Film

Jose Solis' Favorite Films of 2013

In the way of Oscar nominations, Statuesque's Jose Solis reveals his winning films from last year were.

10. The Counselor

The most unjustly maligned and misunderstood film of the year had some of the world’s finest working thespians delivering the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s very first screenplay with such deranged conviction and determination, that it was practically impossible to resist its depraved charms. OK, maybe not “practically impossible”, since nobody seemed to like it but watching The Counselor was one of the most exhilarating movie watching experiences of the year because unlike any other film it demanded your constant attention and involvement, only to deliver a take on nihilism so vicious that you couldn’t help but gasp at how director Ridley Scott pulled it off. It also featured one of the year’s greatest performances with Cameron Diaz’s Malkina reminding us what made femmes fatales of classic noir so iconic.

9. Upstream Color

It’s rare for filmmakers to allow viewers to decide what kind of movie they’re watching (heck, even a legend like Martin Scorsese is suddenly trying to steer audiences into the “right” way to read his newest film) but Shane Carruth knows better than to do that and lets his sophomore film speak for itself. An hypnotic mindfuck of a film, Upstream Color was in parts: an inventive redesign of what cinematic soundscapes can do, a stunning example of showing restraint through aesthetic excess and one of the most surprisingly romantic films in modern cinema.

8. American Hustle

Recently, David O. Russell seems to have taken on the task of recreating some of Hollywood’s most beloved genre films through zany reinterpretations in which he has cemented his status as one of the industry’s finest, while assembling an acting troupe the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Woody Allen’s glorious films in the mid-80s. If The Fighter was his Rocky and Silver Linings Playbook his Bringing Up Baby, then American Hustle is The Sting, a delicious take on the caper movie that shimmers with hairspray and sequins from its 1970s setting, but feels urgent because of its underlying message about the dangerous temptation of giving oneself to emptiness. Perhaps featuring the best ensemble in any movie in 2013, particularly a certain Miss Lawrence, who, skeptics be damned, just keeps hitting it out of the park with each performance.

7. The Act of Killing

This film gets my award for “greatest movie I don’t want to see ever again”, a documentary so brutal in its depiction of evil that you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief, thinking that Joshua Oppenheimer must be pulling a joke on us. The realization that everything shown in the movie is true, makes the world feel almost too cruel for one to continue living in it, but the ironic beauty is that the film itself is a reminder that, while still not perfect, the human race has evolved and there are things about us that make life worth fighting for.

6. Blue Jasmine

When Woody gets it right, he gets it right. His love song to Tennesee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire is at times hilarious and others, just absolutely devastating. There is something magical in Cate Blanchett’s monstrously majestic performance that brings out something we tend to forget about Allen: when all is said and done, he does the work of a scientist (perhaps modeled after his hero Ingmar Bergman) who never ceases to study the layers and phases of what it means to be human. Perhaps not since Alice had he been so perplexed by the mystery of a woman, who she is and what she’s made of, more than putting his genius to the service of delicious dialogues and memorable storytelling.

5. The Great Beauty

If you watch this film and don’t want to move to Rome immediately afterwards, you’re either blind or already living there. Not since William Wyler gave us a young Audrey Hepburn frollicking along the Spanish Steps has a film been so dedicated to showing us the beauty in the Roman capital (or any city for that matter). The twist here is that we see the city, not through the eyes of a nubile princess, but of an aging bon vivant (Toni Servillo) who has, literally, seen it all. Exhausted and even worse, bored, by the goings on of his life, he takes us in a descent into hell from which no one can come unscathed. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino as La Dolce Vita on speed, The Great Beauty shows us hedonism the likes of which either scare us or make us want to join the fun. But the film is not without melancholy and for all its debauchery, it does pierce the heart in unexpected ways.

4. The Past

Having been one of the only few people on Earth who wasn’t bowled over by A Separation (and oh, how I tried) I approached Asghar Farhadi’s newest film with a pinch of doubt. I didn’t expect him to give himself even more into melodrama and make a film that I could’ve imagined Douglas Sirk directing five decades before. The Past is a stunning work in which not only is the human condition dissected and exposed, but also shows a man whose formal capacities are at its peak. See how the film constantly changes our perspective, something achieved without any bells and whistles but subtle touches in the screenplay. Films in 2013 seem to have been obsessed with “the truth”, and this one leads us to a version of it that feels like Kant by the way of Philip Marlowe.

3. Frances Ha

Imagine if Francois Truffaut had decided Antoine Doinel would be a twenty-something blonde girl from New York when he was writing The 400 Blows and you’ve started imagining what Frances Ha is all about. A scrumptious romp inspired by the New Wave, this black and white oddity had the year’s most adorable character in the shape of its title character, played by Greta Gerwig (who finally gave us her star-is-born performance). Frances’ quest for her own identity makes for a story that’s one part Woody Allen, two parts fairy tale and too much of “Jesus, that was me in my twenties”, which makes Noah Baumbach yet another director who knows more about the world than he’s shown before. That his Frances Ha rarely takes a severely dark turn is testament to its becoming one with its central character, like the young klutzy optimistic young woman, the movie too seems to be telling us that things do get better and while they don’t, there’s always lots of fun to be had along the way. It might not sound like the most profound of ideas, but after you watch the film you’ll realize you really needed to hear this from someone.

2. Blue Is the Warmest Color

Watching this film at the New York Film Festival in October, I couldn’t help but admire Abdellatif Kechiche’s mastery of form and time. How he fits a decade worth of storytelling in three hours was mesmerizing because the movie felt both short and extremely lived in. But on that occasion it failed to have any sort of emotional impact on me (other than making me crave bolognese). Fast forward a few months and I’m a wreck, sobbing and whimpering as Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) realizes that she has lost the great first love of her life. Anyone who says they haven’t been there is lying and the beauty of the film is that it transcends issues of sexual orientation, language and gender to find a universality that’s almost too honest. Kechiche created the ultimate film about love lost and found.

1. Stories We Tell

The first time I watched Stories We Tell was at a press screening back in April last year and I distinctly remember the way I sat throughout the film. I began in my usual leg-crossed-above-the-other-to-take-notes position but twenty minutes later I had shoved my notebook aside and had both my legs up in the seat, my head resting above my knees as I gasped, ooh-ed and aah-ed at every single thing happening onscreen. I even let out an “oh my god!” or two (which shocked me cause I’m nothing if not as quiet as a rock in movies). Every time I’ve seen the movie after that first time, I’ve found myself noticing that I become so comfortable in the company of Sarah Polley’s interviewees, that I even took my shoes off at MoMA while I watched it for the umpteenth time. The beauty of this film is that despite allowing viewers the luxury of familiarity, it never ceases to surprise and mesmerize. Viewing after viewing, no other film in 2013 made me think of those classic movie posters that boasted “this movie has it all!”; from laughter, to heartbreak, to profound questions about the nature of truth, to intellectual meditations on aesthetics, to ultimately cathartic realizations about the nature of love between parents and children.

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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