Tag Archives: Music

Superlatives of 2013

Last December I wrote about “the year in movie music,” so this year I’ve chosen to reprise that tradition and add a little extra. Below are my favorite song uses and much more:




The ending of Claire Denis’s Bastards is as haunting as anything I saw all year, and a huge part of that is “Put Your Love in Me” (originally by Hot Chocolate, here covered by Tindersticks) which plays over that ghastly video and the film’s credits. Throbbing and downbeat as the rest of Bastards’ score, the song makes it clear: We have passed through limbo. We are decidedly in hell.

Cate Blanchett’s beleaguered heroine spends much of Blue Jasmine wishing she could return to the past, a time of cocktail parties and plush interior design. Woody Allen symbolizes that wish with, what else, a jazz standard—namely Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon,” a ballad both wistful and romantic, which (as Jasmine repeatedly babbles) was playing when she met her late husband.

The year’s best musical, Inside Llewyn Davis has a half-dozen numbers I could cite. The performance that bookends the movie? Llewyn’s audition for Bud Grossman? The unforgettable “Please Mr. Kennedy”? Instead let’s say Bob Dylan’s “Farewell,” which plays in the aural periphery of the film’s conclusion, an echo of Llewyn’s own “Fare Thee Well” and a mordant punchline to his shaggy dog misadventures.

Sometimes truth is catchier than fiction. Once you’ve heard “La alegría ya viene,” the real-life jingle employed in Pablo Larraín’s political comedy No, it’s near-impossible to scrub it from your head, or to stop hearing the rhythmic hand claps that accompany it. “¡Vamos a decir que NO!”

I was very pleased when Spring Breakers opened with Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” and I did enjoy its cast’s rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime,” but best of all? Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” the concentrated dose of pop that plays over its Lisa Frank-esque credits. The ideal way to send me out of the theater in a good mood.

The Worst Movies I Saw

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

I found the following movies not just aesthetically displeasing, but odious. They may not strictly be the “worst” released this year (I didn’t see e.g. any number of widely panned sequels) but they did piss me off.

Matthew McConaughey’s typically great in Dallas Buyers Club: charismatic, physically invested, a seemingly bottomless fount of energy. But the movie around him! It’s as clichéd a “loner vs. the system” story as ever I’ve seen, hemming each of its stars into these one-dimensional character types. The Mean FDA Guy, The Initially Skeptical Doctor Who’s Won Over, The Junkie Trans Woman Who’s Called “He” and Then Dies. It’s a less inventive Catch Me If You Can with an addiction drama stuffed into the margins. It’s an AIDS history with straightness at its center. We shouldn’t penalize movies for the stories they don’t tell, it’s true, but when you talk about the recent past in terms this blinkered, this selective, that’s dangerously irresponsible.

(And though I’m loath to conflate a movie’s “buzz” with what’s actually up on the screen, oh Christ am I nauseated by the tone-deaf interviews Jared Leto’s given, the praise his “brave” performance has received, and the awards he’s en route to collecting. Thanks for reinforcing the idea that trans women can only be onscreen as part of a daring thespian’s prestige movie stunt, folks.)

Yes, I’m impressed that Escape from Tomorrow exists. But goddammit, I’m impressed that any movie exists. Every production has to clear countless logistical hurdles before garnering even a chance of distribution. So writer-director Randy Moore shot this on location at Disney World. So what, especially when the finished product is so tawdry and bereft of imagination? Escape from Tomorrow depicts prostitutes, demons, and a flu epidemic at the Magic Kingdom, which is honestly about as subversive as a 12-year-old drawing a dick in Mickey’s mouth. The movie’s circuitous plot, about a schlubby patriarch’s desire to leave his family and bed some foreign exchange students, makes it obvious that this would be an off-putting slog no matter where it was shot.

I feel like Baz Luhrmann has some idea of what beauty is, and I know for a fact that he’s acquainted with passion. But once these things reach the screen in The Great Gatsby, they’re so embalmed by excess as to be unrecognizable. Every emotion has to be underlined a thousand times; every shot has to scream style. There’s so little modulation to the movie that its grandeur becomes meaningless. On occasion this compulsion toward hugeness is relaxed, but then the film leans back on its status as a literary adaptation, brandishing Fitzgerald’s prose as if to ward off stagnation. (The film’s visual accompaniment to the book’s last page will, I have no doubt, insult the intelligence of high school English classes for years to come.)

I loved Drive back in 2011. It was a sleek, precise crime movie that wasn’t shy about its influences but also brought something new and eerie to the screen. Now it’s 2013, and I hate Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up Only God Forgives. Like Drive, it stars Ryan Gosling as a taciturn killer; again, he’s mixed up in a tit-for-tat revenge narrative that alternates extreme violence with arty, Cliff Martinez-scored repose. But here the nihilism is amplified, the violence more pointedly pointless and aestheticized, and Gosling’s performance somehow even less inflected. It’s as if that noxious scene in Drive where Christina Hendricks’ head explodes had been expanded into its own feature film. Worse yet, Refn sets his saga in a brutal, hyper-exoticized Bangkok, one visualized through these symmetrical, red-lit, vacuously pretty frames. I’m comfortable with amorality in my movies; sometimes I get off on it. But when it’s this hate-filled, yet devoid of any ideas or purpose, I just get bored.

At least The Great Gatsby and Only God Forgives, much as I may revile them, had strong auteur intent visible in every shot. Since, as I said, I missed out on most of the year’s worst consensus losers, Warm Bodies may be the emptiest thing from 2013 I’ve seen. Not to say that it’s exceptional or an outlier in any way. Just that it’s an absolute nothing of a movie, mashing up one formula (Romeo and Juliet) with another (zombie apocalypse) and churning out cinematic sausage on the other end. It has dozens of flat “jokes,” John Malkovich as a patriarch who sways with the whims of the plot, the millionth “romantic” case of Stockholm syndrome I’ve seen onscreen, and a half-assed message of tolerance (“zombies aren’t so bad”) that’s undercut by the need for epic action (“…except for those bad zombies”). Warm Bodies is by no means unusual, but its utter mediocrity made for one arduous viewing experience.


Computer Chess

These are the lines of dialogue that stuck with me.

“This is the team wi—that’s got a lady on it,” says Gerald Peary in Computer Chess. “There she is.” Andrew Bujalski’s retro-weirdo comedy plays as a genealogy of the digital age, and here we see nerd sexism in primordial form. It’s a deadpan joke made especially potent by Peary’s halting, baffled delivery.

“I apologize for my appearance, but I have had a difficult time these past several years.” These words, rasped by Chiwetel Ejiofor at the end of 12 Years a Slave, are among the year’s most devastating. In them, you can hear how much Solomon Northup’s experiences have taken out of him, as well as how deft John Ridley’s screenplay is in its use of period language.

People sometimes claim that profanity impinges on a writer’s eloquence, but several 2013 movies countered that idea with their poetic deployments the word “fuck” and its many variations. Like Nick Frost’s “I fucking hate this town!” in The World’s End; Ethan Hawke’s “I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing,” in Before Midnight; Matt Damon’s “There you are, you cocksucking tenor fuck,” in Behind the Candelabra; and most tersely of all, Robert Redford’s howled “Fuuuuck!” in All Is Lost.

I already gave a couple accolades to Blue Jasmine and Inside Llewyn Davis above, but I still want to recognize my favorite lines from each movie: Cate Blanchett’s “Who do I have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?” and F. Murray Abraham’s “I don’t see a lot of money here,” respectively.

Finally, the joys of Frances Ha are manifold, but that screenplay is just overflowing with quotable bits and pieces, “Ahoy sexy!” not least among them. I love movie quotes like these in part because they’re a way for cinema to slither inside my head. I can remember images, even build up a mental archive of them, but dialogue I can pull out in conversation, share with friends, add to our common vocabulary. I suppose the use of pop songs in movies is similar: these disparate works and attitudes get yoked together in my brain, expanding one another’s meanings. I can hum “Modern Love” as I run down the street and suddenly Frances Ha’s entire spirit is with me. These songs and quotes are such fundamentally “cinematic” pleasures, fragments of wit and art I can take away from movies. They’re not all movies have to give. But they’re basic and fun and I love them.

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2012: The Year in Movie Music


As we begin the long trek through awards season, I have a question for you: What was the best use of music in a 2012 film? I feel like well-curated, well-placed song choices go perennially unrecognized. The Oscars are always willing to award an Original Song or Original Score, but what if the song/score wasn’t original—what if it was just right? So I want to acknowledge the music, whether original or preexisting, whether performed onscreen or played from a recording, that helped define this year’s movies. Here are a few of my own favorites to get you started:

  • The Master, for example, has two such songs: Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s of “Slow Boat to China,” the former establishing the film’s early ’50s setting and the latter serving as a last-minute emotional bombshell.
  • Paolo Sorrentino’s tragicomic curio This Must Be the Place gets lots of mileage out of the eponymous Talking Heads song, as it’s covered again and again without ever losing its oddball charm.
  • Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'” unforgettably aids and abets William Friedkin’s sick sense of humor in Killer Joe. Has to be the most violent credits music whiplash since An American Werewolf in London.
  • Two songs by yé-yé girl Françoise Hardy found their way into the films of 2012, with “Tous les garçons et les filles” popping up in Attenberg and “Le Temps de l’Amour” scoring Sam and Suzy’s beachfront dance party in Moonrise Kingdom.
  • Finally, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress has an honest-to-goodness musical number set to the Gershwin Brothers’ “Things Are Looking Up,” an audiovisual explosion of optimism that’s also an ideal denouement for the film as a whole.

So I put it to you: which songs were used best?


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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 7

[Author’s note: This is the conclusion of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 13:  Pokémon DP: Sinnoh League Victors (We Will Carry On!)

Lyrics: For FUCK’S SAKE, Loeffler and Wolfert! This is like the Nickelback Pokémon intro! The ultimate shitty pop song intro, and it recycles the concept of “carrying on” from my beloved David Rolfe way back in season 7, but makes it really shitty. Ugh. And then someone said, “Quick, bring back the guy whose job it is to shout ‘Pokémon!’ in the background!”

Delivery: Adam Elk, lead singer of The Mommyheads, is the vocalist. It embarrasses me to listen to this one. It’s just so shitty, and then the worst part is the “never givin’ up / So hold your head up” pseudo-rapped* part. Replace the word “head” with “glass,” and you’ve got a Pink single.

*To call it this is insulting to even the worst rap music.

Other: At least this is the last in the Pokémon DP series.

Rank: 13/14

Season 14:  Pokémon Black & White (Black and White)

Lyrics: Written by, you guessed it, Loeffler and Wolfert. OK, lyrically I don’t have a big problem with this. It’s the most ambivalent of the Pokémon songs: it’s not whether you win or lose! It’s the path you choose! (I.e. the WINNING PATH, KID.) I like the integration of the phrase “Black and White” in the theme song, that’s nicely done, although the fact that they use the phrase “it’s not always black and white” seems to undermine the fact that the series itself is called Pokémon Black and White.

Delivery: What the hell? Did someone really think,“It would be awesome to get an off-brand Arcade Fire to sing a Pokémon theme song”? The vocalists for this one are Erin Bowman (again) and Joe Philips, doing their best hipster voices. I don’t hate this as much as season 13’s song, but the delivery is pretty off-putting. It drags like crazy; what happened to the funky, upbeat intros of yesteryear? Also, Nintendo really dropped the ball as far as branding Pokémon goes. It used to be that you could recognize Pokémon by three notes. In the Black and White theme song, they repeat the same boring note! This has been going on for a while, but why? Compare this “Who’s that Pokémon” bit with a new one. Which one is branded better? Hint: it’s the one that doesn’t make you fall the fuck asleep.

Other: At least it’s not rap. UGH WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF. Also, remember the link to that Mommyheads song in the Season 13 entry? Go back and listen to this part vs. this. MIND.  BLOWN.

Rank: 12/14

Wasn’t that an intoxicating journey?  It’s always interesting to watch the complete deterioration of a brand.  I’m being hard on Nintendo, though. Their Pokémon franchise has spawned a TV show that’s been around for 14 years, and that’s no small feat. They must be doing something right. Oh, well. At least now we’re all experts on the Pokémon theme songs. Bring that up at the next cocktail party you attend. Or don’t. You’re more likely to make friends if you don’t.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 6

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 11: Pokémon DP: Battle Dimension (We Will be Heroes)

Lyrics: I guess Loeffler and Wolfert felt bad after they’d recovered from the drunken stupor in which they wrote the last song, because there could not be a bigger 180 than the one they pulled between Diamond and Pearl and “We Will be Heroes.” This is the first in a series of intros that could pass as shitty pop songs, with no direct reference to Pokémon until someone presumably read the lyrics, remembered what they’re supposed to be about, and tacked on the words “Battle Dimension, Pokémon!” Pretty mediocre lyrics, including the nonsensical “brave and strong, together we will be, it’s our destiny!” What does that mean? The rhymes are solid but uninspired. Does it really take two people to write this stuff?

Delivery: This one was vocalized by Kirsten Price, the first female vocalist in a Pokémon intro (not that she sounds any more feminine than Jason Paige did.) I’m ambivalent; it comes across as Phil Collins lite. At least it’s not rap. You can hear Kirsten Price singing more listenable music here. She’s definitely better than Pokémon quality, but isn’t that what everyone would like to believe about themselves?

Other: This one is hard to remember, even after you’ve just listened to it. Not so catchy. Also, this is an aside, but who the fuck thought that Pokémon DP was a good name to brand a series with?

Rank: 7/14

Season 12: Pokémon DP: Galactic Battles (Battle Cry – [Stand Up!])

Lyrics: Another generic pop intro from Loeffler and Wolfert. Remember the days when the theme song explicitly told you to buy products? Aah, if only. No bad rhymes, just bland again. “We will win the battle! Galactic Battle! Pokémon!” The three-note salute is long gone too. Sigh.

Delivery: Now there’s a feminine voice! Erin Bowman voiced this one, and did an all right but bland job. I do like the part with the steady, driving drumbeat, but oh, how bland a purpose it serves. And I know this probably didn’t have anything to do with Bowman, but when the Pokémon all make their noises at the end, that’s hair-pullingly stupid. Come ON, Pokémon editors! Why do you do this to us?

Other: According to my friend Bulbapedia, Erin Bowman is currently working with JJ Appleton on her first album. I like the thought that there’s a kind of brotherhood of Pokémon intro vocalists out there, helping each other toward record careers. Listen to her most recent Thrift Store Rihanna-style song here. Good luck.

Rank: 9/14

Next week is the final installment! Be ready, and thanks for reading!

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 5

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 9:  Pokémon Battle Frontier (Battle Frontier)

Lyrics: The writing team was swapped out after Rolfe left; this intro was written by John Loeffler and David Wolfert, a combination of writers that, time has shown, creates pretty shitty songs. Pretty conventional lyrics, even to the point of being boring. No attempt to integrate the phrase “Battle Frontier”—although, to be fair, how the hell would you do that? It’s just stuck on: “It’s the Battle Frontier.”  Alright. The one notable thing about these lyrics is that they make the predestination in Pokémon intros more pronounced than ever, by explicitly calling Ash’s decision to be a Pokémon master, “the master plan.” Wow. God Himself wants Ash to be a Pokémon master.

Delivery: Jason “JJ” Appleton was the vocalist for this intro, and I find him very boring. The tune disintegrates around “You got the right stuff” and then turns into really bland rock music. The “It’s the Battle Frontier” part doesn’t do anything for me other than make me want the intro to finish more quickly. It’s just not anywhere near the quality of the last few intros. JJ Appleton is pursuing a serious music career post-Pokémon, though—here’s a video of him singing “Never Let You Down,” and he’s not as bad as this intro would lead you to believe.

Other: Meh. This song wouldn’t make me want to watch the series. (Although, at this point in my life, what should?) And again, tampering with the three-note Pokémon salute at the end? Sacrilege. (Side note: every episode in this season ended with a rap called “Go Pokémon Go!” This was a grim preview of what was to come.)

Rank: 11/14

Season 10:  Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (Diamond and Pearl)

Lyrics: Loeffler and Wolfert, what the fuck are you doing? Holy shit. Who decided that a rap intro was a good idea? UGH. This intro is supposed to rhyme, it’s clear, but seems to adopt an ABCDDECFGF*HHF rhyme scheme. These lyrics are embarrassing and say nothing. (“Behind every win there’s a chance to begin, again”? What the fuck does that mean?) The season’s name is thrown in as if the lyrics were hung on a dartboard and darts with “Diamond and Pearl” scrawled on their tails were hurled in their general direction by a blindfolded drunk. Was this intro written because Loeffler and Wolfert wanted to re-live the glory of the WildC.A.T.s. intro?

*I don’t know if it should be F or H. Does “battle” rhyme with “faster”? It’s sure sung as if it does. If you think it’s not meant to, the rhyme scheme would be ABCDDECFGHIIF.

Delivery: The delivery is worse than the lyrics. Chris “Breeze” Barczynski seems like a competent singer, given this video of him singing “Let’s Get it On,” but the way he sing-raps the lyrics to Diamond and Pearl make it seem as if he’s suffering a stroke mid-tune. It’s so bad. Very graciously, the G.I. Joe Background Singers Tribute Band agreed to sing the words “Pokémon!  Pokémon!” after they’d had a few drinks.

Other: This is by far the worst Pokémon intro of all. I feel bad for any children who regularly had to listen to this song.

Rank: 14/14. Without question.

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 4

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.]

Season 7:  Pokémon Advanced Challenge (This Dream)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler.  This one takes an interesting perspective compared to what we’ve heard before, since the lyrics essentially amount to “The Pokémon TV show will be around for ALL ETERNITY.” The rhyming is fine, but the choice to insert the phrase “Advanced Challenge!” after “We will rise to meet the challenge every time” seems redundant.  Couldn’t the line have been “We’ll meet the ADVANCED CHALLENGE every time”?  WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LYRICAL SOPHISTICATION OF SEASON 6????

Delivery: First of all, Rolfe (or someone, maybe Loeffler) changed the three note PO-KÉ-MON sign off, which boggles my mind.  It sounds like the opening to a Power Rangers commercial.  Why change the most iconic part of the intro?  The tune itself is pretty boring, and that final “PO-KÉ-MON” seems really badly glued on (although that may be more the editor’s fault than the performer’s).

Other: This one is definitely Rolfe’s weakest.  That’s saying something, though, because Rolfe’s weakest is still a pretty strong opening for Pokémon.

Rank: 8/14

Season 8:  Pokémon Advanced Battle (Unbeatable)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler. Pretty good! This is probably what Ash hears in his head all day long. The rhymes are solid, and the lyrics, while arrogant, make sense. I don’t know if I’d call Ash’s journey an “endless highway,” but that’s pedantic. “Advanced Battle is the ultimate test!” is a pretty great integration of the show’s name, so that’s nicely done. It’s interesting how the lyrics will at some points sound as if Ash is singing them, and then back out and deliver the meta-information that this season of Pokémon is called “Advanced Battle.” Am I thinking too hard about this? I don’t know anymore.

Delivery: Here’s the Rolfe I know and love! Catchy, starts with a great hook, and keeps up the pace. The only thing I don’t like is when he crams in, “Pokémon/Advanced Battle!” but it’s not as jarring as it could be. A great final effort from David Rolfe! And, as I noted before, he has certainly moved up in the world since his Pokémon days.

Other: This one is probably one of the strongest intros, just in terms of memorability and catchiness. This one was on TV long after I stopped watching Pokémon, but if I heard it playing it would certainly pique my interest. And then I’d realize I’ve been tricked into watching Pokémon and feel resentful, but at least the intro is alright.

Rank: 4/14

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Gotta Rate ‘Em All: Part 3

[Author’s note: This is the continuation of my series in which I carefully research and review the themes of every Pokémon season, in chronological order.  Read about Seasons 1 and 2 here!]

Season 5:  Pokémon Master Quest (Believe in Me)

Lyrics: Written by David Rolfe and John Siegler. The rhyming in this intro is very nicely done. Consistent structure, and a couple slant rhymes, although nothing egregious. If dream/believe is the only not-quite-kosher rhyme in a Pokémon intro, then we’re doing very well. Nice going, Rolfe.

Delivery: This intro has almost the same melody as the second part of season 4’s intro. You can check for yourself; the “born to be a winner!” part from the season 4 intro would fit pretty seamlessly into this song. I consider that a nice touch, since it gives the intros some continuity. What’s more, there’s absolutely no shouting of the word “Pokémon” through megaphones, and no pseudo-hip hop, so that’s a good intro as far as I’m concerned. Simple tune, but very memorable. Nice generic guitar, too.  (Compliments for Pokémon songs tend to be the mildest of compliments.)

Other: That’s 2 for 2, Rolfe.  Let’s see how you do going into season 6.

Rank: 3/14

Season 6: Pokémon Advanced (I Wanna Be a Hero)

Lyrics: Rolfe and Siegler again. This is the first season that came out for the Gameboy Advance games, and the lyrics are pretty excited to remind you about it. Lots of obvious reference to the series at the end, but there’s a sneaky additional reminder when Rolfe sings, “I’ve ADVANCED so far / And still there’s always more to come.” Nice. Really great rhyming in this one; I didn’t see anything that bothered me.

Delivery: The return of the funky Pokémon intro! Rolfe uses the same technique that he did in season 4, with a fast opening that leads into a more repetitive, catchy segment. And did you catch that autotune? It’s a little out of place, but it’s much better than some dude shouting “POKÉMON!” in the background.

Other: I wouldn’t call this as good as the intros for seasons 4 and 5, but it’s still a solid intro. I feel like it loses a little steam when he has to start telling you what season it is again and again, but at least the concept of Pokémon Advanced is well-integrated into the song itself.

Rank: 6/14


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