical was not on any streaming subscription and apparently had never been released on DVD in the U.S., meaning anything I bought would not be playable on my U.S. player. I was on the verge of having to change my Blindspot choice entirely, but thankfully I checked YouTube, where it happened to have been uploaded by some overseas saint. So note to self, maybe I ought to verify that I can actually find the movies on my Blindspot list before I announce them.
Anyway, I had a strong feeling that Sunshine on Leith would be my kind of movie. A feel-good romantic musical set in Scotland? Yes please! The closest analogue to this film would have to be Mamma Mia!, the jukebox musical that incorporated ABBA’s diverse discography into a mostly coherent storyline. This time, the featured music is that of the Proclaimers, a Scottish duo known for songs that tend to tow the line between rock and barroom folk anthems. Admittedly, I was only familiar with two of their songs, “I’m on My Way” and most famously “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” both of which debuted on the 1988 album Sunshine on Leith, from which the film gets its name.
So, unlike Scottish audiences, I had little internalized fondness for these songs since they were mostly new to me. Yet I still enjoyed the songs quite a bit, even if the performances often lack the wow factor of other musicals. It’s very much in the vein of Mamma Mia!, with characters sometimes breaking into goofy theatrics for an impromptu musical number, and the final rendition of “I’m Gonna Be” is undoubtedly the best, combining the romantic climax with the most fun choreography.
However, in combining songs that were not necessarily written to fit into a narrative, the plot is unfortunately thin. It chugs along in feel-good mode with hardly any conflict before suddenly dropping three different conflicts all at once and resolving one in the space of a single song that didn’t seem to actually address the problem. I’m genuinely impressed by the way musicals like this and Mamma Mia can combine unrelated songs into a cohesive plot; I’ve wished I or someone could do the same for some of my favorite artists, like TWRP, Autoheart, or Coldplay. It can’t be easy, but this is one case where the songs often don’t quite fit naturally, instead making the plot feel overly rushed at times, despite the good performances of actors like Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, and George McKay (years before 1917). And yet the songs are also the best parts, causing the non-musical sections to suffer by comparison.
I love musicals, and I liked this one, but I hate to admit that I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. It has the feel-good romance aspect, paired with elements that try to make it less like a predictable Hallmark movie, and it introduced me to some great Scottish tunes. And while I was concerned that the accents may be hard to understand, I was able to follow along without missing too much. I’d gladly watch it again, so perhaps it will grow on me like Mamma Mia! has. If they’ll actually release the darn thing in the U.S.!
It’s been a while since I posted any Top Twelve lists, but this one is particularly overdue. My lists of favorite movies of the year are usually long after the New Year, when most people post them, just because I typically take longer to watch all the worthwhile films of the year. But in the past, I have at least posted my top songs of the previous year in January, which was foiled in 2020/2021 due to a tight school schedule. Now that I am finally through with school, it’s time to revisit the great musical gifts that 2020 had to offer.
To be quite honest, I consider 2020 a rather weak year for movies but a fantastic one for music. It was hard to pare down the list to a Top Twelve, considering how many other favorites ended up in the Runners-Up. I always find it interesting how my tastes continue to diverge from what is mainstream and popular; only one of these songs ended up in the Billboard Top 10, and you can bet Cardi B and Billie Eilish are nowhere to be found.
As always, there are no doubt songs I’ve missed along the way that I hope to discover at some point. My 2019 list seemed watertight at the time, but it wasn’t until this year that I was introduced to The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” or Mika’s whole My Name Is Michael Holbrook album. Speaking of the latter, I sort of retroactively assess years by the artists I fall in love with, such as Florence and the Machine in 2016, Kygo in 2017, etc. And 2020 continued this trend, making me a huge fan of Mika, Sparks, and The Orion Experience, all of which have been around for years and deserve way more attention. (Sparks did get a documentary this year called The Sparks Brothers, which I hope to review at some point.)
While most of these songs may not have been mainstream hits, I consider all of them modern classics at this point. Hopefully, you readers will agree, but if not, let me know what your favorite songs of 2020 were. It was a tough year for many reasons, but good music can make hard times more bearable and even fun. It takes more searching these days, but I’m always grateful that great tunes like these are still being created.
12. “Can I Believe You” – Fleet Foxes
Dropped on the autumnal equinox with little fanfare, literally the day after being announced, Shore is the latest album from Fleet Foxes, and while I wasn’t very familiar with their previous work, I was blown away with this dreamy folk tour de force. It was hard to pick a favorite among songs like “Quiet Air/Gioia,” “Young Man’s Game,” and “Jara,” but I settled on “Can I Believe You,” the kind of subdued jam that sends you to another plane when you close your eyes while listening.
11. “Lights Go Down” – I Dont Know How But They Found Me
Deriving their name from a Back to the Future quote and their lead singer from Panic! at the Disco, I Dont Know How But They Found Me made an exciting alt rock debut with their Razzmatazz album. Though “Leave Me Alone” and “New Invention” got more exposure, “Lights Go Down” is the clear standout for me. Those instantly memorable synth notes at the beginning give way to a similarly toe-tapping chorus and sax solo that are simply infectious.
10. “Kings & Queens” – Ava Max
Aside from the next song, this is the only other song on the list that I actually heard on the radio. Ava Max could be dismissed as a wannabe Lady Gaga, but I’ve enjoyed her work since “Sweet but Psycho” three years ago. The catchy beat and guitar solo of this anthem of female empowerment meld pop and rock in an effortlessly appealing single.
9. “Dynamite” – BTS
Yes, this is the monster hit that topped the Billboard Hot 100 and set multiple Guinness world records, and with good reason. Since I typically spurn rap, I wasn’t much of a fan of BTS before, and it’s perhaps a little ironic that their first English-language hit and the song that won me over was written by someone else. But who could resist this exuberant pop smash, making full use of the K-pop juggernaut’s energy and harmonies and somehow landing a spot on Rolling Stone’s updated list of the Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s a perfect summer hit.
8. “Need Each Other” – TWRP, featuring Planet Booty
I missed out on featuring TWRP’s “Starlight Brigade” on my list of 2018 songs (since I only discovered them in 2019), but I am glad to not repeat that oversight here. The costumed Canadian band once more killed it with their Over the Top album, and while “Black Swan” seemed like the obvious choice, I had to pick “Need Each Other,” a funk-fueled collab that extols the feelings of community and mutual love that were most needed during the pandemic’s worst days.
7. “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” – Declan McKenna
Not only do I love the inventive green-screen music video, but Declan McKenna’s “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” is an eminently sing-alongable jam that never gets old, even if I don’t fully understand the potentially dark meaning of the lyrics. I could have also gone with “The Key to Life on Earth” or “Beautiful Faces,” since the whole Zeroes album rocks, but “Daniel” is the real stand-out.
6. “A Good Song Never Dies” – Saint Motel
I don’t dislike Billie Eilish’s theme song for No Time to Die, but this song proves beyond a doubt that Saint Motel needs to do a James Bond theme. “A Good Song Never Dies” already sounds like one, and the horns and bassline have swaggering style to spare. It also makes them the only returning band from my 2019 list, further cementing them as one of my favorites and one of the most underrated groups out there. Special mention for “Preach.”
5. “My God” – The Killers, feat. Weyes Blood
Through most of the year, I was sure that “Caution,” the lead single from Imploding the Mirage, would be The Killers’ obvious entry on my list, but then I heard “My God.” This anthem of catharsis is The Killers at their best, and Weyes Blood’s pure voice during the bridge gives me chills every time. Special mention for “Lightning Fields” as well.
4. “All That” – Sparks
Last year was the year I discovered Sparks, the duo that have been making fantastic, quirk-filled music for over fifty years with nowhere near the acclaim they deserve. They’re still going strong with the album A Steady Drip, Drip Drip, with “All That” being the best. With its wistful, nostalgic lyrics and clapped beat, it sounds like both the culmination of a long career and a classic that’s been around for years. With Edgar Wright’s recent documentary about the Mael brothers, I’m glad Sparks is getting more attention. Special mention for “Self-Effacing” and “Left Out in the Cold.”
3. “My Rajneesh” – Sufjan Stevens
In 2020, I also gained a greater appreciation for the poetic delicacy of Sufjan Stevens. While the year saw a whole album from the auteur, with great songs like “Video Game,” “America,” and “Tell Me You Love Me,” the highlight somehow didn’t make it on the album. The B-side of “America” and running for 10 minutes, “My Rajneesh” is an endlessly inventive meditation on spirituality encapsulating his odd artistry. The extended fadeout is a bit anticlimactic, but the high points are glorious.
2. “Someday” – Kygo, with Zac Brown
And Kygo once more returns to the list, having scored #4 for the 2017 list and #3 for the 2018 list. (I guess he keeps going up.) While many artists held live remote concerts during the lockdowns, Kygo’s Golden Hour festival was a highlight of them all. With my dad’s passing still in my mind, “Someday”’s hopeful themes of missing someone just spoke to me, and the combination of country and tropical house is a perfectly catchy combination to boot. Special mention to “Lose Somebody” and “Broken Glass.”
1. “Before We Drift Away” – Nothing But Thieves
Honestly, I was really torn on which song would snag the top spot, since any of the top 5 could have won that honor. But when listening to all of them in sequence, the building momentum of this one became self-evident. Starting dreamy and peaceful, the mounting strings and drums erupting into the chorus take it to another level of sublime pop rock. “Before We Drift Away” wasn’t even a single, but I love it dearly, and it kills me that Nothing But Thieves is still largely unknown in the U.S. Special mention for “Moral Panic” and “Is Everybody Going Crazy?”
And that concludes yet another yearly song countdown. Better late than never, right? What did you think of my list? Let me know whether you agree with my musical tastes or think I’ve been locked down for too long, and be sure to share your own favorites from 2020 as well. It may have been a crappy year, but at least there was great music to help us all through. As always, below is my long list of runners-up, continuing the countdown in order (#13, #14, etc.), so hopefully you’ll find some new favorites among my list as well.
“Medicine Man” and the rest of the Lush Life album – The Orion Experience
“Thank You”, “Phoenix”, and “Symphony” – Sheppard
“The Gate” and “The Door” – Caroline Polachek
“Say Something” and “Magic” – Kylie Minogue
“Bummerland” – AJR
“Crocodile Tears”, feat. Jens Hult and “Nights Like That”, feat. Georgia Ku – BUNT.
“Lost in Yesterday” and “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” – Tame Impala
“No Ordinary” – Labrinth
“Lost in Paradise” – ALI, feat. Aklo
“Night Crawling,” “Golden G String,” and “Plastic Hearts” – Miley Cyrus
Love Goes album and “The Lighthouse Keeper” – Sam Smith
“Physical,” “Break My Heart,” and “Levitating”, – Dua Lipa
“Think about Things” – Daði Freyr
“Changes” and “Modern Loneliness” – Lauv
“Bury Us” – The Naked and Famous
“In Your Eyes” – The Weeknd
“All Eyes on You”, “Forever Alone”, and “Godsent” – Smash Into Pieces
“La Vita Nuova” – Christine and the Queens, ft. Caroline Polachek
“Moonshine” and “Pluma” – Caravan Palace
“It’s All So Incredibly Loud” and “Heat Waves” – Glass Animals
“Zombie Prom” and “Oh My God” – Kaiser Chiefs
“Why Try” and “Nominated” – Ginger Root
“Papa” – Scott Helman
“Synthian” and “Gave Up on Us” – NINA
“Gold” and “Last Night on Earth” – Paloma Faith
“Le Coeur Holiday”, feat. Soprano, and “Belle D’Estate” – MIKA
“Box in My Head” and rest of The Symbol Remains album – Blue Oyster Cult
“In Your Eyes” – Robin Schulz, feat. Alida
“Husavik” – from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Everyone Changes” feat. Gabrielle Aplin, “Sometimes”, and “Wherever You Are” – Kodaline
“Head & Heart” – Joel Corry x MNEK
“And It Breaks My Heart” and “Who You Lovin” – LÉON
“Maybe I” – Seven Billion Dots
“Higher” – Bishop Briggs
“Chinatown” – Bleachers, ft. Bruce Springsteen
“Headphones”, “19,” and “Irony” – FAITH
“I’ll Get By” and “Born in California” – Avi Kaplan
“Comeback” – Carly Rae Jepson, ft. Bleachers
“Dancing in the Dark” – Frank Walker
“Rosenrot” – Faun
“All My Love” – Elderbrook
“Who I Am” and “Prover” – Milet
“Gravity” and “Acacia” – Bump of Chicken
“Heaven on My Mind” – Becky Hill & Sigala
“Blood Bonds” and “Paranoia” – Nathan Wagner
“Under the Sun” – Bakermat
“Sign” – Roosevelt
“Lucid” and “Paradisin’” – Rina Sawayama
“Losing My Mind”, “Roman Empire”, and “Can You Feel the Sun” – Missio
“Break Up Song” and “Happiness” – Little Mix
“幸せのシャナナ” – BRADIO
“Young and Restless” – SIAMES
“Many Roads” and “Need You,” feat. Madge – Chaos Chaos
“Light the Light” – RADWIMPS
“I Think There’s Something You Should Know” – The 1975
“Rescue Dog” – Train
“Sunburn”, “Animal”, “Can’t Wait”, and “Drunk” – The Living Tombstone
“Superlove” – Royal Republic
“I Don’t Know What We’re Talking About” – NSP
“The Movies” and “You Should Probably Just Hang Up” – Nightly
“Fools” – ufo ufo
“Keep Me Light” – Tall Heights
“Animal” and “Hate You” – Jim Yosef x RIELL
“Come Over” – Dagny
“Baby It’s You” and “Californian Soil” – London Grammar
“Riots” – Stuck in the Sound
“Someone Else’s Dream” – Absofacto
“Gimme a Minute” and “Stay Gold” – PVRIS
“Seventeen” – Deamn
“Scream Drive Faster” and “Best I Ever Had” – LAUREL
“Change” – Pale Waves
“Tell Me I’m Wrong” – Dwayne Ford, feat. Clara Sorace
“sustain++” – Mili
“homebody” and “hiccup” – Valley
“Wonder” and “Teach Me How To Love” – Shawn Mendes
“Cardigan” – Taylor Swift
“Off My Mind” – Hazel English
“I Saw Love” – Forest Blakk
“Pretty Please” – Jackson Wang and Galantis
“Let’s Love” – David Guetta & Sia
As with past music posts, I want to end my yearly music list with an overdue tribute to the many music artists we lost in 2020, including Neil Peart of Rush, Pop Smoke, David Roback of Mazzy Star, Barbara Martin of The Supremes, Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers, John Prine, Ryo Kawasaki, Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, Brian Howe of Bad Company, Little Richard, Steve Priest of Sweet, Bonnie Pointer of The Pointer Sisters, Vera Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Ennio Morricone, Regis Philbin, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, Malik B. of The Roots, Leon Fleisher, Trini Lopez, Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot, Ronald Bell of Kool & The Gang, Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep, Tommy DeVito of The Four Seasons, Helen Reddy, Johnny Nash, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Lewis of The Outfield, Alto Reed of Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, and Charley Pride. May they rest in peace, for they and their music will not be forgotten.
(For Day 10 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt suggested a “Junk Drawer Song,” but I decided on something different and went back to Day 7 to try the shadorma, a 26-syllable poem with a syllable count of 3, 5, 3, 3, 7, and 5.)
As I die, I hear the music Of living, Of loving, Of knowing what outlives me Will keep me alive. ________________________
MPA rating: Not Rated (G would work, maybe PG)
You know those musical biopics that have practically become their own genre by now? The kind where a young, naïve talent gets caught up in the thrill of success, is fooled by unscrupulous exploiters as their relationships and health deteriorate, and then ends up either reclaiming a piece of their former passion or else dying tragically? Think Coal Miner’s Daughter to Ray to Teen Spirit and beyond. Well, such films are hardly a new invention, since A Song to Remember used such a plot way back in 1945, earning itself seven Oscar nominations. This story of Polish pianist extraordinaire Fredric Chopin (Best Actor nominee Cornel Wilde) may play fast and loose with the actual history, but it’s still an elegant period piece that highlights the life and greatest works of a giant of classical music.
A child prodigy in both playing and composing, the film’s version of Chopin had his greatest advocate in his teacher Joseph Elsner, played by the endearingly gregarious Paul Muni, who is easily the best character, reminiscent of Thomas Mitchell’s Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life the next year. The pro-Poland patriotism of Chopin and Elsner comes into conflict with the high-minded George Sand, who convinces Chopin to focus on composing to the exclusion of all else. Sand’s characterization is one of the film’s larger changes to history, since she was an advocate for Poland as well, and Ayn Rand notably objected to her being painted as a villain. Still, I thought the treatment of the conflict was relatively balanced, certainly leaning toward Elsner being in the right overall, but Sand makes some good points along the way that are never really refuted. For any lover of classical music unfamiliar with it, A Song to Remember is an underrated classic waiting to be discovered, even if it follows story beats that have only gotten more familiar with repetition.
Best line: (George Sand) “Are you satisfied, monsieur? Do you know anything that could replace a life as great as his?” (Elsner) “Yes. The spirit that he leaves behind in a million hearts, madam.”
Wow, what a year it has been! I usually post my year-end song list in January, but between the passing of my dad and the coronavirus pandemic, things have been rather hectic. Perhaps it’s just the comparison with this year so far, but 2019 was largely a really good year, for me at least, and the music released was a big part of that. I was finally able to become a web developer and get a desk job, and that allowed me to listen to a whole slew of songs and artists I might never have stumbled upon otherwise. And naturally, I had to compile a Top Twelve list of my favorites.
In past years, there were certain artists I discovered that defined the year and became instant favorites (Florence and the Machine in 2016, Kygo in 2017, Aurora and Chvrches in 2018), but 2019 revealed artist after artist that I was thrilled to discover for the first time: Saint Motel, September, Kensington, Kaiser Chiefs, Sigala, The Naked and Famous, TWRP, Skyhill, Foxes, The Protomen, Sigma, Parade of Lights, and the list goes on. Fans of those artists may wonder what rock I’ve been under, but I’m certainly glad to join their ranks. While not all of these released new albums, there was still so much good music last year, and so little of it is actually on the radio. I can only shake my head over Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” getting the most attention.
As always, my list below is strictly my personal choices based on my personal tastes. There are plenty of other good songs out there for other tastes, so I wanted to recommend Chris’s list at Movies and Songs 365 as an alternate Top 10. I was particularly hard-pressed to pare down my honorable mentions, and in the end, I still ended up with over 60. Forgive me for the length, but it could have been longer, and they all deserve mention. And no doubt, I’ll likely discover some songs in the next year that slipped through the cracks and will make me wish I could include them here. I certainly wish I could have highlighted TWRP’s “Starlight Brigade” or Metric’s “Now or Never Now” on last year’s song list.
Without further ado, let the Top 12 countdown of 2019 songs commence!
“Tokyo” – White Lies
I agonized over what should be #12 for a long time, because there were at least eight songs that might as well have been a tie. In the end, with the assistance of my tie-breaking VC, I decided to go with the instant earworm of “Tokyo.” The chorus is one of those instantly-recognizable tunes that most bands wish they could conjure, and it’s an ethereal delight. Special mention also for their “Hurt My Heart.”
“Something Unreal” – The Script
In addition to discovering artists new to me, I also realized how much I had underrated bands I’d known for years. The Script’s new album made me recognize how good the Scottish band can be, and the melodic, pulsing beat of “Something Unreal” might be my favorite song of theirs. Special mention for “The Hurt Game,” “Same Time”, and “Hot Summer Nights.”
“It Only Gets Better” – WILD
I always like to highlight lesser-known bands with songs that deserve more attention, the kind that never see airplay and can only be found by those tooling around YouTube. WILD doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but boy, do they deserve one and so much more. “It Only Gets Better” is a joyous, indie, sing-along type of song that never gets old, guaranteed to raise the spirits of those lucky enough to stumble upon it.
“In Case You Don’t Live Forever” – Ben Platt
Not many songs can bring me close to tears, but this one did. Releasing his first solo album after the Tony-winning success of Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt delivered a haunting ballad expressing a child’s appreciation for a parent, which all too often is realized too late. With the loss of my dad fresh in my mind, this song strokes the deepest feelings of grief and love and is beautiful to boot. Special mention for “Bad Habit” and “Grow As We Go.”
“Timebomb” – Walk the Moon
And Walk the Moon returns to the year-end song list, last placing #2 back in 2017! Ever since “Shut Up and Dance,” they’ve been among my favorite bands, and this is a fine addition to the quartet’s stellar record of radio bangers. Special mention for “Eat Your Heart Out” and “If I Lose You.”
“Almost (Sweet Music)” – Hozier
It took a while, but I’ve come to appreciate Hozier’s distinct vocals and lyrical ingenuity. “Almost” or “Sweet Music” has such a lilting joy and a smooth mellifluence that it feels like a song that will be enjoyed for years to come. Special mention for “Dinner and Diatribes,” “Movement,” and “Would That I.”
“What Lies Ahead” – Kensington
The Dutch band Kensington was one of the best discoveries I made last year, and I was delighted when they then released new music for their brand new fan. Perhaps not as good as “Do I Ever” or “Slicer,” but “What Lies Ahead” is a great example of their special brand of catchy semi-hard rock that I’ve come to love. Special mention for “Bats” and “Uncharted.”
“Save Me” – Saint Motel
Of all the bands I was lucky enough to discover last year, I think Saint Motel is my favorite. Nearly every single song of theirs is consistently lovely, inventive, memorable, invigorating, haunting, or some combination of all five. To my mind, they’re like a modern-day version of The Beatles. And “Save Me” is a smooth, let-your-eyes-roll-back-in-your-head kind of song, with a strangely nostalgic aura. How did I not hear of them sooner?! Special mention for “Diane Mozart,” “Van Horn,” and “Old Soul.”
“Fireman and Dancer” – Royal Republic
Walk the Moon doesn’t corner the market on bangers; Royal Republic may be their steepest competition. This infectiously dance-worthy jam is a should-be hit with an unabashedly ‘80s aesthetic. How is this not all over the radio? Special mention for “Boomerang” and “Anna-Leigh.”
“Wild Roses” – Of Monsters and Men
Of Monsters and Men is another band that has only grown in my estimation the more I hear of them. The Icelandic group’s latest album is a bit more pop-ish than their usual folk style, but that’s hardly a bad thing when it produces songs like this. “Wild Roses” is an immersive earworm, at once soothing and energizing. Put simply, it makes my ears very happy. Special mention for “Wars” and “Alligator.”
“The Upside” – Lindsey Stirling
In addition to Walk the Moon, Lindsey Stirling has also graced a past list, snagging #4 back in 2016. Not to be confused with the Bryan Cranston/Kevin Hart movie of the same name last year, “The Upside” is Lindsey’s best song in years. With its exuberant lilting energy, it shows how rip-roaring a violin can be in the hands of the right person. Although she teamed with Elle King for vocals, I prefer the pure instrumental track for sheer audio euphoria. Special mention for “Darkside,” “Sleepwalking,” “Between Twilight,” and the whole Artemis album.
“Never Be the Same” – Tritonal, feat. Rosie Darling
When I heard “The Upside,” I was convinced it would be my #1 by the end of the year, but no, there can only be one. And this is the one! “Never Be the Same” isn’t your typical progressive house song. No, this is the culmination of progressive house at its best. With possibly the finest drop I’ve ever heard, this song fills me with a primal, head-banging rhapsody that makes me worry about dain bramage afterward. It is my favorite song of 2019. Special mention for “Little by Little,” “Bloom,” and “Shivohum.”
And those are my Top Twelve Songs of 2019! What did you think? Solid picks or totally off-base? Even with all the music I’ve found in the last year, I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there. Let me know your favorites in a comment and maybe I’ll find a new favorite too!
As promised above, I’ll now list my many, many runners-up, continuing the ranking in descending order (#13, #14, etc.), and if any of these are unfamiliar, I’d love for you to give them a listen. Songs and artists are only obscure until they get enough fans, and these deserve fans. 😊
“Don’t Throw Out My Legos” and “Karma” – AJR
“It’s Mine,” “Without You,” “Stronger,” and “Dying for You” – Mystery Skulls
“Chances”, “Sober”, and “Lies” – Ashton Love
“Back in My Body,” “Love You for a Long Time”, and “Fallingwater” – Maggie Rogers
“Nostalgic,” “Find Someone,” “Where You Are,” and “Problems” – Arizona
“Slide Away” – Miley Cyrus
“I Say No” – new song from Heathers musical
“Die Young” – Sheppard
“The River”, “The Seed”, and “Dance on the Moon” – Aurora
“Safe Place” – Pelago, feat. Maximus
“Golden Oldies,” “Lucky Shirt,” “Northern Holiday,” “Wait,” and the whole Duck album – Kaiser Chiefs
“Think About You” (feat. Valerie Broussard) and “Carry On” (feat. Rita Ora) – Kygo
“Lion” – Hearts & Colors
“Longshot” – Catfish and the Bottlemen
“Bismarck” and “Fields of Verdun” – Sabaton
“555” – Jimmy Eat World
“Orphans” and “Arabesque” – Coldplay
“Black Gold” – Editors
“Inferno” and “Nexus” – Hiroyuki Sawano (from the film Promare)
“Fences,” “Feels Like,” and “Home” – Vicetone
“Into the Unknown,” “Some Things Never Change,” and “Show Yourself” – Frozen II
“Wish You Well” – Sigala, Becky Hill
“I Get No Joy” – Jade Bird
“Free to Go” – Seeb, feat. Highasakite
“The Bones” – Maren Morris, with Hozier
“So Am I”, “Torn”, and “Freaking Me Out” – Ava Max
“Talk” – Two-Door Cinema Club
“So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,” “4ÆM,” and “Violence” – Grimes
“Love Me” – Felix Cartal & Lights
“In Degrees” – Foals
“The Best” and “California Halo Blue” – AWOLNATION
“Nomad” – Jeremy Renner
“Heavenly” – Cigarettes After Sex
“Heart upon My Sleeve” (feat. Imagine Dragons) and “Never Leave Me” (feat. Joe Janiak) – Avicii
“Paper Rings” and “Cornelia Street” – Taylor Swift
“Hidden Potential” – TWRP
“The Way I Feel” and “Love Too Much” – Keane
“You Mean the World to Me” and “Castles” – Freya Ridings
“Hurt People” – Gryffin, with Aloe Blacc
“Sad Forever” – Lauv
“Missed Connection” – The Head and the Heart
“Fight,” “Touch Your Body,” and “Mermaids” – Deamn
“LPs” – Jeffrey Lewis & the Voltage
“Walk Me Home” – P!nk
“One Day” – Sam Feldt and Yves V
“Mama” – Clean Bandit, feat. Ellie Goulding
“Dear Future Self (Hands Up)” – Fall Out Boy, feat. Wyclef Jean
“Globetrotter” – Ludvigsson
“Start Stoppin’” and “I Got You” – The O’Jays
“Stand Up” – Cynthia Erivo (from the film Harriet)
“Death Stranding” – Chvrches
“mother tongue” – Bring Me the Horizon
“Coming Home” – Adon, Nicolas Haelg, Sam Halabi
“Sucker” – Jonas Brothers
“Your Light” – The Big Moon
“Juice” – Lizzo
“Gloryhammer” – Gloryhammer
“Never Really Over” – Katy Perry
“Forgotten Kids” – Callum Pitt
“I Dare You” – The Regrettes
“Living in the Future”, “Forgot Your Name,” and “Tears in Her Eyes” – Mini Mansions
“Midas” – Skott
“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten
“Alive” – Dabin, feat. RUNN
“Dylan Thomas” by Better Oblivion Community Center
Despite everything going on with COVID-19, let’s hope 2020 will offer another year of great music!
And to end this musical extravaganza, like in past years, I wanted to provide a small tribute to all the musical artists lost in the last year, including Michel Legrand, Peter Tork of The Monkees, Andy Anderson of The Cure, Doug Sandom of The Who, Nipsey Hussle, Doris Day, Ian Gibbons of The Kinks, Jeff Fenholt, Eddie Money, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Naylor of The Crickets, Marie Fredriksson of Roxette, Kelly Fraser, Jack Sheldon, and so many others. Thank you for the music, and may you all rest in peace.
We all have a dream at some age
And wait for our turn on the stage.
Dreams shy and untrained
Will remain unattained,
But risk and result turn the page.
MPAA rating: PG-13
The Fanning sisters are quite the talented pair. Earlier this year, I was an advocate for Dakota Fanning’s Star Trek-themed Please Stand By, and I’ve been awaiting Elle Fanning’s musical drama Teen Spirit since I posted My Top Twelve 2018 Movies I Hope Are Good nearly two years ago. Teen Spirit is essentially Rocky but with a teenage girl and a singing competition. That’s the easiest way to describe it, yet it fills its familiar mold with catchy pop favorites and earnest performances and ends up being better than the sum of its parts.
Violet Valenski (Fanning) is a British girl of Polish descent whose bucolic life on the Isle of Wight offers her little future, but when the televised competition Teen Spirit comes to town looking for contestants, she finds her chance for success, with the help of washed-up former opera star Vlad (Zlatko Buric). Fanning’s performance is subdued, as if she expects nothing from the world, and joy and frustration are keenly felt when success or its opposite come her way. Her relationship with Vlad is an added source of heart as well, Vlad growing into a father figure and seeing her as a chance to contribute to someone else’s dreams, despite his flaws sabotaging his own. (She didn’t have much to do, but it was nice also to see Clara Rugaard, who was so good in this year’s I Am Mother.)
The best part and main draw for me, though, is the music, much of it performed by the talented Fanning herself, making me think it’s only a matter of time before she tries her hand at a solo album. The soundtrack is mostly pop staples, joined by some less widely known songs, including “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn, “Genesis” by Grimes, “Lights” by Ellie Goulding, and a stellar version of Sigrid’s “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” I can’t help but feel that Teen Spirit will serve as something of a time capsule film for the decade’s pop music, the way ‘80s films like Purple Rain and Footloose were.
As I said, there’s little in the plot that hasn’t been seen many times over, from the smile-worthy underdog story to the dangers of celebrity when Violet reaches her potential fifteen minutes of fame. Yet, despite an occasionally slow pace, it’s an example of a tried and true formula proving its feel-good value, and, while this particular film isn’t an awards magnet, it’s a sign that, between this and Please Stand By, it’s only a matter of time before one of the Fanning sisters ends up with an Oscar.
Here at last is another post I’ve been putting off for far too long, my annual Top Twelve of my favorite songs of the previous year. I’m always notoriously behind on catching up with movies, so a list of my top 2018 films will have to wait a bit, but songs are shorter and easier to rank (for me at least).
And boy, has 2018 been a banner year for music! And that’s despite songs that seem to indicate the end of good music as we know it, like “This Is America” or the dreadful rise of Cardi B. It was harder than usual paring down last year’s musical offerings to a mere twelve, so please forgive the excessive length of the Honorable Mentions. Honestly, most of the honorable mentions could have knocked off songs from my 2017 list if they’d had to compete, so I’d say 2018 easily outclassed its predecessor, though perhaps I’m just being exposed to more music lately.
Beyond specific songs, 2018 helped me to pin down exactly what my preferred kind of music is, which had always been rather vague and definitionless for me. It seems that it includes adjectives like “progressive,” “chill”, “tropical,” and “house”; as a fan of Kygo and Avicii, I suppose I should have known that, but it’s nice to have a label for it now. Don’t be discouraged, though, if those genres aren’t your cup of tea, since I think my list below has a fairly well-rounded mix of styles to appreciate.
On top of that, 2018 introduced me to artists that have become new instant favorites. Previous years have sort of been defined for me by one great discovery, an artist I listen to and love nearly every track of theirs (Florence and the Machine in 2016, Kygo in 2017), but 2018 had a record four! These favorites are Chvrches, Aurora, Tom Odell, and Rufus Du Sol, all of which blew me away with every song, and thankfully, they all put out new music this year. For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, do yourself a favor and check them out (perhaps in the list below), and for anyone who already loves them and is thinking “Boy, he’s late to the party,” at least I’ve finally come around to become a fellow fan. 2019 has already introduced me to other instant favorites like Sigma and Kensington, so I can’t wait to see what other discoveries await.
Do be aware that this list is entirely my personal preference, which could easily change based on my tastes and what songs I might stumble upon. (For instance, if I’d known of it, the awesome adrenaline shot that is Royal Republic’s “Getting Along” would have easily topped my list last year.) Also, I’m not including covers or rereleased songs, so my apologies to Morgxn’s “Home,” Lumidelic’s “Magic Garden,” and Bad Wolves’ version of “Zombie.” I’m aware too that this is only my personal slice of last year’s music; for a different top music list, check out Chris’s top 10 songs of 2018 at Movies and Songs 365. Lastly, if anyone has a personal favorite of their own, please share in the comments and widen my horizons further!
Thus and therefore, I present my Top Twelve Songs of 2018!
“Paradise” by George Ezra
This infectious pop tune was one of the first new songs I heard in 2018, and it’s still on this list a year later. I’ve been a bit overexposed to George Ezra, thanks to my workplace seemingly playing his entire discography on repeat, but, while “Shotgun” might have become more famous, “Paradise” is his irresistible best.
“Back Down” by Bob Moses (also “Don’t Hold Back”)
It took quite a few listens for me to fully appreciate “Back Down,” but now that I do, I can’t see why its inclusion on this list wasn’t an instant no-brainer. With vocals reminiscent of the Alan Parsons Project, it resides in a strange sweet spot between head-bopping catchiness and soothing coolness. This is the first song I’ve heard of theirs on the radio, so I hope it’s helping them reach a wider audience.
“Something Strange” by Vicetone, feat. Haley Reinhart
Oh, how I do love a heavy-handed piano! Reminiscent of Vicetone’s 2015 favorite “No Way Out,” “Something Strange” delivers an iconic piano riff that would be just as at home in an Avicii song, and it gets my head pumping every single time. Special mention also to Vicetone’s “Way Back” featuring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and “Walk Thru Fire” featuring Meron Ryan.
“Ride or Die” by The Knocks (feat. Foster the People)
It didn’t get nearly enough airplay on the radio, but “Ride or Die” is the essence of a summer hit IMO, easy to sing along to while cruising down the road. I’m still not entirely sure what the phrase “Ride or die” means, but it’s so cool that I don’t even care. (Plus, movie lovers will appreciate the music video.)
“Lucid Dream” by Owl City
Ethereal and dreamy in the best way, “Lucid Dream” is a return to the best of Owl City, conjuring imaginative mental images and a heavenly synth beat.
“Soul Train” by Just Loud, feat. Debbie Harry of Blondie (as well as “Electrified,” “Ghost,” and “Angels and Demons”)
Just Loud was yet another great discovery this year, and while it might be too soon with just one EP out, I’m tempted to label the Afro-wearing singer the new incarnation of Prince. “Electrified,” “Angels and Demons,” and “Ghost” are also solid tunes, but “Soul Train” has a uniquely funky and classic sound and jams like few rock songs have since the 1970s.
“Handyman” by AWOLNation
A subtly emotional anthem, “Handyman” was yet another early 2018 release with a memorable pensiveness that kept it popular on my playlist throughout the year. There’s something rich and satisfying about the lyrics, like “I’m not brittle; I’m just a riddle born of white, blue, and red,” but maybe that’s just the poet in me.
“Forgotten Love” by AURORA (and “Gentle Earthquakes”)
Here at last is the first member of the big four that became instant favorites this year, and despite this one coming in at #5, Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes may be my favorite of the four. Her ballads are unlike any other music I’ve heard, and “Forgotten Love” is a prime example of the primal beauty her voice can summon, complete with a bridge in a supposedly made-up language that sounds like an ancient lost tongue. I could listen to this and all her songs on repeat . . . and often have.
TIE: “Lost in My Mind” and “Underwater” by RÜFÜS DU SOL
And here’s another discovery of mine, the Australian alternative dance band RÜFÜS DU SOL, formerly known as Rufus. Whereas other times that I mention more than one song by the same artist, anything but the main song are secondary recommendations, but this one is an outright tie, because I just couldn’t decide between the pounding, hypnotic electronica of “Lost in My Mind” and the mesmerizing, swelling beat and chant of “Underwater.” Put simply, this is my kind of music.
“Remind Me to Forget” by Kygo (and “Happy Now”)
At this point, I love these songs so much that the top 5 might as well be one massive tie, but I must give Kygo his due, as the one artist to make last year’s list and this year’s. He’s quickly become my favorite DJ, and “Remind Me to Forget” is a brilliant contribution to the genre of break-up songs. The happily bouncy “Happy Now” is also practically an undeclared tie for this spot.
“Body Talks” by The Struts
There are some songs that feel like instant rock ‘n’ roll classics, and “Body Talks” deserves a place alongside the work of artists like Queen and Joan Jett. This is energetic modern rock at its finest and has led to many a head-banging jam session in my car. The version with Kesha is good too, but I think I prefer the one with just The Struts, likely because I heard it first.
“Miracle” by Chvrches (as well as “Heaven/Hell,” “Graves,” and “Get Out”)
Chvrches was the first band I stumbled upon this year that made me wonder “Why have I not heard of this group yet?” Their synthpop style quickly captured my ears, and “Miracle” was my introduction. I’ve repeatedly second-guessed whether it should be #1 or not, but when I’m actually listening to it, the doubt disappears. The forceful drop, the chorus of “whoas,” the metaphorical single-take video – everything comes together into a luminous earworm I was glad to discover.
Now that the main list is through, here is the list of Runners-Up, listed in descending order as if the list were continuing (#13, #14, #15, etc.), and yes, I know there are a lot of them. All I can say is that this list could have been much longer; I just couldn’t post a best songs list without giving these lesser favorites a plug. Many of these are vastly underappreciated, so check them out if you’re looking for a potential new favorite.
“High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco
“Just Got Paid” by Sigala, Ella Eyre, Meghan Trainor, feat. French Montana
“I’ll Be Gone” by Avicii, feat. Jocke Berg
“Lullaby” by Sigala, feat. Paloma Faith
“Something Human” by Muse
“Lash Out” by Alice Merton
“Gold Rush” and “Northern Lights” by Death Cab for Cutie
“Make Way” by Aloe Blacc
“It Might Get Dark” and “Sky Beaming” by White Denim
“She’s Kerosene” by The Interruptors
“If You Wanna Love Somebody” by Tom Odell
“High on Life” by Martin Garrix, feat. Bonn and “Burn Out” by Martin Garrix & Justin Mylo, feat. Dewain Whitmore
“Uh Huh” by Jade Bird
“The One” by Michael Christian & AMB (especially the Maratone Dub Remix)
“Celebration” by Lumidelic
“Quarter Past Midnight” by Bastille
“All Your Love” by Flight Facilities, featuring Dustin Tebbutt
“Electricity” by Silk City & Dua Lipa, featuring Diplo & Mark Ronson
“Promises” by Calvin Harris and Sam Smith
“Saturday Sun” by Vance Joy
“Open Doors” by Awolk
“One Thing Left to Try” by MGMT
“Shallow” and “Black Eyes” from the A Star Is Born soundtrack
“Get Up” by Shinedown
“Hunger” and “Sky Full of Song” by Florence and the Machine
“Blackout” by Frank Turner
“IJskoud” and “Diamant” by Nielson
“Guiding Light” by Mumford and Sons
“Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne
“My Blood” by Twenty-One Pilots
“More Than I Am” by Mountain Heart
“POP/STARS” by K/DA
“Far Away Truths” by Albert Hammond, Jr.
“Without Me” by Halsey
“Ran Away” by Hollow Coves
“Somebody’s Daughter” by Tenille Townes
“Give a Little” by Maggie Rogers
“Rescue Me” by Thirty Seconds to Mars
“99” by Barns Courtney
“White Flag” by Bishop Briggs
“Missing U” by Robyn
“joy.” by for KING & COUNTRY
“I Know You Can Dance” by Chris James
“Your Side of the Bed” by Loote
“Right of Passage” and “Setting Sail” by Eastern Odyssey
“New Birth in New England” by Phosphorescent
“Last Lion of Albion” by Neko Case
“Bit Logic” by The Bottle Rockets
“Tangerines and Daffodils” by The Voodoo Children
“Apollo” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones
“A Trick of the Light” by Villagers
“Come Tomorrow” by Dave Matthews Band
“New Compassion” by Haerts
“The Somnambulist” by Echo and the Bunnymen
“In Betweenin’” by Austin Brown
“Girls” by AJ Mitchell
And as with the last two years, I wanted to end this post with a short tribute to the musical artists we lost in 2018, including Betty Willis, Ray Thomas, Dolores O’Riordan, Lari White, Leah LaBelle, Dennis Edwards, Johann Johannsson, Avicii, Bob Dorough, Yvonne Staples, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Aretha Franklin, Ed King, Charles Aznavour, Tony Joe White, Marty Balin, Hugh McDowell, and Roy Clark. All of them will be sadly missed, but may they live on in the music they shared with the world.
Here’s to finding even more great music in the year to come!
When tragedies have run their course,
Demanding pity and remorse,
It’s easy wondering if they
Could end up any other way,
The fruit of foolishness and force.
Yet tragedies are not complete
Without some happiness’ retreat.
Contentment grief could not erase,
However brief, once offered grace
To take the bitter with the sweet.
The stars will fall one mournful night,
But only once they shed their light.
Those basking in it aren’t aware
Of pain that stars refuse to share,
Yet when they shine, oh, what a sight!
MPAA rating: R (for very frequent language and brief nudity)
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to write or review much recently, not only because of Thanksgiving but because of the increasing demands of school. That will probably only get worse over the next two months (sorry!), but I wanted to make time for the latest version of A Star Is Born. Nearly two years ago, I did a Version Variations post comparing the three former incarnations of A Star Is Born– the 1937 original, the 1954 Judy Garland musical, and the 1976 Barbra Streisand musical – and I couldn’t help but notice the huge surge in views that post got when Bradley Cooper’s latest film hit theaters. Back then, I made a fleeting reference to another version in the works, and at last here it is, a heavy-hitting Oscar contender that deserves the same appraisal as its forerunners.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have been rightly lauded for this modern retelling of a decades-old story. It’s likely familiar to many: A big star discovers a budding talent, falls in love, and helps her own ascent to the top while crashing pitifully into drunken disgrace. In addition to producing and directing, Cooper plays Jackson Maine, the big name in country rock who is taken with an unknown singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) and whisks her into the limelight.
Cooper is almost unrecognizable next to previous roles like Silver Linings Playbook, bearded, singing admirably, and boasting a much deeper voice than usual, one that still doesn’t quite match that of Sam Elliott as his older brother/manager. By the time Ally reaches stardom, it’s easy to see why Cooper insisted on Lady Gaga’s casting, but she delivers more than just her distinctive voice, nailing the dramatic moments just as well as more established actresses. Stripped of her famously absurd costumes and style, it’s easier to see why she’s such a star, and it’s an interesting reversal that Ally balks at the prospect of being forced into changing her hair and adding background dancers, lest she lose herself in celebrity.
One of my coworkers wasn’t a fan of the characterization of the two leads, but I think most view the acting as close to beyond reproach, which is why Cooper and Gaga are both Oscar favorites at the moment, not unlike the main stars of the 1937 and 1954 versions. Likewise, the soundtrack is outstanding, with a blend of rockabilly and pop, headbangers and heartfelt elegies, that made me wonder which one might nab Best Original Song, since I could see most of them being worthy. (I will say that I think the 1976 film still has a more memorable soundtrack, but that might be due to my personal preferences.)
How then does this 2018 version compare with what came before? The story at its heart and conclusion is still the same, but this incarnation might have the least in common with its predecessors. The other versions (especially the 1954 one) had some scenes that were directly plucked from the one before, while the one constant that carries over into the latest version is the awards embarrassment, where Maine’s flaws are made painfully public at the Grammys. I suppose its rock ‘n’ roll context and final scene are closest in spirit to the 1976 Streisand version, but Cooper did a fine job at making this story his own.
That being said, it’s not above criticism. I personally think that the “meet-cute” between Jackson and Ally, which happens in a drag bar before they head out to a grocery store parking lot, is the weakest of the four. There’s clearly chemistry, but when Ally starts singing an impromptu song supposedly on the fly, I didn’t really buy it.
Luckily, the plot improves as it goes, putting some of the strongest scenes of any version in the second half. Jackson himself amid his addiction is especially portrayed well, particularly a heart-wrenching scene where he genuinely apologizes to Ally for embarrassing her. The 1976 version left me uncertain whether Kris Kristofferson’s character really loved Streisand’s, especially since it’s still the only version where he cheats on her; Cooper fixes that problem, painting Maine more clearly as a tragic failure of good intentions corrupted by substance abuse. The other versions were certainly sad, but Cooper’s truly embraces the story’s potential as a tearjerker.
As to be expected from an R-rated Oscar contender, the biggest problem I had with A Star Is Born is the nearly constant profanity. I know the F-word is getting more pervasive in today’s culture by the day, but when the script includes over a hundred of them, it just feels like a lazy placeholder word, ultimately without meaning. To be honest, it’s more annoying than offensive, especially when it’s hard to imagine how it could ever be cut enough to be shown on normal TV.
After much deliberation, I think I would rank this A Star Is Born second among the four, and not just because of the language complaint. The 1937 version remains the best in my opinion, thanks to its insightful script. (Plus, I love that Grandma Lettie!) Cooper’s version proves that there is still life in this story, especially when delivered with nuance and brilliant performances. It also disproves the law of diminishing returns with this tale being remade every few decades, making me wonder what the next remake thirty years from now might look like.
Best line: (Bobby, Jackson’s half-brother) “Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it. He loved how you see them.”
When it comes to specific artists, I tend to only do Top Twelve lists for my all-time favorites, such as Lindsey Stirling and Coldplay, and even without the sad news of Avicii’s death on April 20, he would have gotten a Top Twelve from me eventually. Due to his passing, though, now seems like the best time to honor this giant of EDM music. (That’s Electronic Dance Music, for the uninitiated.)
When celebrities die, it usually doesn’t hit me personally. It’s sad, and I have sympathy for those who are hit hard, but the grief that many showed over David Bowie or Chester Bennington wasn’t the same for me because I wasn’t a fan of theirs at the time. But in this case, I listen to Avicii’s songs on a daily basis so not since Robin Williams committed suicide has a celebrity death saddened my heart this much, and it’s even sadder that, after many health issues, Avicii reportedly took his own life as well, at only 28 years old no less. I’m not even the hard-partying type or one to go “clubbing,” but I know a jam when I hear it.
Avicii, or Tim Bergling, was a Swedish DJ and producer with a prolific discography of electronic hits. I’ve even turned my mom into an EDM fan thanks to his repertoire of electronic earworms. He had a talent for finding just the right combination of notes for a brilliantly catchy hook that gets the head bopping and that lives on in the memory. That’s where Avicii will live on through his music, and his talent will be sorely missed.
Apparently one of Avicii’s last tracks, “Heaven” has still not been released officially, but it shows his talent certainly wasn’t waning at the end. The lyrics “I think I just died and went to heaven” make me suspect that he knew what he was going to do long before his death.
11. “Waiting For Love”
Avicii has a wealth of great lyrics, but I especially love singing/listing the days of the week in this toe-tapping jam.
10. “We Write the Story” (collaboration with Benny and Bjorn of ABBA, with choir)
When I heard this, I thought it sounded like the theme for an Olympic ceremony, and close enough, it boasted a unique rock opera grandeur as the opening anthem for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest (which I hadn’t heard of till recently but is apparently a huge deal in Europe, having been televised for the last sixty-two years).
9. “I Could Be the One” (with Nicky Romero)
Sadly, the head-banging climax at the end isn’t nearly long enough.
8. “Without You” (featuring Sandro Cavazza)
This was #3 on my Top Twelve List of 2017 Songs, and it’s also special to Norwegian DJ Kygo (another favorite artist of mine), who played it recently at Coachella as a tribute to Avicii.
7. “Broken Arrows”
Between the inspirational music video, the endlessly catchy hook, and country-ish vocals from Zac Brown, this song should absolutely have earned more notice.
6. “The Days”
Sometimes Avicii’s songs end too soon, but with two verses and a climax, “The Days” feels like one of his most complete songs, at least to me.
5. “Lay Me Down”
Why the heck was this not all over the radio? Sung by Adam Lambert, it makes me want to find the nearest dance floor.
4. “Hey Brother”
I think I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the genre mix called “folktronica,” and “Hey Brother” is an outstanding example. In 2014, it was Avicii’s last song to place in the U.S. Top 40 charts.
“Levels” is where Avicii and EDM as a whole started to earn some real notice outside their niche. Sampling “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James (which has been sampled elsewhere as well), “Levels” boasts one of Avicii’s most recognizable riffs and my favorite video of his and is often ranked as his best work (and my mom’s favorite too). Except for “Sunshine” with David Guetta, it’s also his only song to warrant a Grammy nomination, which doesn’t say much for the Grammies if they can’t award a song and artist who clearly deserved more.
2. “Wake Me Up” (with Aloe Blacc)
Not too long ago, this folktronica hit would have been an effortless #1, but it’s been barely edged out, maybe because I’ve heard it so darn much. This is easily Avicii’s most played song on the radio and placed #1 on my Top Twelve List of Head-Banging Songs.
1. “The Nights”
The more I hear “The Nights,” the more I love it! Written with and sung by Nicholas Furlong, it’s more progressive house mixed with folktronica and just a little bit of a Celtic lilt. The lyrics put it over the edge for me and carry even more emotional weight now that Avicii is gone. “One day, you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.” He did, and we’ll remember for him.
Runners-Up (from next to least favorite and not counting remixes):
“Fade into Darkness”
“For a Better Day”
“I’ll Be Gone” (still unreleased)
“Lonely Together” (featuring Rita Ora)
“You Make Me”
“Faster Than Light”
“Somewhere in Stockholm”
“Sunshine” (with David Guetta)
“Friend of Mine”
“Taste the Feeling” (with Conrad Sewell)
“You Be Love (with Billy Raffoul)
“Heart Upon My Sleeve”
“Stay with You” (with Mike Posner)
“Addicted to You”
“Dancing in My Head” (with Eric Turner)
Farewell, Avicii. May you rest in peace.
For the end, here’s one man’s brilliant remix of Avicii’s biggest songs, showing how he’s still inspiring his fans.
(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem based in sound, such as using a song lyric. So, thinking of this movie, I tried to incorporate a different song lyric, possibly altered, for each line or two and combine them together. It’s a little different, but hopefully it turned out okay.)
Am I part of the cure or am I part of the disease,
Or is that just how I feel? Am I wrong
For feeling so lonely, for feeling so blue?
It’s something to do.
All I know are sad songs.
There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back—
You said you loved me; you’re a liar.
There’s not much love to go around
Till I reach the highest ground.
We didn’t light the fire.
Some never pray, but tonight we’re on our knees;
Take my tears and that’s not nearly all.
There will be an answer, let it be;
One day, my father—he told me,
“A tiny rock can make a giant fall.”
(Songs used, in order: “Clocks” by Coldplay, “Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz, “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner (two lines), “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men, “Grenade” by Bruno Mars, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, “We Didn’t Light the Fire” by Billy Joel, “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve, “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, “Let it Be” by The Beatles, “The Nights” by Avicii, “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson)
MPAA rating: PG-13
I wanted to hope that the Pitch Perfect series might avoid the slump that often comes with a third installment in a franchise, but Pitch Perfect 3 is what I would call a slump, not a total disaster but a slump nonetheless. I was in the minority in actually enjoying Pitch Perfect 2 more than the original, simply because I found it funnier, but Pitch Perfect 3 is undoubtedly the weakest of the three, though still fitfully entertaining.
Things seemed to be looking up for the Barden Bellas at the end of the second movie, but in order to make another sequel, this third film saddles all of the now-graduated a cappella singers with dead-end jobs and unfulfilling lives, also jettisoning their boyfriends. That way, they eagerly reunite for a new tour/competition, this time entertaining troops in Europe with the USO and vocally sparring against bands with actual instruments for the opportunity to open for DJ Khaled (who is apparently a big deal, though I’d never heard of him before this). That plot sounds too simple of a cut-and-paste from its predecessors, so there’s also a kidnapping spy plot thrown in involving Fat Amy’s conniving father (John Lithgow).
I will say that my enjoyment of Pitch Perfect 2 helped me to bring a lot of good will to this follow-up, and it was nice to see all the Bellas together again for the last(?) time. The colorful personalities are much the same, from Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) boorish self-confidence (why was she so mean to Hailee Steinfeld?) to Lilly’s (Hana Mae Lee) soft-spoken weirdness, which gets an unexpected explanation/punchline near the end. Brittany Snow is still the prettiest of the Bellas (in my humble opinion), and Beca (Anna Kendrick) is still figuring out what she really wants out of the music industry. In fact, one Bella’s absence from the tour (sex-obsessed Stacy, played by Alexis Knapp) due to her pregnancy is a sign that they’re all getting older and indeed need to find their place in the world.
Aside from the characters, though, the plot is a bit of a mess, with the competition losing much of its weight by the end and Lithgow’s needless villain helming an over-the-top subplot that does feel like the franchise jumping the shark. As evidenced by the strained presence of Elizabeth Banks’ and John Michael Higgins’ aca-commentators, the jokes are also not as funny as in the other films, and the musical moments less memorable. Still, the ending felt like a fitting one for the series, even using one of my and my VC’s favorite songs (George Michael’s “Freedom”). It’s still amusing and I still liked Pitch Perfect 3, but unless they really bring new life to another reunion, I do hope it’s the last one.
Best line: (Calamity, introducing the members of the band Evermoist) “I’m Calamity. This is Serenity, Veracity, and Charity.” (Fat Amy) “If I joined your group, I could be obesity.”