Film

The Top 5 Definitive Summer Movie Years

Be it providing the ingredients for a successful summer movie "recipe" or by opening new ways to roll out blockbusters, here are the top five "definitive" years for summer movies.

Labor Day usually marks the "official" end of the summer movie season, but for all purposes, you can put a fork in 2012's season. This crop of summer movies was bookended with two monster hits (The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises) and filled with a bunch of films that defined average. We didn't have a glorious failure like Battlefield Earth, nor did we have any that would bring repeat viewers back into theaters like The Sixth Sense.

So, as a viewer, I can't help but look at 2012's season with disappointment. Yes, The Avengers was a summer movie for the ages, but when you start singing the praises Men in Black III solely because it wasn't the failure people thought it'd be, you know your season wasn't top-tier. Probably the best movie to reflect 2012's summer movie season was Pixar's Brave. It won't go down as Pixar's worst, but it's a long way from their best.

The summer movie season is almost 35 years old. Almost all of them had a recipe that made it a summer movie season. In addition to an all-but-certain smash, other ingredients are needed, both good and bad, to make a definitive summer movie season. In short, you need the following:

  • A single blockbuster to tie everything together.
  • A comedy to break the monotony of explosions, city rubble, and crashed cars.
  • An "out of nowhere" sleeper that gives the big blockbusters a run for their money.
  • A mature hit that dares to step outside the "13-25" target demographic.
  • The following list may not include the best crop of summer movies ('82 would give any of these years a serious run with E.T., Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist and even the beloved cheese-fest Rocky III), but each year was influential in how they defined how studios treat the season and how we respond.

     
    1993

    Notable Crop: Jurassic Park, Sleepless in Seattle, The Fugitive, The Firm, In the Line of Fire, Cliffhanger, Last Action Hero

    In 1991, James Cameron wowed audiences with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It ushered in a new era of computer-generated graphics (began with 1989's The Abyss) and signaled how '90s action movies would look. Stephen Spielberg's Jurassic Park was the next step.

    But for as big of an event as Jurassic Park was, almost as important was the other crop of movies. The biggest movies all seemed to be about adult themes and adult situations. You had Tom Cruise trying to escape a corrupt law firm in The Firm going up against a widowed father (Tom Hanks) and a not-so-happy fiancee (Meg Ryan) in Sleepless in Seattle. A getting up there in years Harrison Ford untangled a pharmaceutical conspiracy and helped snag a Best Picture nomination with The Fugitive. Later that summer, Clint Eastwood played an aging secret service agent haunted by previous failures in In the Line of Fire. Even the easygoing Dave outearned the much-hyped box office belly flop The Last Action Hero.

    Sure, Jurassic Park trounced the competition, but looking back, 1993 saw older audiences setting the tone for the season. It felt like Wilford Brimley's character in The Firm kicked the teenagers from '93 out of their theater seats, paving the way for future mature summer hits like Saving Private Ryan.

     
    2008

    Notable Crop:The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Wall-E, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, Hancock, Sex and the City, Wanted, Tropic Thunder, Speed Racer

    Almost every summer movie season has a box office smash that's a hit with both fans and critics. In 2008, we had not one but three smashes that critics and fans gushed over. So much so that at least two, The Dark Knight, Wall-E stirred up "Best Picture" appeals to Oscar voters. The third, Iron Man, stands as one of the best films ever to kick off a summer movie season.

    But even the lower-tier crop of 2008 movies were well received. Wanted and Hancock may not have been classics, but they were far more fun than other second-tier summer action flicks from years past. Even the modest success of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II:The Golden Army won critical raves. Yes, 2008 produced the seizure-educing Speed Racer, but audiences rejected the Wachowski brothers film, demanding more sophisticated fare for their entertainment. As shown in movies like The Avengers and Star Trek, audiences were beginning to demand more than explosions and hype from their summer blockbusters.

     
    1984

    Notable Crop: Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Karate Kid, Gremlins, Revenge of the Nerds, Purple Rain, Conan the Destroyer

    In comparison to 1984, 1982 may have had the stronger crop of films (E.T., Start Trek II, Blade Runner, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but 1984 deserves to be mentioned because that year seemed to perfect that mix of films that we expect all summers to have. Starting out, the highest grossing film of the summer, Ghostbusters was that rare film that lured both guys and gals into the same theater.

    Along with a blockbuster that appealed to a mass audience, 1984 also gave us the obligatory blockbuster sequel with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It contained little of the original's charm and gave us some incredibly offensive stereotypes. But Temple of Doom also gave Hollywood a virtual fool-proof formula to make certain sequels clean up despite audience disappointment. Nearly 30 years later, that formula still works as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Pirates of the Carribean, At Worlds End retain the title of "Most Hated Movies to Gross more than $300 million".

    Finally, 1984 gave us a scrappy underdog sleeper to root for. While Gremlins and Ghostbusters were cleaning up, a little film about a bullied New Jersey transplant and a cantankerous repairman debuted. True, The Karate Kid wasn't entirely an underdog. It was directed by the same person who directed the Oscar-winning Rocky, but The Karate Kid went on to become a respected hit primarily on word-of-mouth. The same "Davey vs. Goliath" story also helped propel another movie, the gleefully R-rated Revenge of the Nerds to a late box office victory. The success of both movies proved that for as much as Hollywood wanted to shape what were the top movies of the summer, audiences still had the last word.

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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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