Film

Ranking the Greats: The Films of Danny Boyle

From outside to Oscar to the Olympics, Danny Boyle is a creative chameleon. Here's our ranking of his best cinematic (plus one) efforts.

Is there a more interesting motion picture chameleon than Danny Boyle. From his early days in theater and his stint at the BBC, few could fathom what he would eventually turn into. Now, after introducing the world to his beloved home country as artistic director of the 2012 London Olympics, the Oscar winning filmmaker is back in the spotlight... and oh, how pretty the glare is. Few could have imagined, way back at the midpoint of the '90s, that this maverick would end up one of the best directors currently working. Yes, his films showed that flash of promise, but as quickly as he came up, he was set back by his own choices. It took a good five years for Boyle to get back on track, but when he did... in fact, it's safe to say that, post problems, he has become one of most dependable and different auteurs. He has vision. He has ambition. And he takes risks. Lots of them.

With the games going gangbusters, it's time to reflect on Boyle's career behind the lens. A few caveats have to be mentioned, however. First, we are avoiding anything he did for television. This means we will not be ranking Strumpet, Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, or the things he did prior to 1991. We also won't be addressing his sole short (Alien Love Triangle) or his choices as producer. No, we will deal exclusively with the nine films he's fashioned from 1994 onward, with one wild card thrown in for good measure. When viewed in total, this list becomes an unique perspective on an even more unusual talent. Boyle may be known for taking chances and exceeding expectations, but he's far from perfect. In fact, the first two films here show that, when pushed and pulled by outside (read: studio) sources, he can come up with crap, beginning with...

 
#10: A Life Less Ordinary

This is just a mess from beginning to end. Angels, in what look like an '80s TV drama police station, are told by their 'boss' that they must help humans find love? They end up trying the Cupid thing on bumbling kidnapper Ewan McGregor and his intended prey, a spoiled rich girl played by Cameron Diaz? Sounds like the makings of a manic screwball comedy, and something Boyle would probably excel at. So why is this movie so mediocre? A lack of chemistry among the leads? Boyle's odd sense of humor? Whatever the case, it deserves its critical drubbing.

 
#9: The Beach

Yes, this film was a success financially. It was, after all, DiCaprio's first major effort post-Titanic (we don't count The Man in the Iron Mask or Celebrity). Critically, however, it was called out as an overwrought piece of sunstroked celluloid. The idyllic island community with its commune like make-up and fringe-dwelling fantasy naturally turns dark and disturbing, but never convincingly so. It's like a cliche wrapped in Boyle's now patented stylistic shuffle. The cast tries, and the movie definitely has the feel of something hot and sticky, but the end result is ennui, not excitement or entertainment. A partial dud at best.

 
#8: Millions

A family film? From Danny "Trainspotting" Boyle? You betcha, and you know what, it's great. The story centers on a little boy from a strict Catholic background who stumbles upon a bag of money. He wants to help the poor and unfortunate. His brother wants to spend it on more 'practical' things. The resolution plays into both the religious themes present as well as Britain's switch to the Euro. It's a delicate combination and Boyle was lucky to have author Frank Cottrell Boyce working closely with him throughout the shoot. Among his many notable works, this one demands immediate reevaluation.

 
#7: 28 Days Later

For a while there, it looked like Boyle would never recover from the one two punch of the regaled flops A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach. So imagine everyone's surprise when he went genre hopping, taking on the zombie tropes with this inventive horror romp. Applying digital technology and an unusual approach to the subject (these aren't members of the living dead, just highly infected crazies) he reestablished his reputation, as well as arguing for his ability to effortless shift between styles. Sadly, he only produced the sequel, though there is talk of him coming back for 28 Months Later.

 
#6: Frankenstein

Okay... okay. We get it. This was a theatrical production that only made a brief "event" run in theaters during its critically acclaimed turn. Still, it's classic Boyle -- ambitious, overexcited, visionary, and just a bit gimmicky. In fact, the primary stunt here often threatens to overwhelm everything. Yes, the two lead actors actually switched roles, each one taking the other's part on subsequent nights. Monster one day. Doctor the next. Those who saw both performances understand what Boyle was striving for. Never before has the notion of man playing God been so convincingly criticized and executed. A triumph which should be seen by more people.

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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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