Film

Essential Film Performances - 2010 Edition

PopMatters updates our annual best performances feature with 50 new performances and features interviews with five of the actresses selected, including Melissa Leo, Pam Grier, and Margaret Cho.

Edited by Matt Mazur / Produced by Sarah Zupko

Naturally, after last year's 100 Essential Female and Male Performances lists, we felt the need to further explore the performances by those great male and female actors that did not initially make our epic lists. Whether through the helpful suggestions in the comments section, grueling grad genre studies or just good old-fashioned movie watching, I have been made aware of some truly great performances over the past year that I think deserve a similar treatment, deserve to have the spotlight shined on them.

No repeats (yet)! On the first list, I felt as though there was a degree of responsibility to address certain key performances. Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard should be permanent fixtures on any "best of" acting, male or female. With the update, the interest was in casting the net wider to include an even more diverse array of talent and wit from wildly disparate modes of cinema, from indie to studio, from Germany to Japan, from genre to genre. While no performer from our initial lists of 100 men and 100 women reappears here for work in different films (yet!), the previous rule of only one performance from any given film has now been abolished, mainly as my admiration for Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown swells with each repeat viewing. There was also no way I was going to leave Pam Grier off this time (co-star Robert Forster made the initial Male performances last year for his work as Max Cherry in the film).

Though our initial lists of 100 were divided into "Male" and "Female", further updates will merge the gender barriers for equality's sake, queuing the honorees in alphabetical order, 25 men, 25 women. Some of the people on the list already transgress the boundaries of what is male and what is female: to categorize a performance like Volker Spengler as Elvira in Rainer Werner Fassbiner's In a Year of 13 Moons by solely by gender makes little sense. In addition to taking the gender division out of list for this round, we are keeping the categories from the first list (Life Support, The Dark Side, Classics You Should Have Seen By Now, From Page to Screen and Under the Radar), though we are no longer ordering our lists bycategory.

Even though our update is not necessarily divided into male and female lists, we are proud to have this presentation of the series revolve around the theme of celebrating the career of the working actress in all of her glorious forms. After all, Michelle Pfeiffer is, to a degree, as much a "working actress" as Setsuko Hara, Gunnell Lindblom and/or Melanie Lynskey, who makes the cut for Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, are. I spoke to Ms. Lynskey, who is fast becoming a go-to supporting player after last year's trifecta of sharply-rendered women for Sam Mendes (Away We Go), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), and Steven Soderbergh (The Informant!, about what inspired her to become an actress in the first place:

"I always wanted to be an actor. Since I was a tiny child, it was always what I wanted to do. I come from kind of a small town in New Zealand where it wasn't really possible (laughing). Nobody sort of went out and became actors, so everybody was saying to me 'find something else that you want to do'. So I started thinking 'well, if I can't be an actor, what else can I do?' I though maybe I could write plays. I would write plays all the time at school and put them on. I would get Premiere magazine which came to me from America, and it would take like a month and a half to get to me but I would get it every month and spent a crazy amount of money on it. I thought maybe I could be a film critic or write about movies because I just loved everything about it. The performances that really moved me, that I loved a lot were Laura Dern in Wild at Heart, I was obsessed with David Lynch. I really loved the Mike Leigh movie Naked. Katrin Cartlidge in that movie, I thought 'wow, that's what acting is. That's a great actress...' And I got to work with her when I was 20 [on Mihalis Kakogiannis' 1999 adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard]. What a joy!"

A rabid fan of Cartlidge and Dern myself, as well as actresses in general, I have actually been accused of being too "actress" focused in my work, and while this may be a valid point, the truth of the matter is, as a gender and film scholar with a passion for great performances, who views Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape as my Bible, my writing will be "actress focused" until more equality for male and female actors in the film industry achieved (though I feel optimistic that things are looking up). I am proudly, as my colleague Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience puts it, an actresssexual. We have included a deliberately eclectic combination of performance styles -- from diva Maria Callas' operatic turn in one of the premiere Greek tragedies directed by one of the most visionary queer punk directors of all time, to highlighting some of the best, most solid work from more obscure foreign language film greats, male and female, who too often go unnoticed.

Honoring this ongoing commitment to to uncovering the truth about what the reality is like for women working in the film industry, PopMatters is pleased to welcome a diverse array of female performers, from a range of experiences, to help to shed some light onto the process of film acting as the industry rapidly, permanently moves forward at breakneck speed, often threatening to leave behind the women on whose backs the business was actually built. Gender, race, age, sexuality, politics and inspiration are the common themes you might pick out in this exclusive set of interviews with women who appear on the list for their own unique cinematic contributions. Margaret Cho kicks off the week of coverage, precisely because her performance in the filmed stand-up comedy routine The Notorious C.H.O. dares to transgress so many filmic boundaries, to help redefine the casual misconceptions about what a great film performance is and can be, at least in my opinion. Every day this week we will bring you a new in-depth interview with a female performer who has made the list.

Maybe next year we will even talk to some boys, just to be fair.

We hope you enjoy our annual update, and, as always, polite feedback is encouraged in the comments if we missed your favorite. There's always next year and we always welcome suggestions for films that might be off our radar.

-- Matt Mazur

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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