Essential Film Performances 2013 Update: Part 1

For this year’s annual update, we are abiding by the weird and wacky Hollywood Foreign Press guidelines for this historically-debatable category of Musical or Comedy, which has often included some eyebrow-raising choices that range from appropriate, inspired nominees and winners to head-scratchers that sorta make sense and to the utterly perplexing.

For this year’s annual update, we are abiding by the weird and wacky Hollywood Foreign Press guidelines for this historically-debatable category of Musical or Comedy, which has often included some eyebrow-raising choices that range from appropriate, inspired nominees and winners to head-scratchers that sorta make sense and to the utterly perplexing.

Julie Andrews -- Victor Victoria
(Blake Edwards, 1982)

“A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?” Preposterous, except in Julie Andrews’ comedic hands. As down and out singer Victoria Grant in 1930’s Paris, Andrews delivers what is her best musical comedy performance. Transformed from the pitiful and weak wanna-be (best line: “I’ll sleep with you for a meatball.”) to the toast of gay Paree nightlife, Grant finds that her life grows increasingly more complicated as her attempts to deceive the world about who she truly is begin to unravel. Although easily dismissed as light-hearted comedy, Andrews' performance is incredibly complex, requiring Andrews to assume multiple personas while still projecting the innocence and purity of the central character. Further, she has to keep up the façade while her character undergoes multiple changes in her life. Not only does the role require Andrews to show greater depth in her character development, it allows her to show a broader range in her musical repertoire than previous films had, including the Latin flavored "The Shady Dame of Seville" and the New Orleans influenced "Le Jazz Hot", while still letting Andrews do the types of song she does best, with the ballad "Crazy World".

The film also marks a resurgence for Andrews, reclaiming her status as Musical Royalty. After being the darling of '60s musicals, Andrews found her career in a slump when musicals stopped being big box office in the '70s. By aligning herself with her husband, director Blake Edwards, Andrews was able to reinvent herself, however, showing a more mature and worldly side of herself in films such as 10 and >S. O. B., in which she bared more than just her worldly side, flashing her breasts to a shocked public. Edwards' Victor/Victoria was her first musical in 12 years, and even then, all musical numbers were stage performances, not woven into plot development. Still, it's evident that Andrews is grateful to be signing on screen again.

If singing was the easy part for Andrews, navigating the sexual politics within the film must have been the true work. Whether playing a woman, a woman pretending to be a man, or a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman, Andrews is able to add sufficient layers to each characterization to make it unique. The film's love story requires her to be both a woman in love in private and a man in a gay relationship in public. It all sounds terribly convoluted, and it is, but Andrews make every moment completely believable and wholly entertaining. ~ Michael Abernethy

Ann-Margret -- Tommy
(Ken Russell, 1975)

Throughout the '50s and early '60s, this Swedish born singer and performer was seen as the stuff of glitzy, superficial Las Vegas show business, a kitten with a whip who made the King sing "Viva" whenever he thought of Sin City. If there was such a thing as a female teen idol, she was one. Her entire professional demeanor, polished by handlers who knew how potent her sex appeal could be, was based around hip hugging pants, suggestive dance moves, and a personality that practically shouted sensuality. As the Peace Decade progressed, however, Ann-Margret (it's one name, thank you very much) wanted to be taken more seriously. She was through with such shallow onscreen roles as Kim in Bye, Bye Birdie. Then, in 1971, she costarred alongside Jack Nicolson, Art Garfunkel, and Candice Bergen in Mike Nichol's controversial Carnal Knowledge and the Academy Awards came calling (with a Best Supporting Actress nomination).

From there, she struggled to find roles that downplayed her pin-up good looks. In 1972, a fall from an elevated stage platform left her with a broken arm, shattered cheekbone and jaw. It took meticulous cosmetic surgery to rebuild Ann-Margret's damaged face, and by 1975, she was ready to prove her musical mettle again. In one of Ken Russell's characteristically odd casting decisions, he made this glamour gal the worn out, workaday mum to Roger Daltry's deaf, dumb, and blind boy Tommy, and the rest is rock opera history. Oscar once again couldn't ignore her near nuclear performance (another nomination, this time for Best Actress) while the Golden Globes gave her their highest honor. Watching the film, it's easy to see why. Everything the sexpot firebrand brought to her previous personas was encapsulated in a woman who, after psychologically damaging her impressionable child, spends the rest of the story trying to right a repugnant wrong.

While others in the cast had the more memorable tunes from Pete Townshend's groundbreaking album, Ann-Margret became the glue that held it all together. While Tina Turner was screeching about her "Acid Queen" royalty and Who drummer Keith Moon played a lovable old pervert, the blond bombshell literally exploded across the screen, offering up a range of emotions that few could fathom artistically, let alone sing about with abject conviction. But Ann-Margret made it look easy, even if she was rolling around in a pool of chocolate pudding and baked beans (don't ask, it's Ken Russell). By then end, when she's traded her role as a murderess (or co-conspirator for same) for high society mother of the post-modern messiah, her work came full circle... almost meta. Everything Ann-Margret struggled to escape from during the previous decades finally catches up with her character in the film, turning a standard leading lady role into the stuff of movie myth. It's an amazing turn from an equally astonishing show biz survivor. ~ Bill Gibron

Beatrice Arthur – Mame
(Gene Saks, 1974)

Decked out in a severe, black pageboy wig, martini glass firmly in-hand, Bea Arthur utters a singular, monosyllabic "yes" as her first line as Vera Charles in Mame, setting the tone for a memorable performance in an otherwise cringe-worthy film. It's not hard for Bea Arthur to shine, even when thrown into what she herself dubbed "a disaster". Yet, Arthur managed to turn in a dynamo performance, reprising the role that earned her a 1966 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Although she smelled a dud a mile away, the actress took part in the film adaptation of Mame to work alongside her husband, director Gene Saks.

While the 1974 film adaptation featured two of the same supporting actresses as the Broadway musical (Arthur and Jane Connell), Lucille Ball replaced Broadway star Angela Lansbury in the lead role since Warner Bros. felt that Lansbury would not be as big a box office draw. As aging boozehound / "First lady of the American theater" Vera Charles, Arthur plays best friend to Lucy's Mame. Her grande dame of a character is often the butt of jokes and jabs at the hands of (in this instance, a fairly unlikeable) Mame, yet, the role of Vera gives Arthur a chance to not only deliver not only biting one-liners, but some of her patented reactions.

Comedy as an art form requires not just impeccable timing with delivering a line, but also calls for an actor to react to the delivery of his or her cohorts. It's not just standing around, waiting to toss out your line and garner laughs. Comedians of the highest order know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. As Vera, Bea Arthur demonstrates her formidable comedic prowess, using her height and deep voice to great effect, along with an expertly raised eyebrow and a sustained, withering glance that could flatten not just the village idiot, but the entire village in a single take.

Fans of Arthur who know her primarily through her work on sitcoms Maude and The Golden Girls are afforded a glimpse of her singing chops in two of the film's numbers. Her rendition of "The Man in the Moon", which features Vera-as-a-Lady-Astronomer in one of her (destined to flop) stage plays, sees Arthur somehow managing to create a dignified form of slapstick.

The second production number, "Bosom Buddies", is a frenemy-themed duet featuring Vera and Mame. In it, the two now-middle-aged friends celebrate their decades-long friendship and their ability to speak with catty candor to one another since, that's what real friends do. The song is easily a highlight of the film and Arthur more than capably holds her own, even managing to steal the scene from the great Ball herself. Arthur's singing voice is equally as expressive as her speaking voice, modulating her pitches to sound bright and chipper before dealing a crusher of a basso blow. ~ Lana Cooper

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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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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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