Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Danish Girl

There's a heady dose of politics around The Danish Girl that I can't claim to be an expert on.  I've heard and read folks who claim it's pandering, that it relies too heavily on a kind of old school visual language of understanding the trans body that may now be outdated, that it's problematic for the trans woman at the film's center to be played by the cisgendered Eddie Redmayne.  I've heard, too, that some feel the narrative's dramatic center is refigured and displaced so that it belongs less to Lili Elbe (Redmayne) and more to Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander); the woman who was her wife.  While I try to keep on top of the constantly evolving discussion of gender politics, I'm not sure I can address any of these arguments in a way that would make for a satisfying analysis.  I can only discuss it as a work of cinema.

Of course, this is what I do with most films on this site, so why the disclaimer?  Well, perhaps because The Danish Girl has been positioned less as a work of narrative cinema and much more as a sort of political object.  Part of this has to do with its timed release as a piece of awards bait at a time when the Oscars have become - increasingly - a microcosm of our national issues, especially around questions of gender, identity, and race.  The Danish Girl is uniquely positioned as a work designed both to continue a very significant cultural discussion and also, via marketing, tone, etc, to make that conversation melodramatically digestible for those with delicate sensibilities. It asks you to feel, it uses every formal method in its arsenal to draw you into the world of its characters, it's impossibly pleasant even when it delivers its harsh sentences.  Its biggest problem, simply put, is that it believes it is brave and revolutionary when, in reality, it's little more than a very pretty work of portraiture.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Big Short

The Big Short is tragedy disguised as comedy, a podcast of dramatizations built into a movie, a collage of scattered characters and sequences glued together with flourishes of narrative happenstance. It's a true crime film, a whistle-blowing indictment, and a fourth-wall breaking metafiction designed to explain the mechanics of 2008's financial crisis while keeping you entertained.  The editing is zippy, laying down a hodgepodge of celebrity noise, pop songs, and narration that strings together the cartoonish eccentrics who bet against the housing market and won.  It's smart, it's timely, and the work it does to demystify financial abstractions is impressive.  You will leave - almost undoubtedly - feeling as though you have learned something, that you have unlocked a new section of a very large and complicated puzzle.  This is no small feat. Writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Other Guys) and Charles Randolph have adapted Michael Lewis's nonfiction book of the same name with a keen sense of how best to cut through the bullshit.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: The 100 Songs of 2015, 76-100

We return after a little bit of an unexpected hiatus. We can blame the weekend in part, that and an inability to make final decisions without a little bit more distance.  Here it is, though: the final section of the 2015 song list.  For now, I feel pretty content with the shape of the thing and the various sounds and acts represented.  While there are occasionally repetitions and genre constants, it seems to accurately map the sounds of the moment while being, yes, stuff I really enjoy.

A note on some noteworthy omissions:  you won't find Adele's "Hello" on here. Perhaps it's because I have no soul, but really I'd prefer to side with those who believe it's time for Adele - an otherwise very talented artist - to move on to new material.  It feels like a retread, nothing new, and no different than reaching back and grabbing one of Celine Dion's biggest ballads. It's my fault I just can't deal, but, really, I don't get it.

Closer to the edit: Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" almost made it, but was cut in the final moments if only because the visuals seemed to do more than the track itself. Consider it #101, if you must.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: The 100 Songs of 2015, 51-75

The third section of our end of the year music wrap up is a little bit like two mixtapes smashed together. The front end has a certain progression of more internet friendly artists (often with electronic edges and riffs on the PC pop move) and the back half is a strange blend of folks who could be described as hippies by comparison. Basically, if you're one of those people lamenting an audible "lack of instruments" (as much as that's probably an illusion) in part one, it will all change midway through. Funny how these things work out, isn't it?

Read on. Play on. Find the 8Tracks playlist at the bottom of the entry, click through to collect them all.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: The 100 Songs of 2015, 21-50

I don't know why I decided to break this list into uneven chunks, but I did.  So it is that after the part one, we round out the first half of the list with 30 tracks that run through genres and moods like there's no tomorrow.  The 8tracks playlists for these can be found at the bottom of the entry, or you can click through and collect them all here. 

Shall we move on?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pop Candy Arcade Playlist: The 100 Songs of 2015, 1-20

Another year, another moment where I take a break from writing about movies to chronicle the past twelve months in music.  It's a season where I shift between pure frustration and getting really excited about pop culture again and again as I browse the lists of others and work obsessively at adding and subtracting from my own accumulated playlist of songs I'm ready to pack into an electronic time capsule.  2015's collection is the 7th annual edition of this nonsense, and I've gotta say: I love looking back at past years even if I do go a little crazy organizing these things.

As per usual, the caveat: this is not a music site.  It's a film site, and also a one-person operation. I like making playlists, I like sharing sounds I've enjoyed, and I'm very into archiving my own tastes.  That said, this is a list far more about compiling a very subjective set of artifacts and not really about placing labels on the "best" possible songs of the year. They're the best to me, certainly, even if they're not always the most musically ambitious. 

Let us begin. Presented with minimal commentary and in no real order, Part 1 of the 100 tracks of 2015:  
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