Dream State: The Best/Worst Films of Summer 2010

Our choices for the Top Five Best/Worst films of the flawed 2010 summer movie season.

The Summer of 2010 was a lot like one of those cheap, massive all you can eat buffets - dozens of different dishes to try out, all supposedly succulent and delectable, but most leaving you hungry and feeling malnourished. The studios, like cooks in these massive moviemaking assembly lines, have finally figured out how to micromanage a film down to its core components - casting to a certain age bracket, using genre and storyline to speak to yet another part of the demographic. By the time it gets down to hiring a director, setting a budget, and compiling its Comic-Con panel, it's already figured out who's going to show up come opening day and the dollar-derived numbers of such a sell-through. Even before DVD, Blu-ray, Pay Per View and On Demand, the suits know where their bottom line lies - which doesn't leave a whole lot for that formerly mandatory movie element: magic.

Indeed, the entire year has been an underwhelming combination of undelivered promises and same old shi...nola. The runners up for this seasons honors reads like a who's who of could of and should of beens. In the Best category, we can celebrate the anti-war stances of Micmacs, rally behind Steve Carrell's scene stealing insanity in Dinner for Schmucks, and marvel at the nu-fear facets of Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime. On the down side, we continue to lament the commercial collapse of Nicolas The Sorcerer's Apprentice Cage, argue over the franchise worthlessness of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and kvetch over which is worse - the sappy spirituality of Eat, Pray, Love or the romantic dopiness of The Switch/Letters to Juliet. Indeed, had we only discussed the Summer's stink bombs, the piece would seem endless.

So as we do every year, SE&L struggles through the myriad of product we've compiled over the last four months and have come up with our Top Five Best/Worst titles for Summer 2010. A couple will cause concern, but in the general light of most critical thinking, the list is loaded with the usual cinematic suspects, beginning with the quintet that made us wish we never got in the film journalism biz in the first place:


5. The Last Exorcism

Director: Daniel Stamm

In the cyclical world of horror films, we have suddenly shifted from the vile vivisection of torture porn to the undeniably hit or miss "found footage" approach. Sometimes, the concept works brilliantly (see #2 on this particular Summer Best List). At other instances, it fails to deliver on a single scare promise. Such is the case with this tepid terror take on demonic possession. For nearly an hour, nothing happens. Then our supposedly bedeviled heroine starts giving everyone dirty looks and bends over backwards. Big deal. Finally, our fledgling filmmakers decide to dump anything remotely associated with reality and turn the experience into Rosemary's Baby on a Race with the Devil holiday. Just awful.

4. Sex and the City 2

Director: Michael Patrick King

Frankly, this selection was as easy as shooting drunken cougars at a Chippendale's review. This metro-RomCom ridiculousness may play like nothing more than a sneak peek inside the puppet Id of Wayland Flowers' harpy puppet Madame, but there is even more to hate about the conspicuous consumption and demagnetized moral compass of these former HBOres. Taking the entire post-menopausal entourage to Middle East may have seemed like a blow for Western feminism, but it ended up playing like a mascara minstrel show, complete with our oversexed heroines debasing any and all cultures in the process. And yes - it was still only the fourth worst experience of the summer.

3. Vampires Suck

Director: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer

Team Edward? Team Jacob? How about Team Crap? In an oeuvre that will be argued over like the various levels Abu Ghraib torture, supposed filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer finally find a perfect target for their Mad Magazine written by dead monkeys approach to lampoon - and completely miss the mark. Granted, there is so much about Stephanie Meyer's cat lady meets teen angst supernatural love story that plays like a parody that staying focused must be hard, but somehow, the duo that turned the term "movie" into something to be feared (Date Movie, Extreme Movie and the totally apropos Disaster Movie) fail to deliver on said potential time and time again.

2. Lottery Ticket

Director: Erik White

Sometimes, a critic can use the audience as a gauge of a film's success. While never a consistent or completely valid radar, a horror film without screams or a comedy without laughs indicates an abject failure of the genre basics. So you know things are bad when a crowd primed to see their favorite onscreen faces crack them up instead sits silently, struggling mightily to find a single reason to snicker. Even when male machismo is undermined and new school hip-hop icons are mumbling away furiously, the viewers in attendance for this Brewster's Millions mediocrity sat there, stone faced. It was amazing to watch enthusiasm turn to ennui, then to a mad dash to the nearest exit.

1. Jonah Hex

Director: Jimmy Hayward

It's rare when a movie wholly fails on two accounts - both as entertainment and as an actual film - but this horrific adaptation of the DC property managed that...and much, much more. Incoherent to the point of preposterousness, jumping around like a sugared grade schooler with hyperactive ADD and actually wasting the questionable talents of Megan Fox, this proposed actioner was a fiasco from the moment Crank's Neveldine/Taylor were fired in favor of Horton Hears a Who helmer Jimmy Hayward. Their original script, filled with sex, violence, and horror hybrid specialization was then stripped of all its intentions and turned into an incomprehensible riff on Will Smith's Wild Wild West. The results were just as repugnant.


5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Imagine Hannibal Lector sponsored by the Free Masons and you've got some idea of how brilliant the basic premise of this foreign thriller really is. Combining Nazis, secret societies, eccentric wealthy families (and their isolated estates) and the unlikely duo of a disgraced investigative journalist and his angry Goth gal computer hacker sidekick as our "heroes", this Swedish Silence of the Lambs is just amazing. It's taut, terrifying, and when it needs to be, tough to endure. With the absolutely stunning Noomi Rapace as the title character and a narrative that plays out over three incredible novels, this introduction to the late Stieg Larsson's take on the thriller is very special indeed.

4. Toy Story 3

Director: Lee Unkrich

Sequels rarely succeed. With that in mind, tre-quels are even more tentative. Few, if any, have found a way to keep up with their originals, let alone surpass them in endearing entertainment. So leave it to the still perfect Pixar to once again deliver a sunny Summer surprise among all the dismal faux Disney dreck. Few thought the animation experts could surpass the sentiment of Toy Story 2, but by focusing on how our attachment to childhood changes as we age, these geniuses created a masterpiece. For the single scene in the incinerator, by far the best movie moment of the season, they should be earning enough Year-End accolades to fill their already overrun awards cabinet.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Director: Edgar Wright

It's such a shame that mainstream moviegoers couldn't embrace this visionary take on the RomCom. Perhaps its stylistic cousin - Marc Webb's wonderful (500) Days of Summer - was more than enough reinvention for the masses. Whatever the case, Edgar Wright's reputation as a director of infinite skill was confirmed (and then some) by this take on the popular graphic novel, a wistful indie look at love and interpersonal baggage in the form of variations on video game aesthetic. Few films have tapped into a particular zeitgeist as readily or reverently, with the imaginative use of all a medium has to offer. Perhaps it will see a second life on home video. It definitely deserves it.

2. [REC]2

Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Remember the last time you were really scared by a horror movie, when the premise, performances, and payoffs got under your skin in a way that disturbed your waking moments and totally destroyed your ability to sleep? No multiply that dread times two and you've got some idea of how absolutely perfect this sequel is. Picking up directly where the first film ended and playing like a combination of Aliens and The Exorcist, we have a flawless combination of narrative expansion and invention both working to make our trip through this infected apartment house even more unnerving. And the best thing about it all? The ending suggests an easy route to a third installment (which is already being planned - YEAH! ).

1. Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan

It was the water cooler conversation starter of Summer 2010, and with good reason. It frustrated some, entranced others, and set off a series of debates about meaning, interpretation, storytelling, and the intelligence starved state of Hollywood. At the center stands Christopher Nolan, the man who turned Batman into a post-modern part of the crime drama. Working within a 3D chess game of ideas and possibilities, he draws career defining performances out of his cast while constantly challenging the audience to fall right along into his reality twisting rabbit hole. He then maneuvers and manipulates the various pieces, pulling significance and implication out of the emptiness of our own entertainment expectations. His success shine a light on how otherwise uninvolving the typical Tinseltown title really is.

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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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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