Top 10 films of 2013

OK. I haven’t actually seen everything. Inside Llewyn Davis, The Grandmaster, Nebraska and a couple of others could probably be here if anyone in Australia would release it. Here’s the top 10 of the films I saw.

About Time
Richard Curtis

A beautiful film. Richard Curtis uses time travel like in ‘Midnight In Paris’ – it makes no sense, but it feels right. A man with the ability to time travel goes about his normal life, falls in love and does everything with extra time. Several scenes are as inventive as anything romantic comedy, with the number one for me the Maida Vale tube station scene. A year of a relationship plays out at the same tube stop, while Bellowhead plays How Long Will I Love You? (originally by the Waterboys). It will make you cry, and love life. An unexpected delight this year.

Before Midnight
Richard Linklater

I’ve followed Celine and Jesse for almost 20 years now, so I was as excited as anyone to see this. And it exceeded those expectations. We pick up 9 years later, we’ve moved into somewhere more, of course, older and more mature. The amazing, 14 minute single cut car scene shows that there is still filmmaking ambtions – it’s not just two people talking. But the talking – heartbreaking as ever – that really makes it a classic. The only perfect trilogy.

Up On Poppy Hill
Goro Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli’s films are some of the most universally acclaimed in all history of cinema. So another good one is kind of not a story anymore. But I found myself lost in the Umi’s world, as she tries to just get through her teenage concerns. Ghibli has tried to make a down to earth teenage story before (such as Ocean Waves), but they finally nailed it. Umi is such a great character, and not since ET has riding a bike seem so exciting on film.

The World’s End
Edgar Wright

A clever inversion of the classic Edgar Wright film: Nick Frost is the hero, Simon Pegg the weirdo. It’s another great sci fi film, where someone (Wright) has built the world from scratch. A world of British pubs, and with the usual mind bending easter eggs on rewatch.

Gravity
Alfonso Cuaron

I sometimes pick up my cats and swoosh them around, and saying ‘save me George Clooney!”. Anyway, the biggest technical achievement of 2013. Plus a hugely emotional watch.

The Look Of Love
Michael Winterbottom

A fantastic, sprawling biopic about the Mayor of Soho. The right mix of sleazy and heart, with Imogen Poots stealing the show.

American Hustle
David O’Russell

Like Argo, just hugely enjoyable. The cast is so good, the Oscars need to introduce a handicap system.

Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa
Declan Lowney

My favourite pure comedy of the year. And great soundtrack too.

Side Effects
Stephen Soderbergh

A brilliant puzzle of a film. Very Hitchcock. And a brilliant twist.

Trance
Danny Boyle

Similar to Side Effects in some ways, and not as good, but 7 million times more stylish. Oh Danny Boyle. What a nutter. And James McAvoy looks very dapper.

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THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2013 PART 4 – #2 & #1

And this is the end…

SameTrailerDifferentPark2. Kasey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

I love a good musical smartass. Be it Prine or Newman or Wainwright, someone who can have a clever turn of phrase will always get me. Rarely do they come with such optimism, and in the frame of a 24 year old woman.

This album is a delight. It just brings a smile to my face, line after line. There’s a girl here who knows who she is, and doesn’t pander to the pop market now, and reaping success because of it. She’s so cool I want everyone to know her. Someone with something to say that isn’t just about her.

Follow Your Arrow has been getting a bulk of the acclaim. If you aren’t bowled over by the opening couplet then this probably isn’t for you. If you do, then you will find more sweetness in My House and Silver Lining. There’s a beating heart under all this too – closer It Is What It Is cuts to the core, but in a clever way too.

Being clever is not often rewarded, and it’s not what this album is about. There is a sweetness and an optimism that seemed to be missing in all other music I heard this year. And it’s not banal, brainless happiness. In fact, it’s the smartest album of the year.

1. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Broken people can get better if they want to.

This has been a terrible year, one of the worst. Music played the least role in my life than any year I remember. And there was only one record that I returned to time and time again for solace. When you love something so much that just listening to it makes you feel better, like the drag of a cigarette.

I’ve never really been one for sad music. This is one of those escape-your-sadness albums. It’s an age old rock n roll trope – our lives can be better (yeah!) but given a new set of clothes. The fact that Turner is around my age helps.

The album opens with Recovery, a plea for help but also something stirring, moving out of the fog. Throughout are thoughts on the fleeting nature of life, seizing every moment and all that jazz. Polaroid Picture and Losing Days are other highlights.

For Turner, it’s a slight change from his last album. It’s more a love story, and the piano is now an integral part of his sound. The songs are just about the strongest his ever written, and it’s now my second favourite of his after Love, Ire and Song.

But it’s my favourite album of the year so more about me. Artists are people who teach you something, who see the world in a way most people do not, and then captures that lightning and shows it to you. In a depressing, confusing, frustrating year, this album and this man taught me more than every other album this year combined.

In the end, life is a fight, but a good fight. And I’m thinking of getting my first tattoo.

The Best Albums of 2013 Part 3 – #4 & #3

Part 3 of this year end round up. One more post to go.

4. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

Every Laura Marling album so far, once I’ve fallen in love with them, are 5 star albums. Every new Laura Marling album turns the old one into 4 star albums. She manages to progress at an epic pace. Once I Was An Eagle is, once again, her best record yet.

It’s a record in two halves. The first feels like a song suite. The tracks merge together, although the songs change. It’s an extended sequence of sex and passion. She is still writing about the clash that happens when a poetic young woman meets a charming young man. But in her songs, as epic as they are, covers so many emotions it’s almost overwhelming. She’s also abandoned that ‘Hissing Of the Summer Lawns’ jazzier stuff for something a bit more straight forward.

The songs. It opens with four that all go down as classics. Take The Night Off urgency sweeps into the lovely, seductive I Was An Eagle. It’s those moments, the sneaky changes (the jump to a high note, the introduction of drums, etc) that makes the suite side so great. The other song in the album title – Once – may well be her best standalone song, with an organ sound lifted straight from a Band record, a sound I cannot resist.

And her. Laura herself. Still a mystery, and still progressing at an unbelievable pace. She avoids the spotlight, and seems so out of time. Her music could be a lost folk record from the early 70s, yet she is defiantly of our time. And already she has been playing new songs on tour and they are all over YouTube. A true Artist in every sense of the word.

3. Melody Pool – The Hurting Scene

I discovered Melody Pool’s music through someone who knows her. I was given some headlines – there was break up, she sounds a bit like Joni Micthell (a pattern emerges…). Then I heard ‘Henry’, as breathtaking a dissection of an ex-lover as any Bob Dylan song. And I was hooked.

This is, I guess, a country album, but it’s very pop. Behind the dials (and recorded in Nashville) is Brad Jones, who has produced three of my favourite albums – Josh Rouse’s 1972 and Nashville, and Bob Evan’s Suburban Songbook. This album mixes the same pop smarts with country music ideas. Occasionally, it even rocks out. But in the end it’s the stories, this Melody Pool person, finding her voice and finding herself.

Henry is the standout, but it’s not indicative of the album. The title track and Lion On the Loose both rock out with a decent band. Somebody You’ve Never Met Before being the most devastating of the rockers. After 100 years of people trying to write about love, this young woman from the central coast has found yet another new angle.

Who knows where she’ll go. She could front a rock band, or she could be a troubadour. It seems she has that side to figure out. In the meantime, her voice and her songs are already there.

The Best Albums of 2013 Part 2 – #7-5

The second part of our yearly round up of music and more.

7. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of the City

It feels like his album came and went. No one really talked about it, and it’s a shame. I loved their first two albums, and this one, whilst very different, is just as good. It’s heavier, and less a sum of their influences. No one is going to think this sounds like ‘Graceland’.

Diane Young‘ (great title…) sets the scene. It keeps the youthful energy that is all over their early records, and makes it more barbed. ‘Step‘ brings in a hip-hop sound that has gotten our next album so much acclaim. Their strange lyrical pictures remain evocative and mysterious. But it’s the hooks, dozens upon dozens of them, that make this record. It’s bridged with quieter moments, such as the magnificent ‘Hannah Hunt‘. I have, as usual, no idea what they are on about, but it sounds mysterious and intriguing.

I found myself returning to this album over and over again. The songs rolled around in my head, and they followed me around for long walks and long drives. Maybe, if it was 10 tracks like their other albums it would have been more punchy.

I imagine that Vampire Weekend will have to do something very different next. This is the same record with a bit more oomph, but that might not be enough.

6. Arctic Monkeys – AM

There’s already a lovely album called AM. So that was never going to help this, a somewhat make or break album for the band. Suck It And See was as inventive and catchy as any of their records, but they seemed to have lost their motivation. AM recaptures some album magic, and they’ve made a dark and sleazy album.

It took me far more listens to get my head around this album than every Arctic Monkeys album. This is a nighclub album, and I didn’t do much clubbing this year. But its groove is undeniable. And the songs grew on me.

There were some big singles. RU Mine?, Do I Wanna Know?, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? (all questions for some reason) keep the Arctic Monkeys thing of songs that are far too complicated than they need to be, mixed with hooks that radio couldn’t resist.

The best track on the album, for mine, is Mad Sounds. Its the best Lou Reed song I’ve heard in decades. And the crazy, outspoken and restless characters from Lou Reed songs also populate this record.

A detour or a new direction? I don’t know. This experiment works – just – but it feels like the band is still searching. They are trying to be anything but the Arctic Monkeys who came before. Who knows where they’ll go next.

5. Travis – Where You Stand

Look. I love Travis. Fran Healy is just a classic songwriter – in the same world as Neil Finn, Paul McCartney and more. The classic song, and great chorus, a good middle eight. Songs for everyone and for every day use, not just being a self centred saddo with a guitar. Where You Stand, their first album in five years, sees them returning to classic songwriting, and some of their best songs.

How can you resist Moving? It’s as great as any of their anthemic ballads, but about the small things of moving around, trying to find your place. But it’s so lovely, so positive, and so full of life. Better still is Where You Stand, as devotional a love song that they’ve ever written – and they’ve written their share.

There’s lots more than just lovely songs on show. Another Guy follows the path of previous songs of strange, experimental music with pretty melodies on top. Mother sees them cutting loose yet, again, sounding a little Lou Reed, ‘Loaded’ era. They mix it up enough to remain the critics darling.

The key is song craft. It’s songs that sound like they’ve been around your whole life. Which only very few people on the planet can do. It’s not cool – but why be trendy when you can be timeless.

The Best Albums of 2013 Part 1 – #10-8

It’s top ten time again. Counting down the records first, then some other bits of writing to round out the year to come.

10. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

My bible in the late 90s was No Depression magazine, whose tagline was ‘Alternative Country Music – Whatever That Is’. Well, it sounds like this album. There is something very late 90s about this album. When that music was only ever going to appeal to a few thousand people worldwide, and a lot of young men discovered the power of being simplistic.

Isbell’s been around the traps for many years now (solo, and as a Drive By Trucker), but he’s cleaned himself up, in sound and in life. There’s a purity here that has been missing in his music. This is not the music to play over a crowd of drunks. It’s direct, occasionally devastating, down-to-earth romantic and doesn’t fuck around.

Highlights abound. ‘Traveling Alone‘ is probably his most pop song, but paints a vividly evocative lyric on top. ‘Elephant‘ is rightly praised for it’s amazing subject matter. But the quieter moments and album tracks, like ‘Relatively Easy‘ and ‘Different Days‘, are showing a new maturity.

I gave up on Isbell after the album he did with the 400 Unit. I figured I left him to a life of hard drinking on the road, and he wuld continue to write about less and less. But he got off that path and now I’m back on board too.

9. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

Still angry, still vital, but something has changed in the Manic Street Preachers this year. The loud electric guitars were put away, and something more reflective was given to us. 2010’s Postcards From A Young Man, from the title down, was trying to recapture that youthful energy (and volume) of their early records. Rewind the Film sounds like men their age, still trying to find relevance and fire.

The album opens with perhaps the quietest song in their 20 year career. ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart‘ is a humble hymn, but an ode to never being happy. Is it depression – or how we’re made? And then we find ourselves in 70s Elvis period for ‘Show Me the Wonder‘, probably the most optimistic song they’ve ever written (and the first single ever not to feature an electric guitar).

The album moves into all directions from there – and some work better than others. ‘As Holy As The Soil’ is as touching a love song as they’ve ever written. However, the six-and-a-half-minute, Richard Hawley sung title track meanders and gets lost in it’s own pompousness. But there are so many pretty moments on this record. Yes, Manic Street Preachers, the pretty band.

This album is Poscards To Middle Aged Men. We’re not sure what punk bands are supposed to do, two decades in. Many don’t survive that long. Perhaps, making quietly triumphant records is the new path. It certainly works for our number 8 entry.

8. Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail

I’m not a young man anymore, and that has been reflected in my music choices this year. How to age gracefully, and find my age. Bragg is the same. An early 80s punk rocker that is still going, how do you not turn bitter (Elvis Costello), obscure (Wreckless Eric) or dead. He’s opened his heart even further, possibly more than he has since his mid 80s, for his sweetest collection of songs.

It’s really the lyrics that hit home. Musically, he’s the same one guy with a strong accent, but he’s got a new wit about him. How’s this for an opening verse for the entire album.

I’m so tightly wound in tension
Feel just like a guitar string
Wait until revealed emotions
Touch me and you’ll hear me sing.

Bragg has been using the internet to get out his topical songs as soon as possible. Which means it has been 5 years since his last album, and the songs he had left the rebellion behind. While it doesn’t rock out or get too carried away, he is busy laying out a consistent humanity. ‘Do Unto Others‘ and ‘No One Knows Nothing Anymore‘ addresses today’s issues from the heart, not the head.

Handyman Blues is a great summary of the album. Funny, sweet and from the heart. And one of the better film clips of the year.

Parts 7-1 coming very soon.