PopMatters Picks: The Best TV, Film, and DVD of 2005

Fiction or non-fiction, censored, scorned or adored, we were captivated and seduced by 2005's offerings, from a surprise death in the new Harry Potter to the 'truth' of the afterlife in Mary Roach's Spook. In a list comprising the best graphic novels, short story collections, memoirs, and rants, here are the best of 2005, PopMatters-style

Editors: Bill Gibron and Cynthia Fuchs

Slump. That's the word that's been bandied about for the last few months when discussing the state of Hollywood. All the pundits and blog-based critics want to talk about is the so-called dip in box office receipts, while those in the 'legitimate' media can't decide if such a popularity plunge actually exists. Without a Passion of the Christ to send sales into the sacrosanct stratosphere, or another Lord of the Rings/Spider-man sequel to spur excessive interest, the bottom line became the creative benchmark for all 2005 moviemaking. And as Dreamworks finally died and went to Paramount heaven, and Miramax's mighty Weinstein's took their battered ball of influence and went home, all anyone could talk about was... the slump.

Still when looking over the 20 titles included as part of PopMatters' 2005 Year End Best Of list, it's hard to argue for any lull — in creativity or cinematic artistry, that is. Just looking over the names included, and the varying subjects and strategies employed by these remarkable movies, and five years into the new millennium the filmic art form is looking pretty good. When an old stalwart like Stephen Spielberg can deliver not one but two exceptional motion pictures, when Robert Rodriguez can test the limits of computer enhanced moviemaking while Peter Jackson again shows the rest of the world how to update the once mighty blockbuster, when old macabre master George Romero can share the critical stage with fright fan turned filmmaker Rob Zombie, you know the medium is in magnificent shape.

It was also a year for little movies, family dramas about growing up, getting close, and drifting apart. Politics rose to the forefront, as gender issues, racism and flawed governmental polices were placed under the mainstream microscope of the camera lens. George Clooney finally arrived as a director of amazing vision and daring, while Asian auteurs Stephen Chow, Chan-wook Park and Wong Kar-Wai showed that even the most oddball and idiosyncratic of international fare can find a grateful — and growing — Western audience. The graphic novel thrived as a legitimate filmic foundation (or inspiration) while the biopic and the thriller got a bold new breath of life. In all, it was a banner year for both the populist and the purist, the individual who wanted their popcorn and their tightly managed money's worth, and the geek who groans over anything that is not brilliantly unusual, stunningly original or just plain 'difficult'.

So what about this slump? Some blame TV for the drop in movie going and it's not hard to see why. Revisiting the shows that made the PopMatters Best of TV 2005 indicates an equally impressive showing with a dozen or more series strong in creative, intellectual and artistic merit taking the fore. Several sophomore shows like Lost and House have truly captured the public's imagination in ways rarely seen by modern standards. Their complicated, character driven stories show that writing — not celebrity — engaged viewers. Even old reliables like The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park are still as fresh and original as ever, finding new ways to keep their comedy alive and vital. True, no amount of ballyhoo can save a marked series (just ask Arrested Development) but with UPN and the WB finally delivering quality goods — at least from a ratings recognition standpoint — and cable creating more diverse and unique programming every day, there may actually be something to the boob tube's supposed effect on the overall box office take.

Just don't blame DVD. Sure, the shrinking time between a theatrical run and a Best Buy release is getting smaller and smaller, but many of the discs on the PopMatters Best of 2005 aren't exactly current cinematic fodder. Indeed, of the 20 titles listed, only a half dozen or so saw a 2004-2005 theatrical release. If anything, the digital domain has become an amazing archive of sorts, a way of preserving our past majesty in a way that provides context and subtext to those titles no longer a part of current pop culture. Many of the movies listed are timeless gems, but a few are nonconformist entries desperately seeking an interested audience. Criterion continued it's industry leading work, while studios like MGM and Warners gave them a real run for their completist money. Between the remarkable documentaries and dreaded 'double-dip' releases, there was very little that DVD did, at least from a critical standpoint, to stop the cinematic experience from reigning supreme. Now if only the Cineplex set could stop supplying the public with crappy product that they'd rather wait and rent than simply queue up and suffer through.

Perhaps it's best then to let the bean counters worry about the so-called slump. Let them micromanage the movies down to a bottom line and a financial statement. After all, their conclusions are only paper, reams of pointless pulp that never really stand the test of time. But many, if not all the Best-of entries from 2005 can be considered true classics — and a few are even in the process of changing their medium in ways we can't even begin to recognize. So let them denigrate DVD and the ever shrinking "release window" even if the format has found an important, elemental way to keep itself from going the way of VHS and Laserdisc. Let them lament piracy and the abundance of foreign bootlegs while television scribes create the stories and people that audiences really want to see. Let them turn the mystical magic lantern show with its ability to sweep us away into heretofore unknown worlds of visual and emotional wonder into a multi-digit number in black (or red) ink in a conglomerates ledger. It was a banner year for all the entertainment mediums. The quicker they recognize this, the sooner this slump will be history.

— Bill Gibron

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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