2014, for most people, is just another year. But for those who have committed themselves to catching every possible screening in theaters, seeking the comfort and warmth of darkness with or without companion, the year in cinema has overflowed in both quality and quantity. It has offered almost the whole nine yards: Hollywood blockbusters, small independent productions, foreign language films, documentaries, gay movies, forums and lectures, and everything in between.
But more impressively, Filipino films have not wavered. There have been local and international film festivals organized one after another, to the point that two of them have overlapping screenings at the same mall. And this is not just in Manila. Several cities and towns across the country have been active in promoting their own filmmakers, offering venues to show their works.
Themes have also departed from the usual. Poverty is no longer a prevailing subject, which can be interpreted in several ways. Is it a reflection of an improvement in the general economic conditions of the people, or a display of discontent with the previous depictions and handling of the subject? Are local audiences tired of seeing bleak social realities on the big screen, or are filmmakers no longer interested in them? Of course, these are nothing but mere conjectures.
More than a year later, typhoon Yolanda has remained a reminder of the most terrible kind of tragedy that can change everything, and it has come to signify many aspects of the Filipino life, its hopes and struggles, not to mention its often emphasized resilience. Sadly, the disaster will forever be part of the collective (and cultural) experience and consciousness.
Furthermore, romantic comedies have stepped up, and a curious indication of this is that festivals have made room for them. Big stars have appeared in small movies, and their fans have shown their overwhelming support. Star Cinema has picked up independently produced movies for distribution, and it’s a good, good sign, regardless of the financial turnout.
But perhaps the most agreeable, and somewhat easily taken for granted, development as far as social interactions are concerned is that seldom do people talk now about the difference between mainstream and independent—finally, it’s no longer a fucking thing!—and even when they do, they no longer make it sound like a celestial spectacle. These films, one way or another, have made that possible.
10. English Only, Please (Dan Villegas)
Let’s get this straight: awards matter; and sometimes they do matter a lot. A huge bulk of the moviegoing public has come out to see English Only, Please only after it won major prizes at the Metro Manila Film Festival, allowing it to have sold-out screenings and exceed the earnings of other entries with far better chances of box-office success. Its failure to win best picture has also sparked interest: how can a film receive recognition for its script, acting, and direction without winning the top prize? Over the years, the MMFF has always had its share of mysteries.
Yes, it can be done; and it can be done without making nasty compromises. English Only, Please can be appreciated better in the context of the festival, which has long been a source of scorn for some viewers, but one can’t disregard the fact that word-of-mouth promotion works only if the film being supported is more than acceptable—it has to be thoroughly, categorically, and out-and-out good for the standard moviegoer. Dan Villegas, a competent cinematographer himself, is able to vanish in his own film, so light his touch that the viewer notices his absence, for how can the film move with such grace and ease without someone orchestrating the whole thing? There is more than one answer, but the only one that can cover everything now is the most beautiful surprise of the year: Jennylyn Mercado.
9. Esoterika: Maynila (Elwood Perez)
Only the pompous, stiff, and humorless will not enjoy Esoterika, Elwood Perez’s depiction of Manila on acid. It moves restlessly with almost no regard for conventional continuity, waving this wicked and outrageous Polaroid of the city that leaves no room for the audience to argue: only to giggle, snort, and chortle. It is a triumph of mad filmmaking: sequence after sequence, the confusion leads to laughter, and this amusement lets the viewer excuse the film’s obvious flaws for practical reasons. Ronnie Liang carries the role with consistent gullibility and in numerous instances miscarries it without warning: he has the exact mix of innocence and ignorance to match his comely face and sculpted body, his physicality exploited to absurd effect. Now 70 years old, Perez has made some of the most irreverently pleasurable movies of the 70s and 80s that can astound even audiences of today, and with Esoterika he shows that his skill hasn’t aged—his impudence has always been a gift.
8. Barber’s Tales (Jun Robles Lana)
It is not an exaggeration to say that Barber’s Tales seems out of place in the landscape of local cinema in 2014. That’s quite telling, to say the least, and a curious point of discussion. Not many directors today tell their stories in this manner any more, nor exhibit this kind of showmanship that bears no intention to be sharp or clever. Diluted in too much dialogue, it holds no alarms and surprises: it is compelling in its predictability. Jun Lana dedicates Barber’s Tales to Marilou Diaz-Abaya, his mentor and inspiration, and her influence is unmistakable: the dramatic time disappears into the milieu and historical context, carried by a submissive protagonist awakened by social struggle and injustice. The result is a mature and modest work that sweeps the viewer whenever it sighs and shrugs.
7. Lorna (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo)
What resonates clearly after seeing Lorna is that it is not about a woman getting to grips with old age and feeling dissatisfied with her life but the pains of being single and alone in general—the sting of isolation, the prospect of dying without a hand to hold, and the grief of not being good enough to be loved passionately in return. Lorna’s life is seldom interesting—her two friends are not always there to make her feel that the world is kind and colorful—and Sigrid Bernardo underlines this tedium, the dull sight and sound of every day, and puts her in situations that bare her bitterness, no matter how reasonable may it be. There is that lovely touch of theater that pulls the film out of the dumps whenever it tends to indulge, the delight of having the opportunity of shooting someone to free oneself, the freedom to just stop ugly things from happening, and these sequences cause the poignant moments to linger long enough to touch each other’s crest. As Lorna, Shamaine Buencamino makes the audience feel not only the depth of the ocean but also all the islands in it so far away from one another, delivering a character of many shades and textures, likable and unlikable at the same time. She is eternal sunshine, and Lav Diaz is the spotless mind.
6. Mariquina (Milo Sogueco)
Mariquina puts the city and the shadow of its once illustrious shoe industry in the periphery in favor of a family drama that can’t seem to contain itself despite the years. Domestic woes are set aside and reappear without warning, revealing certain wounds, inflicted on various layers of skin, that refuse to heal. The past is a bitch, Jerrold Tarog and Milo Sogueco insist, and this bitch holds the film together, allowing the long-withheld ache to either rupture (loud and messy) or kill its keeper (quiet and piercing). With its ambition and the tenacity to achieve it, the weight of the unseen and unspoken carried and released, and the actors that come jointly with spectacular force, Mariquina explodes in several places and offers a rewarding closure.
5. Gusto nang Umuwi ni Joy (Jan Tristan Pandy)
There is a quick scene in this quiet but affecting documentary where Joy, an undocumented Filipino domestic helper in the U.K., walks a dog, picks up its poop on the sidewalk, and puts it inside a plastic bag. It is shown without drama, perhaps even without sympathy, for this is only a small and negligible aspect of her everyday life in a foreign land where she has labored for six years, nothing compared with the loneliness and anxieties eating her from time to time. She is comforted only by the pictures and messages sent to her through Viber. The voices of her husband and children and the sight of her grandson ease her homesickness as she performs her housekeeping and babysitting duties.
Jan Tristan Pandy follows Joy as she tries to secure a work visa and make her stay legal, permitting her to return home without risking her employment. But the odds are not in her favor, and she is at the mercy of institutions that care so little for her, if they even do at all. He hardly focuses on strong emotions—the high points of the film are levelheaded sentiments, natural reactions to distress and disappointment—and this low-key treatment lets the viewers see Joy from afar, how her work conditions, except for her status, are far from bad, how those years in careful “hiding” have given her family a comfortable life, how she finds worth and hope in modest deeds, how tolerant and accepting she has become. Pandy depicts her with neither warmth nor detachment, for Joy does not represent anything except herself. This document of her life, both sober and somber, becomes much sadder the moment it finds a fitting conclusion.
4. She’s Dating the Gangster (Cathy Garcia-Molina)
What’s more telling about She’s Dating the Gangster is not the ability of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla to deliver the sweeping magic expected of them, nor the skill of Cathy Garcia-Molina to explore newer sensations and spaces in romantic comedies, but how it has managed to shed light on interesting perspectives. For one, it bares on a larger scale the generation of young people engrossed in Wattpad and reveals the kind of stories and storytelling that excite them, thereby allowing Star Cinema—the only film studio thriving in this age when the mainstream is no longer mainstream as far as the number of releases is concerned—to take advantage of the trend, driven by its nature to recognize currency in the current.
But this is in no way a display of consideration for She’s Dating the Gangster. Even in the confines of the actual film itself, let down may it be by the triteness of the story, something moves with irresistible confidence and conveys the delicacy of a formula. The silliness and excesses that carry it compose a whole that muddles mature and immature responses to love, making use of the freedom that commercial movies, within the seeming limitations of their narratives, can play with. Kathryn and Daniel are finally able to show that, given a skilled director, their appeal can go beyond television, accepting that sometimes they need to step aside to benefit the film. The brief encounter of Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta near the end is an intense emotional highlight, a meta device that has yet to find its equal in recent years, and there is no better response to it than surrender.
3. Violator (Dodo Dayao)
Violator has the look and feel of a first or last film, something that has been on the mind for a long time, incubated, thought and rethought until it starts to take shape and bleed. This is clear with the calculated, precise, and confident way it unfolds, the attention to details, and the tendency to fill the story with references to several influences and ideas that intensify its apocalyptic premise. It proceeds with both eagerness and caution, conforming to the genre and challenging it at the same time, making it more specific while keeping the indispensable stereotypes.
An interesting claim is that everyone is a supporting character: the relationships created between Joel Lamangan, Victor Neri, Andy Bais, Timothy Mabalot, Anthony Falcon, RK Bagatsing, and Cesar Montano do not depend on each other. No one is leading anyone. Another is that everything is a reminder of anomaly: the cult leader appearing in plain sight, the two friends on the hill, the maddening sound of rain, the dead birds falling from the sky, the photo eaten and swallowed, the male ego trying to be stronger than the end of the world, the devil fucking up. The climax is an attempt at finding a center, putting together these elements in one impressive technical feat, a bunch of men pulling actual and abstract triggers, letting the audience remember those sketches in the first half and how they are more frightening in hindsight.
On many occasions, one can feel the critic in Dodo Dayao guiding and berating him, making decisions for him, but there is also the visual artist awfully concerned with mood, and the result is a picture that overwhelms in the first viewing and illuminates in the second, fully accomplished in both instances.
2. That Thing Called Tadhana (Antoinette Jadaone)
For some people, Anthony is too good to be true, a dreamboat, a stranger too kind to exist. In fiction and real life, good intentions are often regarded with doubt, and having misgivings is reasonable, a completely human trait, except it tends to overlook the fact that some people would actually choose to err in this direction, to make wrong decisions at the right time. Someone who would bear listening to a woman terribly immersed in her heartaches and accompany her all the way to Baguio and Sagada, at one point finding himself falling for her, is hardly convincing: there has to be a catch. But That Thing Called Tadhana has none—Anthony just wants to be with Mace, hoping to make her feel better, and she, on the other hand, would appreciate a sponge, a willing companion who can endure her mood swings. Kindness, after all, can be free and genuine.
In every script, Antoinette Jadaone makes it a point to find a hook, like a composer whose main objective is to create something that sticks, something that pokes at the softness of her viewers and mesmerizes them. She revels in witty dialogues, exchanges that tread quickly between serious and humorous, and alludes to her own influences. The charm of Tadhana is that it doesn’t feel too crowded—John Lloyd Cruz, One More Chance, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?,” Don’t Give Up On Us, BenCab, Session Road, Café by the Ruins, strawberry taho, shooting stars, lost luggage, bungee jumping, Up Dharma Down—all these staples of romantic fancy and pop culture references are laid down gently and leave a mild but definite impression. Jadaone gets away with them because they seldom feel like accessories: they breathe the same air as her characters.
But all this won’t have been possible without the remarkable performance of Angelica Panganiban, she who plays Mace with weight, vulnerability, and vividness, not only persuasive and endearing but also annoying and inconsiderate, a woman who deserves a slap in the face and a hug after it. It’s interesting that JM de Guzman is chosen for the role: not very handsome, not very popular, and not very striking: he complements her to the point of weakening his own character (that Anthony almost becomes a manic pixie dream guy).
2014 has been a fruitful year for Jadaone: three features with commercial releases (Beauty in a Bottle; Relaks, It’s Just Pag-Ibig; and Tadhana), a prizewinning short (“Ang Nanay kong Noisy”), a Palanca win for screenplay, a screenwriting credit and award for English Only, Please, an invitation to Berlinale—and clearly if the prize of good work is more work, the prospect of having her around for a long time is rather reassuring.
1. Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (Lav Diaz)
As recent as three or four years ago, it would have been ridiculous to suggest, or even entertain the idea, that Lav Diaz can fill a theater, in Manila or anywhere else in the world. Just connecting his name with a jampacked screening feels absurd, especially with how his filmmaking has remained stubborn over the years, his ideas always looking for doors and windows to enter and extending as far as space and silence permit, as though he had long been onto something and only a few people could see it. For more than a decade, it appears as though it became a matter of who will give up first: he who continues to tell stories that contain the bleak fates of his people, or his small but growing number of viewers who have come to terms with his demands and by now have the sense to decide whether he’s a hack or not.
Winning the grand prize in Locarno has surely changed things, leading to arrangements that will allow his body of work to be seen by those interested in it, madness as it may seem, for now, especially after the successful runs of Norte across the country, the concern is no longer about having audiences but about finding venues and putting schedules in order to accommodate them. Diaz has sculpted time himself: he has convinced enough people to recognize that cinematic time is hardly about length but depth, not so much about stretching it but letting it absorb as many fine points as possible. Between Diaz and his viewers, time is the main currency, a requirement and an agreement, the protagonist and the villain, something he has always made clear ever since. There is this tired and trite debate that insists on separating art from entertainment, but how can someone sit through a black-and-white five-hour movie, trying as much as possible to refuse the need of going to the bathroom, without admitting that there is actually a spell of enjoyment at work? That beyond the grayness and stillness there are in fact lives raring to come out and one is curious to see them?
The Film Development Council of the Philippines, acknowledging its win as the highest honor given to Philippine cinema, has decided to organize a free screening of Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon, interestingly, on September 21, exactly 42 years since Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 1081, which placed the entire country under martial law. This historical moment figures prominently in the film in a horrifying sequence, the sound of Marcos’s voice having located the eye of the nightmare. Despite the note at the beginning, a hopeful viewer tries to comfort himself by thinking that everything is fiction; but now, in a clear declaration of fascist intent, he couldn’t deny the certainty of every word that has come to define countless pasts and futures. The reaction of the soldiers makes it all the more unsettling and sickening.
There is so much to say and argue about the sorrow, suffering, and violence depicted in Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon. It is far from perfect—there are numerous instances when the technique reveals indulgence and tests one’s patience, moments when it feels wrong to wait this long—but Diaz, with his gift as a storyteller, has a means of making the viewers understand why this thorough and expansive depiction is crucial, why this is the only way for him to let them feel the indescribable regret of seeing a town and its people disappear off the face of the earth, with almost no one remembering them, why some narratives can survive without ends, and why the appeal of great films is their flawed nature. An applause ends the screening, the theater still packed with people, and nothing from any movie released this year has ever come close to this instant of absolute joy.
We Yell Like Hell to the Heavens: The Top Albums of 2012 January 22, 2013Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
Well, look who made a belated list.
2012 didn’t pass like a breeze. The days came in with unbearable force and slowness, a torturous year when I begged nights to end as soon as they started. Only concerts made me sober, hence my splurge on gigs, and I’m thankful for having friends who joined me in my madness for live music. In many ways 2012 was a turning point, the year when I lost the most important person in my life and when my dreams collapsed on their own, but it was also the year that had to happen, a time that made me realize the importance of concession, the inevitability of reaching such decision, and the need for a wise albeit weary acceptance of defeat. Sadly I didn’t have better options. It took me a while to say that I am doing well, and I guess the business of saying that to people closest to me slowly became natural, for it was an attempt to go past that point where hell is not other people but myself.
Needless to say, the albums below had been wonderful companions, many of which, if I were to be sentimental about it, helped me through. I remember all of them with fondness, sometimes with pain and regret, but often with a smile on my face, because even discomfort makes me grin or laugh. Some of these records serve as time stamps, leaving very distinct impressions on my mind. For instance, I was listening to Album #42 on the bus when my two sisters and I went out together, something which rarely happen these days, and Album #34 when I was on the car with my coworkers during those long drives from Taguig to Quezon City. My favorite record to listen to at the airport is Album #3. Once, when I was on the plane to Cebu it made me feel so happy and giddy that I cried. When my mother was at the hospital, I listened to Album #33 constantly, and several days before she died Album #5 was with me all along, holding my hand as I tried to hold back my tears. Listening to Album #46, #45, #28, #23, and #20 still makes me sad up to now, but nothing beats Album #2 in being so heartbreakingly beautiful.
But surely I had crazy moments, times when happiness was hard to contain, days when I looked high without being under the influence. Album #6 is the first contender for album of the year, pure crystal meth from start to finish, and heaven knows I’m miserable now for missing out on their Hong Kong gig today. Album #49 and #44 are punk rock at its wildest, and Album #39, #31, #21, and #9 are my ever-dependable hip-hop pills. Album #41 isn’t as bad as many critics and fans say it is (in fact, it has a lot of enchanting moments) and Album #25 has haters who may not have even listened to it in full. Normally I won’t put two albums by one artist but I made an exception: Album #30 and #12 are inseparable, brilliantly delivered by a musician who always comes up with heartfelt compositions. And of course, what to say about Album #4? It’s a landmark record whose commercial failure is completely upsetting, but in years’ time music snobs will look back and be blinded by its sheen. How about Album #1? Well, not even the end of the world could stop it from being on top of the list. It’s the record that I had been waiting for months, and when it came it ruined me. After several weeks it put me back together, then ruined me again.
So without further ado, here are the top albums of 2012, the best EPs, a list of the year’s overlooked songs, the most memorable concerts I attended, and more than 170 links to tracks I love, all in one post. See you again next year, friends!
50. BABY, Tribes
49. HOLOGRAMS, Holograms
48. EVANS THE DEATH, Evans the Death
47. ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II, Earth
46. A CHURCH THAT FITS OUR NEEDS, Lost in the Trees
45. PORT OF MORROW, The Shins
44. OFF! OFF
43. I BET ON SKY, Dinosaur Jr.
42. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT, Gravenhurst
41. CENTIPEDE HZ, Animal Collective
40. WHO NEEDS WHO, Dark Dark Dark
39. 4EVA N A DAY, Big K.R.I.T.
38. GIVEN TO THE WILD, The Maccabees
37. SUN, Cat Power
36. SOMETHING, Chairlift
35. SHUT DOWN THE STREETS, A.C. Newman
34. DEVOTION, Jessie Ware
33. THE SOMETHING RAIN, Tindersticks
32. THE HAUNTED MAN, Bat for Lashes
31. good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
30. OCEAN ROAR, Mount Eerie
29. THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL EVER DO, Fiona Apple
28. RHYTHM AND REPOSE, Glen Hansard
27. TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH, The Mountain Goats
26. THE SEER, Swans
25. BORN AND RAISED, John Mayer
24. ‘ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND! Godspeed You! Black Emperor
23. I KNOW WHAT LOVE ISN’T, Jens Lekman
22. THE FLOAT, Rebecca Gates and the Consortium
21. LIFE IS GOOD, Nas
20. SHIELDS, Grizzly Bear
19. A THING CALLED DIVINE FITS, Divine Fits
18. RUNNER, The Sea and Cake
17. AMERICA, Dan Deacon
16. SWING LO MAGELLAN, Dirty Projectors
15. OPEN YOUR HEART, The Men
14. TRAMP, Sharon Van Etten
13. UNTIL THE QUIET COMES, Flying Lotus
12. CLEAR MOON, Mount Eerie
11. WIXIW, Liars
10. KOI NO YOKAN, Deftones
9. RETURN OF THE PHUNKY JUAN, Dash Calzado
8. TRANSVERSE, Carter Tutti Void
7. TAMA NA ANG DRAMA, Ang Bandang Shirley
6. CELEBRATION ROCK, Japandroids
5. PUT YOUR BACK N 2 IT, Perfume Genius
4. KISS, Carly Rae Jepsen
3. WAKING SEASON, Caspian
2. MID AIR, Paul Buchanan
1. CAPACITIES, Up Dharma Down
BEST EPs: UNDERSEA, The Antlers; SILENT HOUR/GOLDEN MILE, Daniel Rossen; KAYA MO MAG-SANDO? Pedicab
BEST OST: THE MASTER: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Jonny Greenwood
BEST ALBUM COVER: NO LOVE DEEP WEB, Death Grips
ANOTHER P-P-P-PLAYLIST (Best Songs not on the Albums and Tracks Shit)
1. “Under the Westway,” Blur
2. “Ill Manors,” Plan B
3. “Only In My Dreams,” Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
4. “Angels,” The xx
5. “Lost,” Frank Ocean
6. “Duquesne Whistle,” Bob Dylan
7. “The Celestials,” The Smashing Pumpkins
8. “Clique,” Kanye West (feat. Big Sean and Jay-Z)
9. “R U Mine?” Arctic Monkeys
11. “Do Ya Thing,” Gorillaz (feat. Andre 3000 and James Murphy)
12. “Anna Sun,” Walk the Moon
13. “I’ve Seen Footage,” Death Grips
14. “I’ll Be Alright,” Passion Pit
15. “Adorn,” Miguel
16. “Heaven is a Ghost Town,” Minus the Bear
17. “Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast,” The Cribs
18. “Sixteen Saltines,” Jack White
19. “Watching You Watch Him,” Eric Hutchinson
20. “Hey Jane,” Spiritualized
MOST MEMORABLE CONCERTS
1. Radiohead. The King of Limbs Tour. Nangang Exhibition Hall, Taipei, July 2012. With Ayn.
2. The Smashing Pumpkins. Oceania Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, August 2012. With Megan.
3. Sigur Rós. Valtari Tour. Fort Canning, Singapore, November 2012. With Ayn and David.
4. Morrissey. World Trade Center Manila. May 2012. With Megan, Beverly, and Jerrold.
5. Up Dharma Down. Capacities album launch. One Esplanade, Pasay City, November 2012. With Ayn and Bolix.
6. Keane. Strangeland Tour. SM Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City, October 2012. With Ali.
7. Lady Gaga. Born This Way Ball Tour. SM Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City, With Ayn, Leo, Dohna, and Ate.
8. Sting. Back to Bass Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, December 2012. With Tish and Tita.
9. Snow Patrol. Fallen Empires Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, August 2012. With Ayn and Ali.
10. Toe. NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, March 2012. With Gian.
11. Pupil. 70s Bistro, Quezon City, May 2012.
12. James Morrison. The Awakening Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, October 2012.
Let Us Compare Mythologies: The Top Filipino Films of 2012 December 30, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, Yearender.
In the introduction to his first collection of writings, Anthony Lane asserts that “the primary task of the critic is the recreation of texture—not telling moviegoers what they should see, which is entirely their prerogative, but filing a sensory report on the kind of experience into which they will be wading, or plunging, should they decide to risk a ticket.”
The critic being described exists in Philippine cinema, and there are a few of them stuck in the mangroves and observing the flow of water as they write their reveries. Their sensory reports are awaiting readers, logophiles who are crazy about newfangled encounters with the anatomies of cinema.
But the critic must also be an explorer, an indefatigable traveler. He or she should discover unknown countries, stay there, and talk to their people. These foreign regions are the life support of any national cinema. As valuable as the canons may be, these new films and filmmakers are more persuasive signs of progress.
Once flags are lodged in these countries, he or she must also know the right time to leave. Sentimental attachment weakens the critic, but weakness is always a good trait to have, only if it’s served in reasonable servings.
The most important thing is to have a constant belief in an unthinkable possibility, an idea lifted from Lane himself, that moviegoers can be stretched, and they can learn to love it. The critic must have faith in this, or else the local scene will soon become a lonely vacuum.
Below are ten homelands. None of them are perfect, but all have fascinating towns and cities, each boasting attractions that every reader who reads the critic must find time to visit. The first thing to do is sail north and scroll down. The places are positioned according to experience, but don’t hesitate to disobey as deemed necessary.
10. KAMERA OBSKURA, Raymond Red
There must have been a time when moviegoers enjoy a dose of mawkishness and simplicity, a period when the idea of art does not aim to confound but to instruct, and it’s OK because people get something from it regardless of the unnecessary flourishes. Moreover, there is a clear recognition of a larger canvas and the significant points it raises, not only on political history but also on the temperament of the medium. Kamera Obskura relies heavily on artifice—the strings it pulls and the rumpus it creates attract too much attention—but its message is loud and clear. Musing on a possible failure, its sender Raymond Red wonders: what’s wrong with didacticism if it manages to divide audiences and make them argue? Why give subtlety too much credit? What could be more enlightening than the assertion that there is a higher purpose than art? The answers remain unsent.
9. THE ANIMALS, Gino Santos
The Animals is riddled with problems of varying intensities, mostly regarding its inconsistent maneuvering of plot and characters, but these missteps only emphasize the disposition of its filmmaker: a young man fresh out of film school wanting to prove something, a need so palpable that while sitting through the movie, the viewer becomes more concerned with him and how much he is going to fuck the whole thing up than with his group of well-to-do kids. The film throws a tantrum from time to time, but one cannot ignore its unmistakable voice, the current that runs through the narrative and keeps it moving. The youth should never lose that: the courage to be rude and the guts to offend, because when’s the next time that such behavior will be acceptable? Gino Santos depicts rats in cages and beasts in their little wilds, but he is also their keeper, guiding them into places where monsters bite without warning, and where parents, blindsided by time, let this horror happen.
8. ANAK ARAW, Gym Lumbera
It’s easy to fall into the trap and say that Taglish reflects Gym Lumbera’s pensive side and Anak Araw his lighthearted personality, but this assumption not only limits further reading of his work but also fosters a kind of thinking that gives more credit to the façade than to the foundation. It actually yields a finer insight if the viewer decides to transpose the two. For one, Anak Araw provides a semblance of structure that allows his experiment to extend to various directions, his hands always looking for a place to make contact. The positioning of its elements is far from random, and its sense of humor is not as effortless as it seems to be, considering the poles that Lumbera manages to draw together. He continues to dampen the ache and sorrow that seep out of the black-and-white images, his language hungry for recognition despite the seeming haze, presenting a piece of history orphaned by its people but imposingly complete.
7. JUNGLE LOVE, Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Champions of Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s movies may consider Jungle Love a minor piece of work since there’s hardly anything in it that can’t be put into words—finally! something slightly comprehensible!—but it’s also the reason for its charming brilliance. It’s a shrewd portrait of young lovers catching up on old mysteries, of hapless cadets and well-endowed women sharing silence and sensations, which contains some of the most rewarding and strangest depictions of sex and coquetry in local cinema. Sanchez manages to create a pleasantly intelligent discourse without paralyzing his audience, allowing them to penetrate it and sprawl in all directions, leading them to a terrain that’s not exactly graspable but comfortable nonetheless. The tracking shots of the jungle provide a light, supple texture, making it seem like the viewer is entering Herzog territory, a place that foreshadows casualty, and fortunately Sanchez permits such pleasures to repeat and linger. This being a movie of treacherous slopes and faint come-ons, the presence of an insanely catchy novelty song is manna from heaven.
6. PASCALINA, Pam Miras
Pascalina does not give a good first impression. Its grainy, home video quality is enough to throw someone off, and Pascalina happens to be one of those frustrating characters whose ill fate can’t be helped. But Pam Miras is smart enough not to resort to cheap tricks and bloodletting to pull the viewers in. Instead, she makes her narrative swell until it bursts with tension, creating a rickety, airless, and claustrophobic cavity in which her characters slip into without noticing it, her main character being the only person to realize the descent. Shireen Seno and Malay Javier, using a Digital Harinezumi, favor compositions that look as though they were infested by maggots—the shots are dingy but strong, a fundamental force in carrying out the beast that Pascalina ignores—and Corinne de San Jose casts a chill over the rubble, creates more corpses, and hides them in the dark, her sound design hovering until the film finds Pascalina shaking hands with the devil.
5. GIVE UP TOMORROW, Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco
In hindsight, the Chiong murder case, from the moment it first came to public attention in 1997 to the release of Paco Larrañaga’s death sentence in 2004, was a dog and pony show. It exploded and scattered its shrapnel to every nook and cranny of the Philippine justice system, a grim and painful reminder of an organized snafu that required gods and monsters to accomplish, tightening the knots of an unforgivable criminal gaffe instead of helping loosen them. In Give Up Tomorrow, the situation being dissected is messy. Arguments pile on top of one another incessantly—each of them forming the trajectory towards the center, Paco’s innocence bearing the clearest but most disputed evidence—but the documentary makes a strong and convincing point by showing how clean-cut it is. Producer Marty Syjuco and director Michael Collins are driven by a hazy glimmer of hope, and rather than doing an autopsy they perform a CPR, veering away from mere journalism and carefully guiding the viewer into a cold, unsettling conclusion that pounds the truth that justice, regardless of partakers, shouldn’t be arbitrary. Their film presents a world where the hideous becomes bearable, and this kind of tolerance is more revolting than the crimes and misdemeanors that their seven-year search has managed to uncover.
4. ANG PAGLALAKBAY NG MGA BITUIN SA GABING MADILIM, Arnel Mardoquio
At times, the surface of Arnel Mardoquio’s fifth full-length feature would be so frightfully calm that its characters also tend to notice it, and they make some noise to break free from the stifling atmosphere, revealing parts of themselves that have long been seeking release. So when the big moments take place, they don’t really leave an impression of size but of spontaneity, war being life itself, a stage of never-ending battles and losses, and Mardoquio, without betraying the intricacies of his subject, melts this exterior as the narrative unfolds, the stuff underneath bulging with apprehension and dread.
3. PUREZA: THE STORY OF NEGROS SUGAR, Jay Abello
Jay Abello is a skilled cinematographer, and although Pureza features beautiful images of the Negros landscape, they are hardly the highlight of his exhaustive documentary. He’s more concerned with digging—histories, communities, dynasties, voices, culture, crimes, injustice, yarns of stories, huge chunks of contradictions, the embarrassment of riches, the thrust of being born poor, the numerous divides created by sugar as the region’s goldmine, the lives of people it continues to affect at present, from the families of hacienderos to the impoverished farmers who own a piece of land but can’t make a decent living out of it—he discovers all of these, which makes the film too heavy to carry, but he never stops. Pureza is driven by Abello’s resolute desire to answer a simple question, but along the way it unearths tragedies of the worst kind, a pile of incongruities in the sociopolitical topography of the country eaten by neoliberal trade and neocolonialism, a grave national problem being neglected ever since. After connecting the dots, the film’s final image assumes the form of a recognizably Filipino cluster fuck, one that has taken countless lives and many lifetimes to happen.
2. COLOSSAL, Whammy Alcazaren
“Colossal—but all on paper,” writes Noli Manaig about Whammy Alcazaren’s debut film. Five simple words, but strong enough to inflict hurt on the young Alcazaren. Manaig pens an eloquent review, but one can’t miss the tone of derision that permeates it, the way he attributes most of the film’s praises to how people always take into consideration the director’s age, basically a factor that Alcazaren can do nothing about. After highlighting an extremely favorable comment, Manaig takes the bull by the horns and presents his detailed but generally unfriendly assessment. But here’s the thing: in light of that appraisal, an important incident, something rare in local cinema, takes place. A seemingly slight but crucial exchange has materialized between an articulate film critic and a promising filmmaker, the latter armed with his overwhelming poetry and images, and the former with his persuasive skepticism, and both manage to build strong defenses of their own. That’s a welcome development, right? It’s something that needs to happen more frequently. But in an argument between two figures, who’s more convincing?
Well, Colossal lives up to its name in many ways, but it must be said that it’s the kind of work that reeks of privilege. The resources needed to make it—the intellectual attitude, the emotional control, the access to historical material—wave its hands nonchalantly at the audience. Belonging to a family of esteemed professionals and artists, Alcazaren makes use of the medium, succumbs to an eclectic mindset, and does something strange and beautiful with it. Colossal observes grief, alluding to C.S. Lewis’s book on the subject, and is narrated single-handedly by an old man who muses on a medley of stories, a shapeless monologue seeming to exist independently from the visuals. Alcazaren creates brave new worlds by luxuriating in monochromatic curlicues, at one point playing with lines to form constellations, and structures his film with conscious regard for its architecture, each sequence like a concrete block waiting to be filled with cement. It turns into a concentration of riches, overseeing a contagion of maladies in a place where maps are not needed, just silent understanding. There is only a suggestion of grief—perhaps in Alcazaren’s mind, to confront it is to betray it—but even its lightest tinge is imposing enough.
1. FLORENTINA HUBALDO, CTE, Lav Diaz
Lav Diaz’s movies feel like they are set at the end of the world—their place and time harbor a sense of resignation and denouement, what with the consuming display of despair and stone-cold violence, most strikingly the passage of time in preparation for what seems to be an impending doom—and his characters are either unaware of it or they don’t care about what’s coming. The latter is more likely, considering that time and space in Diaz’s films are not ideas but companions, visible and perceptible, their existence so physical that the medium, and the language consequently, concedes to the need for a more accurate depiction of emotional decay, one that respects time by allowing it to appear as an element closest to its spotless form.
Even Florentina Hubaldo, the subject of his most recent film, would have expressed how much she wanted the world to end had she been more articulate, had she found a way to escape the life that her abusive father ruined for her so early. But her confinement is seeking finality, and that finality is death, so Diaz is only as helpless as her, pained at the sight of his creation, and the only happiness he could give her, aside from the cheerful sequences with the Higantes, is that moment when she and her daughter are seen together, smiling as the boat passes by, freed from the grief of the world. The post-nominal letters in the title are the same cuffs that tie Florentina to her bed, only this suffix consigns her into a beastlier lodging, sharing the fate of the gecko that never stops making a sound until someone finds it. Someone does find her eventually, only her respite is not long enough to make up for the things she has lost.
Like Diaz’s other films, Florentina Hubaldo, CTE contains the nuances and challenges of great literature. It doesn’t beg to be watched in its entirety: its strength is its ability to remain powerful despite the inevitability of missing sequences due to its length. But sincere admirers of Diaz never call it length: they call it dimension, the distance from end to end not measured by minutes but by experience, and waiting for the film to unfold is similar to reading a novel without actually holding one. Diaz turns the pages and they fuel a dying bonfire. Unknown to him, they burn but never turn into ashes.
For future reference: The Top Filipino Films of 2011 December 25, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, Yearender.
Old habits die hard, and one of them turns out to be one year late.
1. LAWAS KAN PINABLI, Christopher Gozum
2. BIG BOY, Shireen Seno
3. TUNDONG MAGILIW, Jewel Maranan
4. ISDA, Adolfo Alix, Jr.
5. ELEHIYA SA DUMALAW MULA SA HIMAGSIKAN, Lav Diaz
6. X-DEAL, Lawrence Fajardo
7. BAHAY BATA, Eduardo Roy, Jr.
8. PAHINGA, Khavn De La Cruz
9. WON’T LAST A DAY WITHOUT YOU, Raz Dela Torre
10. EX PRESS, Jet Leyco
The Top 50 Albums of 2011 January 23, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
Truth: it was the year when I listened to too many albums. I checked my notebook and realized that I listened to five new albums every week in 2011. I couldn’t help it. I needed things to occupy my time and found these records. I devoured them like a madman, re-listening to them on my way to the office or back home, when I had my lunch, waited at airports, traveled on a bus or jeepney, took the train, walked to nowhere. These albums had been wonderful companions through the good and the bad, carrying me through the rough times and keeping me sane. I neglected books and movies because of them, and to what end? A certain kind of happiness, bittersweet, heavy, and forgiving. In Peter Silberman’s words, I was “pulled together but about to burst apart, rolled together with a burning paper heart.” Sappy yet true.
Below is a summary of the finest records I loved and continue to love from last year. Links to songs are provided, as well as a few notes on other stuff. Do listen to them if you have the time.
WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN, Bonnie “Prince” Billy
NO TIME FOR DREAMING, Charles Bradley
LAST SUMMER, Eleanor Friedberger
SOUND KAPITAL, Handsome Furs
HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART 2, Beastie Boys
LA JOVEN DOLORES, Christina Rosenvinge
NOSTALGIA, ULTRA, Frank Ocean
EL CAMINO, The Black Keys
THE KING IS DEAD, The Decemberists
50. NO COLOR, Dodos
49. HEARTS, I Break Horses
48. UNDUN, The Roots
47. OPUS EPONYMOUS, Ghost
46. TAMER ANIMALS, Other Lives
45. 12 DESPERATE STRAIGHT LINES, Telekinesis
44. DYE IT BLONDE, Smith Westerns
43. ONEIROLOGY, CunninLynguists
42. SAFARI DISCO CLUB, Yelle
41. IMPOSSIBLE SPACES, Sandro Perri
40. TOMBOY, Panda Bear
39. TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, Explosions in the Sky
38. GLOSS DROP, Battles
37. CIRCUITAL, My Morning Jacket
36. LAST NIGHT ON EARTH, Noah and the Whale
35. BLANCK MASS, Blanck Mass
34. FADING PARADE, Papercuts
33. SMOTHER, Wild Beasts
32. STRANGE NEGOTIATIONS, David Bazan
31. HELPLESSNESS BLUES, Fleet Foxes
30. THE MAGIC PLACE, Julianna Barwick
29. ARABIA MOUNTAIN, Black Lips
28. TURTLENECK & CHAIN, The Lonely Island
27. SKY FULL OF HOLES, Fountains of Wayne
26. PARALLAX, Atlas Sound
25. A CREATURE I DON’T KNOW, Laura Marling
24. BLACK UP, Shabazz Palaces
23. NOTHING IS WRONG, Dawes
22. SKYING, The Horrors
21. HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING, M83
20. THE KING OF LIMBS
19. LEAVE HOME
18. WIT’S END
17. WASTING LIGHT
15. SUCK IT AND SEE
13. DAVID COMES TO LIFE
12. RAVEDEATH, 1972
11. NINE TYPES OF LIGHT
TV on the Radio
10. ECHOES OF SILENCE
7. COIN COIN CHAPTER ONE: GENS DE COULEUR LIBRES
6. TAPE CLUB
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
5. NEW BRIGADE
[What’s Your Rupture?]
3. PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS
2. BURST APART
1. LET ENGLAND SHAKE
HALLS EP, Halls
AN ARGUMENT WITH MYSELF, Jens Lekman
OH SUNSHINE, Oh Sunshine
GUARDS EP, Guards
WHAT A PLEASURE, Beach Fossils
QUADRUPLE SINGLE EP, Big Business
DRIVE, Cliff Martinez
SUBMARINE, Alex Turner
THEY’RE OK, BUT….
BON IVER, Bon Iver
FATHER SON HOLY GHOST, Girls
GO TELL FIRE TO THE MOUNTAIN, Wu Lyf
LOOPING STATE OF MIND, The Field
WATCH THE THRONE, Jay-Z and Kanye West
DAYS, Real Estate
THE ENGLISH RIVIERA, Metronomy
EYE CONTACT, Gang Gang Dance
BEST SONGS NOT ON THE ALBUMS LIST
“SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW,” Gotye feat. Kimbra
“MEASUREMENTS,” James Blake
“LOTS SOMETIMES,” Glasvegas
“THE DAILY MAIL,” Radiohead
“MEET ME IN MIRAMAS,” Matthew Friedberger
“BABY MISSILES,” The War on Drugs
“QUANTUM LEAP,” John Maus
“ROMANCE,” Wild Flag
“WHERE I’M WAKING,” Slow Club
“I FOLLOW RIVERS,” Lykke Li
“ORIGINAL SPIN,” Mother Mother
“LIPPY KIDS,” Elbow
“BRAIN ON A TABLE,” An Horse
“HOW CAN YOU LUV ME,” Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“SHOULDA,” Jamie Woon
“BUBBLE POP!” Hyuna
“HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE,” The Rapture
“SANTA FE,” Beirut
“UNDERNEATH THE SYCAMORE,” Death Cab for Cutie
“WAKE AND BE FINE,” Okkervil River
“ME AND LAZARUS,” Iron and Wine
“BLUE EYES,” Destroyer
BEST CONCERT ATTENDED
THE NATIONAL at the Esplanade in Singapore, November 6, 2011. A trip worth taking and a dream come true. Everything about it is made of happiness and fun and sad memories and getting high.
The Top 20 Songs of 2011 January 18, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
Pop music is my drug, and the more I withdraw from it the more I suffer. No matter how many folk or dubstep or black metal albums I listen to, a song full of irresistible hooks will always turn me into that mindless six-year-old kid dancing to Backstreet Boys and weeping to the tune of Westlife’s songs. Pop music has forever taken me hostage, and what do I get? Joy. Thrill. Fixation. That juvenile feeling of keeping a treasured secret. That accomplishment in being able to appreciate nuances of a song that most people think is junk. That delight in acknowledging the stupidity of it all but not being able to walk away from it. What else is there to get? Instead of pleading freedom, why not embrace it?
In a seminal essay, writer Tom Ewing talks about pop music and says, “[…] the primary tactic of the new pop critic was to bypass that and twitch back the showbiz curtain to locate these records in a production system. What made the tracks important wasn’t how they made you feel, but the innovative tricks creators used to get those effects. Intricate drum patterns, Bollywood samples, fake-harpsichord frills, or brutal minimalism—anything with an angle got love.” The first impulse is always one of love, of course, so why exempt feelings? Isn’t how music affects you more significant than how it is made, and consequently, how you respond to it?
Locally, 2011 is a year dominated by “Teach Me How to Dougie,” “Super Bass,” Adele, and Anne Curtis, each one of them inescapable, straightforward, and confrontational, and their ubiquity on television and radio easily switches between charming and annoying. Two of them appear below, and the other eighteen are for you to find out.
How about a nice shuffle before you read through the list?
20. “THE SHOW GOES ON”
The song that announced the arrival of Lupe Fiasco’s third album was ripe with risks. The much talked-about fight he had with his producers who insisted on controlling every aspect of the record resulted in the delay of its release, but it only made the song’s title even more fitting. Lupe gets away with the dull lyrics and lousy rhymes because they are wrapped in a nice, shiny flow that gets better every time the chorus kicks in, owing its flaps and bounces to Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” carrying his rough disappointments in a sleigh ride and pulling a neat pop song from a hat caked with filth.
19. “DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH”
The Pussycat Dolls are second rate and trying hard, and it takes Nicole Scherzinger’s second single from her first solo record to prove that. She doesn’t need the girls—she can nail a smashing hit single of her own. “Don’t Hold Your Breath” splashes with an ear-friendly mix of synths, bass, and piano, and on top of it is Scherzinger’s breathy vocals, steamrollering with lyrical punches and hip-shaking conviction. When she sings, You can’t touch me now, there’s no feeling left, imagine, how can a guy ever think of laying a hand on her again?
18. “BEFORE IT EXPLODES”
By now Charice should have graduated from doing covers and started performing songs of her own, but these matters are clearly beyond her control. It would take a while before people get used to her without a song or two from Momma Celine and Whitney. Her image is fragile, and appropriate songs have yet to come her way. “Pyramid” helped her immensely, and though club music wasn’t something that fit her puniness, it displayed her potential as a well-rounded recording artist, given a proper team of writers and producers.
“Before It Explodes,” the first single from her sophomore record, fulfills the promise of a pop star Charice who is not only confident in her vocal abilities but also in her shortcomings, as she becomes more disciplined in adding dramatic shifts to her singing. For someone who earns praise for excessiveness, she has managed to lose the fat and lop off the curls from her routine. Her voice lives up to the woman that Bruno Mars has envisioned for the song, and every time she hits the line, let’s stop the madness before it explodes, she roars with cockiness made even more impressive by the way she rolls herself around the bridge.
All right, all right, it’s a pain in the ass. But this musical monolith deserves a spot on a list that glorifies the popular and the dumb, and more so because “Friday” is a mix of the divisive and the comical and the ubiquitous—everything a pop song should be.
16. “HELENA BEAT”
Foster the People
After the massive success of “Pumped Up Kicks,” it seems that Foster the People have nothing much to worry about. Three or four tracks from Torches carry the same thump and wallop, and one or two of them are potential chart-toppers. However, there’s a fat chance that any of them will be played on Gossip Girl, Homeland, Entourage, or CSI: NY and be covered by The Kooks or Weezer. Being in the shadow of a kid in a shooting spree singing You better run, run run sucks big time, but “Helena Beat,” which vaguely speaks of alcoholism and drug addiction, possesses the earworm qualities that made its predecessor click: remarkable hooks, gutsy synth arrangements, androgynous vocals, and a slideshow of disturbing images. The glee that comes from “Pumped Up Kicks” spills right through here, filtered and moderated, which makes the song longer but tighter and loonier. It’s tough being a follow-up single, but apparently these trigger-happy guys from L.A. have more upsetting stories to tell and they send them in colorful boxes of sweets.
15. “SINO NGA BA SIYA”
All things considered, Sarah Geronimo should be thankful for Rayver Cruz. If not for him, she won’t have someone to throw virtual darts at every time she sings about heartbreak. “Forever’s Not Enough” is a superior song on all levels, but “Sino Nga Ba Siya” depicts her at her most wounded, and no one connects to listeners better than a woman who got hurt by her first love. Her words aren’t only clear—they are sharp, razor-sharp, cutthroat sharp. Her questions aren’t only straightforward—they are candid, honest, and undemanding. In fact, she might have been talking to Siri and asking for advice. It’s the song in Sarah’s catalog that may be the hardest for her to perform, but it captures her frailty and defenseless that her other hits cannot match.
14. “CHARLIE BROWN”
The best song from their weakest album, hardly because of the fuzziness of the songwriting—Took a car downtown where the lost boys meet, Took a car downtown and took what they offered me, lines which Chris Martin can scribble in his sleep—but by virtue of a rare kind of magic that their instruments manage to muddle up, the audio tracks that leap from everywhere, most especially the wailing guitars that burn the mawkishness and make the song frosty, slowly Zooropa-ing the mush away.
13. “THE EDGE OF GLORY”
[Born This Way]
A large portion of Lady Gaga’s persona is smokes and mirrors. Subtlety is never her strong suit, but she easily uses that to her advantage by channeling her diverse musical influences to her compositions. On Born This Way, she offers such huge servings of rock, metal, opera, and disco that listening to it becomes thoroughly exhausting. By the time the record hits the final track it’s all hot and heavy, and “The Edge of Glory” seems to add more weight with its slosh of techno synths that befits her larger-than-life ambitions. It’s a monster quite different from “Bad Romance,” “Poker Face” and “Born This Way”—it’s softer, richer, riskier in terms of structure, and her voice is fuller and fiercer. It’s a dance anthem for the weepies—it’s mad, manic, and maudlin, like the feeling of downing consecutive shots of vodka—and Gaga’s eclecticism has finally found an appropriate direction to go to. She never believes in “less is more,” so she asks Clarence Clemons to fashion a sax solo towards the end, batter the heart even harder, and pour more syrup.
Taken By Cars
Taken by Cars manage to refine their sound in Dualist, yet what stands out in their sophomore release is the unabashed dedication to hooks, specifically the eye-squinting polish and smoother texture that each song exudes. “Unidentified” follows the gleam of album opener, “This Is Our City,” and throws all the energy at the dance floor, punching holes in hearts as Sarah Marco spreads disco fever with her infectious singing. It’s more hypnotic than erotic, preferring spins and glides as the verses, chorus, and bridge seem to outrun each other’s slickness. There are no wasted seconds on the track—a cunningly seamless production is as scarce as hen’s teeth nowadays— and like every untouchable pop song, it pulls the ripcord at the most unexpected and breathtaking.
11. “WHO SAYS”
Selena Gomez and The Scene
[When The Sun Goes Down]
“Who Says” is Selena’s response to Facebook and Twitter haters who hounded her after she started dating Justin Bieber, and it’s wise of her to turn such torment into something sweet, into a celebration of individuality and self-worth. Hitting two birds with one stone, she is not only able to inspire her fans but also establish and reiterate, by dropping the word “beauty” countless times, how pretty she is, as if referencing to herself provides an impression of experience, an authority to speak on every girl’s behalf. Every time she repeats the verse, I’m no beauty queen, I’m just beautiful me, who can blame her self-confidence? Who dares to cringe after that figure of speech, It’s like a work of art that never gets to see the light? And who cares if the most expressive line in this song is Na na na na na na na na na na na?
[2NE1 2nd Mini Album]
Far from the feisty and gutsy techno-warfare singles the group is known for, “Lonely” wallows in simplicity. It takes away the Auto-tune, bombastic beats, and rap intrusions and lets the girls’ vocal abilities shine—the absence making its presence felt deeply—and such risky undertaking pays off in many exuberant ways. Invisible is the transition among the singers, and it shows how confident and comfortable they are in slow tempo. Stripped down, “Lonely” leaves 2NE1 in a state of utter nakedness, but there’s nothing to hide here but talent, which reveals the glitter and teeth marks of sadness.
[Limiters of Infinity Pool]
Ambivalence doesn’t work all the time, but in Ely Buendia’s case, when he drops words like a threatened man who finds comfort in poetry, it kills the monotony of a predictably dark and dull atmosphere. “TNT,” the lead single from Pupil’s Limiters of the Infinity Pool, starts with a flaming guitar riff that signals the clash of instruments about to inundate Ely’s vocals, peeling the layers until they reveal a door of sonic surprises. One can’t help but make a Teeth comparison after the nifty bridge, but that only adds to the song’s charming mysteriousness, which builds a fortress before finally drawing the curtains in a split second.
8. “TELL ME IT’S LOVE”
There was one touching moment during the Westlife concert in Manila when Nicky Byrne recounted a conversation with a Filipino staff member at the hotel they stayed in. The woman came up to him and said that she was a huge fan of the band and that their songs helped her get through elementary school. After making fun of his mates’ age, Nicky asked who among the audience was listening to their songs during elementary and more than half of the crowd raised their hands, which made the band members chuckle even louder. Shane started to sing words from “My Love” in a cappella and Nicky grabbed his camera to film the people singing along, and for the nth time the night was drowned in memories, all coursing through from the bright stage.
“Tell Me It’s Love” was never sung in the concert, but it was tucked somewhere in the band’s tenth and final studio album, Gravity. A throwback to their early singles, it is as generic as any Westlife song can get, alternating between Mark and Shane’s sweeping vocals, building up towards a chorus that looks back as much as it looks forward. Wrapped up by Nicky’s maudlin bridge and Mark’s trademark torch singing, the rendition of the song is close to perfect, which explains why the band’s breakup is a little hard to embrace.
7. “PATULOY ANG PANGARAP”
Angeline Quinto came at the time when the local music industry was consciously and unconsciously looking for someone as good as Sarah Geronimo. With the arguable exception of Christian Bautista, whose popularity is only hyped by his international fan base, Sarah’s contemporaries have all been passé—Erik Santos, Sheryn Regis, Rachelle Ann Go, and Mark Bautista are still out there but they’re only as negligible as anybody—and even she has been making constant efforts to reinvent herself to avoid the sharp fangs of oblivion. ABS-CBN knows that the solution is to come up with another talent search, even if it means producing another mediocre show.
Angeline bags the title among the hordes of Sharon wannabes , wins a recording contract, and eventually becomes the reliable provider of soundtracks for soap operas. Her breakthrough single, “Patuloy ang Pangarap,” maps out her journey, from dreaming dreams to finally realizing them, imbued with banalities that fail to make her flinch. Angeline’s careful singing gives her away: she means all the words she says. The song is about her, for her, and by her. By the time she reaches the peak of the song, she has nothing left to do but hold all her aces, flap her wings, and soar.
6. “ROLLING IN THE DEEP”
In the year that witnessed a tug of war between Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, Adele just stood in the middle: she took the cake and ate it by herself. She’s the corporal opposite of Amy Winehouse, but she shares the late singer’s knack for emotional lift, vulnerable to every proof that love is indeed a losing game. But unlike Amy, Adele prefers screams and histrionics, favoring drama and towering arrangements in lieu of sublimity, her quivering voice a reminder of hurt and willingness to suffer. From the guitar strums in the beginning to the thunderous claps in the bridge, “Rolling in the Deep” describes Adele at her most sorrowful, glimpsing at her healing heart before patching the holes of regret and despair. But the song also depicts her strength and sobriety. She takes all the pain in and lets it all out, her soul emptied out and filled again, showing everyone her breathtaking needlework.
[Araw, Oras, Tagpuan]
It is possible that the members of Spongecola, who have long been creating some of the most vexing pop songs in the past few years, are not aware that they have released their finest composition, lyrically and melodically, this year. “Tambay” is not a risky undertaking—it still makes use of the band’s trite songwriting and ostentatious chord arrangements—but now it is fine-tuned from start to end, progressing from a run-of-the-mill ditty to an irresistibly catchy courtship song that stands alongside the best of Parokya ni Edgar and Kamikazee. Yael Yuzon gives up the overbearing screams and delivers well-adjusted bellows, accompanied by guitar screeches and eager beats that fit the teenage vibe nicely, flashing a three-minute wonder worthy of numerous repeats.
4. “SUPER BASS”
Nicki Minaj (feat. Ester Dean)
In the past two years, a Nicki Minaj verse means gold. Whenever she makes a guest appearance, she turns a so-so song into something remarkable (“Up Out My Face”) and a good song much, much better (“Woohoo,” “Raining Men”). Sadly her own songs from Pink Friday lack the pump and kick of her collaborations, and if it weren’t for Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, to whom “Super Bass” owes its break, she’d be quickly reduced to a novelty, a trinket to be discarded over time. In a span of three minutes and a series of wild verses, fortunately, she changed all that. “Super Bass” is one of the year’s loudest and proudest turning points, an arsenal of all things weird and wonderful made even weirder and more wonderful by Nicki’s skill at catapulting, robbing every word and stuffing all of them into her mouth before launching an impeccable chorus. How the song turns affection into something worth sinning for is no easy feat, but the way she declares her fondness for a guy and sugarcoats it to the point of intoxication, there seems to be no other feeling happier than that.
3. “WE FOUND LOVE”
Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris)
[Talk That Talk]
There’s something very hormonal about Rihanna’s songs that liking them equates to being instinctive and juvenile, her tunes teeming with immediate vibrancy that burst with force and color the moment the chorus hits and repeats. What makes “We Found Love” different, however, is that the listener’s expectations are only as good as the surprises she pulls, something which producer Calvin Harris has structured so slickly the sparseness of the words works surprisingly well to the song’s advantage, the blaring synths even catchier than the hook line itself. We found love in a hopeless place shines with peerless ebullience—it’s 2011’s tallest skyscraper as far as earworms are concerned, and Rihanna, who feeds on sadomasochism and doom, chants it with a mix of lust and despair, throwing daggers with her eyes closed. Knowing that she suckles on excesses, Harris gives her less, and one of the most trifling pieces she has been asked to work on turns out to be an exceptional gem.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
[Watch the Throne]
The kind of lifestyle that Jay-Z and Kanye promote doesn’t come close to the kind of lifestyle that the two lead in real life. Their richness goes beyond money, fame, and luxury. They no longer need a territory to conquer and a culture of contradictions to turn upside down. “Otis” seems purposely arranged to sound like an effortless exercise—the two rap titans trading verses that show off and underline their skill and influence—but in all its tremendous superciliousness there hovers a luster that never wears off despite the lack of anything that resembles a chorus, apart from the sample of “Try A Little Tenderness” that provides the song a charming pockmark. It’s a pronouncement of fortune, a statement of infinite assets and zero liabilities that no longer sees the sky as the limit. Nothing in it breaks new grounds except for Jay-Z and Kanye breakdancing on top of their careers with no one to challenge them but their own vanities, the throne left to no one but to their shadows.
Sasha Frere-Jones describes Beyoncé as “a quiet meritocrat, celebrating the pleasure of doing things well and not making a particularly big deal of it.” She dashes from one huge triumph to another without making a fuss, a diva and a hustler at the peak of her career who never runs out of novelties to offer, challenging herself in every career move she makes. After successfully headlining Glastonbury last June, she is now a proud mother at 30, giving birth not only to her first child but also to a number of songs that would soon inspire and make up her subsequent albums. Filled with references to her happy married life, 4 captures Beyoncé’s finest form as a singer, gracefully bending genres from soul to RnB, supported by an excellent team of producers that enables her to sharpen what’s already sharp and churn new classics.
“Countdown” stands out in the record’s stream of blues and spikes. In pure “Crazy in Love” fashion, Beyoncé delivers a maniacal confession of love that bleeds as much as it thrills, a song whose only idea of rest is a beaming smile. It is built on Beyoncé’s temper, a kinetic ball that rolls far and fast regardless of the flight of stairs it needs to climb, the topnotch quality of her voice complementing the mad instrumental crescendos. It champs at the bit, it tosses and turns, it jumps and sizzles—there are so many things happening in the song that it’s impressive how she manages to keep up and march along, but that’s her gift: being able to hold out her hand and touch numerous places at once. She sweetly talks about her relationship with Jay-Z, telling it like a school girl reminiscing a first kiss, and she is backed up by a cathedral of beats and colorful syncopation that lift her from the storm. Never has Beyoncé shown any sign of wavering; on the contrary, she goes up and up. polishing the structure of the song before returning to its centerpiece, rarely pausing for breath, hovering in midair for three and a half minutes, and then poof: she disappears.
NEXT: The Top 50 Albums of 2011
2011: A Year in Album Covers December 23, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
Guiding you through some of the most memorable pieces of album artwork from this year’s music releases:
(13) F is For…
(21) Black and White
FIVE BEST ALBUM COVERS
FIVE WORST ALBUM COVERS
The Top Music Videos of 2011 December 14, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Music Videos, Yearender.
It’s the time of year again when indulgence in list-making is tolerated and forgiven, especially when it comes to music. In light of 2011’s abundance of gifts to offer, it is only proper that music lovers recognize them one by one. Picking only five among the music videos released this year is obviously wrong (many remain unseen and many hardly win against the fluctuating Web connection) but picking five is how everything will start, and starting is always the key to doing things right. Anyway, here they go. Click on the titles to watch.
5. I AM THE BEST, 2NE1. Directed by Seo Hyun Seung.
Everything here screams with extravagance: flashy outfits, luxurious production design, strange sci-fi elements, excessive display of swag, too much emphasis on glam. But in 2NE1’s glitzy universe, over-the-top ideas are a beauty to look at, and even the scantiness of dance moves doesn’t hurt much. Who run the world again?
4. THE WILHELM SCREAM, James Blake. Directed by Alexander Brown.
The song is lovely, but James Blake is lovelier. Even the shaky camera says so, capturing him in profile and toying with effects and colors, soft blues and luscious greens, ambivalence and swoon, eye contact and sexual distance.
3. BEST THING I NEVER HAD, Beyoncé. Directed by Diane Martel.
It’s not the lacy corset that looks terribly good on her, nor the extravagant details on her Vera Wang gown, nor the playful wedding ceremony and the hilariously bad home video that turn this into a spectacle: it’s Beyoncé’s face—the way it shines with happiness and satisfaction, the way it achieves revenge without actually doing it, and the way it shoots daggers at every douchebag who deserves a bloody kick in the face. Look at her. She’s contagious.
2. THE GREEKS, Is Tropical. Directed by Megaforce. Animation by Seven.
A no-nonsense depiction of kids in the age of counterstrike who fire guns at enemies and strangers, produce and sell meth, speak French in drug deals, throw explosives, and enjoy the inanity and insanity of it all. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Right. Totally fun.
1. LOTUS FLOWER, Radiohead. Directed by Garth Jennings.
Longtime Radiohead fans like myself were not supposed to be surprised when this came out in February—Thom’s sporadic movements (or seizures?) and crazy gyrations every time he performed onstage bore the seeds—but for some reason we were: not only surprised but also astonished, affected, and bemused, and later on the surprise turned into intense euphoria, exaltation, and rapture, exhilarated by the sight of Thom Yorke careening, cavorting, frolicking, jitterbugging, jiving, prancing, swinging, waltzing—whatever you call those moves or gestures of trying to survive a fit. The moment this video was released, the world became better every second, and dancing no longer needed talent: it only required joie de vivre.
Cleaning Out My Closet: Best Albums of 2010 March 26, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
50. WE ARE HERE, Apparatjik
49. BIONIC, Christina Aguilera
48. SOMEWHERE ON THE GOLDEN COAST, The Henry Clay People
47. WE ARE BORN, Sia
46. POSTCARDS FROM A YOUNG MAN, Manic Street Preachers
45. BROKEN BELLS, Broken Bells
44. BANG GOES THE KNIGHTHOOD, The Divine Comedy
43. A-Z SERIES VOL. 1 & 2, Ash
42. ROMAN FISCHER, Roman Fischer
41. IN LOVE AND WAR, Francis Magalona and Ely Buendia
40. RUSH TO RELAX, Eddy Current Suppression Ring
39. NOT EVEN IN JULY, JBM
38. THE BESNARD LAKES ARE THE ROARING NIGHT, The Besnard Lakes
37. THE FOOL, Warpaint
36. ORDER FROM THE CHAOS, My Luminaries
35. THE DEVIL AND I, Lonewolf
34. THE COURAGE OF OTHERS, MIdlake
33. RING, Glasser
32. KING OF THE BEACH, Wavves
31. LET IT SWAY, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
30. YA-KA-MAY, Galactic
29. SEX WITH AN X, The Vaselines
28. GO, Jonsi
27. BELIEVE, Throw
26. FROM THE CORNER INTO YOUR EAR, The Rumours
25. HALCYON DIGEST, Deerhunter
24. SWUNG FROM THE BRANCHES, Foxes in Fiction
23. HADESTOWN, Anaïs Mitchell
22. PORT ENTROPY, Shugo Tokumaru
21. DAPITHAPON, Johnoy Danao
20. THE DEFAMATION OF STRICKLAND BANKS, Plan B
19. CLINGING TO A SCHEME, Radio Dept.
18. EXPO 86, Wolf Parade
17. SOLDIER OF LOVE, Sade
16. TRANSFERENCE, Spoon
15. ROMANCE IS BORING, Los Campesinos!
14. HEARTLAND, Owen Pallett
13. MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY, Kanye West
12. HIDDEN, These New Puritans
11. TREATS, Sleigh Bells
10. HAPPINESS, Hurts
9. LOUD, Rihanna
8. WE WERE EXPLODING ANYWAY, 65daysofstatic
7. THE MONITOR, Titus Andronicus
6. SIR LUCIOUS LEFT FOOT: THE SON OF CHICO DUSTY, Big Boi
5. BODY TALK, Robyn
4. I SPEAK BECAUSE I CAN, Laura Marling
3. TOURIST HISTORY, Two Door Cinema Club
2. THE AGE OF ADZ, Sufjan Stevens
1. HIGH VIOLET, The National
Best Movies of 2010 March 25, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, European Films, Hollywood, Literature, Noypi, Yearender.
The delay was necessary, or so I thought. But should I put a finger on something, it’s goddamn work. It always is! A day job sucks the life out of you, and it really sucked the life out of me in the last few months. Up to now, in fact. Writing personal stuff is becoming every bit of a chore, which basically defeats its purpose, but the least I can do is try. After all, aiming and missing is the whole premise.
As a latecomer, I wish I could make up for the trouble by upping the quality of writing, but crap, forget it. I was just happy that it’s done and you’re patiently reading it. While I was doing this, I was aware that some friends had already finished doing their own lists. I constantly peeked through them from time to time. Dodo Dayao shies away from ranking, but his favorites are fairly obvious. It’s a fantastic selection, which goes without saying, one that makes me a bit insecure. Oggs Cruz’s yearend list is devoted to local movies, half of which I may not be in agreement, but he manages to write a valuable roundup of some noteworthy upshots in Philippine cinema of the past year, so go read it. Noel Vera shares Oggs’ pick for the best film of the year, which is Mario O’Hara’s Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio. Noel differentiates “best” from “notable” and provides a number of interesting recommendations, some of which I have yet to see (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Girl on the Train, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Secret of Kells, and actually, Ang Paglilitis).
On the other hand, Philbert Dy thinks that Kano is the best movie of the year, calling it ‘finely crafted and keenly observed.” Sanriel Ajero does a comprehensive record of Filipino and foreign movies, a very tedious task, and his efforts are truly impressive. Adrian Mendizabal’s selection is also interesting, and his choices cover films not only released in 2010. And lastly, my good friend Ayn Dimaya, upon my insistence (lol), has also started writing down her thoughts, but she left it unfinished so… Ayn!
Anyway, here we go.
25. The Ghost Writer
The latest from Polanski features a lot of political goofs made even more hilarious because they truly happened. Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Olivia Williams talk and talk and talk, run and run and run, like they don’t have any clothes on, and Polanski chases them with a burning torch in hand before wrapping the show in an outrageous close.
24. The Housemaid
Oh yes, only the Koreans can do it. That sweet smell of success laced in dark, brooding revenge, that evil giving a whiff of Victoria Secret, clad in chic chauvinist veneer. One of the many proofs that Asians can remake their own films and still make them work, whereas Hollywood sucks at almost every attempt.
23. Easy A
For classical lit poseurs, Easy A makes Nathaniel Hawthorne seem like a fun guy to hang out with, much like when Amy Heckerling made Jane Austen seem like a ghost writer for Sweet Valley High. I’d love to single out every homage to 80s movies that sends me on a laughing spree, but it’s the “Knock on Wood” number that limbers me up, a wonderful sequence that makes me want to hold a prayer vigil for the existence of a rewind button.
22. Ang Panagtagbo sa Akong mga Apohan
It’s always touching to listen to old people share their stories. The distinct tone of their voices, the lines on their faces, the whiteness of their hair, and more importantly, the gleam in their eyes provide a warm embrace. In her film, Malaya Camporedondo interviews her grandmothers and other elders in Samal Island who were there when the Moncadistas started to flourish in the 50s. Not only has she come up with an enlightening picture of youth driven by faith, but she has also managed to return to her roots and paint a family portrait that is both personal and intimate.
Distance in Sofia Coppola’s films is rather hard to define. While it’s obvious that she’s aiming for both its literal and figurative sense, it hardly matters, since the most remarkable quality of her works is their ability to slip through your fingers even if you’re holding them tight. In Somewhere, she follows an actor promoting his recent film, his time at the hotel and on the road, his trip to Italy, his relationship with his young daughter, his glorious time with a pair of pole-dancers, his bouts with narcolepsy (like, dozing off in the middle of foreplay), his sexual encounters—basically his easy and luxurious life, treated so mundane the movie seems to shy away from any interpretation aside from what’s onscreen. How Coppola seems to tiptoe in every narrative turn—laying claim to her denial of self-importance, implying a lot while saying so little—makes the drowsy aftertaste and droopy eyelids worth the time.
20. Agrarian Utopia
Depending on how you look at it, the “utopia” in the title is partly true and partly false. The shots of blue skies, windstruck fields, and children running about in the mud fulfill the description of an ideal life, evoking carefreeness and freedom. On the other hand, the story of two families trying to make ends meet, harvesting rice, picking mushrooms, hunting frogs, and shooting dogs is a reminder of that pitiful gap between the rich and the poor, the depressing omnipresence of poverty. But looking at these people’s lives, never does the audience get any sense of irony, or any indication of an attempt to suggest a figure of speech, of art trying to be relevant. Agrarian Utopia captures what a good documentary should capture, and that is both the external and internal surroundings of its people, declining to pass judgment and succeeding to impart an honest depiction of life on the seams.
19. How To Train Your Dragon
[Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois]
The title seems to leave nothing to the imagination, considering how it connotes childishness and immaturity, but in actuality the film has a whole universe to offer. How to Train Your Dragon grows a spectacular pair of wings sequence after sequence, flight after flight, and spectacle after spectacle. It harks back to that specific phase in your childhood that you wish will happen again, that dream of reaching the skies and falling from them with a bite of clouds between your teeth.
18. I Am Love
I say this not out of self-defense, but most of the films I enjoy watching are imperfect. My appreciation stems from the fact that the movie, I am Love for instance, deliberately makes a wrong move, a misstep that avoids the usual direction forward, finding a dirt road that may not be as satisfactory as the common route, but in the end offering a number of surprises. And the driver here, of all the sane chauffeurs to chance upon, is Tilda Swinton. Seeing her character slowly take shape, she resembles a grenade waiting for the right moment to explode. Which she happened to do, eventually. Case in point: that scene when she tensely walks down the stairs towards the kitchen and kisses her lover. Heedless of the eyes around them, she goes to him driven by an impulse to hold him, and the camera smoothly navigates her path. The film’s visuals, which evoke the obliviousness of high-class society, are carefully shot with sophistication, looking vintage yet far from being contemporarily out of place. The film doesn’t force you to love its madness, but it’s something you cannot resist.
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Right when the term hipster is about to be considered ancient, like, what exactly is this freaking youth culture, what constitutes it, who are these annoying people, why are they dumping their shit in every place they put their fucking feet on, not to mention the inanity and ridiculousness of bringing up the topic in the first place, comes a film which, in my opinion, epically, totally, and awesomely defines it. (Breathe. Canadian hipster check: multiple commas are cool, eh?) But the thing is, hipster culture is anything but exact. You might as well ride along with it, and Wright does that, beyond reasonable limits. Genre-smashing is such a reckless way press releases describe Scott Pilgrim, but upon seeing a work that’s fine, fresh, and fierce (whoa, Katy Pery alliterations, so-not-hipster!), it doesn’t matter whether or not you have read the books or have listened to Plumtree. There’s still a lot of junk space in the world for all the geeks and smarty-pants to jerk off.
16. White Material
I do think that Claire Denis is the finest French filmmaker working today. Except for Beau Travail, her movies are never flat-out exceptional, but they leave you feeling awfully disturbed and subservient to the progressiveness of her ideas. She’s very good at blending her personal experiences and political stance with the fastidiousness of her filmmaking style. In White Material, she takes up the subject of race in an unnamed French-speaking country in Africa, where a civil war is ongoing and a family of “white people” owns a coffee plantation. The narrative travels to and fro; and the line between reminiscence and present-day is somewhat indistinct. But everything moves in accordance with Denis’ rueful pace. Nicolas Duvauchelle steals the show with his cranky, rifle-toting, and stellar portrayal of the white family’s son, innocently naked in one of his few appearances in the film, but it is Isabelle Huppert who walks away with a piece of our crazy heart, crushing it as the credits start to roll, closing the film with more questions and less hints of hope.
The first thing you notice after watching Bluebeard is its terseness. For a span of 80 short minutes, Breillat is able to narrate two stories, both of which relate to Charles Perrault’s infamous tale. One recreates the original story of Bluebeard and his curious new wife; the other revolves around two young girls reading the book, kids who have completely opposite personalities, and whose names (Catherine and Marie-Anne) are actual first names of Breillat and her older sister. The matter-of-factly connection between the two narratives, which the director herself handles with unabashed distance, contributes to the film’s tautness, leaving an impression of dryness. But this flat and clinical treatment is where the movie derives its power. Breillat no longer relies on her usual themes of sex and power but she still manages to inject strength and wisdom in her female characters, particularly in the modern-day Catherine reading the fairy tale to her frightened older sister, mirroring Breillat’s own unorthodox beliefs. The movie’s striking storybook composition is pulled down by the unimpressive costume design, a nitpick worthy of mention, but the shoddiness only makes you feel humbled by Breillat’s intention, which is simply to acknowledge one of her many influences, skinning the story to spooky bits and keeping its moral eternally relevant.
14. Mondomanila / Son of God
[Khavn dela Cruz]
Quite like teaching old dogs new tricks, but Khavn is neither old nor lacking in new tricks in these two filthy works that only keep him closer to the throes of flames. The former is an adaptation of Iwa Wilwayco’s novel, not a bit disappointing because Khavn teams up with Iwa in writing the screenplay and the two are like brothers raised in hell, dragging anyone to it. The second is a collaboration with Danish filmmaker Michael Noer, which is supposed to make a difference, only it doesn’t, because Khavn tricks Noer and Noer tricks Khavn as they mess with faith and reveal the hypocrisies of some of its followers, irreverence being Khavn’s finest dish.
13. Exit Through the Gift Shop
If you notice, most documentaries that garnered considerable attention recently were those thought to fall under the sub-genre of “mockumentary,” or what they call “a brilliantly executed prank.” There’s quite a handful this year—I’m Still Here, Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop—three engrossing documentaries whose premises are so good, you no longer care if they are a set-up or not. And if the filmmaker in question is an enigma as slippery as Banksy, then mischief is surely lurking behind. Exit Through the Gift Shop works not only as a glimpse to the disobedient world of street art but also as a sort-of-Being-John-Malkovich torture of being inside Thierry Guetta’s mind and hearing his upsettingly preposterous thoughts on art and life. Sitting through the film is like watching Banksy fall from a cliff, only to see him fly on a parachute right before the movie ends, chuckling at his own cleverness.
12. The Kids Are All Right
It’s hard not to be moved by the sheer simplicity of The Kids Are All Right. All the touchstones of excellent moviemaking are here—impeccable writing, credible actors, subtle direction, a cunning sensibility, and some fine music (Annette Benning and Mark Ruffalo singing Joni Mitchell)—but never does Cholodenko go overboard, and never does she shove any staple of morality down to the audience’s throats, except for the prison it creates. Instead, she wraps an otherwise stale gay movie in a bittersweet suburban prank, showing how curiosity can easily turn life into one massive joke whose damage, by the time everything sinks in, is completely irreparable.
11. No Distance Left to Run
[Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace]
During their gig at Glastonbury in June 2009, Blur briefly left the stage for a break. But the members of the crowd couldn’t get enough of them so they continued to sing Graham’s verse from “Tender,” out of sync but never out of spirit. Oh my baby / Oh my baby / Oh why / Oh my. Damon looked so astonished he raised his hands in awe. It was an ecstatic, hair-rising moment which Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace managed to capture in their documentary, providing a meaningful and touching bookend not only to Blur’s story but also to their fans’. The mix of stunning archival footage from their early tours (some crazy moments like Damon and Graham kissing, fangirls pounding on the door of a hotel, various displays of the band’s stage antics) and recent interviews where each one of them, including Alex and Dave, talks about their comeback is done with a bit of restraint, but everything’s lovely and amusing nonetheless. These interviews are actually the best bits; when you listen to their stories, when you realize how much they aged, when you feel how much they changed and how much they didn’t—your eyes just start to well up. It takes a while before euphoria starts to wear off, but when it does, it has certainly flown you far enough.
[Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost]
While it’s understandable that many people are charmed by The Social Network, it still makes me a bit uneasy when I hear it called “the film of our generation.” That’s quite a vague thing to say, considering that “generation” will always have a beginning and an end. If the generation these people are referring to is the age of Facebook, then certainly it hasn’t ended yet, has it? So why pick a movie to represent it this early? Is it because belongingness to a huge community qualifies the need for fast and immature pronouncements? Or is it because—how foolish can you get—the film is able to “humanize” Mark Zuckerberg, whom most of these people, allegedly, have related to? Oh, come on, gimme a break. If anything, Catfish has more of that “emotional truth” than The Social Network.
The question of whether or not everything is just a harsh setup is answered at the end, not by the filmmakers but by our similarly gullible selves. As we look at Angela speaking to Nev (like Michael Moore trying to reach out to Charlton Heston, only with more heart), confessing to him and complimenting his beautiful teeth, the feeling of sorriness moves between them before it is passed onto us. Catfish is able to put forth a redefinition of romance—of cyber romance, to be exact—one whose seed is planted on imaginary soil, watered by imaginary water, and nurtured by imaginary affection. I can’t blame Angela for wanting Nev—he’s young, attractive, and bursting with life—and the extent of her obsession, of her desire to have her love reciprocated, isn’t far from our own. She has actually done what we haven’t; only these guys, a little too narcissistic for their own good, had taken the liberty to make a film about it. The cruelty is the difference.
9. Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato
[Mes de Guzman]
The last time rumors came my way, Mes was residing in Nueva Vizcaya, settled down and enjoying married life as a barriotic punk. But no one told me that he’s still doing films, and films that only he can do. Bato is the second in his Earth Trilogy, coming after Yelo and before Bakal, and it’s quite a harrowing piece of shit I’m willing to eat. Mes shoots town children diving for gold mines in a muddy creek, soaked in grubby briefs, forced to scuba their way down the sludge. In his casual leisurely style, he keeps his distance without losing his grip on their starving innocent souls, leaving the audience a climax that shatters as much as it disheartens.
8. Sketches of Kaitan City
The film is just like that— sketches—but every stroke of its pencil reveals features that smudge evenly, details that start to take shape like buildings embraced by thick fog, stories that defrost and melt and burn our throats the moment we knock out the fifth glass of whiskey. Kaitan City fits the idea of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.”
7. Rabbit Hole
[John Cameron Mitchell]
“A brick in your pocket” is that image in Rabbit Hole that sticks out, thanks to Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman. But what it truly feels like, upon seeing Becca and Howie cope with the loss of their son, is “a knife in the chest,” a stab that hurts more than it has to, a wound that stings like hell. It’s a carelessly imaginative way to describe it, considering the movie has its share of awful criticism, which, in all frankness, every great movie deserves, but it’s so easy to be hard on Rabbit Hole. It’s a movie in which hope is present but it fails to materialize, and in which faith is actually reasonable, that is: god, in fact, watches you suffer. Mitchell presents the story very well—too polished, too calculated, and too fine-tuned—to the point that it seems to bore, to the point that it seems to kill the viewer with its agonizing fineness. Nicole brings to life another ice queen, but one that is so deliberately delivered you wouldn’t mind pulling her out of the wreck with your bare hands. Indeed not every beauty is a pleasure to look at.
6. Senior Year
Making it look easy is the hardest, especially when the strings are thin and the subject is the misty rendezvous of all things indelible, but Jerrold Tarog, in his third full length, sews the holes and stitches the hems of a high school reunion with a dirty finger, soiling every page with unbearable lightness, loosening his wits with a monkey wrench, and succeeding where Pisay, unfortunately, loses hold.
5. The American
Why don’t we ask Corbijn to make a career out of doing biopics? Because even if he doesn’t intend to, he still ends up doing one, like this masterly thriller set in gorgeous Italy, where Andrea Camilleri might have taken one of his naps before meeting up with Professor Montalbano. Corbijn follows Clooney from head to toe, walks beside him, behind him, over him, above him, sneaks up everywhere he goes, and lets us memorize every contour on his face and every muscle he flexes. Everything in The American works elegantly, from its simple sonorities down to its nifty revelations that make the ordinary leap out amid the truce, its mere silence overshadowing all the bombastic, fried-brained blockbusters released last year.
4. Another Year
Family has always been the weightiest entry on Mike Leigh’s dictionary. Over the years, he has constantly and consistently rummaged through every foul corner of the household and delivered, in the most painful way, remarkable portraits of adulthood. Another Year doesn’t bank on surprising turns of the narrative or ugly confrontations, but on the brilliance of its tempered writing and flawless ensemble of actors. Its feat, which also holds true in most of Leigh’s movies, is having you as part of the family and its members’ acquaintances, sharing their dinner and clinking glasses, witnessing the sad realities faced by these people, old fogies complaining how “everything in the world is for young people,” loveless blokes trying to keep their heads above water and failing at it. The moment the film fades out, you get the feeling that it has only just begun, that no matter how many seasons pass, how to survive another day and year is always a struggle to figure out.
3. Certified Copy
For quite some time, Iranian cinema was represented—and more or less defined—by Abbas Kiarostami. The works of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, his daughter Samira, Majid Majidi, Bahman Gobadi, Jafar Panahi, and other lesser known Iranian directors always had to stand alongside Kiarostami’s movies. But fortunately, Iranian cinema has moved on since his historical win at Cannes for Taste of Cherry. Older films are being rediscovered, canons are being pronounced, and DVDs of these movies are being released with subtitles for international audience. Kiarostami’s greatest contribution to world cinema is actually to his own country, enlivening its film industry by encouraging scholars and archivists to care for its almost forgotten movies.
Which is why his new film, aptly called Certified Copy, is a cause for celebration. It’s his first work produced and shot outside Iran; it stars French icon Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell; its dialogues are written in three languages; it is set in Tuscany; it exemplifies Kiarostami’s perfection of his themes and visual style, and above everything else, it’s goddamn talkative. You could immediately see the sleight of hand in the first few sequences, how, in every tangle of the couple’s conversations, you see strings attached and, by virtue of acknowledging their presence, you simply don’t care. Oftentimes, Certified Copy takes a bewildering turn that only makes you appreciate the technique even more, let alone the almost unrecognizable pomposity.
Furthermore, Binoche and Shimell deliver luminous performances, acting pieces that travel the length between simple and complex, mundane and otherworldly, infuriating and gratifying, both of them egging Kiarostami to play with our emotions. It’s a movie that pulls its surprises randomly; and at some point, it seems that Kiarostami, like his pair of actors, strangers among strangers, is doing a copy of himself, mocking his own style, and reveling in non-sequiturs. In that case, it’s only natural to respond in awe.
2. Love in a Puff
At the onset of Pang Ho-Cheung’s Love in a Puff, you hear a group of Hong Kong people talk and make fun of each other, telling ghost stories and sharing gossips, obviously trying to idle away from work and squeezing in as much entertainment as they could during their fag breaks. It’s the most beautiful aspect of the movie—how, in its aim to share a love story that everyone has at least once experienced, or has seen at the movies or in the telly, it has also let the city enter and participate in Jimmy and Cherie’s romance, like a close friend who’s just a text message away. Hong Kong feels that way in the film: never a stranger but a good old pal. Its dwellers sink into its charm. Sometimes, watching it feels like being trapped in a sappy David Pomeranz song, but once a memorable scene gets into you, you realize that Jimmy and Cherie seem more like strolling down the meaningful spaces of a French movie, or wandering in that Woody Allen film where he and Diane Keaton fall in love and fall out of it. The experience is forgettable in an unforgettable way.
1. Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria
[Remton Siega Zuasola]
On those two occasions when I was asked to introduce Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, I felt extremely nervous. On one hand: how can I not seize the opportunity to have an audience who will listen to what I have to say? How can I refuse a request on account of self-embarrassment? But the danger lies on the other: how do I put into words my opinion of it? How do I talk sensibly and sound convincing? I made some efforts, mind you—I read notes, I spoke to Remton, I tried to stress the importance of cinema from the regions to foreigners at Alliance—but the happiest thing for me above all else is seeing the film again, and hearing the reactions of the audience. That’s priceless, because I don’t get this chance often, I don’t usually get to answer questions on subjects which I believe I’m knowledgeable of, I don’t usually feel the pride of being part of a movie’s deserved critical praise. At this point, you actually have the right to doubt me: I’m writing this in purely personal terms. But what’s the point of criticism if it doesn’t spring from the personal? How do you draw the line between honest appreciation and reasonable prejudice? You don’t.
Remton Zuasola used to be a director of travel shows on television, so it’s just natural, dare I say impulsive, that he makes a film about voyages. The surprising thing about it though, for a movie that is completely Cebuano, is that the theme of Damgo strikes you as very familiar. Everyone knows it. It’s a terrain in which local scriptwriters always find themselves exploring but rarely do they share anything new on the subject. And I’m not only referring to TV writers and Star Cinema people; I point my fingers at every filmmaker who thinks that realism, neo-realism, or whatever prefix they attach to it, gives them an excuse to pick up a camera and call any of their works important, much so after getting recognition abroad. The advocacy! Yeah right.
Unsurprisingly, all discussions of Damgo bring up the single long take, which, to satisfy everyone’s curiosity, is indeed a single long take. Given in this age, doing that is easy, what with all the technologies around, but see, the feat of Damgo is that at some point you cease to notice the long take and become involve instead in what happens during the long take. It’s Terya’s excruciating journey away from home, her seemingly endless walk around the town with her family, but quintessentially the film moves inward, into her self, into her feelings. Far from a journey faraway, the film is actually a journey within. Terya picks up pieces of herself one by one, fragments she lost along the way, and realizes, by the time she reaches the dock, that each of these pieces doesn’t fit. They don’t come together. They are not hers. And she keeps it a secret.
2010 in Movies: Best Performances March 9, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Whatever, Yearender.
Since I suck at writing introductions, why don’t I bite into the Oscar burger instead?
The four acting winners are downright predictable. Among them, only one appears on the list, and that’s because he deserves it. Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, and Melissa Leo are fine choices, but I am not crazy about their performances. Like Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, they’re far better when they play roles outside the context and subtext of awards. Their portrayals have that stamp of “please-gimme-that-statue” on them, awesome but riskless and unentertaining.
Which is not to say, of course, that the performances I liked don’t. Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Wiest in Rabbit Hole are tone- and pitch-perfect. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network is a delight to watch, so as his archnemesis Michael Cera, in a geeky sexy turn, in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Mila Kunis is hot. Andrew Garfield is way better than the other nominees in the supporting category, except for Geoffrey Rush and John Hawkes who are effortlessly suave in The King’s Speech and Winter’s Bone, respectively. And while we’re at it, how come the Academy can’t tell the difference between a lead and a supporting role? Like Christophe Waltz’s nomination (and eventual win) for Inglorious Basterds last year, Hailee Steinfeld is recognized for her “supporting role” in True Grit while in fact she takes up more screen time than Jeff Bridges.
Should I act on a whim, this list will likewise be populated by usual choices, considering my predictable taste. From her manic-depressive turn in Julia last year, Tilda Swinton returns with another unforgettable performance as an Italian matriarch in I Am Love. Almost in the same vein is Isabelle Huppert’s pensive mother in White Material. Also, I will never tire of saying how wonderful William Shimell and Juliette Binoche are in Certified Copy until I manage to convince you to see it. Marilou Lopes-Benites and Lola Creton in Bluebeard are terrifyingly wonderful. RJ Ledesma, Che Ramos, Arnold Reyes, and Ina Feleo appear shortly in Senior Year but they leave charming teethmarks. Ronnie Lazaro in Ishmael is over-the-top, but Mark Gil isn’t. Donna Gimeno lives up to the buzz of Damgo ni Eleuteria; while Angelica Panganiban in Here Comes the Bride is “pak na pak.” I’m sure I missed a lot of good ones, but that’s the downside of listmaking: you can’t have them all.
But here’s a few whom I decided to shine the light on. Feel free to share your thoughts.
12. Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, and Rhys Ifans as Roger, Florence, and Ivan in Greenberg
Greenberg begins as a Greta Gerwig movie and ends as a Ben Stiller movie, and somewhere between, Rhys Ifans makes a sexy “old fart” appearance. But if there’s anyone in the movie whom I totally related to, it’s Mahler, the dog.
11. Will Forte as MacGruber in MacGruber
Thank god for MacGruber’s amusing moments—the celery dance, the Val Kilmer face, the priceless douchebaggery committed to Ryan Philippe, the Kristin Wiig looniness, the Maya Rudolph sex at the graveyard—I’m wont to forgive its lackluster direction (hello Date Night), which is so unlike the original skit on SNL. Will Forte not only saves the day but also saves the entire ninety minutes of the movie’s pointless drag. He may be useless with guns, incompetent and sexist, but he turns MacGruber into Mr. Stupendous when it comes to wallowing in self-pity. At some point, he tells to his boss and Lt. Piper, in desperate plea: “I will suck your dick. I will let you fuck me. I will let myself be fucked by you.” MacGyver, I heard, loves that part.
10. Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Referring to her return as Lisbeth Salander in the second installment of the series, A.O. Scott shares (and he couldn’t have said it better): “. . . Ms. Rapace, tiny and agile, her steely rage showing now and then the tiniest crack of vulnerability, belongs to another dimension altogether. She makes this movie good enough, but also makes you wish it were much better.” Yeah, the Swedish adaptations are bland and literal-minded, pretty good if we base it on faithfulness, pretty bad if we consider thrill and coherence, but Noomi Rapace, with her seductive guise and effortless swagger, is one of a kind.
9. Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy in Buried
A film dedicated entirely to Ryan Reynolds, inside a coffin, dirty, haggard, and sweaty, is no longer a bedroom fantasy. Unfortunately, in Buried, the most important part is missed: he never appears shirtless. But in exchange for that, we get closeups of his mouth and crotch. That he is able to divert our attention to other things—his character’s safety, the ridiculousness of the plot, the infuriating end—is quite, how should I put it, miraculous. (The next Ryan Reynolds movie, I heard, will be set in a falling elevator. And it will be a full-length.)
8. Max as Max in Tangled
Bold, funny, smart, tenacious, cute, and rude: what more could you ask from a royal horse? Well, since you asked: a song and dance number. That would be truly endearing.
7. Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island
Like I said before, Leo’s eyebrows have more problems than Africa, and he enjoys twitching them querulously, looking distressed to the core. Persistently, he screws the essence of calm and traverses that line between sober and insane, keeping your wits hostage from beginning to end .
6. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy in Blue Valentine
To be honest, I never cried while watching Blue Valentine. But something in me, I don’t know what it is, did, the moment the credits started to appear and Grizzly Bear drew the cloudy curtains. It’s one of those rare instances when the two lead performers can never work without the other, when the couple share the screen the way sound and image reflect unspeakable nuances, both of them completing and destroying the film at the same time. It’s not a movie I’d look forward to see again, but Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, in an onscreen teamup that is tender as it is excruciating, are forcing me to reconsider.
5. Colin Firth as King George VI in The King’s Speech
He should’ve gotten that much coveted award last year for A Single Man, but Colin Firth, from the time we saw him more than fifteen years ago as the charmingly fatal Mr. Darcy, will never—never ever—elude our fickle taste and earnest flights of fancy. As King George VI, not only he exudes the intimidating resolve of a royalty but he also bares the grace and elegance of a gentleman—an imperfectly beautiful man intent to overcome his weaknesses, despite his own lack of trust in himself. His every stammer is a pinch in the gut, the very sound of his voice like the swish of the human spirit sprinting forward, reaching the finish line and shouting: “Hail to the King! Hail King Colin!”
4. Carla Abellana as Teacher Diane in Punerarya
This is not just a matter of keeping one’s head above the preposterous superficiality of TV tourism, but more importantly, a need to punctuate what is seldom punctuated, a tendency to reiterate oneself for posterity’s sake. Carla Abellana, in a role that she will always be thankful for, is able to reconcile the difference between acting on TV and acting in movies, putting her best foot forward and taking a leap to be good at both. Kris Aquino, the aptly called queen of horrific acting, should learn from her.
3. Ananda Everingham as Rome Rittikrai in The Red Eagle
It must have been the thrill of Ananda introducing the film and knowing that he would be there to answer questions right after the screening that secures his place here. But it could also be that his take on the motor-loving masked vigilante, a character which Mitr Chaibancha first popularized in the 80s, is nothing short of exhilarating. Ananda’s eyes are beautiful windows teeming with charm; and his uncanny sense of introspection—the way his body glides along with the action, the effortless exhaustion of sweaty sexiness—makes Wisit’s Red Eagle, contrary to most farsighted reviews, a bloody riveting experience.
2. Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin and Tommy D in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go
There’s no question that Andrew Garfield is well-endowed. He is gifted with a boy-next-door visage, an attractively gangly built, an unfathomable impression of geekness, and a rare tingle of warmth. But above all these, it’s his ability to surprise—his ability to make his presence indelible—that sets him apart from his contemporaries. With these two tremblingly powerful roles as proof—both Eduardo and Tommy coming from the edges of misery—his footprints already have history (and kissmarks) written (and left) on them.
1. James Frecheville as J Cody in Animal Kingdom
Dysfunctional families have always been the recurring subject of numerous films and TV series. It’s the standard awards bait to make way for grandstanding roles which enable actors to turn their characters into some of the medium’s lowest life forms. In Animal Kingdom, however, despite the cast being its strongest suit, the one that pulls the narrative in and out of madness and swivels it staggeringly, is the quietness of James Frecheville. He stands out amid the stellar performances of his co-actors not because he looks weird or acts funny (hello Christian Bale), but because he doesn’t do anything to pique your interest, which, in the ironic scheme of things, only makes you attracted to him more than anyone else in the Cody household. His brooding passiveness is reminiscent of Tahar Rahim’s Malik in A Prophet (another finely crafted crime thriller), only Frecheville’s face is less emphatic and more troubling. He only has one expression from start to finish: that of a blasé sufferer. Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford, and the great Jacki Weaver are exemplary on their own, but Frecheville, without batting an eyelash and without pulling any trigger, shoots daggers at his miserable fate, failing to escape until his final try.
2010 in Movies: Special Mention March 2, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Yearender.
Well, you have to forgive me, but I love foreplay. So before we proceed to the main act, let’s take off some clothes. Here we go.
BEST TAGLINE: “The only way out is through.” (Rabbit Hole) This string of words tells us about the film succinctly, describing pain with the same power, distance, and harrowing exactness like the narrative it shares. And while we’re at it. . .
MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE: Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole) Yeah, Nicole’s suffering mother is brilliant, but Aaron’s patient and self-absorbed father rarely gets noticed. Just take a look at that scene when he accuses Nicole of deleting their son’s video on his phone. He’s fuming hot as a pistol, but his beautifully sculpted face gives away the despair he feels.
BEST ONSCREEN COUPLE: William Shimell and Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy) Just when you thought Juliette Binoche will be carrying the weight of the film on her shoulders alone, William Shimell dashes and gets himself talking in a series of delightful, not to mention agonizing, conversations.
BEST LINE: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
You can’t help but kiss those filthy lips.
MOST OUTRAGEOUS SHORT FILM: Gahani (Jenriel Pons Lagat)
To see is to believe. “Asghadhafhdhqtruytrjfdasgfawazvcnhgmwery!”
BEST CREDITS SEQUENCE: Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé)
It’s not as groundbreaking as Quentin puts it, but it’s not disappointing either. It alludes to Godard’s famous title sequences (Weekend, especially), but kids thought the French dude’s too old and raved instead when Hype Williams ripped it off—poorly—in a Kanye West video.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Dork gamers of the world: unite and take over. Cool hasn’t been overused this much.
MOST SURPRISING WIN: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Palme d’Or, Festival de Cannes)
Ain’t we happy for this? So deserved, and yet so… unimaginable?
BEST OPENING/ENDING: The King’s Speech/The Social Network
Tha-tha-tha… tha-tha-that unsettling (non)spe-pee-peech of the Duke of York at the be-be-be-beginning of Da-da-da King’s Speech no-no-no-not only sets the tone of the film, bu-bu-bu-but also proves Co-co-co-colin Firth’s o-o-o-often overlooked bi-bi-brilliance as an actor.
AndwhataboutJesselookingathislaptopscreen? Whataboutit? IsittheBeatlessplayingBabyYou’reARichManinthebackground, thecreatorfacinghiscreation, orjustthepainofhittingtherefreshbuttonsomanytimesandnotgettinganyresponse? Perhapsall.
WHAT-THE-FUCKEST ENDING: The Housemaid
Who has seen it coming? Who has seen it coming? No, I haven’t seen the original yet.
EXCELLENCE IN CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins (True Grit); Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
I can’t imagine a Coen Brothers movie without Roger Deakins in it. Those two geeks really owe him a lot. And Libatique? His camera movements are even more graceful than the dancers themselves.
BEST ENSEMBLE: The Kids are All Right
Annette Bening, check. For effusively singing Joni Mitchell at the dining table and then finding her partner’s hair at someone else’s bathroom. So worthy of a stroke. Julianne Moore, check. For firing the helper because he calls her out while she’s having sex with a client. Mark Ruffalo, check check. How can you not fall in love with the softness of his voice? Mia Wasikowska, check. For getting drunk and kissing a friend at the party. Josh Hutcherson, check check. “Wait, did you guys think I was gay??” Your eyes don’t lie, dear.
BEST MUSIC: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (TSN); Grizzly Bear (Blue Valentine); Tindersticks (White Material)
Look what we have here: Trent and Atticus’ beaming architecture of elegant soundscapes; Grizzly Bear’s segue from Veckatimest to a potpourri of slow and solemn instrumental; and most interestingly, Tindersticks working again with Claire Denis, confident and fine-tuned, rimming the film with an understated polish.
Kathy’s narration at the end (Never Let Me Go) I come here and imagine that this is the spot where everything I’ve lost since my childhood is washed out. I tell myself, if that were true, and I waited long enough then a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy. He’d wave. And maybe call. I don’t know if the fantasy go beyond that, I can’t let it. I remind myself I was lucky to have had any time with him at all. What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. Tears.
Stalking the chef (I Am Love) Just when I was warming up to see a gay movie starring two pretty actors, Tilda went out of her way to smash my whim to smithereens. But Tilda, Tilda, Tilda, you are such a blameless disaster.
Lea! Lea! Lea! (Till My Heartaches End) The sound of thunder every time Gerald said “Lea,” which sounded like “Bea” to our malicious ears, was priceless. Yes, at the premiere where every Kimerald fan united and cried.
Sex sex sex (Love and Other Drugs) Two beautiful people passionately having sex and enjoying it.
Sandamakmak na corny jokes (My Amnesia Girl) Like I always say, the first half of the movie is brilliant, particularly the waywardness of John Lloyd and Toni’s banters and the distinct Pinoy humor they were wont to abuse. The birthday sequence was lovely too.
Outside the restaurant (The Town) The heist sequence at the beginning is gripping, but that part when Ben Affleck meets with Rebecca Hall, and then Jeremy Renner walks in and joins the conversation, Ben trying to stay cool and Jeremy almost at the point of teasing, the camera focusing on Jeremy’s tattoo, steals the show for me.
Best Short Films of 2010 February 25, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Short Cuts, Yearender.
March, not January, is when my actual year starts; when my fingers start to get numb because of the irrepressible need to write; when the rush of (dumb) list-making overwhelms and kicks me in the face. So yeah, let’s begin.
Following are some of the most noteworthy short films I saw the previous year. Three of them were from Ambisyon 2010, a project which I hope will continue this year, and the rest I picked up from working on Cinema Rehiyon, an NCCA project (led by Teddy Co) which just had a successful run in Manila, Davao, and Baguio in the past few weeks. I tried my best not to rank them, but as you can see, the order just gave me away. So there.
Lupang Hinarang sa Sumilao (Ditsi Carolino) Calling Ditsi’s chronicle of the journey of Sumilao farmers from Bukidnon to Manila overwhelming is a complete understatement, especially when you realize, as the anger and sorrow thump in your chest and force you to heave a sigh of pain, that this is just a fragment of the whole devastating thing.
Ang Katapusang Bagting (Remton Siega Zuasola) No, no. Not shot in one take, because Remton has already been there, done that many times, and excelled in them. Now what he does is a sweep of generations, the past meeting the present, and the present meeting the future, a tale of romance and chances wrapped in sweet, not to mention terrible, longing.
Di Ako Makatulog Dahil Wala Ka sa Tabi Ko (Jade Castro) Jade the humorist is also Jade the cheesy, campy, and candid hopeless romantic who waxes poetic upon the mere mention of the word love. Also, breakup.
OCD (Christian Linaban) Is that how short it is? Two minutes? Well directed, well acted, well edited, well everything. Best 100 seconds.
Faculty (Jerrold Tarog) Intense confrontation is a Jerrold dish that never fails to grab by the throat because it’s the only way to grab without resorting to unnecessary blood, tears, and gold.
Ang Sipyat/Bakak (Ronald Gary Bengil Bautista) These two short films from Davaoeño Ronald Gary Bautista are far from exceptional, but both are fresh and promising, if not cringe-worthy at some parts. But still. The dude’s a filmmaker to look forward to.
KKK: Kaawti Kaabtik Kapaltik (Noriel Jarito) That it took me three viewings to surrender to KKK owes to Noriel’s slippery style that slides along the psychology of his subject. On the fourth viewing, though, I still don’t understand it.
Kontrata (Poli Gonzales) It stirred some fair amount of controversy when it was shown in Davao a few weeks ago, but really, who hasn’t seen a dick in a mouth?
Boca (Zurich Chan) It’s a mood piece that could’ve worked better with less dialogue and quirkiness, but Boca manages to leave with the sublime image of tits bathed in milk. I suppose that’s Zurich’s intention anyway.
Ngilngig Stories (Bagane Fiola) Fascinating is how this collection of horror stories does not rely on the usual shock ploys commonly seen in studio movies, and manages, in six short minutes for each part, to build suspense neatly and pull some random surprises.
Cano (Michal Joachimowski) It seems like an ode to cinema and film-viewing, but Polish director Joachimowski also gets himself involved with the people in Bacolod and shares an interesting glimpse of their life.
Best Movie Posters of 2010 February 11, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Posters, Whatever, Yearender.
Because work is eating up a lot of my time, writing has been quite dismal these days. But I’ll do my best. You’ve always known latecomers have secret powers, right? At the moment, how about share your thoughts on these?
25. Exit Through The Gift Shop
Dripping red paint, star-shaped rat glasses, the arrow sign, and Banksy lurking somewhere behind.
Amazing shot of perfect pattern, rhythm, and balance. Layout and credit placement also work incredibly well.
23. Kick Ass
Despite all the Uncle Sam posters parodied year after year, this one still looks fresh and inviting.
22. The Illusionist
Sublime colors. Minimal design. Touching photo.
21. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The gang is still on the run, right? Splash-plash.
Borders. Old-school layout. Apostrophe marks. Muted colors. Iconic image. It’s so retro it makes me weep.
19. True Grit
Good thing this doesn’t need subtitles. Juz whond’rin, eez dut vlud?
18. Shit Year
Now this is shit.
16. Blue Valentine
This poster captures the madness of the movie’s middle part, which is less a depiction of a funny valentine than a bloody emotional one.
15. Let Me In
Bloody hell. Almost tricked us into believing that a remake is necessary. Of course, it’s not.
14. Ang Ninanais
From the central element down to the small details, John really knows how to stave beauty in noiselessly.
“Couple, watch out! The building behind is about to collapse!” My first thought upon seeing this. What’s that Coldplay song again?
12. Shutter Island
Damn, the Japs always get the bonus tracks, the exclusive performances, and now even the kickassest posters? Brotherfucker, this is steal-worthy.
11. I’m Still Here
Joaquin, even if you don’t shave, you still look handsome. See, even those lovely letter design agrees. Self-destruct and I’m still here. OK? Casey follows Ben, but please don’t follow River, OK?
10. The Social Network
Blame it on the viral tag line. Blink. Blame it on Jesse Eisenberg whose emotionless stare never fails to stir you. Blink blink. Blame it on Mark Zuckerberg changing our lives forever. Blink blink blink.
9. Black Swan
Elegant. Tasteful. Bleeding love. Brooding darkness. What more if Natalie’s on them?
I’ve always had a soft spot for minimalism, and this rare Tron poster just makes me wet myself every time I see it. Diaper, please!
Awesome! Not the movie, dork.
6. Rabbit Hole
Just by looking at these nine frames of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, alone and together, feels like watching the movie all over again.
5. Enter the Void
Cue music: ♪ Cop lights, flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, street lights! ♪ I hope moviehouses in the future look like this. And I mean, five years from now.
4. Never Let Me Go
You’d appreciate the ingenuity of this poster better if you have read the book and watched the movie, but even if you haven’t, there’s still a lot of things to admire. That blurred image, those broken letters, that stroll on the bridge, that endless line that leads to nowhere. And Andrew Garfield’s name at the center.
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Four designs that come close to the spectacular enigma of Uncle Boonmee. 2010 was a wasaque year for our dear Joe, the finest Asian filmmaker of his generation (masabi lang).
Hammer hammer hammer!
First, the Vertigo-inspired poster. With its simplistic take on the optical illusion, it definitely makes Saul Bass proud. I mean, he’d clap in heaven when he sees this. What a clever rip-off! Second, the “hodgepodge” poster. Look at how it brilliantly incorporates the film’s list of accolades to the design. And Ryan Reynolds to boot? Oh, come on. These are collector’s items.
Best Tracks of 2010 (#30-1) February 4, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Fanboy, Music, Yearender.
PREVIOUSLY ON “THE LATE LONG-LEGGED LIST”:
AND THE LIST SINGS THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH. This was my top ten list in December, before I decided to “narrow it down” and make my life miserable (move the cursor to see song title, or watch the video when you cliquez):
And then it turned into this. It morphed into sixty. Now you know why I’m skinny. I tire myself a lot.
2010 has been an immensely difficult year, so allow me to spare you the trouble of a tearful introduction. Thank you for reading. Please leave some love on the comments page.
For now, you gotta march.
Promoting three singles in one go does seem excessive, but with 2NE1 at the helm and our ever-dearest Sandara breaking dishes, how could it possibly go wrong? I tell you, it couldn’t. YG spent a lot of money and it didn’t go down the drain. All three singles are filled with pouncing beats and hooks coming from everywhere, shaking and whirling in action. The auto-tune warps the girls’ voices, sometimes heavy, sometimes moderate, but their verve oozes with euphoria like a combination of Pacquiao punches, like a sweet kiss with a fist.
29. “Love the Way You Lie”
Eminem feat. Rihanna
“Love the Way You Lie” is Eminem’s revised edition of the S&M encyclopedia. Take a look at a few entries:
1. “I can’t tell you what it really is / I can only tell you what it feels like / And right now there’s a steel knife in my windpipe.”
2. “It’s like I’m huffing paint / And I love it the more that I suffer I suffocate / And right before I’m about to drown she resuscitates me / She fucking hates me and I love it.”
3. “It wasn’t you, baby, it was me / Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems / Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano.”
4. “Now you’re in each other’s face / Spewing venom in your words when you spit ’em / You push, pull each other’s hair / Scratch, claw, bit ’em / Throw ’em down, pin ’em / So lost in the moments when you’re in ’em.”
5. “Now you get to watch her leave out the window / Guess that’s why they call it window pain.”
^2. ibid. (“I’m Superman with the wind in his back / She’s Lois Lane.”)
^5. ibid. (“Life is no Nintendo game.”)
Dude, I know it’s painful. But please, wipe those bleeding metaphors off your mouth. Rihanna’s fizzling. For all we know, what she means is “Love the Way You Lie, But Damn It, Don’t Jerk Off In My Bed.”
It must have been tough to sing “I don’t need a parachute, baby if I got you” if you have recently been through a breakup, but Cheryl Cole, being an English bitch like Lily Allen, simply wags her flag and diamond rings. This is her definition of “glamour under pressure”: elegant, feisty, and willful. The use of military percussion is often attributed to female singers and their statements on empowerment—“army pop” is what my friend Thor calls it (hello, Destiny’s Child)—and Cheryl prepares for the battle with an impressive arsenal. It helps that “Parachute” is avidly arranged, but she shines on her own with her strong vocals, no longer referring to her ex despite using his name. Actually, it’s so good that a Tagalog version, translated by yours truly, is already in the works.
27. “Butter Knives”
[Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang]
Raekwon is known for his aggressiveness, yet in every album he puts out, the bulk of them since going solo, he is more lauded for relentlessly ripping any notion of one-track minded rap that simplifies street life and gangster culture. The teaser from his upcoming record has “high-powered ninjas” and “old school robbers” telling “gunplay is only an investment” between swings of swords. But it’s the killer bass and drums, not to mention the riveting kung-fu samples, that slay the listener meat by meat. “Butter Knives” is just as good as any Wu-Tang fan can hope for. And no one, not even RZA, can mess with the Chef. His blades are still sharp.
Charice feat. Iyaz
You gotta hand it to Charice. Yes, luck is on her side, heaps of it, but she has worked her way to the international limelight relying on her singing abilities. She’s no longer Little Big Star “Charice” but “Shareez,” the sensational diva, the daughter of the Internet, the commodity of glitz. That it took six high-profile composers to write “Pyramid” attests to how much she’s being cared for, or how difficult it is to create a vehicle to prove that she’s not a fluke, that she’s ready to rule like a pharaoh. . . in her pyramid. See, I like how the song alludes to where she comes from, albeit unintentional: “Earthquakes can’t shake us / Cyclones can’t break us / Hurricanes can’t take away our love.” She’s like saying, hey, we may be plagued by these disasters but look where I am, standing. . . like a pyramid.
Problem is, the figure of speech is not a figure of speech but a figure of autism. And what’s funny is that if we take the song to heart and subscribe to its sensibilities, then everything is really like a pyramid. I mean, every thing. The world is like a pyramid. The universe is like a pyramid. The dandruff on my head is like a pyramid. The plate in front of me is like a pyramid. The booger in my forefinger is like a pyramid. Want some proof? Let’s try this: “Taj Mahal! We built this on a solid rock! It feels just like it’s heaven’s touch! Together at the top, like a Taj Mahal.” Fits just well, right? “Pyramid” sounds swell as a breakout single, but Charice got to find better historical references to stay longer in the game. Hmm, how about The Hanging Gardens next time?
Imagine how boy bands evolved from The Osmonds and Jackson 5 in the 60s to Menudo in the 70s, New Kids on the Block and Take That in the 90s, Backstreet Boys and Westlife in the early 00s, and Jonas Brothers and Arashi at present. Any difference? I say not much, except that our fascination with them is still pretty much the same. Super Junior, possibly the group that best defines this generation’s multiplicity, are not only keeping up with trends but shaping them to their advantage, making the “boy band package” heftier and loftier, bigger, bolder, and auto-tuner.
“(Bonamana)” will always suffer from comparisons with “Sorry, Sorry,” but that’s because the similarities are pronounced. However, the way I see it, “(Bonamana)” is trying to double what “Sorry Sorry” has accomplished, with its heavier thumps, louder synths, and shorter phrases to emphasize the swift transition between lines and verses. The group also takes the risk of experimenting on structure—something I admire among Asian composers as opposed to their American counterparts—particularly with the scatter of hooks (“hahahaha”) and bits of the bridge. I just hope the producers leave the vocals alone and refrain from falling head over heels for cheap auto-tune.
24. “The Line”
[The Twilight Saga: Eclipse]
The last time we heard from Battles was in 2007, after the release of their debut album, Mirrored. It’s a beautiful record top-to-bottom, a collection of obliquely but exquisitely arranged noise, buzz, loops, hums, and moans. To no one’s surprise, Stephenie Meyer’s gang picks them up three years later, because as you know, Twilight movies really got to have the coolest music to make up for everything they lack. But the real surprise here is Tyondai Braxton singing. Like Dominic Cooper and James Blake, both artists who began doing electronic/dubstep music and held the microphone eventually, Braxton lurches at first before catching up with the chords. “The Line” opens with the march of escalating drumbeats—the usual indie rock stuff—but magic happens midway through, at 2:26 to be exact, when a splatter of pixie dust raises the track to frenzy, when the balloons start to burst, and when Battles return to form and light the fireworks.
[The Fame Monster]
Lady Gaga is more interesting to me when she mellows out. Not that I don’t like it when she’s posturing as “Arty Spice,’ but sometimes her shock-and-awe armaments could be tiring. “Paparazzi” would always define that side of hers that shimmers even without the bombastic refrains and gimmicks. “Alejandro” walks that line too. It’s romantic, passionate, crazy, and immature. This time she channels Ace of Base and ABBA, a timely illusion, especially in light of the downtrend of pop music due to the abuse of auto-tune and the dearth of talented songwriters. It’s possible that she composed it with expectations of comparisons in mind, and that she decided to take advantage of them willingly, admitting these artists’ influences. But “Alejandro” is proud of being derivative. On its sleeve are professions of love that have long been uttered before, descriptions that are too trite for comfort, beats that have already raked in millions for past studio producers. Joanna Newsom laments: “(Lady Gaga’s) approach to image is really interesting, but you listen to the music, and you just hear glow sticks.” True, but don’t we need glow sticks from time to time? To see, albeit dimly, in the dark? Oftentimes it’s the image that speaks better for the music, and Lady Gaga’s image speaks very convincingly for herself. Talking about Newsom, she’s up next.
22. “Good Intentions Paving Company”
[Have One on Me]
If your cats at home could sing and play some instruments, they would sound like Joanna Newsom. I mean, really. Include the kittens in the orchestra, ask them to harmonize, and voila: they could reproduce an exact recording of The Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys. A year may not be enough to digest all three discs of Have One On Me—Newsom’s third album whose breadth is exhausting as it is wonderful—but it certainly has its share of spines. “Good Intentions Paving Company” is one of them. It’s a handsome seven-minute suite whose title evokes a rare rupture of quirk. The song, on the other hand, bears resemblance to a road movie of some sort, think Paris, Texas or Thelma and Louise, of two people driving away, smelling of dust roads, cuddling, uncertain where to go but heedless of directions. Newsom goes as far as confessing to her driver (“And it’s my heart, not me, who cannot drive), apologizing to him (“And I did not mean to shout, just drive / Just get us out, dead or alive”), reminding him of her love (“And I fell for you, honey, as easy as falling asleep”) and humoring their relationship, which are my favorite lines on the track (“I regret how I said to you, honey, just open your heart / When I’ve got trouble even opening a honey jar”). She’s taking a trip to too many places at once, but no matter where she ends up, her words never lose their spell.
21. “On to the Next One”
Jay-Z feat. Swizz Beatz
[The Blueprint 3]
Of all the MCs actively producing records today, it’s Jay-Z whom I never get tired listening to. However many “blueprints” he releases, there’s always something fresh about his work. Even in this minor hit, which was clearly outshined by a number of hiphop singles this year (Kanye’s, Big Boi’s, B.O.B’s, The Roots’, fucking Bruno Mars’), unmistakable is his gift for turning otherwise bland verses into amusing ones. He’s playing, and he’s playing the game niftily, futzing around with a sample from Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” and blowing the track with casual pauses and licks of “freeze.” As one writer puts it, “he’s the master of the flow—he can flow fast, he can flow slow.” Well, indeed.
20. “MCs Can Kiss”
[Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans]
The really frustrating thing is when writers make the lamest comparisons. Saying Kesha is like Uffie is the dumbest thing I read last year. Does “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy” really sound like “Tik Tok”? Maybe, but there’s so much trash in “Tik Tok” that any attempt to sort it out will always be futile. Can that American stoner sing a dressed down and intimate love song like “First Love” without pooping at the party? I guess not, because Kesha raps like bad rappers do, whereas Uffie, French as she is, does it spanking fresh and wild. “MCs Can Kiss,” the first single from her debut, is listless and feral. Yet despite throwing some awkward turns of phrase, Uffie manages to cartwheel until the song reaches the end, when she blows her own horn, in which she actually blows her own horn and lets us hear how she succeeds in messing up with it on her first try, or not. To state the obvious, she’s bringing sexy back quite well.
19. “Raise Your Glass”
[Greatest Hits…So Far!!!]
After her performance at the Grammys last year, Pink had nothing left to prove. She represented what hopefully would be the path of pop music in the years to come, one that would never fail to deliver something new, and one that would remind us that pop is anything but a pint of ingenuity and a chaser of nerve. Watching her glitter in the air filled us with delight, and it’s a testament to Pink’s no-holds-barred spirit that even her contemporaries looked at her in awe. Her voice never wavered, and the moment her feet landed on stage, she stood straight up, without any sign of dizziness, ready to receive the much-deserved applause. We’re still high on that spectacular act when several months later, she returned with her first compilation. Its carrier single, “Raise Your Glass,” is every beer-flowing party’s wily soundtrack, an anthem stamped with Pink’s signature rowdiness and piercing wit, clad in silly one-liners and dumb-ass screams. The song is intended to celebrate her ten years in music, and it’s an occasion shared with us, us at the center, us whom she’s egging on to rumble, us whom she is thankful for. But on this side of geek partying, we are the ones who are grateful. Pink rules our universe. Pink triumphs over jerks. And Pink unleashes all of us, her underdogs.
18. “Fight for Me”
Wildbirds and Peacedrums
Swedish band Wildbirds and Peacedrums is comprised of husband and wife Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin. Werliin takes charge of percussions while Wallentiin does the vocals. Sounds pretty neat and typical, except that they are actually one of the most revered groups from up north. Their live performances are praised for their surreal and captivating orchestrations. Their third album, Rivers, cements that reputation even further, as it features much intricate compositions of sheer emotional weight. This quality is prominent in “Fight for Me,” made even richer by the Schola Cantorum Reykjavik Chamber Choir, notable for their work in Bjork’s Medulla, as they lift Wallentin’s vocals to reverie. “Fight for Me” is a frightening and sinister tune, what with the intense drumming and ornate rhythms that wrap the words tight, but there’s also comfort in its eeriness, not to mention bliss in its bleakness.
17. “I Can Change”
[This is Happening]
I’ve always loved how James Murphy fiddles with length. He’s inclined to compose songs longer than usual, but it’s not just a matter of prolonging verses and repeating refrains. His greatest hits are musically succinct—the wild disco of “Daft Punk is Playing at my House,” the anxious buildup of “Great Release,” the cyber-techno of “Losing My Edge,” the tearful tune of “Someone Great,” the crazy piano of “All My Friends,” and the feverish glitter of “I Can Change”—all running for six to eight minutes, all mad and catchy, all uniquely structured. Rarely do they give you time to think and realize they’re finished because James has already taken care of every detail, from the crooked muddle of the middle verses down to the smooth ricochet of the final note. But above all the technical dexterity hides a brilliant songwriter—an agonized poet having a bad day, a geek with only a pen and a small notebook to doodle—inspired to trail the paths of his idols (New Order, Depeche Mode, Can, Manuel Göttsching) and make all the girls who let him down weep.
16. “Not in Love”
Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith
[Crystal Castles II]
We all miss The Cure. We think that Bloodflowers and 4:13 Dream are good, but we still go back to Pornography and Disintegration. We feel that Robert Smith shines with his recent collaborations, but we simply want another record. So thank god for Crystal Castles. “Not in Love” is the closest we can get to these wishful thoughts. It sounds like a lost Cure single in the 80s, waxing of Robert Smith-goodness we’ve all been looking for in ages, the gothic murmur of words, the colorful background noise, the stellar synths that never show any sign of collapse. The frenzied wails of “I’m not in love” in the chorus are captivating, his voice closing in for the kill yet only going further back, burying the tune into our heads, digging deep down to elude discovery. It saves 2010 from the excesses of new music, and no one cares even if it’s a fucking cover.
15. “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”
Rick Ross feat. Styles P
Hands down, the most thunderous and earsplitting hook on this list, not to mention the damnest and wildest, belongs to Rick Ross. The frequent booms of “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover!” are like grenades being dropped single-handedly in Teflon Don’s centerpiece, Lex Luger balancing their weight with Rick’s screech. Whether or not you’re familiar with the references (Big Meech, Larry Hoover, Red Dead Redemption, Archie Bunker, the shitload of cars), you can’t help but notice the arrogance of the arrangement, the beats that pound your ear, the keyboards that jump out of tune, and the verses that wallop so hard they leave you sore and bruised. But that’s all right. Rick’s having a good time. Rick’s sharing his coke. And Rick’s firing his machine gun. Hallelujah.
14. “Limit to Your Love”
For the record, I’ve never liked any of James Blake’s EPs. I thought they were too arty and stingy, the common direction of an aspiring young artist who’s trying to break into the crowded music scene. But the moment he released “Limit to Your Love” last October, the tables were completely turned. It’s not as if he picked an obscure song to cover and make his own: he chose a track off Leslie Feist’s The Reminder. It would’ve been gay if it’s “1234,” but damn it, it’s “Limit to Your Love.”
Of course, he didn’t make it better than the original—that would be irreverent, and also, not true—but he found ways to arrange the song differently, retaining the instrumental hook without losing the pain Feist bares oh so achingly. Likewise, we hear his voice for the first time, his dulcet voice squarely at the center, held by the harrowing loop of the bass, piano, synths, and drums. James fills it with pauses that are not only long but also pregnant, like silent conversations, meaningful thoughts, longing, cloak and dagger kept in a rusty safe. Twice my heart broke.
(And dear, he’s just twenty-one. I wanna talk to his mom.)
13. “Window Seat”
[New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)]
The video for “Window Seat” sparked controversy not because of its public nudity but because of its aversion to many hypocritical institutions that subvert any form of progressive thinking, institutions like the complainants themselves. It’s a fuck you to the “monoculture of the mind”—the antagonism to anything liberal—and the supposedly peaceful world that groupthink promises. But the song is not an altogether different matter. In fact, its words are even more powerful. Erykah packs three verses of refrain that breeze through like a wind, until the song reaches a sense of comfort in its contradiction. Her ambivalence only makes its sublimity empowering, and she just sits there and watches us groove on her gentle fury.
Like most of the tracks in Travel Advisory, “Gaan” feels like a plane crash, a long fall that leaves a mood of promptness without panic, of stillness amid a foreboding storm. Yani Yuzon asks questions in the chorus that need not be answered. His voice gives away a sense of resignation, of submission to life’s harshest coups, of surrender. The line “At anong gagawin pag nagawa na ang lahat, sa bawat sandali na lumilipas” wrings out the water, then the blow continues, “At anong dadalhin pag nawala na ang bigat, saan ka uuwi sa bawat oras,” and it’s only a matter of time when you see yourself ensconced in his words and the calmness of his delivery. “Gaan” is rife with contradictions, but it takes it easy and sashays gracefully, all the while holding a revolver and shooting flames of good poetry.
11. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Oh, Canada. Or is it Eh, Canada? For most hipsters, 70% of Canada is Arcade Fire, 20% is Wolf Parade and Of Montreal, and the remaining 10% is dealt out to the long lost memories of Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, and Celine Dion. You can replace the maple leaf and put the cover of Funeral on the Canadian flag and I don’t think a lot of people would complain. Unlike their first two records, The Suburbs is not over the top. No huge anthems, no hair-rising bellows, no reckless world views—but it still has that unique Arcade Fire power to obliterate gently.
It’s a good thing “Sprawl II” is placed near the end because it leaves an impression of finality, one that is both cathartic and phony. Régine may have revealed more of herself than what she intends to but that’s fine because we’re here to listen. Her turn at the mic isn’t surprising, but what makes “Sprawl II” stagger is that it blows you away little by little, girdling until you’re finally out of breath. In many ways she outwins Win Butler, and in many times the cracks of light in the album leave her blind. She reminds us how small the world is and how we ride the same bikes in our childhood, how we travel the same roads, how we go through the same heartaches, and how short our time is to do all the things we want. I don’t have time to ponder on its disco. I don’t see why some listeners are reminded of “Heart of Glass.” I don’t see the point of calling it the catchiest Arcade Fire song ever written. The moment Regine speaks to me and I speak back, there is nothing for me to understand. I bury my heart. I bury it in my heart.
10. “California Gurls”
Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
Time only knows how long Katy Perry will survive the fickle landscape of pop. Like Britney, Katy has reached a status when she’s not only on top but she’s also staying on it for a long time. Hit after hit, concert after concert, and video after video, she has created an image that is bigger than herself, a monster that could easily eat her up anytime. The consecutive release of “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” and “Firework” is like a series of bombs dropped one after another, a reminder of her iconic force as a pop star and of how controlling she could be if she only wills it.
My fondness for “California Gurls” stems from the fact that its verses teem with alliterations. And not just simple alliterations but wonderfully worded ones: “warm, wet and wild, there must be something in the water,” “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top,” “sun-kissed skin so hot,” and especially, “fine, fresh, fierce, we got it on lock.” The back-to-back refrains are packed with rowdy rhymes oozing with lust that only Katy can deliver with a mix of itch and politesse, bikinis and corsets, sticky cum and holy water. It’s a hymn of shallow pride and silly fantasies, a celebration of vanity and childishness, but doesn’t everything boil down to that? But where’s the ode to California Boyz?
Here’s an impromptu: “Bulgy beast so blow and stroke it downward, oh, oh-oh, oh-oh.”
9. “Cold War”
[The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)]
“The Curious Case of Janelle Monáe” could well be 2010’s most read story. As the lady of the hour, she appears in tuxedos, makes batty blinks, and walks all over the stage when she performs. She is admired for her eclecticism—the way pop music favors mishmash from time to time—and also for her high-octane live shows. She is a well rounded artist who is aware of her influences and knows how to make use of them in her music. At the periphery of The ArchAndroid are bits of intergalactic imagery, conceptual fiction, tales from obscure crypts, and mythos reminiscent of Sun Ra’s compositions. Sometimes she sings like Ella. Sometimes like Erykah. Sometimes like Lauryn. Sometimes Sharon Jones. Sometimes James Brown. Sometimes a lonely asteroid. Sometimes no one.
Swimming along the record’s flotsam and jetsam is a fragment of her life on earth strikingly called “Cold War” (is she alluding to the real one? is it the only thing she remembers?) in which she pours her heart out until it’s empty. At one moment, her voice breaks but it only turns her wrath into warmth, and boils her echoes in Kelindo’s gnashing guitars. When she says “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me,” her tears freeze and wound her cheeks. She’s vulnerable yet she’s also fierce, fighting a battle that she’s ready to lose. And even if she wins it, it’s not something that she would consider a triumph. That her most remarkable hit is also her most emotional proves how much on earth she has taken away with her.
8. “Fuck You”
Cee Lo Green
[The Lady Killer]
No one doubted Cee Lo’s capability to pull a perfect single, but no one, not even myself, expected it to be bolder and more viral than his previous hit “Crazy.” The big fat guy is uncontrollably mad, shaking and sniveling, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, laugh at his insane pronouncements, and feel sorry for his hopeless attempt to move on. Even if you tie him up and lock him inside the room, he’d still sing it with the same rage and humor, with the same nasty and tasty demeanor.
Allow me to opine that “Fuck You” is strikingly similar to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” in terms of cultural impact, only this time it is coming from a male point of view. Both are great songs, both went viral upon their release, and both share this twisted sense of empowerment. Also, is it a coincidence that both singers are black? Quite an interesting discussion to raise, especially how the stereotypes are played out in each song and how the singers try to get over the man and the woman who broke their hearts, and more importantly, how each song managed to gain widespread popularity. Furthermore, it’s funny how a song called “Fuck You” is arranged like a gospel, its bridge providing a scrumptious bookend to Cee Lo’s misfortune. Imagine if it was actually recorded inside a church?
7. “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”
[The Element of Freedom]
Its monstrous synth line could easily knock over a cathedral, but the words simply shrug it off, Alicia Keys whispering them creepily: “Even if you were a million miles away, I could still feel you in my bed, near me, touch me, feel me.” It’s hard to tell whether it’s the bass or Alicia who’s heavily breathing and panting, huffing and puffing all the way to the end. Like a porn movie, the mood strips the poesy. And what immediately comes to mind is its hollow literalism, the presence of a ghost hovering around, slipping underneath the covers. She’s mumbling, closing her eyes as she sees her thoughts take shape, aiming for words and failing, getting up only to trip over again. Either he’s physically dead or he just left her, but she sings it like either both are true or neither is. Alicia is able to dissociate herself with the piano, but “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” is “Fallin’” that seethes inward, losing it and marveling at her own fall (“I’ll make it without you / Tonight”). The transition between verses is seamless, but the moment she coos “anybodycould’vetoldyourightfromthestartit’sabouttofallapart,” she pounds the nail in the coffin and relishes her defeat. It’s a track that invites countless remakes, and Robyn, with a bottle of whiskey, went for it first.
Up Dharma Down
What is it they usually say: “If you’re doing something good, people will find you”? After two successful albums and a string of jingles, GMA-7 finally tracked Up Dharma Down and commissioned them to compose music for one of its primetime series. I never saw an episode of “Illumina,” but its soundtrack continues to linger: on morning radio, on iPod playlists, on Blip.fm’s streaming, and especially on people’s minds, the track screaming to have companions for a third record.
The words of “Tadhana” are reminiscent of the tenderness of “Oo” and “Pag-agos” from Fragmented, but its arrangement echoes the sparseness of “The Cold is Warmth” and “All Year Round” from Bipolar. It’s this marriage of two remarkable elements in both albums—the luminous songwriting and the picturesque melodies—that lets the yearning flit from personal to collective, from Armi’s mouth to our ears, from our ears to our hearts, and from there, there’s no way out.
5. “Crash Years”
The New Pornographers
I don’t know where to start when it comes to the Pornos. I’ve been a fan of the band for so long, pleased with every record they put out since Mass Romantic, and eventually I’ve also been a follower of each member’s individual projects. 2009 saw the release of Carl Newman’s underrated sophomore album, Get Guilty, and Neko Case’s splendid Middle Cyclone. Last year Kathryn Calder released her solo work, and just a few months ago, Dan Bejar and the rest of Destroyer returned with a sweet record called Kaputt.
But what makes the Pornos stand out as a band is that they never feel and sound like a supergroup. They’re just a bunch of friends jamming together and enjoying each other’s company. I was hesitant to include this here because I think Together works better as a whole—it’s deftly made, it has nice transitions between singing, powerful solos, lively harmonies—but “Crash Years” is that ball of love that deserves a dunk. Neko Case sings like a tornado, purposely destructive and pensive, and she holds on to Carl Newman’s touching words bit by bit, pause after pause. Like any Pornos hit, the chorus is the black hole where everything gets sucked in. The wind blows hard and Neko stands still, unruffled, unperturbed. She and Carl can whistle all day, and I’d be glad to take a seat.
4. “Walang Natira”
Gloc-9 feat. Sheng Belmonte
Surprise, the new Gloc-9 is brimming with clichés. But baby, what’s wrong with clichés? What’s wrong with singing about every Filipino’s failed dream, every Filipino’s sad fate, and every Filipino’s deadend? Truth be told, the other side of clichés is that they are true and they continue to be true because we let them. And this is where Gloc-9 is good at—in fact, excels at—reading the pages of the tabloids, scouring the stark realities between them, lapping them up and leaving us with silt, odds and ends.
“Walang Natira” isn’t anything but spot-on. It’s a chronicle of every terrible OFW story, better than any OFW movie Star Cinema has ever produced, better than what the OWWA and DFA are capable of doing. Gloc-9 holds the verses all together, reeling and rhyming, but it’s Sheng Belmonte who provides the track’s massive hook, drowning his words in well wrapped rancor. Every time she declares, “Napakaraming guro-nars-inhinyero-karpintero-kasambahay-labandera-guro dito sa amin / Ngunit bakit tila walang natira,” it stings. It nips right through the sore wound, that incredible measure of tolerance we allow ourselves to have, those calloused hands and toes tending to equally calloused minds and souls. At his end, Gloc-9 is bent on shoving his paradox, “Gusto kong yumaman, yumaman, yumaman,” repeating it not for emphasis but for detail, telling that hope, in a third world country, never actually springs eternal.
3. “The End of the World is Bigger than Love”
In a way, detachment is important in writing, but the question is how long. Weeks, months, years, decades. . . will people still remember? Will people care?
Yet the most convincing writers for me are those who try hard to polish their craft, those who admit that failure is inevitable, and those who do not turn away from the ugly mess the world cooks up every day. “Some things you just go through,” Jens Lekman says. “You don’t write about it, you don’t turn it into art because it can’t be turned into art. (…) you can’t pour manure into an espresso machine and expect a cappuccino to come out.” He not only sounded depressed—he was actually depressed. Love, being the source of both pleasure and pain, was the offender. Jens was madly in love with a girl so he tried to compose a song—right after learning about the result of the US elections in 2008—and came up with “The End of the World is Bigger than Love.” Quite a long and straightforward title (nine words!) but it stands alongside the finest strokes of his quill—“When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog,” “If You Ever Need a Stranger (To Sing at Your Wedding)” “You are the Light (By Which I Travel into This and That)” “You Deserve Someone Better Than a Bum Like Me,” “Another Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill,” “Friday Night at the Drive-in Bingo,” and the exquisite “And I Remember Every Kiss.”
Two of my favorite subjects: (1) the end of the world, and (2) a broken heart. (2) is rather easy to explain. I don’t think it even needs an explanation. (2) is similar to a dog’s tail. It’s unmistakably there (well, except for tailless dogs), wagging at times, often supine. Also, (2) is usually more broke than broken, in the sense that it is more aware of the things it lacks than the fact that it is shattered, in pieces, or kaput. (2) is illogical—and to some extent, physiological—but (1) never is. It’s not slippery, but it defies belongingness to any category. Furthermore, (1) is a grand subject, a meta-narrative, an occurrence both fictional and not, an event that cannot be proven and disproved unless it happens for real, hence its name.
What Jens does is connect the two and concludes that (1) is bigger than (2) while in fact he wrote the song because of (2) and (1) could be regarded as an excuse, a big fat lie to save face, only it isn’t, it wasn’t, and, fingers crossed, it will not be. “When love turns its back on you it’s nice to know there’s a world out there that doesn’t give a shit about your problems.” When I saw Jens last year, to be honest, he was a beautiful picture of a carefree man. He’s a cheerful performer, gamely horsing around, singing merrily, in spirits so high he even went back to the stage and sang along with Erlend and Eirik of Kings of Convenience. He didn’t seem like carrying (2) or thinking about (1). He was out there. He was making me understand this song. And I think I did. I really did. That’s why it’s here. That’s why I’m crying now. ‘Cause I’m every bit as out of line as the rainbow at night.
2. “Get Outta My Way”
Who else can deliver the best pop single of the year but Her Highness Kylie Minogue? She’s ripping the dancefloor again with a new record aptly called Aphrodite, and while it doesn’t provide her new directions—like its groundbreaking predecessors, Body Language and Impossible Princess—it proves her mighty grit and staying power, and how, in the company of the purported heirs of her throne (La Roux, Robyn, Lady Gaga) she remains far from them by a mile.
Kylie spins the disco ball in “Get Outta My Way” at full throttle, frolicking in a splash of sexy electro synths and ravenous repetitions of refrain, feverish to the point of fit. Similar to her previous hits, it ascends heavenward, rolls uncontrollably, and keeps her feet up, hungry for more swings. She says to her man, “This is what’ll happen if you ain’t giving your girl what she needs.” A sweet threat, ‘cause really, what kind of guy sits on the corner while Kylie struts her stuff? Someone not man enough! Someone who deserves to be walked out on! In an album full of highlights, this gem is easily the most exhilarating. Best to get your dancing shoes ready.
1. “Fool’s Day”
The nineties witnessed the rivalry between Blur and Oasis. Blur rocked. Oasis sucked. Damon winked, Liam sneered, and Oasis still sucked. Blur split. Oasis still sucked. Graham went solo. Oasis still sucked. Damon formed Gorillaz. Oasis still sucked. Blur announced reunion. Oasis still sucked. Liam and Noel split for real. Oasis still sucked. Blur released new material after seven years. Oasis still sucked. Kids, don’t bully your friends, OK?
Of course, “Fool’s Day” belongs to an era when Britpop no longer prevails, an era when the best musicians of today are those who were actually the best musicians ten or twenty years ago. How time flies, right? As Dodo and I would lovingly call them: old farts. Damon is quite a charming old fart. He sings about waking up on the first day of April and that’s just about it, except that like any classic Blur single, there’s something magical about his telling, something fascinating about the images it conjures that are so everyday yet they leave an unexpected embrace of warmth.
Damon cuts his phrases unconventionally. He shares routines he does unfailingly (“Porridge done / I take my kids to school), mundane thoughts (“Lord, it was a plane crash / But I’m sure that I was dreaming / TV on”), places he sometimes takes for granted (Woolworth’s, West Way, Ladbroke Grove), and right after that, where does he go? To the studio. To meet his buddies. To record a song. To pat Graham, Alex, and Dave on their shoulders. But especially Graham. Best fucking friend. Coxswain Coxon. He who provides “Fool’s Day” an enchanting farewell through a superb riff, that part at the end when every Blur fan’s water broke. “Fool’s Day’ might just be a day in the life of Damon, a bit ragged and patchy, but for us, us who are still here, it’s a dream waiting to happen that happened, a wish that made us hold on to every wish we gave up on. After all, like them, we just can’t let go.
Comments? Suggestions? Death threats? No Kanye? No 6cyclemind? Please leave them on the comments page. Who knows, if this post reaches more than 100 comments (#feverdreaming) the writer of the 100th comment will receive a free CD, of that person’s choice, courtesy of yours truly. Promise!
Up next: Best Albums of 2010. When? Safest, of course, is before the end of the world comes. Yes, before 2012.
Best Tracks of 2010 (#60-31) January 17, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
AND THE LIST CARRIES ON. This is awful late, but it doesn’t matter, right?
I’m done with the best and worst album covers, best opening tracks, best music videos, and best EPs. So what do we have here? Yes, the best tracks of 2010, half of them, because time is my enemy, and time is leaving me out of sorts. I don’t know when I can give the other half, but I hope you will stay tuned. One time I realize I was writing some of these annotations in my dreams, and when I checked my notebook, voila, they’re already written. So, you never know.
But here’s the thing: I selected sixty songs that defined my 2010, but *spoiler alert* the usual suspects are glaringly missing. S—— S——, K—– W—-, R——-, T– N——-, T– D— C—– C—, L—- M——, among others. Well, in the spirit of fairness, I decided that the artists included on the tracks list will not appear on the albums list, and vice versa. That way, we avoid overkill. Also, more challenge. If they’re not here, maybe they’re on the other list. Or maybe I didn’t like them that much.
Game? OK, all of the lights!
60. “All I Ever Wanted”
[All I Ever Wanted]
Although much less pronounced, “All I Ever Wanted” begins with a continuous strumming of guitar similar to the signature entrance of “My Life Would Suck Without You.” And then Kelly Clarkson’s voice strikes while the iron is hot, softly at first, then goes full-blown at the middle, until she picks up the pieces and leaves an impression of finality. But she’s never finished. She only returns stronger with a much bitter aftertaste. Among her string of hits, this is one of her loudest thunderstorms. I bet you wouldn’t even think it’s a remake.
Every review of The-Dream’s Love King makes a reference to Prince, and really, could this guy be a worthy successor to TAFKAP? Well, for one, “Yamaha” sounds straight out of Prince’s greatest hits record: pitch perfect bass beats, smooth and sultry layers, fervent writing full of sexual come-ons. “Still got your name tattooed on my back” is a giveaway, though. That ain’t Prince. We all know that he won’t have it on his back, right?
B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams
[B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray]
Forget the rap and the sequel. It’s Hayley Williams’ verse that makes this soar and achieve an unprecedented sweep: a refrain better than all the Paramore songs, a few good and a lot bad, combined.
57. “Yun Lang”
True Faith feat. Armi Millare
Drum-heavy True Faith is not a surprise. Even in “Dahil Ikaw,” the beats march convincingly, a few times stealing the show from Medwin, as they provide the song a pleasant stride of mindful indifference. “Yun Lang” is much more driven, the guitars are on the go, and Medwin‘s voice shakily twists and turns. The force is with them, and the force is letting them run wild and free.
56. “King of Anything”
The strength of this track lies on its unwavering sarcasm, how Sara Bareilles ridicules the guy in question, batters him with sharp words, and storms him black and blue. She delivers her lines fiercely with a sweet cherry on top and relishes the kick stanza after stanza, amid the fancy claps, amid the insatiable refrain.
55. “Heartbreak on Vinyl (Chew Fu Radio Fix)”
[Heartbreak on Vinyl]
Whichever remix you listen to, Blake Lewis’ ode to lost record bars and dusty turntables remains undiminished because it’s the lyrics that keep it real and heartfelt. He sings it as he lived through the bygones, piercing the listener with the “analog memories” it evokes and the “crates of love” it unearths. The techno and disco beats only serve to embellish, to beautify what already is beautiful.
Burst is not an overstatement because rapture is what these four guys from Louisville deliver. Their debut is never short of excitement, as the tracks, one after another, revel in a streak of hedonism. “Vultures,” for instance, features a crazy bass line and an addicting chorus that lay out the carpet before letting the real shindig come in. It’s a blast like no other.
53. “Ain’t No Talkin’”
[Earth vs The Pipettes]
When you arm The Pipettes with a mad chorus, they could be fatal. They could crush you to pieces and fold you to their will. Despite the cold reviews for their latest album, not to mention carrying on with a different lineup, undeniable is the fact that Ani and Gwenno Saunders could pull new shapes and throw old weight. The two minutes of “Ain’t No Talkin’” are relentless pop at its finest, unstoppably infectious, whipping glee like marijuana.
52. “Five Trees”
It’s becoming a habit that I continue to enjoy: selecting a single from an up and coming band to include in a list and seeing if they can make it big in the succeeding year when they release their first record. This year it’s Chapel Club, a five-piece group from London that is slowly becoming one of the immensely anticipated bands in 2011. “Five Trees” is not a perfect single—it’s not as catchy as what some bloggers purported it to be—but it’s teeming with youthful promise. It sounds more derivative than original, but the band’s temper leaves so much gusto to be looked forward to. I’m all ears for the debut.
If the only reason this song finds its nook here is the lurching hook of “Kill that memory”—or the burly muddle of Frank Reyes’ barako voice, Buwi’s bass, and Gabby Alipe’s gnashing guitars—then I rest my case. Not that these guys need any defense for having too much blood in their cocks anyway.
You call it pop when the music succeeds in titillating your senses, in hooking your ears from start to finish, and in leaving you with a meaningful smile on your face. You call it bliss when you press repeat a couple of times and you still can’t get enough of it. You call it pop bliss when Goldfrapp sings it and you can’t help but dance. Classic.
49. “Somebody To Love”
[My World 2.0]
Justin Bieber isn’t popular for the wrong reasons. His rise to fame is one of the finest examples of twentieth century pop machinery at work, from the way his image is sold to prepubescent girls to the manner in which his songs are arranged, tangling soul, dance, hip hop, and R&B in one strong record. But above all the larger than life persona, what makes him stick is that his hits are never bigger than him. “Baby” has catapulted him to insane prominence, but the moment he sings, “I don’t need too much, just somebody to love,” he comes across as a boy who simply shares our worst illness: lovelessness.
[Crazy for You]
Some songs are irresistible because they reflect our own grand stupidities. Take this singer’s whim: “The other girl is not like me / She’s prettier and skinnier / She has a college degree / I dropped out when I was seventeen / If only I could get her out of the picture / Then he would know how much I want him.” Oh, infatuation. The fondness for oversight. The penchant for wallowing. The attraction to hurt. Bethany Cosentino squeezes the sap full of daydreams, wishes, and stars. Underneath the table, her cat looks on while scratching the pedalboard.
47. “Run Devil Run”
“Oh!” and “Gee” were excellent hits, but it’s “Run Devil Run” that turned Girls’ Generation into a group of invincible proportions. These ladies know how to skate on the strapping hurl of beats, and how to pummel and flirt with the right kind of flair. No wonder the devil lost to all nine of them. They romp on the dance floor and voila, ablaze.
46. “Half of my Heart”
John Mayer feat. Taylor Swift
The deceit is you see a knight in shining armor singing, a guy in suit looking at his watch, waiting, caressing a piece of his heart, the “half” he mentions in the title. John Mayer’s so good at this it’s his bread and butter, the failed romance being reminisced, the heartbreak warfare, the songs tinged with regret. But Taylor Swift? More than halfway through the song, she nurses his wounds and hums until the fragments break into smaller and smaller circles. And Kanye, hear this: he lets her finish. How sweet.
45. “Forever and Ever Amen”
“It’s forever, baby it’s forever” sounds like a line from a Britney Spears hit but make no mistake—the only difference is that The Drums are not as popular as Britney, which, come to think of it, makes all the difference. The track smacks of cheer and youthfulness, with “all the stars in the sky / and all the flowers in the fields” conjuring images of adolescence spent on endless thinking and pointless courtship. “Forever and Ever Amen” provides an aching soundtrack to all these memories that just can’t let us go.
[The Beat Is…]
True story: I was standing in the elevator when a guy tapped my shoulder curiously. I took one of my earphones off and heard him say, “Hey, they’re from my country!” I looked at him, surprised, a beautiful guy with soft features, carrying a suitcase, probably on his way to meet a client. He added, “I’m Danish.” Then my face lit up and only then was I able to reply, “Stine’s so pretty, isn’t she?” He laughed. I thought I was in an Alicia Silverstone movie. And the door opened and life went on. I never saw him again in the building. Sitting at my workstation later that afternoon, I thought: what a way to strike up a conversation. What a nice song too. We could be dancing, only we never got the chance.
Jamie Foxx feat. Justin Timberlake and T.I.
[Best Night of My Life]
The thing is: Justin Timberlake’s collaborations always work. Keeping up with the thumping beats, he sets the bar high as he sings the verse before the refrain, and Jamie Foxx and T.I. simply glide through, wrapping the song in delicious swagger.
Death Threat are back with their eighth record and they promise to make a bloody killing, sonic-wise and hoodie-wise. I suggest, before it comes out, pick up this early spool of shit on Youtube, bounce, and go on a bender. Also, protect ya neck.
41. “How I Got Over”
The Roots feat. Dice Raw
[How I Got Over]
Black Thought and the rest of The Roots have truly gone a long way. 2010 was a big year for them, releasing two exemplary albums that attest to their shining gift for writing songs that simmer with vigilance and introspection. The title track from How I Got Over is one of them. It bestirs as much as it amuses, particularly with the splendid clasp in the refrain: “Out on the streets / Where I grew up / First thing they teach us / Not to give a fuck / That type of thinking can’t get you nowhere / Someone has to care.” Amid the smooth run of verses, the sludge settles down and clears the surface, leaving the good vibes afloat.
40. “Breakneck Speed”
Tokyo Police Club
High school is the point of all return—the space in our heads that occupies as many good memories as trash—and Tokyo Police Club evoke plenty of them in their first single from Champ. Blame it on the bass, on the spark of current it spreads throughout the song, or on how the drums and keyboard pick up the glitter and take off in all directions, or on Dave Monks’ rusty voice which feels like a stubble, like our crush had way back then. Indeed for three short minutes, we were back on that fateful dance on prom night.
39. “Solitude is Bliss”
The opening line “Cracks in the pavement underneath my shoe” provides a suspicious image, like a Polaroid slowly revealing lines and faces, and then the emotions finally take shape. The guitars lick the words and they start to taste like chicken soup on a rainy day, thawing out fast, melting off, being carried away by lovely earworms. “There’s a party in my head and no one is invited,” Kevin Parker shares. Golly, I’m sure it was fun.
38. “Heaven Can Wait”
Charlotte Gainsbourg feat. Beck
Charlotte Gainsbourg’s return to music is a cause for celebration, for me at least. From Jarvis Cocker in 5:55, she now finds herself under Beck’s guidance, driving her music career into its most charming direction. In IRM, Beck is obviously smitten. His orchestration is luminous and Charlotte takes everything in, her subservience to beauty has always been a wonderful trait. “Heaven Can Wait” is their loveliest offspring, crying of happiness, sniveling with delight.
It’s painful to be reminded how terrible the new Interpol record was. The bright lights were turned off, no more antics were played, and our love to admire was lost. Yeah, completely fallen hopes for a solid album, but hell, as far as singles go, they can still bring a tempest. As always, Carlos D’s angular bass lines shine in “Barricade,” as well as Daniel Kessler’s sparse guitars and Sam Fogarino’s blaring drums. Paul Banks slides in and out of monotone in favor of progression and next thing we know his supple fury is beginning to break loose.
36. “hahahaha jk?”
[Sit Down, Man]
Who will survive in America? Its hip hop artists! The country will never run out of them—it’s like a huge factory of rap music. While most mainstream musicians can’t get the fuck over huge tits, booze, and vajayjays and tell every detail of them in their songs, Das Racist are far from claiming indifference and self-righteousness. Actually, they couldn’t care less. One of the highlights on their second mixtape is “hahahaha jk,” a whack track making fun of the junk white culture (“We not racist / We love white people!”) using spot-on references (“Ford trucks, apple pies, bald eagles / Yeah, Chitos, Doritos, Fritos, Pringles, Kraft Singles, Slim Jims, Sierra Mist!”) and killer non-sequiturs. It’s full of muscle, and sweating with wit too.
[Mornings and Airports]
Just the thought of Ebe Dancel leaving Sugarfree hurts. And then the announcement came via Twitter and all of a sudden it’s true. It’s not as if I didn’t see it coming, but really, breakups are much more painful when it comes to local artists because the memories were first-hand. “Telepono” will always be Sugarfree’s most wounding hit—the first cut is the deepest, as they say—and “Hangover,” listening to it now, does sound like a goodbye, a fitting farewell to those years behind and ahead, those years the band has shared with us in beers and tears, from dreamless days to sleepless nights, through thick and thin, on the road often traveled, time and again.
34. “Ambling Alp”
The release of Odd Blood is a bold move from Brooklyn band Yeasayer. Quite a divider, I must say, but on the basis of “Ambling Alp” alone, the change proves to be noteworthy. The pleasures we get and they derive from their experiments are abounding, especially with the dizzying colors and textures that permeate the track. While Chris Keating is talking about Nazis and three famous boxers, here we are, loading up on LSD and taking off our clothes.
Robbie Williams feat. Gary Barlow
[In and Out of Consciousness: The Greatest Hits 1990-2010]
Imagine, it took Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow 15 years to finally reunite and sing together again, but jesus, how marvelous the price of the long wait was. “Shame” is easily the best Robbie Williams song in years. The feelings dig deep into his departure from Take That, the healed wounds, the funny anecdotes (“So I got busy throwing everybody underneath the bus / Oh, and with your poster 30 foot high at the back of Toys-R-Us”), the realizations worded beautifully in the refrain. The first time I listened to it, my eyes welled up in sadness. Now, for the nth time, I know these are tears of joy.
32. “Find Your Love”
[Thank Me Later]
My first thought after listening to Thank Me Later is that if Drake were to record 808 and Heartbreak, it would have sounded much better. I bet Yeezy won’t agree, but he won’t completely deny it either. Try to listen to “Find Your Love” and the song perfectly fits into Kanye’s previous record. Its heavy singing is a risk on Drake’s part, making it sound a little girly, especially in light of the fact that hardcore rappers hate singing and stripping a tune. But it’s a risk worth taking. Instead of opening his fly and lowering his pants, Drake opens his heart and lowers his defenses. He once expressed that “Find Your Love” should have been sung by a woman, but hearing his take on it, he just earned my respect.
31. “Superfast Jellyfish”
Gorillaz feat. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul
Can’t say I was a huge fan of “Stylo” or “Rhinestone Eyes” or even “On Melancholy Hill,” but the only track that got me all wet in Plastic Beach is Gorillaz’s collaboration with super furry Gruff Rhys and super hip De La Soul. “Superfast” is charming and cheery, yet in its skid of words it also takes the issue of mass consumerism seriously, the “pretty packages of frosted delights” that rule our lives, the conveniences we take for granted, the world we fill with rubbish, and the selfish acts we commit to nature. Damon laments how everything gets “cheapened” by the dozen, but it will only hit us hard when all that’s left at McDonald’s are jellyfish burgers and eel nuggets. That’s actually how smart we claim we are.
Best Reads of 2010 January 4, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Books, Literature, Yearender.
1. Last Evenings on Earth, The Savage Detectives. Roberto Bolaño. Reading Bolaño is like allowing this guy who doesn’t take a bath every day sleep with you. Really. Smell me.
2. Nobody’s Perfect. Anthony Lane. I fell in love with Lane twice: before and after reading this book.
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Stieg Larsson. Pretty much what some people dislike about this trilogy is what I like the most: plain prose, bleeding journalism, and its moments of sheer suspense. And please, don’t blame Reg Keeland.
4. Maurice. E.M. Forster. Forster’s novella is filled with closets and page after page he opens every one of them and knocks the reader off with the usual pleasantries of 20th century England and sweltering repression of gay love. Edward Carpenter and George Merrill must have been proud.
5. Some Rain Must Fall and Other Stories. Michel Faber. Faber’s first collection of stories, sunny side up and down, vanilla-bright like Eminem. Nobody does it better than he.
6. 9th and 13th. The Rotters’ Club. Jonathan Coe. A very short story collection and a novel whose title is taken from a Hatfield and the North album. There’s so much love in it you wish the story ends in a guitar solo.
7. Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro. Thank you Andrew Garfield.
8. Hocus Pocus. Kurt Vonnegut. I sensed a lot of harsh judgment from people who looked at me inside the bus or train as I read this tastelessly ridiculous book. Really, I just had to laugh like hell.
9. End of the Game and Other Stories. Julio Cortázar. Fellini led me to Antonioni and Antonioni led me to Cortázar and now it seems that I’m not getting out of this frigging maze.
10. The Best of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss. Because it’s Dr. Seuss!
Best EPs of 2010 December 29, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
AND THE LIST KEEPS ON TRUCKIN’. Seven extended-play releases, each has its own way of making me wet and happy, follow and follow me down. Gems that can easily be played whenever, short and sweet except for the last one, which is remarkably long but worth every second. Here they go:
7. Cults 7”
It pays to have an attractive cover; and in this case, three vintage covers. Cults came out of nowhere, no Facebook page, no MySpace, no buzz surrounding their entrance, but upon the release of “Go Outside,” a marvelous tune teeming with ecstasy, they have drawn the curtains with such freshness one can’t help but stay tuned. “Most Wanted” and “The Curse” complete the package, fulfill the promise, and leave us craving for more.
6. The Samps
Impressive is how The Samps manage to retain their ability to surprise for the entire length of the record. For fifteen minutes, groove is the only rule of the game. The soundscape seems composed at random but constant listening attests to the fact that the tracks are meticulously sampled, most of them heavily acousmatic, as they spill over the guts and excesses of dance, funk, R&B, and disco. It feels neither short nor lacking, and it only becomes more beautiful every listen.
5. So Much Excelsior
This is the sound of the city after dark, the noise of broken glasses in the gutter, the smell of dust on the wayside, the echoes of drunken conversations making their way through the surface, the shards of break-ups, meaningless glances, tight embraces, furtive kisses, nocturnal spaces. Owel Alvero hears and sees them all, misty-eyed, dog-eared.
An officemate who recently returned from Korea told me that the independent music scene there is thriving; and by thriving he means I should go there and see for myself. This is not at all surprising, and I know that this has been going on for a long time. With all the popular TV series and boy bands we’re often exposed to, I’ve always felt the existence of an alternative equivalent in which my poseur-friendly ears would seek refuge. And here come The Koxx, a five-piece group recommended by a friend. The influences are obvious—British punk bands, grunge, electro, all that trendy do-it-yourself music. The texture is thick with scruff and grease. The tracks—especially “ACDC,” “Over and Over,” and “Trouble Maker”—are never scant of hooks. Next thing I know my jeans are already ripped at the knee.
3. Mount Wittenberg Orca
Dirty Projectors + Björk
It’s the perfect union of two artists whose eccentricities set them apart from their contemporaries. Together Dirty Projectors and Björk make harmonies sound like hallucinations of crackpots. Everything reels heavenwards, and the claps and background voices shake the hills to their roots. Honestly, humming has always been an underrated talent.
2. Sun Bronzed Greek Gods
From start to finish Sun Bronzed Greek Gods bursts with a brimful of energy, revealing its stash of fuzzed-out riffs and lockstep beats on top of its gobbledygook foam and fizz. The tracks revel in whoosh, but it’s the whoosh of refreshment, the whoosh of muscles high on exercise, fiddling with kaleidoscope, full of lust, full of life.
1. All Delighted People
Much has been said about All Delighted People and I doubt there’s anything important I can add to it except the predictable, which is not to say insignificant, fact that I love it to bits. Reading reviews of some writers—who can’t be blamed for their contradicting tastes, and who tried, in their own helpless way, to map out Sufjan’s career since A Sun Came and arrived at the conclusion that this EP was “a disappointingly flabby return”—only affirms how the indie-darling is quickly turning himself into an interestingly diverse troubadour, and a slippery one at that. I guess no matter how fucked up Sufjan would be, he’d always have an audience that would like to know what he’s up to and hear him out, be it his folk ditties (“Enchanting Ghost,” “Heirloom,” “The Owl and the Tanager”) or his wildly long and winding compositions (the two versions of “All Delighted People” and “Djohariah”) that alternately fail and succeed. “A very big mess; he saw too much,” he sings in “From the Mouth of Gabriel.” Sufjan might as well be referring to himself. He blurs the line between talent and ambition because he has a wealthy hoard of both. And if he calls this one-hour submarine warfare an EP, then better let him wear his trunks and swim.
Best Music Videos of 2010 December 23, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Music Videos, Yearender.
AND THE LIST CONTINUES >> Click the picture to watch video.
11. “Sea Talk”
Dir. Jacqueline Castel
9. “Giving Up the Gun”
Dir. The Malloys
8. “Window Seat”
7. “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin'”
Dir. Todd Edwards
6. “Bang Bang Bang”/”The Bike Song”
Mark Ronson & The Business Intl
Dir. Warren Fu
5. “It’s Working”
Dir. So Me
4. “Twin Flames”
Dir. Saam Farahmand
3. “Christmas Lights”
Dir. Mat Whitecross
2. “We Used to Wait”
Dir. Chris Milk (“The Wilderness Downtown”)
1. “This Too Shall Pass”/”White Knuckles”
Dir. James Frost, OK Go, and Syyn Labs/Trish Sie and OK Go
Best Opening Tracks of 2010 December 23, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
AND THE LIST CONTINUES. I am fond of first tracks. I still remember where I was when I first heard “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “Only Shallow,” or quite recently, “Silver Moons.” Opening tracks bear the pressure of carrying albums on their shoulders. And when they are that good—like the songs listed below—they seal the album’s place in my heart.
Toro y Moi
[Causers of This]
Making comparisons is always the easy (and lousy) way to write a review, say, mentioning Caribou here, Panda Bear there, and those otherworldly terms “funk bass slapped grooves” and “slowed-down synth pop.” But Bundick shrugs it all off and opens his debut with this gem so fuzzy, after a while you’ll be surprised that you’re already on the last track. “I found a job. I do it fine. Not what I want but still I try.”
14. “Precious Stone”
It’s a good thing Pete Yorn decided to place “Precious Stone” at the beginning of his self-titled record, because really, despite the thumbs up from Black Francis, it is an unfortunately terrible album. Pete’s good at being typical, and typical this song delivers, a pair of lovers on a way to a date, killing time in a warm place, knowing it’s not going to work but happy that it all happened. “We know we cannot last forever, such crazy feelings you inspire.”
13. “Your Love is my Drug”
The verses are stoked to the point of abuse. The chorus is intense, the bridge is crazy, and that final line conjures the image of a patient walking aimlessly at a hospital ward, tugging at someone’s clothes. A song this tacky and sticky, how could you resist? Who are we to disagree when it’s Kesha herself who calls it “stupid and fun”? Just a quick edit: I’ll put “very” before both adjectives. “I like your beard.”
12. “Wide Eyes”
The Bradbury allusion sets the tone at the start but towards the middle the song basks in a splash of colors, driven by the urgent drum beats, wondrously making a clean and luminous sweep. “Oh some evil spirit. Oh some evil this way comes.”
11. “World Sick”
Broken Social Scene
[Forgiveness Rock Record]
Five years of wait and we get seven minutes of Kevin Drew’s frustrations, which is fine because we share his sentiments, we know exactly what he’s talking about, and we feel, through the starry clash of guitars and cymbals, that nothing could be done about it. Hope, turns out, comes with a price. “I get world sick every time I take a stand. Yeah, I get world sick, my love is for my man.”
10. “We Sleep on Stones”
[Beneath This Burning Shoreline]
My favorite lines from Thirst for Romance go: “Roses, help me to pretend, blushing brides and cosmonauts don’t meet their bitter end.” That phrase “blushing brides and cosmonauts” is just so beautiful. Brilliant writing is always Cherry Ghost’s strong suit, and their second album has a lot of that to offer. “We sleep on stones, there’s a killer in our homes that drives the night in. We sleep on stones, bitter winter’s got our bones, and lord knows I’ve been searching,” it says on the refrain of “We Sleep on Stones.” Everything is dark and brooding, postwar and mesmerizingly apocalyptic, but that’s where we are headed for anyway. “Hundred thousand heartbearts, twisting in the bedsheets.”
9. “Dance Yrself Clean”
[This is Happening]
Nine minutes of James Murphy brilliantly laying the bricks of aching senility and the dimness of what lies ahead, and eventually pushing us off the cliff. Oh, that feels good. Do it again. “Talking like a jerk, except you’re an actual jerk, and living proof that sometimes friends are mean.”
The Morning Benders
“Excuses” reminds me of those moments when I realize I’m dreaming inside my dream, and I’m no longer in control of what’s happening because I just don’t want to wake up. “You tried to taste me, and I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body. Our bones are too heavy to come up, squished into a single cell of wood.”
Victoria Legrand’s voice, coupled with the images of running black and white horses, always swallows me whole. It’s like doing laundry: washing myself, scrubbing off the dirt, wringing the water out, and hanging myself out to dry. With its thick arrangement, glacial mood, and woozy landscape, “Zebra” is sometimes better than sleep. “Any way you run, you run before us.”
6. “Blood Dries Darker”
[At Echo Lake]
I’ve always preferred songs with rough edges, those that sound recorded in a basement of squeaky floors, or in this case, something recorded in a summer cabin, on the countryside, away from the bustle of the city. The guitars dissolve the melancholy of “Blood Dries Draker” and soak it in a cheerful vibe, until Jeremy Earl laminates the fizz and gets on another adventure in lo-fi. “You look in the night for direction.”
5. “The Wild Hunt”
The Tallest Man on Earth
[The Wild Hunt]
Kristian Matsson knows departure is a warm gun. Our belated and wishful plans of leaving always disappoint us; wherever we go, our hearts will always stay where we left them. He couldn’t have been more affectionate in breaking the ice of sorrow. “And I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone.”
4. “Heard it on the Radio”
The Bird and the Bee
[Interpreting the Masters Volume 1]
Being in love with love: everyone went through that phase. Up to now, maybe. Greg and Inara take us by the hand and bring us to the carefree days when we shaped the most beautiful fantasies we’d never have, driving around the city, sitting in the park, listening to a song over and over again, and wishing everything will just happen as we please. “When we first met, it wasn’t what you said, and still I loved you like mad, I loved you like mad.”
3. “Completely Exposed”
This is possibly the best track Jamie has ever composed, sung, and arranged. Combining funk, soul, and electronica, it introduces the listener to a mirage of eccentric elements—beatbox, synths, reverbs, noise—without losing the crooner’s most powerful instrument: his voice. “I don’t wanna be close. Opening up has left me completely exposed.”
Gerard Love thinks it still feels good to be alive and says it with such calmness that he seems to have spent some time on the other side before telling it. Heavenly harmonies surround the heartwarming lyrics, comforting us with the sway of hooks light enough to keep us afloat. To be honest, I’m just thankful that the band that I love ever since has never changed. “Taking a ride on a subway train, to feel more alive when you get back out again.”
1. “Leaves Eclipse the Light”
Just the moniker alone is enough to force me to grab a dictionary and look up what it means. But Matthew Cooper isn’t getting kicks from obscurity. On his new record aptly called Similes, he’s taking on changes to his repertoire, refining it, adding percussion, and most surprisingly, he sings. His voice is drowned in the richly layered arrangement of “Leave Eclipse the Light” and I don’t complain. Its low-key beauty always makes me tremble. “All of the mysteries, conflicts, discoveries, hiding in frequencies, keeping the mind at ease.”