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The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

At least everyone can agree that Britney Spears’s rediscovery of underwear is an encouraging trend that will, we hope, continue into 2007.

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The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

Call it a year without an angle, and blame Aaron Sorkin’s use of “cold open” in one of the last episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that anyone watched for a reminder that it’s better to open any kind of show with a statement that articulates a clear point of view and sets the tone for what’s to follow. But what “tone” did the music of 2006 set? The commercialization of independent music such that “indie” joined the laundry list of niche genres to enjoy fleeting popularity (ska, swing, Latin, bluegrass, nü-metal, and emo have all come and gone), the number of both indie and mainstream artists who tackled forms of country music to prove their authenticity, the shocking sudden dearth of commercial hip-hop and R&B worth a damn, the growth industries that both MySpace and YouTube represent as marketing tools, the Internet’s ongoing impact on the way people listen to and buy music making it a stronger year for singles than for albums; these were all important stories in 2006, but no one story dominated the year or fully accounts for the utter lack of critical consensus. Not that consensus represents some sort of ideal, but it’s worth mentioning that, for a year that many would label underwhelming, there’s an impressive volume of music being championed. Consider the lack of overlap below, or just the first batch of Top 10 lists posted at Metacritic, which cite 65 different albums. So no two people could agree on the relative merits of Joanna Newsom’s Ys or what was the best single from Nelly Furtado’s Loose…at least everyone can agree that Britney Spears’s rediscovery of underwear is an encouraging trend that will, we hope, continue into 2007. Jonathan Keefe


SAL CINQUEMANI


Albums



The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

1. Ane Brun, A Temporary Dive

I receive hundreds upon hundreds of CDs a year, but only once or twice does something reach out and grab me by the neck, effectively securing a spot on my year-end list months before I’m even aware of it. Such was the case with Scandinavian singer-songwriter Ane Brun’s sophomore disc A Temporary Dive. From the very first note out of Brun’s mouth—no, even before that, from the very first strum of her acoustic guitar on the opening song—I knew I was listening to something special. Brun doesn’t break down any barriers or forge any ground uncharted by the late-‘60s British folk artists whose footprints she so delicately presses her presumably petite feet into, but her songs are refreshing and pure, a throwback to traditional folk while at the same keeping one foot firmly planted in the no-longer-neo neo-folk movement.


2. Jóhann Jóhannsson, IBM 1403 – A User’s Manual

In the grand scheme of the universe, and even on the lifeline of music composing history, 1964 isn’t that long ago. In terms of computer technology, though, it’s virtually the beginning of time. And so, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s IBM 1403 – A User’s Manual—in which the Icelandic composer combines vintage musical fragments that were culled from one of the first digital data processing systems by his father in 1971, along with other, new Eno-esque electronic sounds and a 60-piece orchestra—gives you the sense of hearing something truly ancient being married to something very modern and present, and, then, something very futuristic. Some theorists claim humans can simulate anything with a computer, even a soul, and with IBM 1403, Jóhannsson comes chillingly close.


3. Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope

Not to discount the theatrical—dare I say artful—value of fashion shows, but as a music critic, it can be embarrassing when producers of such exhibitions have their ears closer to the ground than you. Regina Spektor is one of many artists I’ve been introduced to via trips to Fashion Week over the years; her brand of dramatic, string-laden baroque-pop (though she’s no relation to Phil Spector) is the perfect soundtrack for over-the-top couture. Spektor’s arrangements on Begin to Hope are inspired and ambitious and her melodies are classic yet startling original. There’s a fearless, uninhibited confidence to Spektor’s voice, not to mention a delightful whimsy to her music, that sets her apart from similar artists like Fiona Apple.


4. Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds

The best album I heard this year was Canadian singer-composer Owen Pallett a.k.a. Final Fantasy’s Has a Good Home. Unfortunately, it was released in 2005, so his Dungeon & Dragons-themed follow-up, He Poos Clouds, will have to suffice. Ranging from lush and intricate chamber-pop to more pizzicato, Phillip Glass-style arrangements, the album succeeds on multiple levels, not least of which is musically. Harpsichord is a beast Tori Amos already attempted to tackle in the pop realm, but Pallett doesn’t approach the instrument as something to be tamed or assimilated but something that belongs in its own world and time. Pallett’s voice is recorded and mixed like a wind instrument, always tucked away quietly in the background but often to the detriment of the thickly narrative, D&D reference-filled tales he tries to tell. I spoke with Pallett earlier this year and he brushed off my insinuation that the album is less accessible than his debut. Either way, it’s earned a spot on my list—albeit a few rungs down from where his debut would have placed.


5. Emily Haines, Knives Don’t Have Your Back

I’ve always thought “Figure 8” from Schoolhouse Rock was one of the saddest, most depressing songs ever written, and it would fit perfectly alongside the melancholic music on Emily Haines’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back, a collection of quiet, introspective piano ballads that are every bit as beautiful as the album’s packaging. Haines’s is a distinctly feminine—though not necessarily feminist—point of view, and she delivers bons mots like “Bros before hos is a rule/Read the guidelines” and “Don’t elaborate like that/You’ll frighten off the frat boys” throughout “The Maid Needs a Maid,” a double entendre-filled tune about desperate housewives, and “Mostly Waving,” respectively. There’s an inward, domestic tone to Knives—a record that could provide all-too-fitting accompaniment to a reading of The Bell Jar.


6. We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor

Don’t tell We Are Scientists that they’re fashionably late to the neo-post-punk dance revival. Judging by songs like “This Scene Is Dead,” in which “singing guitarist” Keith Murray implores, “I’m not going home until I’m done,” they already know. And we all know the drill: stuttering, propulsive beats; clipped guitar licks; cheeky, upper-crust accent; hooky lyrics about alcohol, sex, dancing, and sex-dancing. The band has been around since the Strokes started—err, revived—it all, but they didn’t score a major record deal until now, and like pretty much every indie-rock hipster in Williamsburg, they’re generally just waiting for something to happen while lamenting the things that did. None of this matters, of course, when Murray exudes eons more genuine emo on With Love and Squalor than Brandon Flowers.


7. Adem, Love and Other Planets

Love and Other Planets is a thing of beauty, a woozy concept album that begins with an imagined wake-up plea from extraterrestrials. It’s not a completely novel idea for a song, but it’s the way in which Adem takes those lessons learned and seamlessly connects them like the stars in a constellation (and the dots drawn on his arm by a lover in the song “Spirals”) throughout the 45 minutes that follow. There’s a palpable sadness, a sense of longing, even in Adem’s joy, which is perhaps what draws us into his drifting, celestial soundscapes (and toward love) in the first place.


8. Beyoncé, B’Day

Deserting Destiny’s Child was an inevitable move for Beyoncé, but her reason is fuzzy at best: going solo seemed to suggest an opportunity to explore new styles and delve deeper into more personal subject matter, but the aggressiveness of the largely uptempo B’Day is more reminiscent of her former group. In many ways, DC’s last studio record, Destiny Fulfilled, played more like a solo album—it was a textured, ballad-heavy collection of songs that veered away from the trademark garishness of the group’s sexual-materialism masquerading as female self-empowerment. Here, though, the bombast is present and accounted for. There’s something obscenely gluttonous and perversely over-the-top about the way Beyoncé bats out one club banger after another, her voice pushing the limits of the board levels on almost every track. Whereas Beyoncé’s debut was accomplished in its diversity, B’Day sounds like the album “Crazy In Love” initially forecasted.


9. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds

Judging by the skinny pants and grotesque expression he sports on his new album’s cover, it seemed like Justin Timberlake was prepared to get ugly for his art. And by ugly I mean in the same way his face contorted like someone with a neurological disorder while hitting the falsetto notes during his performance of “Señorita” on SNL a few years back. If I superficially enjoyed Timberlake’s music in the past, I found genuine respect for him as an artist after seeing that performance. It was in stark contrast to the pop-star posturing of his solo live debut on the VMAs a year earlier. Timbaland was moving in a similar direction, so it seemed like an inevitable progression for the two to produce something even warmer and more organic for FutureSex/LoveSounds. Instead, the pair has hit back with the complete opposite: songs that are cool, futuristic, and often synthetically brittle. But it makes sense: Now that Timberlake actually is a bona fide star, the music has to be slick and spit-polished enough to gleam from a thousand light years away.


10. Goldfrapp, Supernature

The dearth of electronic music on U.S. airwaves didn’t stop Goldfrapp from getting their music to the American masses. Following in the dance steps of artists like Moby, Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s tunes have been licensed to Diet Coke, Verizon, and Target, and were featured in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The Sopranos. A decadent romp into galloping nü-disco (you know, the kind with mirrorball-covered horses), Supernature didn’t pack quite as glitter-powdery a hit as 2003’s Black Cherry, but the duo added more overt shadings of glam-rock and new wave to their repertoire, not to mention a few more sparkling gems to their lapels.


Singles


The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

1. Rihanna, “SOS

The year’s best redo came in the form of Rihanna’s “SOS.” Deftly using Soft Cell’s 1982 hit “Tainted Love”—itself a revision of Diana Ross and the Supremes’s “Where Did Our Love Go”—as a bleepy backdrop and adding a full-bodied bottom to the original tinny mod-rock track, producer J.R. Rotem helped Rihanna resurrect dance music on U.S. radio, at least temporarily. The single leaves little time to breathe, as does its hyper-colored and sensory-overloaded music video, but it was, perhaps, too aggressive to get play at your local supermarket and stopped short of being ubiquitous—despite reaching #1.


2. Justin Timberlake, “My Love”

“My Love” features all of the elements we’ve come to expect from a collaboration by the two Tims: Timbaland’s signature thump, Justin Timberlake’s proud falsetto, dual beatboxing, operatic background vocals, and a guest spot from the rapper du jour. But not every dish can be as savory as “Cry Me a River.” Luckily, “My Love” has got a few secret ingredients that set it apart from the divisive “SexyBack.” Despite its colossal, futuristic synth swirls and a cartoonish, maniacal giggle that’s looped ad infinitum a la the crying baby from Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?,” “My Love” proves that scorn doesn’t have the monopoly on dark, haunting, and sexy. Thank you, Cameron Diaz.


3. Madonna, “Sorry”

More ABBA-esque than the ABBA-sampling “Hung Up,” the unapologetically Euro second single from last year’s Confessions on a Dance Floor should have scored Madonna another Top 10 hit, but U.S. radio stations apparently got confused when they realized Timbaland wasn’t involved. Madge is notorious for not being the apologetic type, so, if nothing else, “Sorry” gave Camille Paglia a chance to hear her say it in 10 different languages.


4. Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous”

It’s easy to forget your first impression of a song, particularly when that song becomes a monster hit like “Promiscuous.” What’s most impressive about Nelly Furtado’s big comeback at this vital, year-end critics-list juncture in its lifespan is that I don’t find it completely hateable.


5. Nick Lachey, “What’s Left of Me”

It’s as equally guilty-pleasurable to emerge yourself in Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me,” which the Passengerz elevated from AC schlock to Euro-dance schlock, as it once was to watch him roll his eyes on Newlyweds. Who would have thought that the seemingly has-been ex-husband of MTV’s golden girl would be the one to come out on top in 2006?


6. Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” follows the retro-meets-modern template of “Hey Ya!” to a T. But unlike OutKast’s ubiquitous smash, I haven’t yet grown nauseated by the mere thought of “Crazy.” After all, who could ever get sick of those silky cinematic strings, that hypnotic bassline bounce, or Cee-Lo’s soothing-as-warm-milk delivery?


7. The Killers, “When You Were Young”

Amid the mountain of musical and lyrical clichés that makes up the Killers’s flawed but compulsively listenable Sam’s Town came the best pop song lyric of the year, from “When You Were Young”: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus but he talks like a gentleman, like you imagined when you were young.”


8. Pink, “Stupid Girls”

Pink is always one raspy cliché away from completely dumbing her message away, but there’s enough bite in her growl to make her a more-than-worthy role model for young girls who, instead, try to emulate the porno-paparazzi girls she lambastes on “Stupid Girls,” the lead single from her underappreciated fourth disc I’m Not Dead. Leaving a K-Fed- (and panty-) free Britney to self-destruct all on her own, Pink took aim at the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Jessica Simpson on this catchy, if somewhat novelty-esque, hit.


9. Arctic Monkeys, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”

Arctic Monkeys’s “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is the crossover dance-punk tune that never was (it stalled out in the modern rock Top 10 and never cracked the pop chart), exploding out of the gate with a flurry of pounding garage drums and gritty electric guitar feedback and then settling into the first verse like it’s the early ‘80s: “Stop making the eyes at me/I’ll stop making the eyes at you.” Despite being a very “current” ode to “dirty dance floors and dreams of naughtiness,” lead monkey Alex Turner manages to squeeze in references to things that came before him: that centuries-old tale of star-crossed lovers…and doing the robot like it’s 1984.


10. Cassie, “Me & U”

While Janet Jackson failed to find her footing on the rocky (or, rather, hip-hoppy) surface of 2006, newcomer Cassie climbed straight past her with “Me & U,” a slinky, vintage-sounding track with a hypnotic, snake-charming whistle that garnered an endorsement from Janet herself. The simple video even evokes the impromptu solo dance rehearsal from “The Pleasure Principle.” Of course, it’s starting to look like Cassie doesn’t possess Janet’s career savvy or longevity, but it was fun for three-and-a-quarter minutes, right?


JONATHAN KEEFE


Albums



The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

1. Hank Williams III, Straight to Hell, and Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac [tie]

“Family” is tricky proposition for most everyone, but for the children of pop-culture icons, it’s a challenge that often plays out in the public sphere and is subjected to the kind of scrutiny and criticism that few would voluntarily endure. Who wants a legacy that’s been branded as “diminished returns” on anything or anyone? Unfortunately, most albums by second-generation artists looking to define their own legacies make for exercises in navel-gazing or hagiography, rather than legitimately good songs. So it’s all the more noteworthy, then, that 2006 offered two albums on which the progeny of certified legends renegotiate the terms of their relationships with their families. For Hank Williams III, that’s an act of rage against the way that the “family tradition” of his father—and especially his grandfather—have been bastardized by Nashville, and Straight to Hell stakes his first real claim as a serious, vital country artist who has a greater right to a little axe-grinding than anyone else on Music Row. For Rosanne Cash, that’s an act that spans the full emotional range of grief for the losses of her mother, step-mother, and father, and Black Cadillac reestablishes her status as one of the absolute finest singer-songwriters of any genre of popular music in the last quarter century. Hank III writes and performs songs that his grandfather would’ve written had he lived to hear the Sex Pistols, and, in doing so, firmly rebuts his father’s admonition that country music “doesn’t use the ’F’ word.” Cash invokes the symbols of the religion that was so important to her father, all the while regretting that she can’t turn to that religion herself for comfort at his death. Both albums honor their storied heritage, but they also reject specific elements of that heritage. In doing so, both Hank and Rosanne forge artistic identities that build upon their families’ legendary works rather than simply relying on them. Both remind why the label of “artist” is one that’s better when it’s earned, and Straight to Hell and Black Cadillac certainly stand as some of the year’s most compelling art.


3. The Knife, Silent Hout

What Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Andersson understand better than any goth-metal band is that the most effective “horror” occurs when elements that are recognizable as fundamentally human are distorted to such grotesque, unpredictable extremes that the result is both disturbing and perversely funny (see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria). The songs on Silent Shout are rife with menacing, violent imagery, but they’re also set to kitschy retro synth-pop, performed at a planetarium-style laser-light show by two reclusive siblings wearing crow masks, who only occasionally peek out from behind a scrim just long enough to dispel any rumors that they’re actually holographs. Taken separately, both the tone of sustained dread and the chilly theatricality might run the risk of veering into camp, but the Knife’s Silent Shout works precisely because those two pieces are inseparable. It’s like the set list for a Grand Guignol-themed party: you’ll go and dance, but make sure you know exactly where all of the exits are.


4. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

The calculus for TV on the Radio’s output thus far is troubling, charting an inverse relationship between the quality of the global political climate and the quality of the band’s music. Listening to Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes back in the halcyon days of 2003, it wasn’t hard to imagine TV on the Radio as the next Next Big Thing in rock, but who could’ve predicted the specific type of political clusterfuck that was 2006? Plenty of artists tackled big issues this year, many of them (the Thermals, Neil Young) doing so to great effect, but few were consistently as complex or as soulful as TV on the Radio, whose sound and message both find hope within frustration and direction within chaos on Return to Cookie Mountain.


5. Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse

The subject of the year’s most baffling line of criticism, A Blessing and a Curse was often labeled a step backward for America’s best rock n’ roll band because, unlike 2001’s Southern Rock Opera or 2004’s The Dirty South, it supposedly lacks a unifying concept to give its songs thematic heft—as though the title weren’t a dead giveaway. It may not be an explicitly stated homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd or a collection of Southern gothic archetypes in 4:4 time, but it’s an album of subtly observed songs that explore, in the finest of details and with the keenest self-awareness, how and why it’s both a blessing and a curse to live in the modern-day South and, moreover, simply to live at all. And, while the album trades that duality, it’s exclusively a blessing to hear a band as powerful as Drive-By Truckers at their latest peak.


6. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

So there’s “Crazy,” and then there’s the rest of Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. And with “Crazy,” it’s a rare case of a song that’s an instant modern standard, already covered seemingly hundreds of times (even, according to rumor, by Paris Hilton), sure to be butchered beyond recognition in the audition rounds of the next season of American Idol, and just as sure to be crooned by jazz singers a generation from now. But it’s with the rest of St. Elsewhere that Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse make good on the lingering “probably” of the song’s refrain, delving into a lunatic fantasyscape of hip-hop, gospel, power-pop, and vintage soul sounds that catalog just about the whole of junk culture and wrapping their more nefarious themes (suicide, paranoia, necrophilia, monsters under the bed) in what seems, on the surface, to be the glossiest of escapist packages. It’s heady and adventurous as an album, but it’s just as great an achievement as pure spectacle.


7. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit

The idea of an album from the likes of Belle & Sebastian leaving enough of an impression to last 11 whole months to land on a Top 10 list would’ve seemed an absurd proposition any time between, oh, 1998 and this past January. But that’s the thing about The Life Pursuit: even the smaller details of the album—that slide guitar on “Another Sunny Day,” that trumpet solo on “Dress Up In You”—somehow feel outsized, and the result is some of the year’s most spirited, memorable pop. And, suddenly, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and “The Blues Are Still Blue” is still even more buoyant and is still getting more iPod plays than most of the summer’s Top 40 hits, and there’s a fleeting moment of fear of having forgotten something obvious (Camera Obscura? Faded quickly. The Boy Least Likely To? Even more twee than this. The Long Blondes? A great single and a whole lot of blog hype.), but the stack of CDs still waiting to be shelved says otherwise, and here we are, surprised but nonetheless feeling pretty good about it.


8. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Following a few years in which one too many Ryan Adams soundalikes made alt-country passé, 2006 was the year that the indie kids “discovered” country music, thanks to well-reviewed, high-profile albums like Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins’s Rabbit Fur Coat, Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go, Lambchop’s Damaged, and Cat Power’s The Greatest, all of which cribbed from the genre either in form or content. But the fourth studio album from Neko Case trumped them all, displaying a deep understanding of even the most unpleasant recesses of the country genre, even as she traveled farther away from its basic conventions than on her previous albums. The voice, as always, drew the lion’s share of the accolades, but what’s ultimately most striking about Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is Case’s ongoing evolution into a first-rate songwriter, equally capable of a direct gut-punch or a dense nonlinear narrative. Nashville, of course, wouldn’t know where to begin with this, but listening to Fox Confessor, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Patsy, Loretta, and Emmylou.


9. Aceyalone, Magnificent City

Overshadowed in the early months of 2006 by Ghostface Killah’s also very-good Fishscale, then one-upped in the Underground Hip-Hop Artist Plus Trendy Producer department by St. Elsewhere, and finally bumped from much of the year-end listology hand-wringing in favor of late-year (again, also very-good) albums by Clipse and Lupe Fiasco, Magnificent City stands as perhaps the most unjustly overlooked album of a remarkable year for hip-hop. Which is regrettable but not hard to understand: Magnificent City is the smoothest, most subtle album of the lot. Its ambitious use of recurring tropes to explore various forms of modern isolation only appear when taking Magnificent City as a whole, which is, in turn, given further depth when considering that it’s the work of two men (Aceyalone with RJD2), each pushing the other to the top of his game.


10. CSS, Cansei de Ser Sexy

To translate for those who didn’t get on board with CSS’s pastiche of MySpace-style real-time pop culture: In Portuguese, it means, “Bring your ass on the floor and move it real fast. I wanna see your kitty and a little bit of titty. Wanna know where I go when I’m in your city? Girl, don’t you worry about all the dough, because a cat is coming straight out of the ’no, ready to rock those shows all the way to Rio. Bring that Brazil booty on the floor. Up, down, all around, work that shit to the funky sound. Going to see where I’m going, oh?” Lost in translation, alas, is that Cansei De Ser Sexy is funny on purpose and is actually something that right-minded people might want to listen to.


Singles


The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

1. The Pipettes, “Pull Shapes”

What makes a great single, distilled down to one line: “I just wanna move, I don’t care what the song’s about.” And it’s a good thing, too, since the Pipettes’s gimmick—a post-post-feminist reclaiming of classic girl group pop, in matching polka-dot dresses—collapses on itself if you so much as look at it sideways. But those three part harmonies? That final 12 seconds of orchestral flourish? “Pull Shapes” is just glorious stuff, and by far the year’s purest, most exciting pop.


2. Nelly Furtado, “Maneater”

Two theories to explain the failure of “Maneater” at radio: (1) With those eerie zombie drones backing Nelly Furtado’s nasal delivery in the verses and those voodoo ritual drums in the chorus, radio programmers took the song as a literal celebration of cannibalism; (2) Fergie’s lifting of the “love you long time” line for the execrable “London Bridge” robbed the single of its would-be money shot. I vote for the latter theory, if only because I’m willing to blame Fergie-ferg for just about anything.


3. Franz Ferdinand, “The Fallen”

…On which the swagger, which has always been the source of their charm, morphs into a vague threat, which the archdukes promptly follow-up by fainting at the sight of blood and falling to the floor. Which isn’t such a surprise, since getting into a for-reals fight might wrinkle their neatly ironed shirts. It’s the taunting wa-hoo!s that sell Franz Ferdinand’s “The Fallen,” but it’s the bit about robbing supermarkets that should give Alex Kapranos’s editors at The Guardian pause if they’re serious about releasing that cookbook of his.


4. The Boy Least Likely To, “Faith”

The Boy Least Likely To’s “Faith” is all banjos and handclaps, and just when you think it wouldn’t make a suitable soundtrack for drunken underwear-dancing on a hotel bed, The Boys break out the güiro and slide-whistle, and, really, it’s just not such a hard sell from there.


5. Kelis, “Blindfold Me”

Blindfolds are the gateway drug into edgier forms of sensory deprivation kink, so I guess this means we should expect Kelis’s next album to have singles on which she and Nas explore the sub/dom dynamics of mummification and breath control play. So long as the beats are as good as they are on “Blindfold Me,” only a real prude could complain.


6. Beyoncé, “Ring the Alarm”

She’s just too suburban and just far too kept to sell this kind of guttural, Betty Davis anti-love shit entirely, but Beyoncé deserves plenty of credit for trying to sell it at all. That said, if “Ring the Alarm” really was inspired by a certain Bring It On: All or Nothing performer, Beyoncé only sounds a fraction as furious as she rightfully should.


7. Wolfmother, “Woman”

The slightly less misogynistic version of “Crazy Bitch” you can admit to liking without sacrificing your street cred, Wolfmother’s “Woman” scores bonus points for the Avalanches’s remix with the trippy Cousin Itt vocal loops.


8. Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby”

This, Brandon Flowers, is how a man grows a proper sleazestache. More so than the predictably glowing critics’ reviews, Bob Dylan owes credit for his first #1 album in 30 years to iTunes putting “Someday Baby,” which loses none of its punch well after the four-minute mark or several hundred repeated listens, in a commercial.


9. Futureheads, “Skip to the End”

Making better use of negative space than any of the year’s other rock singles—and, arguably, a good percentage of the hip-hop singles—“Skip to the End” is three minutes of nervous energy, thanks to its barrage of unpredictable a capella runs, drumstick solos, four-part doo-wop harmonies, and jangly powerchords. Structurally, then, it’s a perfect fit for a song about the unpredictability of relationships. The unhappy ending for this one, of course, is that he Futureheads finished 2006 without a record deal.


10. Keane, “Is It Any Wonder?”

That its squelchy fake guitars are all in-the-red treble is ultimately of less consequence than is its insistence through tireless repetition that said squelchy fake guitars are playing one hell of a melodic hook. If not more U2 than U2—they’d need an actual rhythm section for that, assuming they’re trying to rip off any U2 worth ripping off—Keane’s “Is It Any Wonder?” is still more U2 than Coldplay and meatier than anything else Adult Top 40 went near in 2006.

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Awards

Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Documentary Short

Bet against a message of hope and you may find yourself losing an Oscar pool.

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Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Photo: Grain Media

Our track record here is spotty, but we’re on a roll, having correctly guessed the winner three years in a row. Just as every film up for the documentary feature prize grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war, every one nominated for best documentary short concerns the aftermath of trauma. And this category’s history tells us that academy members are quite keen on a certain angle on the process of coping with trauma, which is implicit even in the titles of the films that won here but whose chances we underestimated, such as Mighty Times: The Children’s March and A Note of Triumph.

There isn’t a single dud in this bunch, but a few feel only half-formed. Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan’s St. Louis Superman, which earned MTV its first Oscar nod, concerns Ferguson activist and battle rapper Bruce Franks Jr. and his efforts to pass a bill recognizing youth violence as a public health crisis after being sworn into the Missouri House of Representatives. A powerful sequence set during a rap battle gives us a complete picture of how the trauma of his younger brother’s death—and, simply, living while black—has come to shape Franks’s politics, but if the short successfully attests to his accomplishments against all odds, it remains conspicuously tight-lipped about his home life and has a final title credits sequence tell us about his future in government that we wished it had actually processed on screen.

John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson’s gripping Life Overtakes Me, the only short in this category with Netflix’s muscle behind it, feels as if it could benefit from simply reporting on a relatively unknown matter: the dissociative condition known as resignation syndrome, a response to the trauma of refugee limbo that has been predominantly observed in children from the Balkans now living in Sweden with their families. The filmmakers vigilantly depict the day-to-day routines of parents struggling to feed their comatose children and keep their limbs as lithe as possible. But the short doesn’t offer enough context about the struggles that brought these families to Sweden and, like St. Louis Superman, it has one read a little too much between the lines, sometimes literally so, as information relating to the asylum process and evolving opinions about resignation syndrome is largely conveyed via on-screen text.

Yi Seung-jun and Gary Byung-seok Kam’s In the Absence plays out like a ghost story, and it’s much less withholding than both St. Louis Superman and Life Overtakes Me. Concerning the 2014 MV Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea, this hauntingly cool-headed short doesn’t lack for astonishing footage of the incident, some of it pulled from the phones of those who were aboard the ship; the shots of the protests that followed the incident, as well as the talking-head interviews from the families of the deceased, are no less harrowing. The filmmakers are ferocious in their condemnation of the various failures of communication that led to the deaths of hundreds aboard the ship, and one deserved target of their contempt is South Korea’s former president, Park Geun-hye. Still, if we have any reservations about our favorite short in this category, it’s over the way it risks leaving some with the impression that the Sewol disaster was largely responsible for the disgraced politico’s downfall.

Now, for those who couldn’t read between the lines of this post’s first paragraph: Bet against a message of hope, as we did in the past when we didn’t rally behind Music by Prudence and Strangers No More, and you may find yourself losing an Oscar pool. As such, In the Absence faces stiff competition from Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt’s touching but somewhat featherweight Walk Run Cha-Cha, about a young man and woman who, 40 years after being separated during the Vietnam War, and especially Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva’s Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), which, spite of its cloying score, chronicles a resistance in a language that will be impossible for most to resist.

Learning to Skate in a Warzone tells the story of a school in Kabul that teaches young girls to skateboard and, by extension, take on the patriarchy. “I don’t want to grow up so I can skate forever,” one girl says at one point. Hopeful words, yes, but we can see their melancholic roots. The filmmakers may not have bombard us with images of violence, but you don’t walk away from this short without understanding the risk of simply seeing that girl’s face speaking those words, in a country where so many girls are destined to become prisoners in their own homes, and are more prone than boys to be the victims of terrorism.

Will Win: Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Could Win: In the Absence

Should Win: In the Absence

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Live Action Short

It never hurts to let this academy feel as though they’re just liberal enough.

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Brotherhood
Photo: Cinétéléfilms

If last year’s slate in this category reflected, as Ed pointed out, children in peril as the “fetish du jour” for the academy’s shorts committee, the trend certainly didn’t carry over into this year, with only one nominated film dealing with such subject matter. That said, it’s characteristic of this particular category’s history in that it’s among the most galling, sermonizing screeds nominated for any Academy Award this year.

Unlike such previously slated diatribes as That Wasn’t Me or One Day, however, Bryan Buckley’s Saria is explicitly a recreation of a real-life tragedy, a 2017 fire that killed 41 girls in a Guatemalan orphanage, potentially sparked by one of the girls in an act of political protest against their gorgonesque caretakers. That the entire episode touches on just about everything wrong with the world today means it can’t be fully counted out. But it’d be a lot easier to get in the filmmakers’ corner if it didn’t so strongly feel as though they turned the slow-crawling death toll into a bizarre sort of victory lap in the final credits reel. And Oscar voters haven’t been too tacit lately about their aversion of tough messages being shoved down their throats.

Among other nominees with seemingly very little chance at winning, Delphine Girard’s A Sister gave us major déjà vu, and not only from its narrative echoes of recent short Oscar winners The Phone Call and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. A well-made exercise in escalating alarm in miniature, this Belgian thriller centers around an emergency operator (Veerle Baetens) who quickly and professionally ascertains the coded cry for help from a caller (Selma Alaoui) being held hostage in the car of a dangerously irrational man (Guillaume Duhesme). Confidently but abstractly directed, the film joins a very long line of Eurocentric thrillers about domestic violence nominated in this category, including Miracle Fish, Just Before Losing Everything, Everything Will Be Okay, and DeKalb Elementary. And if these sorts of films always seem to get nominated, they also never win.

So what does? At this point, this category has a long-ish history of rewarding candidates that are either the only English-language nominee, the most hipster-friendly ironic in nature, or both (Stutterer and Curfew, to name two examples of having those bases covered). This year that sets up a battle between Yves Piat’s Nefta Football Club and Marshall Curry’s The Neighbor’s Window. The former has all the makings of a winner for most of its running time. In it, a pair of brothers (Eltayef Dhaoui and Mohamed Ali Ayari) in Tunisia find a drug mule—an actual mule, that is—wandering around because the pink headphones his handlers (Lyès Salem and Hichem Mesbah) placed on him are playing not Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which would cue the trained animal to return home, but Cheik Hadel. One of the two boys recognizes the mule’s stash for what it is, but the other one presumes it’s laundry detergent, rubbing enough on his tongue that he really should spend the rest of the short tripping balls. The EC Comics-reminiscent twist ensures that the short is never less than glibly cavalier toward geopolitical readings but also comes off like a damp squib compared to the declarative setup.

Similarly anecdotal, The Neighbor’s Window is a schematic empathy fable in Rear Window drag about a ennui-ridden, middle-aged mother (Maria Dizzia) of three captivated by the twentysomething couple (Juliana Canfield and Bret Lada) living in the building across the way. While the short’s milieu offers every opportunity to lean right into the brand of snarky irony that this category favors—the woman’s voyeurism is kicked off when she and her husband (Greg Keller) spy on the younger couple fucking in full view of the rest of the neighborhood—the film remains almost doggedly like a “we all want what we cannot have” teleplay updated for Gen Xers. Still, in that it validates the struggles of the world’s haves, it’s very much in play.

But we’re tempting fate and picking Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood as the spoiler. It centers around a Tunisian patriarch (Mohamed Grayaâ) whose oldest son (Malek Mechergui) comes back after years spent in Syria, with a new wife (Salha Nasraoui) whose face-hiding niqāb all but confirms the father’s suspicion that the son has been recruited by ISIS. It’s a minor miracle that the film doesn’t come off as one big finger wag, in part because it comes at the whole “world is going to hell in a handbasket” angle by highlighting mankind’s universal failure to communicate. Equally miraculous is that its shock finale doesn’t resonate as a hectoring “gotcha,” but instead as a proper outgrowth of its reactionary main character’s failure to live up to his own, presumably, liberal identification. Post-Green Book, it never hurts to let this academy feel as though, unlike Brotherhood’s doomed father, they’re just liberal enough.

Will Win: Brotherhood

Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window

Should Win: Brotherhood

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Short

Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt.

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Memorable
Photo: Vivement Lundi

Another year, another reminder to take our prediction in this category with a grain of salt. Since 2002, when we first started predicting the Oscar winners, we’ve guessed correctly in this category only eight times, and five of those were in the aughts, when one or more Disney shorts consistently lost to considerably more outré productions. It was a long dry spell for the studio between For the Birds taking the prize in 2002 and Paperman doing so in 2012. Disney now perseveres more times than not, which is why we’re given pause by the fact that, even though this is only the third time since 2002 that the studio doesn’t have a film in the lineup, two nominees here could be described as “Disney-adjacent.”

One of those, Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver’s charming and poignant Hair Love, had us busting out the hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite, #EverythingIsSoWhite, #WhiteWhiteWhiteIsTheColorOfOurCarpet), wondering if the guilt that AMPAS has about its diversity problems may be a victory-securing source of momentum. That Issa Rae, who saltily congratulated the men in the best director category when she announced this year’s Oscar nominees alongside John Cho, provides the voice for this short about a black father who learns to style his daughter’s hair in the absence of the girl’s mother feels as if it can only help.

At the same time, each day since the Oscar nominations were announced last week seems to bring one of those dreaded articles in which some anonymous academy member is asked about their picks ahead of deadline, and Michael Musto’s recent chat with one such voter has us convinced more than ever that guilt isn’t the average academy member’s chief motivator. Besides, Hair Love faces stiff competition from another Disney-ish, hit-‘em-in-the-feels candidate, Kitbull, which concerns the unlikely kinship that forms between a cat and a dog. It certainly tugged at our heartstrings, and in spite of the short’s bug-eyed cat at times alternately, and distractingly, reminding us of a mouse and an inkblot.

Perhaps inevitably, we found ourselves drawn to the more outré nominees. Siqi Song’s beautifully textured Sister doesn’t lack for memorable images, but my favorite is the one where the brother at the center of the short pulls on his giant baby sister’s outie-cum-Silly-String-umbilical-cord until the child shrinks down to size. This is an at once idiosyncratic and somber meditation on China’s one-child policy, but it left one of us wondering, in the wake of Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s One Child Nation being snubbed this year by the academy, if it would resonate with enough voters, and two of us certain that a sizeable portion of the academy’s more liberal members would take more than just the “I had fingerprints four weeks after conception” bit as something akin to a big pro-life billboard.

Remember this old Sesame Street bit? Eric sure did while watching Daughter, a striking rumination about the emotional distance between a father and daughter. Daria Kashcheeva’s expressionistic use of stop motion is haunting, even if the short, amid so much abstraction, doesn’t always evoke believable people. More approachable is Memorable, where the very nature of what can be believed and remembered is the governing principle. All the way until its stunning finale, Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre’s confluence of styles (there are shades here of the “psychorealism” that won Chris Landreth an Oscar in 2005 for Ryan) is in profound conversation with the idea of dementia as a destructuring agent. We’re no strangers to wrongly betting on our favorite short persevering on Oscar night, but Disney consistently loses in years where it has more than one film gunning for this award, so we’re betting that the two Disney-ish shorts will split the vote and pave the way for a Memorable victory.

Will Win: Memorable

Could Win: Hair Love

Should Win: Memorable

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

It’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both sound editing and sound mixing.

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Ford v. Ferrari
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The movement to merge the two Oscar categories for sound into just one is finally picking up some steam after an academy subcommittee favored consolidation in December, but we regret to inform you that the exceptionally rational decision hasn’t yet been ratified, and thus won’t spare us one more year of double-feature kvetching. While the nominating members of the sound branch might know the exact difference between sound mixing and sound editing, and while compulsory Oscar blogging has forced us to know the exact difference as well, numerous academy members clearly don’t.

Case in point: Last year they awarded Bohemian Rhapsody its expected award in sound mixing, where musicals always have an advantage, but also an upset win in sound editing. Unless voters metabolized Singer’s violent blitzkrieg of a film and simply misremembered hearing explosions throughout, that’s not the vote of an informed electorate.

From our perspective as prognosticators, though, it’s not difficult to rationalize picking the same film to win both awards, especially in the absence of a musical. While there have been plenty of years we’ve carbon-copied our predicted winner in both categories only to see them split (even three ways, as in 2012, when Les Misérables took sound mixing, and Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied for sound editing), getting one prediction right is better than getting none at all, especially in a year like this where, to judge from both slates, sound equals fury.

One thing’s fairly certain: You can probably go ahead and count out Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The new trilogy failed to add any more Oscar wins to the franchise, and, in fact, a Star Wars film has never won a competitive award for sound editing. Episodes seven and eight lost to, respectively, a chase movie and a war movie, and this year’s top two contenders here are arguably the exact same pairing. While 1917 is still considered by many to be a frontrunner for best picture, we’re pretty sure the onslaught of vintage motors roaring for the climactic quarter-hour of Ford v. Ferrari will get voters right in the dad spot.

Will Win: Ford v. Ferrari

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: Ford v. Ferrari

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

Forky rules.

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Toy Story 4
Photo: Walt Disney Studios

Completist-prone Oscar prognosticators were dealt a merciful hand last week when the Oscar nominations were announced and Frozen II didn’t show up in this category. But the winning hand belongs to Toy Story 4, which likely lost the Golden Globe to Missing Link as a result of a vote split between the two Disney properties. Sentiment to reward the American-based production studio Laika is brewing, and the fitfully droll Missing Link will, like Kubo and the Two Strings before it, probably find favor at the BAFTAs, but Laika’s latest and most expensive production to date dramatically bombed at the box office. And while no one will be weighing between the film and I Lost My Body, a singularly and actively morose and creepy film that won’t appeal to the academy at large, this category’s short history tells us that the Mouse House is only vulnerable to the biggest money makers. Also, Forky rules.

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Could Win: Missing Link

Should Win: I Lost My Body

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

Pitt winning here will seem like the stars are lining up given what went down when he was first nominated in 1995.

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Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

We didn’t predict Anthony Hopkins to get nominated here, thinking that the Golden Globes’s enthusiasm for The Two Popes was a fluke. We were wrong, and he ended up becoming the elder statesman in an acting lineup that contains, on average, by far the oldest nominees. The person we predicted to get in instead, Marriage Story’s Alan Alda, is a year older than Hopkins, so we certainly weren’t betting the farm on any male ingénues.

On the other hand, it sure feels like spry 56-year-old Brad Pitt, who opened his acceptance speech at last night’s SAG Awards with a joke about having a Tinder profile, had this award in the bag the moment his Marlboro Man-ish handyman hopped atop his buddy’s roof to fix the antenna in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, whipping off his shirt to reveal a tawny, fully-abbed torso that scarcely seems to have aged in the nearly 30 years since he seduced the country in Thelma & Louise. He, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s co-lead, has a lot more to do throughout than just doff tees, but the “I’m still here” virility of that moment embodies the entire film’s love letter to old-guard masculinity in Tinseltown.

Not that anyone’s reading too deeply into it, not when there’s good old-fashioned awards numerology to fall back on. Within minutes of the nominations being announced, Oscar Twitter jumped on the fact that the best supporting actor slate this year is composed of acting winners from 1990 (Joe Pesci), 1991 (Anthony Hopkins), 1992 (Al Pacino), and 1993 and 1994 (Tom Hanks). Fewer pointed out that Pitt was also a nominee in 1995 for 12 Monkeys, losing out to the now-canceled Kevin Spacey. Which makes it seem all the more poetically like the stars are lining up when Pitt wins for a film whose finale proposes a rousing bit of alternate, corrective history in which the “good” guys obliterate the “bad” ones.

Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Could Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Should Win: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology.

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For Sama
Photo: PBS

Few Oscar categories are bigger snub magnets than this one. And while the failure of Apollo 11 to secure a nomination this year was indeed surprising, it was not as telling as the omission of The Biggest Little Farm, a handsomely, if conspicuously, sculpted “pop” documentary that’s very much in the academy’s wheelhouse. It was almost as if the committee responsible for selecting the nominees here was sending a message by embracing, at a time of increased global instability, five documentaries that looked only outward: not at mankind’s possibilities, but at the ways in which we’ve become our own worst enemy.

When discussing the potential winner in this category, Eric and I were pulled in two different directions. “Doc will go American Factory and, by extension, the Obamas, right?” Eric asked. “Honeyland notched an Oscar record by being the first documentary to also be nominated for international feature. That has to mean something?” I asked. Which is to say that he and I, no strangers to this Oscar-predicting process, were sacrificing ourselves to rigamarole, forgetting that, at the end of the day, academy members vote with their hearts above all else.

Every film nominated in this category grapples with the nature of freedom in a world gripped by war and shaped by technology. American Factory specifically takes the closing of a Chinese-owned factory in Ohio as a jumping-off point for a study of the wiles of global capitalism, and it’s every bit as smart as you might expect from a film produced by the Obamas. A more sobering reminder of how the global order of the world has been cataclysmically disrupted in the last four years is another Netflix documentary, The Edge of Democracy, about Brazil’s own national(ist) sickness. It’s a harrowing lament, but it offers the viewer no sense of escape.

Which isn’t to say that the The Cave and especially For Sama, both filmed in Syria and in the midst of war there, are escapist. The two most viscerally powerful documentaries in the category confront us with the chaos of imperial domination. Both films center the female experience of war, but For Sama does so more shrewdly, positing itself not just as a chronicle of war, but an act of remembrance. In a film that doesn’t lack for gut-wrenching images of the dead, one particularly stands out: of a child, after being pulled from its wounded mother’s womb via C section in the wake of a bombing, being brought back to life. Combined with the scenes depicting the citizens of war-torn Aleppo finding humor in the midst of conflict, the film attests not only to the perseverance of the Syrian people, but to the possibility that the country might still be brought back from the edge of oblivion.

Will Win: For Sama

Could Win: The Cave

Should Win: For Sama

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling

There doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.

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Joker
Photo: Warner Bros.

We couldn’t really say it any better than Odie Henderson, who recently scoffed: “Who wins the Costume Design Oscar for Joker? The Goodwill? Who wins the Makeup Oscar for Joker? A blind Mary Kay consultant?” While we think the Academy will stop short of awarding the motley threads of Todd Phillips’s risible throwback machine in the costume category, the fact that they were nominated at all over, say, the imaginatively garish ‘70s finery that Ruth Carter created for Dolemite Is My Name indicates a level of affection for Joker that no one who doesn’t use the word “snowflake” on a daily basis seems prepared for.

While, to us, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker looks like nothing so much as Marge after sitting still for a makeup gun, as Homer put it best, “Women will like what I tell them to like.” From his lips to the Academy’s ears (and face). And given this category’s expansion didn’t add more multicolored prosthetic creations along the lines of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, but instead more invisible character augmentation along the lines of Judy and Bombshell, there doesn’t seem to be much standing in the way of the triumph of the red, white, and blue neo-Juggalo.

Will Win: Joker

Could Win: Judy

Should Win: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: International Feature Film

Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time.

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Parasite
Photo: Neon

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a pervasive presence in the news cycle, and at just the right time. As I write this latest prediction for Slant’s rolling Oscar coverage, the top article on the front page of Rotten Tomatoes is a ranking, by Tomatometer, of the nine films nominated for best picture this year. Number one? Parasite. Immediately next to that article is a callout to readers to vote for their favorite film of 2019 that uses Song Kang-ho’s face from Parasite’s poster as the featured image. Regarding that poster, in simply placing black bars over the actors’ faces, it succinctly, eerily, perfectly underlines the film’s obsession with social strata. And you don’t need to look far beyond the aggregate site to land on some article praising the perfectly lit and designed architectural purgatory that is the film’s main setting.

Perfect. That’s a funny word. There are no objectively measurable criteria for perfection, but given how many times I’ve heard Bong’s film described as being “perfect” since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, you’d think that there were. Still, the impulse to use it to describe this particular film, so balanced and attuned to the ties that both bind and separate us, evident in everything from the dimensions of Bong’s aesthetic, to his actors’ faces, to their words, makes a certain kind of sense. Quick, can you name the other four films nominated in this category? How apt if you can’t, as this is a film profoundly obsessed with the subterfuge that can be weaponized during class warfare. Or awards campaigns.

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Pain and Glory

Should Win: Parasite

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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Original Score

John Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four.

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Joker
Photo: Warner Bros.

That one of the five films nominated for original score this year is not a best picture nominee nor had any shot at being one almost makes this category an outlier among this year’s Oscar races, which seem otherwise fixated on frontrunners. John Williams already had the record-setting strength of 51 previous nominations leading into this week’s announcement, so his nod for the third Star Wars installment, or sixth, or ninth, or…does The Mandalorian count? Anyway, suffice it to say that the only thing that could’ve been more knee-jerk than to select nominations solely from among this year’s best picture probables would be to rubber stamp Williams uploading yet more variations on intellectual property.

Williams is in no danger of winning, but a case could be made for any of the other four. Alexandre Desplat already has two wins here, both in the last six years, but Little Women is finally picking up momentum at just the right time. His richly romantic cues, which are practically wall to wall throughout the film, come on like a crushed-velvet dust jacket, binding Greta Gerwig’s shifting timeline together in a way that makes just about everyone who isn’t Sasha Stone want to clutch the entire thing to their bosoms.

Arguably, another film that’s still reaching its crest stage is 1917, and unlike Desplat, composer Thomas Newman is still waiting for his first win, and now holding the category’s longest losing streak. It can’t be said that Newman doesn’t pull out all the stops, piecing together a work that feels inspired by both Hans Zimmer’s pulsating Dunkirk score and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” most memorably used in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. And yet, we’re kind of with Bilge Ebiri, who after the nominations were announced, tweeted, “You didn’t give it to DUNKIRK, you’re not allowed to give it to 1917. Sorry, we’re very strict on this matter.”

Not to say that we expect 1917 to roll snake eyes on its 10 nominations. Only that any nominations for the film related to things that Dunkirk already did better two years ago are a tough sell, despite the draw of Newman’s increasingly amplified Oscar backstory. That’s presuming that the narrative doesn’t wind up over-shadowed by the sidebar-friendly cousin’s duel between Thomas and his cousin, Randy Newman, whose jaunty, Terms of Endearment-esque Marriage Story score appears to have as many detractors as it has fans.

Until the nominations were announced, we admit to assuming that Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Golden Globe win for Todd Phillips’s Joker was going to go down the same way as Justin Hurwitz’s did a year ago: with an Oscar snub. We reasoned that Guðnadóttir, who also perked ears up and won an Emmy last year for her work on HBO’s Chernobyl, was still too fresh a talent for the more cliquey AMPAS musicians’ branch. But now that she’s there, Globe in hand and attached to the film that, by the numbers, the academy loved best this year, she offers even conscience-wracked voters the chance to hand a feature-length 4chan fantasy a guilt-free win by also awarding one of the film’s few female nominees.

Will Win: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joker

Could Win: Thomas Newman, 1917

Should Win: Alexandre Desplat, Little Women

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