Best movie of the year: ‘American Hustle’
Every single person I know longs secretly, whether consciously or not, to experience the 1970s. One of my friends wants nothing more than to have a full mustache and not be viewed as that creepy guy with the mustache. Hence the question: when was this possible on a college campus? The 1970s. Cue Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and in comes director David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” with disco, flashy gold chains, thick-rimmed glasses and mustaches in tow.
Chock-full of today’s leading actors and actresses, the film includes everyone from Amy Adams (“Enchanted”) to Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”) to Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”) to Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”) to Jeremy Renner (“The Avengers”) in some of their most unforgettable roles. A particularly fine example is that of the committed Bale, who shed his lean and clean-cut Bruce Wayne style, to opt instead for the look of a stereotypical used-car salesman: an absurdly elaborate comb-over, big glasses and a decidedly portly belly forming a bulge in his shirt. Everyone was at the top of their game here, even if their characters became grating after a while.
“American Hustle” simply oozed cool in theaters. The costumes were spot-on, with flashy party dresses and fur-vests going hand-in-hand with the disco-lifestyle of the characters.
The soundtrack was even better than the costumes. The late-movie scene in which Mayssa Karaa’s Arabic rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” kicks in as easily one of the coolest movie moments of this past year. All of the music fit a given moment so well thematically and aesthetically that it simply sends shivers down the spine.
– By Samuel Budnyk
Worst movie of the year: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
What a difference a decade makes.
As the flashy glitz of the late-’70s recedes, a colder, more urban-blighted and plainly obnoxious 1980s New York City takes the stage in director Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which tells the story of a smooth-talking party-animal of a swindler (Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Aviator”) in a wonderfully morally-ambivalent fashion. Over the course of the film, you get to see more lying, drinking, Quaaludes, sex and cursing than the average bear can put down in one lifetime. A particularly telling statistic is the film’s F-bomb count ranking – number one amongst all mainstream, non-documentary films. If you include documentaries, it is ranked number two. Go figure.
I remember walking into the theater expecting a dark comedy. Instead, I got a film that took itself way too seriously – a film that wanted to give its viewers a chance to live vicariously as coke-addicted rich men for all of 179 minutes. Bloated and without much of a focus, the film imparted the feeling that I was being reckless.
How could a responsible human being waste so much time, when there were meals to be had and naps to be taken? “The Wolf of Wall Street” even torpedoed my opinion of DiCaprio, who was previously one of my favorite actors. One-dimensional characters are necessary, but to use DiCaprio that superficially was totally not okay to a fan like me. The nuance he showed in “Shutter Island” was utterly impossible with this action-movie-without-the-action movie. When a film stilts even the acting of good actors, you know that you just shouldn’t see it.
– By Samuel Budnyk
Best Album of the year: St. Vincent, ‘St. Vincent’
On her self-titled album, St. Vincent, the stage name of Annie Clark, manages to create sounds that are at once entirely in control and incredibly uncomfortable. Clark’s music has always featured an undercurrent of serene darkness, but in the last few years, her best songs have been driven by an itchy anxiety.
Back in May 2011, Clark played a set of covers by seminal 80s hardcore outfit Big Black, choosing to stay as faithful as possible to guitarist Steven Albini’s buzzsaw-cutting-metal sound. She carried the style to her 2012 Record Store Day single “Krokodil,” a driving punk song that has since become a staple of her set.
This new, ill-at-ease Clark shows up on only a handful of tracks on the St. Vincent album, but these tunes provide a vital change of pace. “Rattlesnake” paints the picture of a naked and panicked Clark running away from the titular poisonous reptile, and “Digital Witness” grapples with the role of social media in modern life. Other album cuts like “Birth in Reverse” and “Bring Me Your Loves” feature twitchy electronics and dissonant guitar lines over pummeling drums.
As a result, the album’s more typical mid-tempo songs act as well-deserved respites for the listener. “Prince Johnny” and “Huey Newton” play in the same areas as 2011’s Strange Mercy but sound just as indispensable in a new context.
Somehow, Clark has managed to create a more adventurous album after her move from indie label 4AD to the major Republic Records. Here’s to hoping the jump will help her find the audience she deserves.
– By Jordan Francis
Worst Album of the year: Icona Pop, ‘This is Icona Pop’
I hate to say it, but This Is Icona Pop was easily one of the most disappointing albums of the year.
The album has a glorious moment with the exuberant “I Love It,” which boomed through radio stations incessantly for months. But I can’t shake the feeling that trying to listen to a full album of the duo’s overly enthusiastic voices and over-hyped production was an extraordinarily difficult feat.
As I listened, I was vaguely reminded of the irritation I feel when a friend forces me to go out with her when all I need is my bed and Netflix.
Icona Pop seems to be trying just a little too hard on each track, making an otherwise-great album quite irritating.
Throughout the record, the duo never breaks from its melodramatic cheerleader style of singing, and its EDM-heavy background showed very little variation track to track.
While it seemed that there would be no turning back for this fantastic duo after the smash success of “I Love It,” this album has made me wonder if they are capable of any other sound.
Thankfully, since this is only the duo’s debut, they have time to turn it around and change it up a little on their next album.
– By Saher Fatteh