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Best Films of the Year: Part Two (10-1)

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Best Films of the Year 2018

10. American Animals

True-crime documentary meets bizarre heist flick in George Layton’s inventively imagined drama which I reviewed here.

9. Under the Tree

The best thing about Icelandic hit Under the Tree is the performance of Edda Björgvinsdóttir as Inga, a spectacularly bitter woman with a heart as cold as a Rekyavik winter.

8. Nancy

Nancy premiered at Sundance and went on to receive generally good reviews although in a one-star review, Slant described it as American indie miserablism and a condescending fantasy. I’ve yet to see Nancy on another best of the year list and if I was writer/director Christina Choe, I definitely wouldn’t be getting my hopes up for any Oscar action.

I was mesmerized by it though, particularly by Andrea Riseborough in the lead role. Nancy is a fantasist but not an especially skillful one. She pretends, for example, to have recently visited North Korea as a tourist to make herself appear more interesting. Her co-workers aren’t impressed.

When she sees a news item about a girl who’s been missing for thirty years, she convinces herself that she might have been kidnapped as a child (or pretends this anyway) and that she might be the girl. The results of this will have the potential to wreak havoc on the emotions of the girl’s parents when she contacts them.

Some movies pulsate throughout with a dynamic verve. This doesn’t, believe me, I felt nauseous for large chunks of it but it did also keep me riveted throughout, to the extent that I failed to even notice that its aspect ratio apparently widened out in the middle of proceedings. A highly promising debut.

7. Cold War

I only saw Paweł Pawlikowski’s period drama a matter of days ago but it did make a big enough impact on me to decide on ditching one of the movies in my provisional top twenty list to make way for it. Sorry Disobedience, I do regret not finding a place for you here.

This is a decades-spanning romantic drama but one that is far from traditional notions of that genre and it’s loosely inspired by the lives of the director’s own parents. The first names of the two leads here, Zula (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) are even the same as Mr and Mrs Pawlikowski’s.

Cold War is shot in a boxy format and looks stunning, its rich black and white tones perfectly conveying the post-war bleakness of the Eastern Bloc. It also reminded me of some of the Czechoslovak New Wave films of the 1960s. This is one that I just know I’ll want to see again in 2019.

6. Shoplifters

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest takes a compassionate look at the plight of a contemporary Tokyo family (of sorts) that steals in order to survive.

Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first Japanese Palme d’Or winner since 1997. In August, it was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Oscars.

5. Mandy

Nic Cage in good film shocker! Dario Argento reds. Nightmarish David Lynch style imagery. Monsters of anarchy on motorbikes and chainsaw battles. Cage in his underpants downing a bottle of vodka while howling like a maniac.

You might not like Mandy but I’ll guarantee that the hyper-stylized, ultra-ultraviolent second film by Panos Cosmatos will linger long into your memory.

Andrea Riseborough is pitch perfect again here as Mandy – she’s had another great year, especially in films where she plays the titular character – and Linus Roache, as cult guru Jeremiah Sand, behaves in a way that you won’t see his father doing in his role as Ken Barlow in Coronation Street. Unless that show has completely changed since I last tuned in.

4. The Shape of Water

In my review of the Best Films of 2017, I wrote that I’d seen a preview of this, and it was ‘visually stunning’.

It is immaculately well-crafted, with the kind of amazing imagery you’d expect from a master like Guillermo Del Toro, who also coaxed fine performances from Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer.

Okay, some have groused that The Shape of Water is nowhere near as magical as Pan’s Labyrinth but how many movies are?

My one complaint? I know it’s a modern fairy tale but the beastiality thang really should have been dropped.

3. Roma

Roma is set in the 1970s in the middle-class Mexico City neighborhood where director Alfonso Cuarón grew up. Seen largely through the perspective of a servant Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio in a jaw droppingly good debut, Roma is poetic and looks ravishing, Cuarón shooting it in 70mm in shimmering, silvery monochrome and making use of the kind of extended takes that are becoming less and less common on cinema screens. I watched it on one of those although most will see it for the first time on the increasingly influential streaming giant Netflix.

Was my money well spent? I’d say so.

2. Lucky

The cinematic swansong of the great Harry Dean Stanton, John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut Lucky is a movie about human connections and mortality that eschews the kind of sickly sweet sentimentality that tends to blight films about very old characters. You may well find yourself imagining your own final days and how you might want to die as you watch the story of Stanton’s Lucky unfold. I reviewed the movie here.

1. You Were Never Really Here

Adapted from Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name, the fourth film by Lynne Ramsay features the ever reliable Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a hoodie wearing hitman with a liking for green jelly beans.

A lumbering and hirsute hulk of a man with deadened eyes, Joe is capable of extreme violence but also is shown to be a dutiful son, showing some real tenderness as he cares for his ailing mother (Judith Roberts).

When we first see the two together, Joe’s mum has watched Psycho on TV and she’s still scared, this scene becoming unexpectedly poignant later, when she comes across some ruthless men on Joe’s trail, although we don’t see her encounter with them.

We do witness plenty of violence elsewhere, when it explodes on the screen for only a matter of seconds. Sometimes we glimpse it from a distance on low grade CCTV screens, sometimes it takes place offscreen, at other points we are only shown its aftermath.

This, though, is not just a film about violence, with political corruption, trafficking, childhood trauma, post-traumatic stress disorders and redemption being explored too.

I’ve followed Ramsay’s career since her days in the 1990s when she began making a series of intriguing and acclaimed shorts such as Small Deaths and Gasman. She hasn’t put a foot wrong since then but this very uncomfortable watch that might be her best work to date.

You Were Never Really Here might also feature Jonny Greenwood’s finest ever contribution to the world of film. His score is mostly dissonant enough to grate nerves though occasionally, when the London Contemporary Orchestra’s strings come in, it can be gorgeous too – although as he told NME, they can also be quite brutal with their instruments. ‘Strings can do so much more than just be pretty.’

There’s also some found music utilized including, strangely enough, Eileen Barton’s fluffy post-war pop hit If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked a Cake and a burst Albert Hammond’s The Air That I Breathe, a song that Radiohead channelled in their breakthrough hit Creep (to the extent of giving Hammond and co-composer Mike Hazlewood a share of the writing credits).

I did admire Thom Yorke’s work for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria ‘cover version’ but in the battle of the Radiohead men, Greenwood likely just edged it.

Best Soundtracks 2018

Also worth mentioning in the musical front is Mogwai’s work on Kin, although the actual movie isn’t one that I remotely thought about including here. Likewise Anna Meredith’s first cinematic outing, her score for Eight Grade impressed although the standout musical moment is when she sneaks in existing composition Nautilus for the disoriented entry of a socially awkward thirteen year old vlogger to a poolside birthday party where she isn’t particularly welcome.

I remember the first time I heard Nautilus, I felt disoriented myself.

Another of my favourite scores of 2018 was by celebrated Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson for Mandy. His music was brilliantly in-sync with the constantly bizarre events onscreen, which only makes it sadder that he would die so soon after composing and recording it. He was only 48. A truly sad loss.

For more on Jóhann Jóhannsson, click here.

And for more on Jonny Greenwood, click here.

 

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The BAMS (Best of 2014, Part Three)

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Apologies, you’re all very likely fed up with best of the year lists offered up on here and elsewhere over the past few weeks but after this post its gonna be back to business as usual. I promise.

This year I was asked to provide a couple of top ten albums of the year lists, one for Louder Than War and another for the BAM awards. Both differ slightly with the BAMS displaying more of a Scottish bias.

BAMS if you don’t know, stands for Blogs and Music Sites and the award has been on the go since 2009, inaugurated by Lloyd from the Peenko blog although in recent years he’s been helped out by Mike from Manic Pop Thrills with support from Lloyd and Stuart from Is This Music?.

The first winner was The Wants by The Phantom Band, while last year, CHVRCHES scooped the prize of a bottle of the country’s finest tonic wine with The Bones of What You Believe.

So, why not pour yourself a glass of Bamgria (that’s equal measures of Buckfast and Irn Bru with slices of fresh fruit optional, folks) and see what you think of these ten choices. Alternatively try a Punk Champagne, which, so I’m told, consists of two parts Diamond White cider to one part Buckfast.

Okay, those albums of the year:

10. Morrissey: World Peace is None of Your Business
09. North Atlantic Oscillations: The Third Day

 
08. The Vaselines: V for Vaselines
07. Alvvays: Self Titled
06. James King and The Lonewolves: Lost Songs of the Confederacy


05. Edwin Collins, Carwyn Ellis and Sebastian Lewsley: The Possibilities Are Endless OST
04. Vic Godard & Subway Sect: 1979 NOW!
03. Beck: Morning Phase
02. Mogwai: Rave Tapes

And at #1, the band led by Dale Barclay, a man who who’s been known to have the odd swig of Buckie both on and offstage.

01. The Amazing Snakeheads: Amphetamine Ballads

Here they are back in May, performing Here It Comes Again in Amsterdam’s Zonnehuis Theatre for the Dutch TV show 2 Meter Sessies:

 
Along with Palma Violets, Fat White Family and Slaves, The Amazing Snakeheads will be part of next year’s NME Awards Tour which kicks off in Sheffield on February 19, before heading to Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Nottingham, Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol and Portsmouth and finally, on March 4, The Forum in Kentish Town.

For more on North Atlantic Oscillations click here.
For more on James King and The Lonewolves click here.
For more on The Amazing Snakeheads click here.

EDIT: And the winner was….

… The Twilight Sad with Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave.

For more information click here.

Teenage Exorcists, Ron Asheton & Pieces of Me (Best of 2014, Part One)

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Same as last year except spread over two posts, in no particular order, thirty of my favourite new tracks released during 2014, at least I think they’re all from 2014, along with ten of the very best compilations, reissues or soundtracks and five books.

My top ten albums in order will follow on before the end of the year but for now, here’s the first batch of single tracks together with my the five music books that have impressed me the most.

Singles

The Amazing Snakeheads: Here It Comes Again
Morrissey: World Peace is None of Your Business
Opium Kitchen: We Will Be
TV Smith: I Delete
Mogwai: Teenage Exorcists

 
Beck: Turn Away
Ming City R*ckers: I Wanna Get Out of Here (But I Can’t Take You Anywhere)
The Rosy Crucifixion: Sinners
The Nightingales: Dumb and Drummer
The Sexual Objects: Ron Asheton

 
King Creosote: For One Night Only
Cleaners From Venus: Imaginary Seas
Cosines: Out of the Fire
Lola in Slacks: False Lines (demo)
Lucy’s Diary: Pieces of Me

 
The Written Word

Viv Albertine: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. Faber.
John Lydon: Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. Simon & Schuster.
Peter Doherty: From Albion to Shangri-La (Transcribed and edited by Nina Antonia). Thin Man Press,
David Stubbs: Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. Faber.
Steve Hanley & Olivia Piekarski: The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall. Route.

The Last Big Weekend & Where You’re Meant To Be

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You may already know that The Last Big Weekend is a two day boutique festival organised by the East End Social that’s taking place in Richmond Park, close to Glasgow’s greyhound racing central, Shawfield Stadium. Saturday’s lineup is curated by Chemikal Underground while Numbers and Optimo have combined forces to curate the Sunday leg.

Mogwai, whose Rave Tapes is one of my very favourite albums released so far this year, are joined on Saturday by John Peel favourites The Wedding Present, former Creation signings Swervedriver and Edinburgh’s fast rising Young Fathers as well as Fuck Buttons, James Holden, The Twilight Sad, Holy Mountain and Honeyblood.

Last Big Weekend

I can’t be there that day as I’m going along to a wedding, although I’d have really liked to see Mogwai headline and just about all of the other bands on the bill. Day Two, which promises to feature some of the very best local and international DJs together with some of the finest electronic music acts out there, isn’t so much my thing apart from the multi-talented ex-LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, who one day I’d like to see produce a new David Bowie album.

Anyway, on Sunday night I’m off to the Where You’re Meant To Be event, which bills itself as ‘A Musical Road Trip and Film from Aidan Moffat and Paul Fegan’ with the Barrowlands, I’m told, being transformed for the occasion into ‘a cabaret-style cinema venue’ with clips of the forthcoming Where You’re Meant To Be road movie/documentary being screened and anecdotes from Moffat, a natural raconteur if ever there was one, about the stories behind each clip. Of course there will also be songs and Aidan will be backed by James Graham of The Twilight Sad), Jenny Reeve of Bdy_Prts and Stevie Jones (El Hombre Trajeado).

Also performing on the night will be double-act Joe Aitken & Geordie Murison and Glaswegian singer Danny Couper. Should be a very interesting and entertaining evening.

Getting back to The Last Big Weekend – and yes, I was tempted to post a link to Arab Strap’s The First Big Weekend – I’ve started this post with the headliners from day one and I’m going to end with the band who’ll be opening the proceedings on Saturday afternoon, Glasgow based duo Honeyblood, who consist of vocalist and guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Shona McVicar.

Over the past few years they’ve signed to Brighton indie Fat Cat Records, released an album produced by Peter Katis, played T in the Park and toured the States. They’ve been compared to The Breeders, Best Coast and PJ Harvey but I’d say they’re more like Strawberry Switchblade with a snarl (and without the polka-dots) or, and I’m maybe thinking more of Stina’s voice here, The Sundays.

Here’s the alt-country flavoured Bud from their self titled debut album which is definitely worth seeking out:

 
For more on The Last Big Weekend click here.
For more on Where You’re Meant To Be click here.
For more on Aidan Moffat click here.
& for more on Honeyblood click here.

The BAMS Are On Their Way & Rave Tapes Is Out Now

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The Scottish BAMS Album of the Year Award (BAMS standing for Blogs and Music Sites) was inaugurated in 2009 when Checkmate Savage by The Phantom Band scooped the prize – a bottle of vintage tonic wine.

Since then The National, Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells and Meursault have triumphed and this particular Blogger, or maybe that should be Bammer, has been invited to have his say on the outcome of the 2013 award.

No secret ballots to be calculated by some bigwig auditing firm sworn to secrecy until the moment that the name of the winner is revealed at some majorly swanky ceremony for the BAMS, so I’m allowed to reveal my top ten choices:

01. My Bloody Valentine: m b v
02. Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest
03. Steve Mason: Monkey Minds in The Devil’s Time

 
04. Dot Dash: Half-Remembered Dream
05. Primal Scream: 2013
06. Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
07. The Pastels: Slow Summits

 
08. Edwyn Collins: Understated
09. Paul Haig: Kube
10. Lloyd Cole: Standards

 
For more: twitter.com/BAMS_Scotland

Mogwai’s latest album Rave Tapes comes out today in Britain on Rock Action on CD, LP, download and a box set version and I would guess, even after only hearing it once fully, that it could be a real contender for next year’s BAMS.

Then again, I thought Steve Mason might win the 2013 Barclaycard Mercury Prize – and in the end it didn’t even earn a nomination but you might agree that that reflects badly on the Mercury judges rather than on me.

This is the closing track of Rave Tapes, The Lord is Out of Control:

 
For more information on Rave Tapes: www.mogwai.co.uk

And finally if you don’t already know, Mogwai are playing a special live show tonight from Celtic Connections at the CCA Glasgow for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland which is being broadcast live on that station.

More details here

EDIT:

And the winner was….. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES. Well done to them.