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The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

It’s Patrick Wolf who earns our pick for Album of the Year for following two impressive records with one that’s even more extraordinary.

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The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

When it rains, it pours. Rihanna’s third album in just over two years spawned her biggest hit to date, the ubiquitous “Umbrella,” a track that eschews the typically materialistic tone of so many of today’s popular hits and which was our indisputable pick for Single of the Year in a very strong year—so strong, in fact, that we’ve included 50. The year may not have been quite the hip-hop wasteland that 2006 was, but the genre’s biggest commercial successes were still, by and large, artistic dead-ends; a handful of late-year releases, including albums from Jay-Z and Ghostface Killah, partly made up for the likes of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Ayo Technology,” but it’s Aesop Rock’s much lower profile None Shall Pass that stands as the year’s most compelling hip-hop record. Over in the country world, we think Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is simply the finest album that Music Row has produced so far this decade, both a triumph of genre form and an example of how awareness of self and craft can be used to earn the label of “artist.” It’s Patrick Wolf, however, who earns our pick for Album of the Year for following two impressive records with one that’s even more extraordinary. Of all this year’s revelations, though, the biggest was that Hilary Duff is capable of recording a halfway decent album—but no, it didn’t make our list. Nor did Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, or Colbie Caillat, three artists who owe their success almost entirely to that little pedophile playland Tom calls MySpace, which has officially joined iTunes in becoming a bona fide hit-maker. Sal Cinquemani

ALBUMS


The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

1. Patrick Wolf, The Magic Position

As David Bowie, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos taught us, genius often comes wrapped up in a little indulgent kook. Those and other artists also taught us that evolving is essential to personal, professional, and creative survival, and The Magic Position is a decisive move away from both the avant-garde indie-rock of Patrick Wolf’s debut and the slightly more accessible but still dour Wind in the Wires. The first words on the album, “It’s wonderful what a smile can hide,” might sound cynical, but Wolf goes on to ask “Don’t you think it’s time?” with all the wide-eyed optimism of someone ready to embark on life for the very first time. Right down to its cover art and title, The Magic Position is a blistering, unabashedly gay pop record. Sal Cinquemani


2. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

From the economy of her language and her willingness to toy with rhyme and meter to emphasize a point to her use of first-person details in spinning fictions that blur the line between private life and public persona, Miranda Lambert just gets it. And it’s in that regard that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend positions her as an ascendant genre legend. The depth at which her carefully, purposefully constructed package are inseparable from the content of her songs draws legitimate parallels to the likes of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, even when the album suggests that Lambert has yet to hit her peak. Jonathan Keefe


3. The Pierces, Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge

The mythology concocted for the Pierces—a tale of kidnappings, gypsy dance troupes, narrow escapes, business suit-clad villains, and a knight in shining armor—would make for a fancy Tim Burton movie. Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge is the sound of a pair of sisters who have been exposed to a wide spectrum of musical styles and cultures—gypsy music, if you will. From pulsing new wave/disco to subtle country twang, it’s a sound that fits perfectly within the booming indie template of 2007. Cinquemani


4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

She looks like Polly Jean Harvey and sounds like Shirley Bassey, and her repertoire is comprised of songs like “Fuck Me Pumps” and “Rehab.” So it’s only fitting that Amy Winehouse’s rowdy public behavior would cause about as much of a stir in the tabloids as her music has among tastemakers. Back to Black evokes Stax artists like Carla Thomas, but Wino isn’t just a crafty revisionist; her edgy language and double entendres give her retro shtick a modern twist. Cinquemani


5. St. Vincent, Marry Me

St. Vincent’s Marry Me includes songs influenced by an Extraordinary Machine-like array of traditional genres, but it’s Annie Clark’s timely lyrical ideas—about war and revolution, love, fear, and faith—that linger long after the disc has ended, and her understanding of philosophy is just as well-versed as her musical prowess. Clark takes the bibilical and literary parables that have been long engrained in our culture and regards them through her unique and distinctly modern perspective. Marry Me isn’t quite a religious experience, but it’s unequivocally divine. Cinquemani


6. John Vanderslice, Emerald City

It’s the way John Vanderslice subsumes narrative voice into a structural framework characterized by its neuroses and self-isolation that puts his work somewhat at odds with so many singer-songwriters who mine well-worn confessional tropes and gives his songwriting a kind of critical fecundity that’s exceedingly rare and fascinating. But it’s the fact that he’s scaled back his ever-meticulous production and transferred his narrators’ twitchy, nervous energy into arrangements that actually rock out a little that makes Emerald City perhaps his most accessible work, even as his songs demand and reward heavier lifting. Keefe


7. PJ Harvey, White Chalk

And I quote: “In the context of PJ Harvey’s older material, the new songs [don’t] seem monotonous or academic at all. Quite the opposite, in fact: They’re meditative and precise, like something from an antique music box, but also primal and instinctive.” I think we can all agree that context is crucial with Harvey, but it’s no real surprise that White Chalk’s stark minimalist arrangements make for divisive work, even if it fits comfortably within her aesthetic of blues formalism. Keefe


8. Kristin Hersh, Learn to Sing Like a Star

Kristin Hersh has always been public about her struggle with mental illness, and her music—her starkly personal solo work, in particular—captures the often mad angst of adolescence. As a full-fledged adult, Hersh continues to forage her “fundamentally off” brain for poetic content on her seventh album, Learn to Sing Like a Star, which falls somewhere in between her typically spare acoustic solo outings and her harder-edged work with Throwing Muses. It’s her most coherent, consistently listenable record since Hips and Makers. Cinquemani


9. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

There’s just something about Animal Collective that’s off-putting at album length even when they’re making their most ingratiating indie-pop. But Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox), everyone’s favorite endangered species and Animal Collectivist, masters problems of scope on the sprawling Person Pitch, his second solo effort. The album’s de facto mission statement comes early, when Lennox sings, “Try to remember always/Always to have a good time” on standout single “Comfy in Nautica,” and the rest of Person Pitch goes out of its way to make sure everyone does just that. Keefe


10. Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold

For decades, male singer-songwriters have hidden behind ominous names and seemingly for-hire collectives. Now it seems the ladies, such as former nursery school teacher Natasha Khan (a.k.a. Bat for Lashes), are starting to follow suit. Fur and Gold brings to mind a litany of female artists who needn’t all be listed here because, despite the myriad similarities, there’s a sense of novelty to Khan’s voice and songs. In other words, the matter of who came first in our silly linear world seems trivial once you get swept away into the Pakistan-born singer’s fairy-tale milieu. Cinquemani


11. Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass

On None Shall Pass, Aesop Rock seems to regard the long-standing criticisms of his impenetrable lyrics as some kind of dare. He foregrounds his remarkable gifts for twisting language into lines that impress far more for their sophisticated composition than for their content, which includes an especially memorable plea to reinstate Pluto’s status as a planet. There’s actual substance to unpack in the album, but Aesop’s indomitable presence on record and his knotty co-production with Blockhead and El-P make what he says incidental to how he says it. Keefe


12. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

Following up what is considered in some circles to be the best album of the decade with an album that is considered in perhaps one or two fewer circles to be the best album of the decade is a rare accomplishment. Conventional wisdom dictates that the bottom has to fall out sometime, but conventional wisdom usually doesn’t have to contend with bands like Arcade Fire or albums like Neon Bible, for which, really, the most serious concern is that it lacks the grand thematic coherence and self-mythology of a debut that’s damn near structurally perfect. But the perfect is the enemy of the good. Keefe


13. Patty Griffin, Children Running Through

Though he only applied it to the gorgeous, soaring lead single, “Heavenly Day,” AllMusic critic Thom Jurek has provided the most apt description of Patty Griffin’s Children Running Through in the phrase “secular gospel,” which captures the soulfulness that has always come through in Griffin’s work even when she struggled against more conventional genre styles and reflects the fact that she has finally settled into a unique sound that’s perfectly attuned to what’s most striking about both her songwriting and her singing. Keefe


14. Alicia Keys, As I Am

Yes, Alicia Keys’s songwriting talent is a bit overstated and her piano playing is often used as a gratuitous crutch, but the goodwill and enthusiasm that has propped Keys up since the day Clive Davis unveiled her in front of an audience of tastemakers like a new monument has inspired and sustained a self-confidence that Simon Cowell might interpret as “the X Factor.” With As I Am, Keys has been able to harness all of those early endorsements (and the continued acclaim) and push herself to continued excellence rather than crumble under the weight of expectation. Cinquemani


15. Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

It hardly seems like an accident that Josh Ritter affects a slurred cadence reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s distinctive warble on two of the standout tracks on The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. In many ways, the album plays out as a far more effective and far less deliberately post-modern survey of the multiple phases of Dylan’s career than does Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There or its accompanying soundtrack. Moreover, the album’s use of to-the-minute trends in rock production and arrangements on what would otherwise be an album of exceptionally well-written folk songs brings Dylan’s trademark style and sound into a modern context. In doing so, Ritter has made what is arguably a better record than any that Dylan has released this decade. Keefe


16. Tracey Thorn, Out of the Woods

For a woman who released her first album a whole quarter of a century ago, Tracey Thorn sure sounds attuned to teen angst on Out of the Woods. Fans hoping for a reprisal of the popular house remix of Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” may be disappointed, but just as Thorn authentically portrays the voice of more than one generation, Out of the Woods likewise manages to seamlessly transition between understated chamber-pop and more hip, club-friendly fare. Cinquemani


17. Dale Watson, From the Cradle to the Grave

Prior to the release of From the Cradle to the Grave, Dale Watson sparked a minor controversy by saying that he no longer wanted to be classified as “country” because of the way the label has been bastardized by the pop singers in cowboy hats who currently make up the mainstream, and listening to the album, there’s no way that anyone could hear it and believe that it’s in any way, shape, or form removed from the sound and the content that truly define country music. Plenty of B-list hacks in Nashville invoke the name of Johnny Cash, but Watson’s record invokes the spirit of his music. Keefe


18. Madeline, The Blow Bang

It’s a testament to both the intimacy of The Slow Bang and Madeline’s dedication to her work and fans that when a good friend of Slant jokingly asked the Athens, Georgia native if she would grace him and his friends with a private performance on his back porch, she replied by requesting only that a tip jar be passed around. Cinquemani


19. Kate Havnevik, Melankton

If Kate Havnevik’s Melankton sounds like music by Imogen Heap, Björk, Múm, or any number of Euro electronic-pop acts like Rökysopp, Frou Frou, and Mandalay, there’s a reason. For one, the Norwegian singer-songwriter is credited with vocals and “creative input” on Rökysopp’s last album. And Melankton was co-produced by Guy Sigsworth, who has not only worked with Björk and Mandalay, but is, along with Imogen Heap, one-half of Frou Frou. If that isn’t enough sloppy seconds for ya, one song was co-written by Valgeir Sigurosson, who engineered Múm’s Finally We Are No More. Havnevik threw in everything but the kitchen sink, but the results are surprisingly singular and seamless. Cinquemani


20. Jay-Z, American Gangster

Infinitely better on both an escapist and a substantive level than the film that inspired it, Jay-Z’s American Gangster is, like so many of 2007’s best albums, one that trades in self-mythologizing and the way the most compelling artists manipulate their public persona to the benefit of their work. The album finds H.O.V.A. reverting to what made him famous in the first place: rapping about the glory and the destruction that accompany the drug trade. But the twist that makes the album so slippery and subversive is that it brings in a post-modern remove, never making it clear when Jay-Z is drawing from first-person experience, inventing an entirely new fiction, or playing the role of the film’s Frank Lucas. Keefe


21. Britney Spears, Blackout

Britney Spears’s Blackout is so expertly constructed, you might forget what Chris Crocker was publicly weeping about. It’s impossible to listen to the album and think anything could possibly be wrong in Britney’s starry world. “No wonder there’s panic in the industry. I mean, please,” she sneers on the single “Piece of Me.” Is that a sly comment on our misplaced gaze? Either way, here’s hoping Britney won’t completely outsource her social commentary next time…assuming there is a next time. Cinquemani


22. Sally Shapiro, Disco Romance

I admit that my initial reaction to Sally Shapiro’s Disco Romance was largely influenced by the early gushing reception it received from the indie elite; it was a virtual coming out party complete with streamers, balloons, and ice cream cake, and it all gave me one big stomachache. I also admit that the sheer volume of plays I’ve given Disco Romance runs completely counter to my criticism of it. There’s a simple innocence to the songs and a bona fide period quality to the production that supercedes Shapiro’s anonymous personality and flat delivery. The garish cover art of the import, which added to the album’s retro authenticity, has been replaced on the U.S. edition with a spectacularly evocative one in which the frost on Shapiro’s brow is made of tiny stars. The new version also adds three lackluster tracks, including the ABBA-esque “Jackie Jackie (Spend This Winter with Me),” but I remain repentant and fond nonetheless. Cinquemani


23. Bettye LaVette, The Scene of the Crime

It’s a testament to her otherworldly gifts that Bettye LaVette manages to wholly overshadow Drive-By Truckers, a group that has been hailed as America’s best current rock n’ roll band, on her album The Scene of the Crime. LaVette gives a master class in true interpretive singing, taking full ownership of songs by the likes of Willie Nelson and Elton John and making it clear that she richly deserves her late-career renaissance and that she’s waited a lifetime to make her remarkable voice heard. Keefe


24. Carina Round, Slow Motion Addict

The key word for Carina Round’s long-delayed Slow Motion Addict is BIG: big reverb-y guitars, big bellowing vocals, big production values, big everything. Big isn’t always better, but in the end, it works for Round. She achieves a kernel of accessibility that’s necessary to survive on a label like Interscope without surrendering the tics that make her tick. It’s unclear whether or not the album succeeds in spite of pop producer Glen Ballard’s presence, but it’s unlikely that even the late Arif Mardin could have dulled Round’s edges. Cinquemani


25. Junior Senior, Hey Hey My My Yo Yo

It would’ve made my Top 10 back when I first heard it in 2005, but this year’s competition is tougher, so Junior Senior’s Hey Hey My My Yo Yo doesn’t rank quite as high. The album has lost none of its punch in the two years since its initial release, and any album that tells a sasquatch to get down and has the beats to make him actually want to while deftly avoiding camp affectations is doing something right. Keefe


SINGLES


The Best Albums & Singles of 2007

1. Rihanna, “Umbrella”

Rihanna’s weirdly Alanis-esque four-syllabic take on the titular metaphor of “Umbrella” is the phonetic gift that keeps on giving. (Of course, the song isn’t bad either, considering how successfully it migrated over to the dippy acoustic rock-ballad idiom courtesy of Mandy Moore.) Someday, grammatical sea changes like this wet ear candy will render thesauri obsolete. Eric Henderson


2. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”

Amy Winehouse’s brilliant, sassy ode to bad behavior, “Rehab,” is the best neo-soul track ever, with a Funk Brothers-esque arrangement that’s equal parts slither and bounce. That the lyrics are autobiographical is beside the point; Amy could sing out of the phonebook and make it sexy. Jimmy Newlin


3. Arcade Fire, “Keep the Car Running”

Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running” is all about escape, but it allows the listener to fill in the “…from what?” Keefe


4. Au Revoir Simone, “Sad Song”

Three cute girls with synthesizers find the missing link between Bow Wow Wow and Stereolab. Au Revoir Simone’s “Sad Song” is an addictive, adorable piece of dream-pop that’s the perfect soundtrack for late-night Ben and Jerry’s binges. Newlin


5. Kerri Chandler & Monique Bingham, “In the Morning”

Kerri Chandler and Monique Bingham’s “In the Morning” is Chandler’s—and, hence, house music’s—most expansive, expressive epic since “Rain.” If the sensual bass moans and solid piano anchor don’t set your panties aquiver, Kerri’s immortal hook, “I’m soooo fucking into you,” will unlock the floodgates. Henderson


6. M.I.A., “Jimmy”

The swirling Bollywood strings and the insistent disco backbeat cast “Jimmy” as a fever dream of a love song, so delirious that M.I.A. makes “Take me on a genocide tour/Take me on a trip to Darfur” sound positively romantic. Keefe


7. Ciara, “Like a Boy”

With synthesized strings lifted from Vivaldi and a chorus that glides as slickly as a boy sneaking under his girlfriend’s bedcovers at dawn, Ciara’s role-reversing “Like a Boy” might be the sexiest revenge fantasy ever. Cinquemani


8. !!!, “Heart of Hearts”

While James Murphy hides his hips safely behind at least three layers of irony, !!! may as well be standing naked with their collective cock out. “Heart of Hearts,” to be quick about it, will have your own heart beating in your ass. Henderson


9. Bright Eyes, “Four Winds”

Bright Eyes’s “Four Winds” belongs to violinist Anton Patzner, whose fiddling literally beats the band. No small feat, considering this jam rocks out like an apocalyptic hoe down. Newlin


10. Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around Comes Around”

“What Goes Around…Comes Around” is as polyphonically complex as anything that’s ever been played on pop radio. With both Tims reaching critical mass in terms of exposure (right around the time of Timbaland’s first gratuitous vocal interjection and Justin Timberlake’s “cheated/bleeded” couplet), it’s unlikely that they’ll ever have the license for this kind of excess again. Keefe


11. Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black”

“Kept his dick wet with his same old safe bet,” sings Amy Winehouse of her spoken-for lover, though a later verse hints that his commitment might be to cocaine, not another woman. “Back to Black” is not only the singer’s finest moment but producer Mark Ronson’s as well. Cinquemani


12. Randy Newman, “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country”

“A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” is Randy Newman’s first satirical song in years, and it’s as full of piss and vinegar as the Bush administration is full of shit. Newlin


13. Amp Fiddler, “Ridin’”

The bass-heavy groove of Amp Fiddler’s “Ridin’” is velvety smooth, but the refrain “I said your ex shouldn’t be your best friend. She said that he could, I was trippin’” seeps fermenting paranoia. Henderson


14. Robyn, “With Every Heartbeat”

When the beat of “With Every Heartbeat” drops out, the lush strings flourish and Robyn sings, “And it hurts with ev-ery heart-beat,” and you can feel your chest tighten as the thump is brought back to life. Cinquemani


15. Kelly Willis, “Teddy Boys”

It never made much sense to call Kelly Willis the queen of “alternative” country. That is, until she busted out the moog synth over some killer rockabilly electric guitar riffs on “Teddy Boys,” a cover of a song written by a man who once asked, “Who’s got the crack?” Keefe


16. Alicia Keys, “No One”

Alicia Keys embellishes “No One” with a Jupiter synth a la Stevie Wonder, an everything-is-gonna-be-all-right vibe lifted from “No Woman, No Cry,” and an intentionally strained vocal that possesses the timbre of a harder-edged Sade. Plagiarism never sounded so good. Cinquemani


17. Franz Ferdinand, “All My Friends”

Franz Ferdinand’s take on one of the best-written songs in recent memory exposes the ghost in the shell. There’s a sense of resignation running throughout LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” but the archdukes sound like they’re still in the fight until they’re left to face the same outcome: middle age claims the stylish and the hip too. Keefe


18. Restless, “Soul And I Know It”

Unforced and pleasantly anonymous, Restless Soul’s spangled “And I Know It” is built from a tried and true recipe with few but significant deviations that reveal themselves almost by accident. Henderson


19. Superchunk, “Misfits and Mistakes”

Superchunk’s “Misfits and Mistakes” was released in conjunction with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie and the b-side even features Meatwad on vocals. Who knew the Adult Swim crowd could inject so much life into a once-great-but-presumed-kaput band? Newlin


20. Alanis Morissette, “My Humps”

First, Alanis Morissette’s “My Humps” asks whether or not someone with a shaky understanding of the word “ironic” should even consider attempting a novelty cover, and then it answers that question with a resounding yes. Keefe


21. Rilo Kiley, “The Moneymaker”

The outrage of the year, according to roughly 94 percent of Rilo Kiley’s fan base, and I loved every smart-stupid moment of it. “The Moneymaker” takes the cash, it cashes the check, it shows us what we want to see. Henderson


22. Britney Spears, “Gimme More”

Britney Spears’s “Gimme More” is the modern equivalent of this.


23. Beyoncé, “Get Me Bodied”

“Get Me Bodied” is a nice change of pace in that it drops the “romance as joint property litigation” theme that has characterized Beyoncé’s career. If only she’d instructed her legion of backup dancers to “throw a phone at the maid like Naomi Campbell.” Keefe


24. Modest Mouse, “Dashboard”

“Float On” was mighty catchy, but Modest Mouse’s weird, energetic, and harrowing “Dashboard” might be catchier—and it’s got lyrics about cutting off your eyelids. Can’t wait for the Kidz Bop version! Newlin


25. Patrick Wolf, “The Magic Position”

Patrick Wolf’s “The Magic Position” is a giddy, foot-stomping, hand-clapping pop nugget that falls in line with the ’60s pop revisionism that seems to be all the rage over on the other side of the puddle these days. Cinquemani


26. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Upgrade U”

The ostensibly unintentional piss take of six years of Destiny’s Child songs about bills, bills, bills, Beyoncé’s “Upgrade U” was nearly downgraded off this list after a ninth-hour HD commercial featuring the song that threatens to derail irony’s supposed comeback. Cinquemani


27. Ryan Adams, “Two”

A ballad that boasts Ryan Adams’s most beautiful vocals since Whiskeytown, “Two” is a slick weeper of the 1970s AM radio variety. The sad-sack, loner anthem of 2007. Newlin


28. Kathy Diamond, “Over”

The undulating midnight-hour opus “Over” confirms Kathy Diamond as the real deal. Sultry, old school moog fills dance around a “Love Hangover” chug until you have to assume Mr. Goodbar is looking for her. Henderson


29. Kelly Clarkson, “Sober”

Had Kelly Clarkson gone whole-hog and released the garage-pop “Hole” as the lead single from her much-maligned My December, she could have earned the continued respect of indie-rock critics. Instead, we got the lovely, tortured, and understated “Sober,” which, sans promotion from a label that—perhaps vindictively—opted to cut its losses, flopped like a drunk falling off the wagon. Cinquemani


30. Grinderman, “No Pussy Blues”

Grinderman’s “No Pussy Blues” is a truly unsettling song, with enough erratic percussion, shrieking feedback, and growled invective to make even the stronger willed of listeners want to hide under the covers. Newlin


31. Matthew Dear, “Don and Sherri”

The only thing that makes the atonal baritone of electronica sex symbol Matthew Dear even more menacing is when he swoops up for notes that sound like Falsetto of the Living Dead. Let’s call “Don and Sherri,” his fecund, albeit vaguely disquieting, take on glitch tech “haunted house.” EH


32. Jason Isbell, “Dress Blues”

Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” is a gut-check and a damning portrait of the human cost “somebody’s Hollywood war” has taken on the working class. Keefe


33. Kelly Rowland featuring Eve, “Like This”

“Ya’ll didn’t think that I could bump like this,” Kelly Rowland quips with a ghetto-Southern drawl on “Like This,” and until now, the former Destiny’s Child member gave us no reason to think she could deliver a track as hot and fresh as this. Cinquemani


34. Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, “Thou Shalt Always Kill”

Judging by the DIY video for Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s “Thou Shalt Always Kill” that is currently sitting at over one million hits on YouTube, apparently I’m not alone in celebrating the song’s expulsive if unfair rant against an endless litany of overrated rock groups. EH


35. Jennifer Lopez, “Hold It Don’t Drop It”

Jennifer Lopez’s “Hold It Don’t Drop It” soared to the top of the club charts thanks to a big, bottom-y bass sample from Tavares’s 1975 hit “It Only Takes a Minute” and a surprisingly agile vocal performance from La Lopez, making it the singer’s best single in years. Cinquemani


36. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Weapon of Choice”

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the band who once famously asked, “Whatever happened to rock n’ roll,” answer their own question with “Weapon of Choice.” Keefe


37. Dragonette, “I Get Around”

Dragonette’s “I Get Around” is the song that “Promiscuous” could’ve been if it were less preoccupied with foreplay and was actually about, y’know, fucking. Keefe


38. Against Me!, “Thrash Unreal”

Punk rock has become the new classic rock, but Against Me! ’s “Thrash Unreal,” a hybrid of Crass-style vitriol and Seger-esque boogie, proves you can’t keep a good rock n’ roll sub-genre down. Newlin


39. Klaxons, “Golden Skans”

The numlaut-rave label Klaxons came up with for themselves has led to quite a bit of nitpicking among critics and club kids alike, and anyone hearing “Golden Skans” as their first exposure to the duo would, quite rightly, bet against it looking good on the dance floor alongside Arctic Monkeys or Hard-Fi, let alone Daft Punk or Justice. Taking “Golden Skans” just as an example of soaring Super Furry Animals-style pop, though, works far better: Its wordless hook doesn’t need the pressure of leading a poorly thought-out movement. Keefe


40. LCD Soundsystem, “Someone Great”

All the raging against the maturing of the light conveyed in LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” is easily trumped by the ice-warm “Someone Great,” which acts surprised and relieved to feel fine. Henderson


41. Jay-Z, “Roc Boys”

Spiked with ’70s soul, “Roc Boys (And the Winner is)…” is Jay-Z at his best, brashly saluting himself with a series of stunning rhymes that verify every single ridiculous, hyperbolic claim. Newlin


42. Gwen Stefani, “The Sweet Escape”

It took me a combination of 70-degree night air, two pitchers of sangria, and well-deserved sleep deprivation to discover just how relaxing it is to drone along with the “woo-hoo, wee-hoo” hook of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape.” Henderson


43. Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”

Carrie Underwood displays more personality on “Before He Cheats” than she did in 12 weeks on American Idol, and with a name like Carrie, it’s fitting that the video would pay homage to Stephen King, turning the seemingly innocuous blonde into some kind of firestarter. If only that bright red pickup had pulled a Christine at the end. Cinquemani


44. The Go! Team, “Grip Like a Vice”

The Go! Team’s “Grip Like a Vice” calls to mind an unspeakably cool linking segment from Sesame Street’s golden age. Female empowerment was brought to you by the letter G. EH


45. Silverchair, “If You Keep Losing Sleep”

The falsetto vocals, militaristic drum line, multiple tempo shifts, and references to playing Twister render the “You’re gonna be bored” hook of Silverchair’s “If You Keep Losing Sleep,” which lacks any trace of the Nirvana-for-tweens Frogstomp, an empty threat. Keefe


46. The Fratellis, “Flathead”

“Flathead” is more infectious than a bed full of crabs at a pink hotel. And that’s a very good thing because it’s no use figuring out what the hell the (faux) brothers of Scottish trio The Fratellis are singing about. Steve Jobs oughta start a record label, because his iPod ads are doing it better than the majors these days. Cinquemani


47. The National, “Mistaken For Strangers”

Taken from The National’s excellent Boxer, the moody “Mistaken For Strangers” is driven by Bryan Devendorf’s relentless snare-work and vocalist Matt Berninger’s Nebraska-aping. If you like your Mellencamp spiked with a little Bauhaus, “Strangers” is your man. Newlin


48. Eve, “Tambourine”

Eve’s “Tambourine” is an inventive blend of retro and modern, mixing the Andrews Sisters vibe of Christina Aguilera’s not-quite-right “Candyman” with the hip beats of the ubiquitous Swizzy and a brainy (albeit de-politicized) sample of the Soul Searcher’s “Blow Your Whistle.” Cinquemani


49. Lil Mama, “Lip Gloss”

Teen social status defined by the cosmetics counter: “Lip Gloss” is no Heathers, but it’ll do for three-and-a-half minutes. If anything, the lack of subtext works in its favor, since Lil Mama sounds downright furious—she barks “What you know about me?” like she’s warming up for one of Maury Povich’s “My daughter is out of control” episodes—and it’s not like teenagers get so worked up over anything more substantive than this. Keefe


50. Kanye West, “Stronger”

Blond dykes aside, the most disappointing thing about Kanye West’s “Stronger,” which features a thumping dance beat and cribs heavily from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” is that it falsely forecasted an evolution in the rapper-producer’s sampling style from vintage soul to full-on robo-hip-hop electro. Cinquemani


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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

Picture

Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani


19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp


18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani


17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins


16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud


15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud


14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp


13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani


12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp


11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins


10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins


9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp


8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins


7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins


6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins


5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani


4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud


3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins


2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud


1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins


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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen
 

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen


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