Jan 28, 2018

Favourite Films of 2017

The best film I saw in 2017 was one I saw right near the beginning of the year. That film was the memorable and truly moving Moonlight. It was a beautiful, gentle, emotionally powerful film about coming of age and coming out. Great performances matched by stunning photography. It would go on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, a win truly deserved. Other films I was moved by were the beautifully observed Manchester By the Sea and A Ghost Story. And Blade Runner 2049 and Dunkirk proved that big budget films could also be emotionally strong and intelligent. My greatest joy in film last year would have to be 20th Century Women, a strong favourite of mine that I believe should have received more acclaim. Two other films that I totally enjoyed, but just missed out on my top ten, were Baby Driver and Get Out. 
1. Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins.
Moonlight is subtle greatness and heartbreaking reality. It is tender, raw, emotional and completely essential. Trust me, this slow burn of a film is a solid and stark reminder of the reason cinema exists. Set in a poor housing estate area of Miami the film is told in three parts as we follow two young men at three stages of their lives. Chiron is picked on by bullies from a young age. His mother is addicted to drugs and he is already questioning his own sexuality. He is befriended by Juan, a drug dealer who tries to give him some direction in life. His best friend Kevin is his true ally. As Chiron and Kevin grow older we follow their struggles and their conflicts. Everything in this film is first rate. Acting is nuanced and heady, music is delicate and effective, cinematography is understated and yet glorious. It deals with finding a place in the world for yourself, overcoming your fears and standing up for yourself. It is incredibly subtle and this only makes the impact even greater. This film is grace and heart personified.

2. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to a masterpiece that holds its own in every single way possible. It is a visual masterpiece that is startling in its design and unique in its execution. It is unlike any film that you will see this year. The first Blade Runner was a Ridley Scott classic, a brave original that has stood the test of time. This sequel takes place in Los Angeles in 2049. The city has become even more doom laden, miles of grey skyscrapers beaten down by seemingly terminal rain. The city has been become a mixture of strange pleasure and stark desperation with replicants seemingly around every corner. Blade Runners are, in this edition, tracking down the previous replicants that have 'gone rogue' Ryan Gosling plays one of the very Blade Runners. His journey is deep into the heart of this society, encountering opposition at every turn and also discovering secrets about his very life. It's a long film that moves slowly but the visuals are so bewildering that it never overstays its welcome. Roger Deakins' cinematography is beyond perfection and Denis Villeneuve proves again that he is an extraordinary director. His use of sound is a trademark of his films and the sound here is outstanding as is the doom laden soundtrack. Gosling is superb as the stoic lead and there are very strong female performances at every turn. It is a complex dark film that is not one for a 'fun' afternoon at the cinema. At times the story is obtuse and convoluted but it's such an exactingly exhilarating ride that I was there for every single moment.
3. 20th Century Women, directed by Mike Mills.
20th Century Women is quite simply a very special film. It it teeming with humanity and honesty, filled with beautiful observation and endearing humour. Mike Mils has created a film that is warm and glowing, he is clearly in love with characters. Set in 1979 Santa Barbara it is clearly a strong portrayal of a group of women with different challenges and struggles and how they deal with them. The cast is uniformly excellent with Annette Bening especially strong as the central character Dorothea, a divorced mother trying to figure out the best way to raise her teenage son. Surrounded by other strong women this film is a very honest portrait of the female place in the world. Beautiful dialogue is matched by a great soundtrack that totally captures the times of the film. I wish more were like this, concentrating solely on the human drama of life. With great writing and acting this film pushes all the right buttons.

4. Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan.
Dunkirk is a supreme cinematic achievement, a spectacular film. Intense, relentless and powerful. Christopher Nolan has created a film that will hit you hard and often. The remarkable and true story of the the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 is told with clarity and high craft. It is certainly Nolan's take on the war genre, with focus on the stakes at hand rather then long drawn out character development. There are three strands to the film. Basically land, sea and air told in a non-linear fashion that works seamlessly. There is no fat on the film, we step straight into the action as every bullet, bomb and air raid is felt. It's about survival and anxiety and Nolan manages to have that feeling infused through out the film. We know the outcome through history and yet each second and minute is brimful of tension and drama. The lead actors are newcomers and they do a fine job and the cinematography is spectacular. But the true star is the flawless score by Hans Zimmer. Its syncopated beat just adds to the tension and drama, delivering consistently through out the film. Dunkirk is a fine addition to the canon of great war films.

5. Manchester By the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
Manchester by the Sea is exemplary cinema, an impressive masterclass in the skills of directing, writing and acting. It is sad, humane, emotional and totally devoid of artifice. It is essentially about dealing with grief and adapting to the changes life can wrought upon you. Casey Affleck is remarkable as the man who tragically loses his brother and is forced to look at his life and engage in his past. Set in seaside Massachusetts this is a slow burning film that hums sweetly with life's challenges and pitfalls. There aren't big moments but things occur naturally reflecting life rather than sensational film tropes. Kenneth Lonergan is expert at capturing the foibles of life with realistic and bittersweet dialogue. Aided by a superb cast this film resonates in a huge way.

6. I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck.
I Am Not Your Negro is a blast of angry poetic air that is important, withering and extremely timely. James Baldwin was one of last century's most important writers and this powerful documentary uses his words to brilliant effect. Baldwin was working on a book about his times with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers at the time of his death. Unfinished, the producers managed to gain access to his words which are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson over images of Baldwin and the times he lived in. There are snippets of Baldwin public speaking and appearances on talk shows to boost the drama of his words. It all comes together with devastating effect, providing illumination on Baldwin's recollections and also his thoughts on race relations. Baldwin was an important figure alive and his words live on to be just as important in today's world.

7. A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery.
A Ghost Story is small wondrous film that is a contemplative look at the process of grief. It moves slowly, but it is fascinating and most certainly unique. There is tragedy early in this film and the film examines the process thereafter for the young couple involved. Using a ghost figure in a white sheet might seem strange but it is subtly effective and very rewarding. As sad, it moves slowly with shots hanging on for minutes of inaction but there is so much subtext that it really hits hard emotionally. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are their great selves conveying great emotion with little dialogue. A beautiful score just adds to the merit of this unique film.

8. Song to Song, directed by Terrence Malick.
Terrence Malick is truly a singular film maker. He has made some of the most astonishing films in cinema history. He is a private man who would take huge amounts of time to bring his films to life. Malick still remains private but he is now churning out films quite regularly. With sporadic results to be sure with his two previous films being seriously flawed but still fascinating. His 'latest' film was actually made 4 years ago but it took a while to go through post production. I think it was worth the wait. It is a compelling cinematic event that whilst still flawed is an enraptured and stunning film. There is no one working in cinema like Malick. His film are about image, mood, feeling and not based on traditional narrative or movie structure. I can understand this is frustrating for some people but I believe if you let yourself go for the ride it's a heady trip. Song to Song is set against the Austin music scene and we follow four main characters who are entangled in love and regret. We drift through their relationships and their bitter regrets. The music scene becomes secondary to the emotions of the main characters. It is a film suffused with sad beauty and raw emotion. It is a film of incredible beauty and impeccable design. It is film that is ultimately critical of the hedonistic lifestyle and questions the very reason why we love and how we live. A regular theme in Malick's work. It exists to show beauty in life but also the sadness and despair. He might polarize audiences but cinema would be a different and emptier experience without him.

9. The Big Sick, directed by Michael Showalter.
The Big Sick is a rarity in today's cinema. A genuinely funny comedy that is clever and doesn't resort to cliche. It is a little joy of a film that is totally satisfying. Whip smart comedian Kumail Nanjiani has written a film with his true life wife based on their courtship with basically Kumail playing himself. It's a unique journey as he battles the conflicts of love and family traditions. The humour is smart and gentle and there is romance there as well. The cast is great especially Romano and Hunter as the parents of his love interest. It's refreshing to enjoy a comedy has doesn't resort to the lowest common denominator. A total pleasure of a film.

10. Land of Mine, directed by Martin Zandvliet.
Gripping, essential film that deals wonderfully with the brutality of war. Set in Denmark at the end of the Second World War we follow young German prisoners of war that are ordered to remove landmines from the Danish coastline. This film is superbly acted and expertly maintains tension and drama through out. There is redemption and pathos on show with great effect, resulting in a work of great art and tremendous heart.

Jan 27, 2018

Best Live Shows of 2017

In 2017 I was extremely fortunate to witness some incredible live music. I was also incredibly fortunate to travel overseas and do likewise. In fact I visited Los Angeles and Cleveland with the express purpose of seeing some of my favourite artists. Firstly to LA where I saw my current hero in Kevin Morby in a fantastic small venue. That was a great experience. I saw also one of my all time favourite live bands in Explosions in the Sky at the legendary Greek Theatre. What a night that was and also my second time seeing them in the space of twelve months. Then in December I made the journey to Cleveland to see Do Make Say Think. The Toronto band were at the top of my list of bands I have never seen live. And they rarely ever tour so it was a unique opportunity. Suffice to say it was a fantastic show and made it to number one on my favourite live shows in 2017.

1. Do Make Say Think @ Agora Ballroom
2. Kevin Morby @ Terragram Ballroom
3. Explosions in the Sky @ Greek Theatre
4. Explosions in the Sky @ Sydney Opera House
5. Spoon @ Metro Theatre
6. Car Seat Headrest @ Oxford Art Factory
7. Fleet Foxes @ Hollywood Bowl
8. Feist @ Sydney Opera House
9. Father John Misty @ Metro Theatre
10. Fleet Foxes @ Sydney Opera House

Jan 24, 2018

Mount Eerie @ City Recital Hall

A Mount Eerie show is always something to treasure. Phil Elverum is an artist of immeasurable talent and spectacular ability. Having seen him twice before I was anticipating something special. But I didn't bargain for the show that we received. A show of such emotional weight that no words can really do it justice. As you might be aware Mr Elverum lost his wife to cancer recently and after a period of expected quiet he returned last year with an album of sadness and beauty, namely 'A Crow Looked at Me'. It was basically a poem of grief and catharsis. Stripping away all artifice and delivering a gut punch to the heart.

Tuesday night at the City Recital Hall we witnessed that music live. For an hour we sat dumbfounded and teary eyed. It was hard going but it was also incredibly beautiful and moving. It was Phil and his acoustic. Standing upright and baring his soul to the world. He opened with 'Distortion', a track from his upcoming new album. It was eleven minutes of aching beauty and startling truth. Then we received some songs from 'A Crow Looked at Me', before giving us four new songs to complete an evening so heavy with sadness but also true emotion and heart. There was true poetry on stage, it was very easy to be swept away by the stark and direct display of overwhelming emotion. He finished, left the stage quietly. There were not many dry eyes in the house.

Set List
Real Death
Forest Fire
Crow, Pt 2
Now Only
TinTin In Tibet

Jan 21, 2018

Best Songs of 2017

Kevin Morby has done it again. For the third year in a row he has taken out my song of the year from his wonderful 2017 album. There was stiff competition, especially from the newly returned Wolf Parade and the powerhouse that is Kendrick Lamar. But Kevin has done it again!

1. City Music-Kevin Morby
2. King of Piss and Paper-Wolf Parade
3. Mary-Big Thief
4. Orange Color Queen-Ty Segall
5. Third of May/Odaigahara-Fleet Foxes
6. Yeah Right-Vince Staples
7. DNA.-Kendrick Lamar
8. Bike Dream-Rostam
9. Baby Blue-Wolf Parade
10. On Lankershim-Foxygen
11. Drivers-John Andrews and the Yawns
12. HUMBLE.-Kendrick Lamar
13. God in Chicago-Craig Finn
14. So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain-Father John Misty
15. Holding On-The War on Drugs
16. Keep Your Name-Dirty Projectors
17. Cold Apartment-Vagabon
18 .Real Death-Mount Eerie
19. Passiona-The Smith Street Band
20. Bobby- (Sandy) Alex G
21. Darkened Rings-Cloud Nothings
22. The Embers-Vagabon
23. Whiteout Conditions-The New Pornographers
24. Pure Comedy-Father John Misty
25. Birthdays-The Smith Street Band
26. Any Party-Feist
27. Isabel-Gold Connections
28. New York-Peter Silberman
29. Bleeding Blue-Woods
30. Anthem for No State-Godspeed You! Black Emperor
31. War on Torpor-Do Make Say Think
32. Aboard My Train-Kevin Morby
33. Shark Smile-Big Thief
34. BagBak-Vince Staples
35. Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse-Broken Social Scene
36. Tinseltown Swimming in Blood-Destroyer
37. Incantation-Wolf Parade
38. Ordinary Day-The Districts
39. Mourning Sound-Grizzly Bear
40. No Help Pamphlet-Liars
41. What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out-Gang of Youths
42. Thinking of a Place-The War on Drugs
43. Day I Die-The National
44. Pine and Clover-Chad VanGaalen
45. Poison Root-(Sandy) Alex G
46. Bodak Yellow-Cardi B
47. Recite Remorse-Waxahatchee
48. In the Wake-Ramona Falls
49. Sky's Grey-Destroyer
50. Beacon Hill-The Rural Alberta Advantage
51. Darling-Real Estate
52. Rhesus Negative-Blanck Mass
53. Ravens-Mount Eerie
54. The Vanity of Trying-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
55. Mrs Adams-Foxygen
56. Talk to Me-Run the Jewels
57. Come To Me Now-Kevin Morby
58. Horripilation-Do Make Say Think
59. Total Entertainment Forever-Father John Misty
60. Pleasure-Feist
61. Break a Guitar-Ty Segall
62. Love Is Love-Woods
63. Wild Grin-The Rural Alberta Advantage
64. Can I Sit Next To You-Spoon
65. LUST.-Kendrick Lamar
66. Salt-The Districts
67. A Light Travels Down the Catwalk-Destroyer
68. Internal World-Cloud Nothings
69. Up In Hudson-Dirty Projectors
70. French Press-Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
71. Run Into The World-The Smith Street Band
72. New Religion-Gold Connections
73. Big Fish-Vince Staples
74. Vanity Pail Kids-Broken Social Scene
75. Sparks Fly-Waxahatchee
76. 1998-The Dears
77. Airplane-David Rawlings
78. Mythological Beauty-Big Thief
79. Slip Away-Perfume Genius
80. We've Been Here Before-The New Pornographers
81. Hot Thoughts-Spoon
82. I Ain't Got Time-Tyler, the Creator
83. Three Rings-Grizzly Bear
84. This Ole King-Why?
85. Wide World-Party Dozen
86. Sisters-Ne-Hi
87. Rain in Soho-The Mountain Goats
88. Salt Brothers-Strand of Oaks
89. The Fool-OCS
90. Cusp-Thurston Moore
91. Freedom-Ty Segall
92. Trauma-Foxygen
93. Minneapolis-Vagabon
94. The Rat-Blanck Mass
95. Fear is like a Forest-Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
96. Half-Light-Rostam
97. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness-The National
98. We Don't Deserve Love-Arcade Fire
99. This Year-Beach Fossils
100. Century-Feist

Jan 20, 2018

Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Metro Theatre

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are monumental and monumentally important to me. And I never, ever actually thought I would ever get to see them live. Especially after they went on an hiatus. But there I was last Tuesday night seeing them live for the fourth time. This time at the Metro Theatre and it was everything you would expect. Epic, huge, grandiose, powerful. You get it. Also this time louder than seemingly before. But again, huge. As is their want they would concentrate on their latest album. This being 'Luciferian Towers', the highlight being the impossibly beautiful 'Anthem For No State'. Then they got to the 'hits'. And when you play 'Moya' and 'BBF3' back to back then a beautiful and surreal world opens up to everyone lucky to be in attendance. For nearly two hours nine musicians of considerable talent and unyielding purpose played with a conviction that I honestly believe no other band on Earth contains.

Set List
Hope Drone
Bosses Hang
Anthem For No State
Undoing a Luciferian Towers

Jan 9, 2018

Vince Staples @ Enmore Theatre

This was a stunning show in every way possible. Vince Staples is at the top of his game and it showed Saturday night at the Enmore Theatre. The young hip hop artist from Long Beach played to a young and frenzied crowd, whipping them into a state of excitement that never let up. This was my first time seeing Vince and I was extremely impressed. He plays with a very minimalist set. He is alone on stage, so no live music. Just him rapping in front of a backing track. He prowls around stage, rarely standing still. It wasn't until '745' that he stood still and used his mic stand. The entire set was full of high energy and he packed a lot of songs into a performances that didn't go for much more than an hour. No encore either. After he slayed the crowd with 'Norf Norf' he quietly left the stage to thunderous applause. We wanted more so I guess I'm just going to have to wait until next time he tours Australia to see him again.

Set List
Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium
Ascension (Gorillaz cover)
Party People
Big Fish
Rain Come Down
Lift Me Up
Hands Up
Love Can Be...
Little Bit of This (GTA cover)
Ghost (With You. cover)
Lemme Know
Birds and Bees
Big Time
Blue Suede
Yeah Right
Norf Norf

Jan 6, 2018

Do Make Say Think @ Agora Ballroom

This show was truly one for the ages. Do Make Say Think have long been at the top of my list of artists that I have never seen. The Canadian maestros tour very sparingly and have never been to Australia. As luck would have it I was planning a trip to the USA and it just happened the band announced a few select dates. They were playing Chicago, a city I love, but they also announced a date in Cleveland. I had never been to Cleveland before so I thought why the hell not. So there I am on a very cold Saturday night seeing one of my all time favourite bands in a city I have never visited before. It was an experience I will never, ever forget. My only regret is that it flew by so very quickly.

The band of nine played an explosive set that was near perfect. A set list that covered a good cross section of their illustrious catalogue. It was an emotional night for me. I loved each and every second. Just a fantastic night of glorious music. Charles Spearin made a nice speech about how much they appreciated playing their music live and how music draws people together. They certainly did this night. The crowd was great, appreciative and attentive. There were so many highlights. I could mention them all but I think my absolute favourites were the incendiary 'Fredericia' and the frantic 'Do'. Then a just perfect encore of the the superbly beautiful 'A Tender History in Rust' and 'Auberge Le Mouton Noir'. What a night. My heart was simply filled with pure joy.

Set List
And Boundless
The Landlord is Dead
d=3.57h (As Far As The Eye Can See)
Her Eyes on the Horizon
War on Torpor
Horns of a Rabbit
The Universe!

A Tender History In Rust
Auberge Le Mouton Noir