Argo,or, Why the Oscar Went To The Wrong Movie

Argo

Just last night, Argo won the Oscar for best picture. Everybody at the Academy Awards stood up and applauded, as though this was an obvious win. In fact, before the show, most film writers were pretty consigned that Argo was going to run away with the award. Meanwhile, I at home was baffled. I saw the movie. I liked it. But did it really deserve to be called the best movie of the year. Of this, I am positive the answer is no.

As a movie, Argo is very entertaining. The story of the six U.S. diplomats trapped in post-rebellion Tehran is both entertaining and tense. And the idea to make a fake movie to sneak the diplomats out was incredibly clever. As a suspenseful thriller, Argo was great. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. No one acting  performance really stood out to me, although I’m a sucker for John Goodman ever since his role in The Big Lebowski. Argo is a tight, exciting movie that succeeds at being very entertaining.

That being said, Argo is not a perfect movie. Argo brings nothing new to the conversation. I have seen many movies do the exact same thing Argo has done. Munich tells a very similar story, including fudging the facts of the supposed “historical” movie. Wag the Dog also shows the power of Hollywood to mislead people, and frankly, does it much better. While Argo is a great movie to be sure, it is clearly not perfect. While watching the whole movie, I kept waiting for some particular moment to blow me away. I truly wanted this movie to live up to all the hype it had received. I had read all the reviews beforehand, and expected to be amazed. But I left scratching my head. Sure this movie was great, but I failed to see what exactly set it apart from all the others.

When Argo won, I was shocked. The Academy messed up. The past few years have been fairly consistent for the Oscars. They have largely kept to picking the best movie of the year for a while now. However, I knew this year would be different the instant I saw the nominees. Three of the best movies of the year were missing. The Master is the one that confused me the most. This is the kind of movie that is usually hardcore Oscar bait. A stellar cast, who ended up getting two acting noms anyways, tells the dark and thought provoking tale of life withing a cult. The only reason I could think the Academy might not nominate this movie was because it was too dark, and too deep for the Academy. The second movie on my list would have been a stretch for the Academy anyways. I was holding out hope that the Academy might realize that one of the best movies of the year was in fact a Bond film. No hate for Amour or Les Miserables, but they simply could not compete with the amazing performances and dark story of Skyfall.

However, the movie I’m most upset the Oscars missed really should have won many Oscars. However, in an oversight that I find equal parts frustrating and confusing, Looper was not nominated in a single category. At the very least, I expected Rian Johnson to receive a screen writing nomination. Yet, in my opinion the best movie of the year, came into the competition completely empty handed. What turned the Academy off was most likely the sci-fi quirks on the surface of the movie. They failed to find the deeper, incredibly fascinating themes which, for me, made Looper so amazing. Without a doubt, if the Academy was not so safe and self-interested, Looper would have at least been nominated, if not a winner.

So the question remains, why Argo? The answer becomes more obvious when you remember how self-absorbed the Academy is. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of old, Hollywood professionals. Therefore, any movie that glorifies Hollywood and the power of film makes the Academy feel very warm and fuzzy inside. If there is one thing Argo does, it gives lots of credit to Hollywood. The fact that it was directed by Ben Affleck, a celebrity that celebrities love, probably helped. And the cast contained Allen Arkin and John Goodman, two old school Hollywood greats. In fact, Arkin received an Academy Award nomination for basically playing himself. All of this grandiose narcissism let the Academy pat themselves on the back, and as a result, they gave the award to the movie that made them feel the most important.

Argo’s win is not the first time the award went to the wrong movie. It will most certainly happen again. What makes me most angry about this particular instance is how obvious the corruption of the Academy has become. There were many movies better that Argo, even some that were nominated like Lincoln or Django Unchained. Argo’s win is hollow and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

New Jet City

new jet city

Rap in the mixtape era is all about diversity. Because of the sheer number of rappers people can find on the internet, there are different styles and sub-genres for people of every taste. And since most of these rappers are still trying to get famous, a lot of these mixtapes are of album quality. Curren$y’s latest mixtape, New Jet City, is no exception.

Curren$y has been making album quality mixtapes for a while. Some highlights include Smokee Robinson, Return to the Winner’s Circle, and Verde Terrace. If you are unacquainted with Curren$y’s style, then it may take a while to get used to. Curren$y is not a lyrical rapper. He mostly sticks to lines about girls, cars, and drugs. You should not come into a Curren$y album expecting a journey or exploration of complicated themes. While Spitta definitely drops some cool, quotable lines, his writing is mediocre at best.

But that is not the reason to listen to anything Curren$y has ever done. Curren$y is all about the atmosphere he provides. He is easily the most listenable rapper I’ve ever heard. I could honestly listen to him rap for forty minutes straight completely A Capella. The way he mushes lines together is fascinating. Most rappers use a very staccato style. One line is separated completely and succinctly. Curren$y on the other hand uses a completely different technique, where the spaces between lines are less about drawing attention to the rhymes, and more about bringing focus to particularly interesting lines. A prime example of this on New Jet City is “Living For the City”. Curren$y’s style is hard to pull off, and there is no better evidence for this than the various Young Roddy cameos on the tape. Roddy is Curren$y’s protoge, and while he is very good at the mushy-mouthed style, he is clearly no Curren$y, and it shows that while Curren$y may sound like he isn’t trying very hard, his music is not so easy to pull off.

Speaking of cameos, New Jet City features quite a few big ones. The beauty of Curren$y’s style is that it makes his guest spots feel all the more important. Even if his guests are mediocre, the contrast they provide makes the verse they drop all the more interesting. Take for example, Jadakiss on the early tape track “Clear”. Jadakiss hasn’t dropped a good verse in years. In fact,  I was ninety-eight percent sure he had died. Yet the force and ferocity he provides on “Clear”, while not necessarily all that fierce on your standard mixtape, sounds all the more so on a Curren$y tape. Trademark drops a very great feature on “Coolie in the Cut”, and for his voice is so prominent on the song it might as well be his. Wiz Khalifa drops his best verse since Kush & OJ on “Choosin”. Juicy J stops by to make another ridiculous and pleasantly over the top verse on “Three 60”. And even Juvenile, who has been for all intents and purposes dead in the water since who knows when drops a sick verse on the tape.

The tape also features great beats. They’re all pretty typical Spitta fair, with lots of piano and Houston influenced beats. Of greatest notice is “Mary”, with probably the best beat on the tape. An airy vocal sample and a great piano hook ride over a staccato, hard, Lex Luger influenced influenced drum machine. But what sets the beat apart is the subtle horns in the background that hint at a deeper terror. “Mary” is honestly one of the best beats Curren$y has ever rapped over, and he does an admirable job. However, for those interested in more standard Curren$y tracks, check out “Purple Haze”, “Living For the City”, and “Sixteen Switches Part Two”.

New Jet City is one of Curren$y’s best releases to date. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to Spitta’s arsinal. It doesn’t bring rap into a brand new dimension. But there’s no denying that New Jet City is one of the most relaxed, chill, and fun releases in a while. Curren$y has been doing this style of music for a while, but New Jet City compacts the whole experience and focuses on the best parts of all of his past tapes. However, if you enjoy New Jet City, I highly suggest looking into Curren$y’s back catalog. He is one of the best rappers in the game today, and you can get most of his music for free.

Long Live A$AP

long live asap

Rap artists nowadays seem like stars before they release a single song, let alone an entire album. With all the hype that surrounds the “new great rapper”, it would be understandable for those more jaded rap fans to be sick of hearing about the “next big thing”. But I don’t really care about the jaded rap fans. A$AP Rocky is the next big thing, and if his first album is any indication, he is here to stay.

The first time we heard Rocky was on Life.Love.A$AP., a great mixtape that had such good production, such good rapping, and such great songs, that it felt like a bona-fide album. The mixtape featured the producer Clams Casino, (who formally only created beats for artists like Lil B and Soulja Boy) making some of the best beats of the year. The mixtape even had a hit in “Peso”. After the mixtape dropped,  Rocky was quickly scooped up by RCA to the tune of 3 million dollars. All of this lead to people claiming that A$AP’s new (and first) album would transform rap and be an instant success.

Now that’s a lot of pressure, especially for a young, 24 year old rapper. Yet with Long Live A$AP, Rocky has most certainly lived up to it.  Unlike Life.Love.A$AP., Rocky’s debut album relies much less heavily on Clams Casino. In fact, the beats on Long Live A$AP are much more varied and diverse than those on his mixtape. Instead of the hazy, relaxed, Houston Trill oriented beats Rocky used to depend on, producers such as Lord Flacko, Hit-Boy, and yes, even Skrillex, bring a much more eclectic mix to the table. That being said, it is the Houston oriented beats that A$AP does his best with. “LVL”, “Pain”, and “Suddenly” find A$AP at his most comfortable.

That being said, A$AP Rocky is great even when he’s not comfortable. “F***in’ Problems” finds Rocky in a track with 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, a place where Rocky needs to bring his best to still be relevant. Yet that track is one of the best on the album, and is a whole lot of fun. A song with A$AP Rocky and Skrillex sounds like a terrible idea right? Well on Long Live A$AP, the two gel to form one of the best songs on the album. Skrillex is much less ADD than normal, providing an actual melodic beat for Rocky to rhyme over. That’s just the kind of album Long Live A$AP is. Everything seems to go right, and the results are spectacular.

On the song “LVL” Rocky has a line that is indicative of his rap style: “This is boom-bap mixed with new raps”. A$AP is constantly in the business of reminding you that he is a member of what he and many others prefer to describe as the “new-school” of rappers. If you are unaware who these rappers are, than look no further than A$AP’s own “1 Train”,  a song that features no less than 6 other rappers, all of them big young rappers who will eventually become the new rap main-stream. Artists like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson drop some of their best verses of their careers on this track, and it becomes a short of showcase for the youngsters.

Now to be fair, Long Live A$AP does have its flaws. There are a few filler tracks, including the title track, that just feel under-performed. One of the standout tracks on Life.Love.A$AP, “Brand New Guy”, had an amazing cameo from rapper Schoolboy Q. On Long Live A$AP he is featured again on “PMW” with much shoddier results. Yet over all, Long Live A$AP is an outstanding freshman album, and finds the self-proclaimed leader of the new school  dominating other, older rappers. I look forward to seeing more from A$AP Rocky in the years to come.

The Top 5 Albums of 2012

tnght

5. TNGHT: TNGHT

I’ll start off the list with an album that a lot of people unfortunately haven’t heard of. TNGHT, a duo of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, are making lots of headway in hip-hop and electronic music. In fact, its almost impossible to tell which genre the two fit into. Their self-titled EP is astounding, with five of the best hip-hop beats ever produced, that also happen to be 5 of the most banging dance tracks I’ve ever heard. While the EP is short, clocking in at under 20 minutes, the thrill it produces lasts much longer. Hopefully this is only a taste of things to come. Even Kanye loves TNGHT, and made an appearance at one of their shows. If there was ever a time to jump on the bandwagon, it is now.

RAP music

4. R.A.P. Music: Killer Mike

Killer Mike has been in the rap game for a while now. He was essential to many Outkast songs, and had a few minor hits in his solo career. However, he has never created an album as political, as angry, and as hard as R.A.P. Music. A part of that can be contributed to El-P, who produced the album. However, Mike’s lyrics and flow can’t be looked over either. On tracks like “Reagan” and “Big Beast”, Mike drops some of his headiest and thoroughly provoking verses he has ever done. R.A.P. Music acted almost as a prequel to El-P’s own solo album, Cancer 4 Cure. The two featured dark, paranoid, and complex beats that are a staple of the producer. Yet Cancer 4 Cure lacked the ferocity of the one thing that set R.A.P. Music over the edge, and that is the man himself, Killer Mike.

attack on memory

3. Attack on Memory: Cloud Nothings

Rock returned in a big way in 2012. Fun. and Maroon 5 were bringing rock back to pop, Jack White and Green Day made some of the best music of their careers, and Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young proved they were anything but old fogies. However, the best rock and roll music of the year came from smaller bands that will not receive as much recognition by fans. Attack on Memory is a prime example of this. This small band from Cleveland wears their influences on their sleeves. Its clear that they grew up listening to bands like The Replacements and Nirvana, and their music sounds eerily similar to these great bands. The band also brings refreshing lyrics that separates them from the other 80’s-90’s rock copy-cat band. “Stay Useless” in particular is an amazing ode to stagnation, and an anthem for the lazy generation.

th

2. Celebration Rock: The Japandroids

I don’t know if I have made this clear enough. I LOVE this album. It is pure adrenaline soaked rock and roll from beginning to the end. Two man bands have dominated rock for the last decade, (ie: White Stripes, Black Keys) and this duo from Vancouver B.C. look to be the next big thing. Their guitars have more feedback than any other album in 2012, and their drums seem louder and more intense. The band is obsessed with the thrills and perils of youth, and it pervades through every second of the album, from the instrumentation to the lyrics. The songs on this album remind me of classic 70’s and 80’s coming of age classics, with odes to living free and striving to prove everyone around you wrong. Songs such as “Fire’s Highway”, “Younger Us” , and (my personal favorite song of the year) “The House That Heaven Built”, leave you full of energy and rebellious fire. If the next album on the list had not been created, this would for sure be my number one.

good kid

1. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City: Kendrick Lamar

Well here we have it folks. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was the most hyped album of the year. Every one and their mother was excited for this release, and  before the album was even released people were calling Kendrick the next great rapper. How could the album possibly live up to the hype? Apparently, for Kendrick, that was the easy part. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is nothing less than a hip-hop masterpiece. From the beginning of “Sherane”, Kendrick explores his life growing up in Compton, yet not in the way Nas, 2pac, Jay-Z, and the other gangster rappers have. Kendrick’s portrait is much more personal, with moments of compassion to go with the hardness. What Kendrick has done with this album is move hip-hop into a mature direction. Sure NWA and Jay-Z swore more, and Drake may have more overt emotions, but Kendrick practices something rap doesn’t see very often: subtlety.  This is not an album to be listened to by picking out one song. If you do, then tracks like “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools” will not resonate as powerful when taken as part of the whole. Everything about Goood Kid, M.A.A.D. City is done with purpose. There are no throwaways. All of the songs are powerful. There is not one instance where Kendrick gets lazy. Even the final track, “Compton”, which many people have questioned, makes sense from a musical standpoint. In hip-hop it is very hard to make a good victory track; the songs about getting to the top are usually much more entertaining than the ones that are found there. Yet even Kendrick’s victory lap is brilliant. There has seldom been an album with as much sheer lyrical content than Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. If I had to pick just a few tracks to check out, I would suggest “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Poetic Justice”, “Swimming Pools”, and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”. But seriously, anyone who considers them self a music fan must listen to this album. It is the single best hip-hop release since Outkast broke up. As close to perfect as it can get.

The Hobbit

the hobbit2

 

Lets just cut straight to the chase. Peter Jackson, the director behind the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, is not known for being concise. The Lord of the Rings consisted of three three hour-long movies. While they were all fantastic, sitting through them almost always required a few bathroom breaks. And now there is the Hobbit. What easily could have been a cash-in of the original trilogy’s popularity, is instead being cut into multiple movies. Now, if you’ve read the book, you know that this decision is understandable. While not long per-se, the story is action-packed, and full of narrative. That being said, the movie, instead of being cut in half as many of us expected, is being made into its own fully-fledged trilogy.

Now, if you haven’t read the book, then shame on you. The story is much more accessible than the Lord of The Rings trilogy, and is really an awful lot of fun to read. The story is a prequel to The Lord of The Rings, detailing an adventure had by Bilbo, Frodo’s uncle and guardian, before Frodo was even born. This first movie in the trilogy starts with the beginning of the journey, and follows Bilbo as he encounters dwarves, trolls, goblins, and orcs. Bilbo also finds the One Ring, and, in probably the single best scene in the whole movie, has a duel of riddles with Smeagol/Gollum.

GollumSince this is to be a trilogy, Peter Jackson had a lot of time to fill. In an attempt to make a two movie long book into a three movie long one, Jackson added many elements that were not a part of the story. This would be fine, if the additions were not done the way they were. One of the things that made The Hobbit such a successful book was that it was so accessible. Instead of long discussions on every characters lineage, The Hobbit was a very easy to read, plot oriented novel. The movie however, adds certain elements that are baffling for the uninitiated. For example, there are many instances of orcs and wargs being shown in the movie. In the book, there were no orcs to be seen at all. The addition of the orcs is difficult to understand, because it makes the movie more difficult to understand. There are also a few to many cameos and inclusions of topics and characters from the original Lord of the Rings movies. I don’t want to spoil too much, but a few characters cameos are unnecessary and left me wondering why they were included at all.

orcs

However, the Hobbit overall is a fun, epic movie. The CGI is even better than it was in the original Lord of the Rings, and  the action sequences are intense and fun. Martin Freeman makes for a great Bilbo, equal parts awkward, courageous, and entertaining. As stated previously the scene between Bilbo and Smeagol in the cave is amazing, with Martin Freeman proving he has excellent chemistry with Andy Serkis, the genius behind Gollum. Ian Mckellen is amazing as ever as Gandalf. Mckellen seems to be having more fun in the Hobbit than he ever did in The Lord Of The Rings, which is equal parts refreshing and disturbing, as Gandalf is not primarily known as a fun character. Yet he does an admirable job, and holds the actors together, as the cast of dwarves features far too many nameless faces.

The Hobbit is a good movie. However, it is Peter Jackson’s over-achieving that is the movies undoing. If the movie was about a half hour to forty-five minutes shorter, it would be great. Yet Jackson has the movie stuffed with so much unnecessary baggage that it drags in numerous places. While definitely still a movie I would recommend, The Hobbit is a movie with a few flaws that bring it down significantly.

 

King Animal

 

Soundgarden’s new album King Animal is a blast from the past. From the first few chords of “Been Away Too Long”, you feel like you’re back in 1991, jamming to grunge music while sipping your Starbucks coffee in your plaid shirt. In Soundgarden’s first disc in 16 years, the Seattle based band whisk their music back into their glory days of the early 90’s effortlessly. The result is a refreshing and fun reboot of grunge rock.

What can I say? The old guys do metal best.

 

Soundgarden has always gone the way of Chris Cornell. When he is doing his best, it sounds like Robert Plant was born again in Seattle. But when he tries to take too much control over the band or his singing, it has almost always imploded. Cornell is the one who messed things up in the first place, when he insisted the band change up their sound for their 1996 album Down on the Upside. The band used a considerable amount of acoustic sounds, and generally went away from the heavy metal thunder they were producing earlier in their career. And then their was Cornell’s most recent album. Scream, his take on metal produced by Timbaland, was quite honestly  the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to.

Seriously, its really bad.

Luckily, things are quite different on Animal King. Cornell takes a minimalists amount of control over what the rest of the band attempts to do, and the result is the heaviest album Chris Cornell has been a part of in years. The singer is in rare form, belting out heavy sounding jams the way he did when Kurt Cobain was still alive. On “Taree”, Cornell provides his best vocal performance in years, sounding amazing, yet still providing plenty of room for the heavy riff. Which brings me to the best part of Animal King. These are some of the heaviest songs I’ve ever heard all year. In the middle of the album, there is a three song collection that could out-heavy any other album this year. “Blood on the Valley Floor”, “Bones of Birds”, and “Taree”, all are some of the hardest rocking songs the band has ever recorded, period. “Blood on the Valley Floor” especially, has one of the best riffs in a Soundgarden song ever.

Old dude + Fedora = Badass

King Animal is essentially a reboot of the Soundgarden legacy. Its the band’s best album since Superunknown, and is one of the best albums in the year in my opinion. King Animal is heavy, bad-ass, but most importantly, fun. You can tell on songs like “Halfway There” and “On Crooked Steps” that this is the most fun the band has had in years, and it makes for a very awesome listen. The album is grunge without the depression, and in the end its one of the best albums to come out from a grunge band in a while.

Skyfall

 

 

Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, begins with one of the most action-packed, violent, and bad ass opening sequences in the series’ long history. Yet when I left the theater after watching the two and a half hour long epic, my first thoughts were not, “Wow, that was one of the most action-packed and violent movies I’ve ever watched.” Instead, Skyfall stuck with me for a completely different reason than all of the other Bond movies before it. While Goldfinger and Dr. No are great because of the amazing action sequences and the sheer awesomness that drips out of Sean Connery, Daniel Craig’s James Bond is amazing because he shows emotion. And while this by no means that James Bond suddenly becomes a soap opera, it does make the character much more interesting.

Not to worry, Bond is still quite bad ass.

Let’s be honest here for a second. Quantum of Solace was a bad movie. Its plot was baffling, its Bond girl was horrible, and there was no real Bond villain. Skyfall fixes all of those problems. Bond has let a hard drive detailing all of the British double agents around the world slip into the hands of a terrorist cell. The head of the terrorist cell, Silva (played by Javier Bardem), is an ex-double zero agent, who wants revenge on both M (played by Judi Dench) and Bond. The plot makes much more sense than Quantum of Solace’s, and delves into the relationship between Bond and M. Bond’s loyalty to M is put to the test, and audiences are meant to question just how far Bond should go to save M. The plot in Skyfall is not a means to move the action along, something Bond movies have been notorious for, but rather improves the movie in every way. This is one of the best stories the Bond films have had in years.

 

When it comes to the supporting cast, Skyfall pulls out all the stops. Naomie Harris plays a young agent training under 007, and her chemistry with Craig is palpable. Her name remains secret for most of the movie, but when it comes by the end, y0ur mind will be blown. Ralph Fiennes is great as Gareth Mallory, an overseer of the MI6 operation. He too also gets a suprising new role by the end of the movie. Javier Bardem’s Silva is without a doubt one of, if not the best, Bond villains in any of the films. Silva was betrayed by M., and as a result, vowed that he would get revenge against her. This Bond villain is great because he is not a flat, evil for evils sake character. Instead, Silva plays  a possible future version of James Bond himself. When Bond looks at Silva, he sees the possibility of what he could become. And in a way, that is far more dangerous than Goldfinger or Oddjob.

Skyfall is without a doubt one of the best James Bond movies ever made. Is it better than Casino Royale, the film that proved Daniel Craig is the best James Bond since Connery? I say yes. Craig is the man who changed what we think of James Bond. Craig’s James Bond has emotion, while still managing to be a killing machine of badassery. That’s what sets Skyfall apart from say, Dr. No. James Bond can kill a person by having him devoured by a Komodo Dragon, and then turn around and cry a few scenes later. Skyfall is the single best action movie of the year so far, and deserves some Oscar nods. Seriously, its that good.