The 2015 Academy Awards

My wife and I tried to see all the Best Picture nominees before this year’s Oscars. Considering I had only seen The Grand Budapest Hotel before 2015 started, it’s an accomplishment that we got through as many as we did. Still, I haven’t seen Birdman or Whiplash. So, at the most basic level, I’m a failure.

The big story this year with the Oscars is the lack of white nominees. Wait, no, that can’t be right. Oh, scratch that- um, I’m hearing we’re not supposed to talk about race. Okay. Okay, let’s, uh…hm. What to talk about instead. Huh.

Welp.

*denotes a movie I haven’t seen

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Best Picture

Nominees: American Sniper
Birdman
*
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash
*

Will Win: Boyhood. The pundits would have you believe this is a two movie race between Boyhood and Birdman. Don’t let me convince you otherwise or anything, but I can see two other possible scenarios. American Sniper has been such a huge hit, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a swell of support for it success result in wins in all the categories in which it’s nominated. Unlikely, but it wouldn’t be surprising. The other potential scenario is that Selma‘s lack of nominations drummed up supporters in the Academy so that even the members that didn’t love it end up voting for it anyway as a statement, sort of like what happened to Argo a couple of years ago when Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Directing nomination. HotelImitation GameTheory, and Whiplash are virtual locks to lose. But Birdman seems to be well-loved in the industry, which makes sense given the movie’s storyline about a former star who’s trying to make real art, not to mention its stylistic embellishments. But Boyhood is going to win. It’s heartwarming on top of being a unique feat of filmmaking. It’s the kind of accomplishment that the Academy won’t be able to resist rewarding.

Should Have Been Nominated: Dawn of the Planet of the ApesDawn had literally no chance of being nominated. But at the end of 2014, before I saw Selma or Boyhood, it was my favorite movie of the year. Dawn had the kind of storytelling usually found only in high drama. The characters, the allegories, the production design- they were all so rich. The Oscars would have been so lucky to have included a movie so good.

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Best Directing

Nominees: Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu*
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum

Will Win: Richard Linklater. Again, this is a two-man race between Linklater and Iñárritu, though you can make a case for the whimsical artistry of Wes Anderson. Since I haven’t seen Birdman, I can’t make a case against Iñárritu, per se. But what Linklater did has never been done and will probably never be done again. Not only did he commit to telling a story over twelve years, but he made the transitions seamless as if we were truly seeing a life pass before our lives.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ava DuVernay, Selma. If Selma had been made by a white man, he would have been nominated. No question, no conversation to be had about it. This is fact, and it’s so frustrating, and even more unsurprising.

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Best Actor

Nominees: Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman*
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Will Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman. Redmayne is good enough to convince you that the Academy could give it to him, since he has to maintain that spark of humanity while contorting his body to match Stephen Hawking’s disability.  And Cooper has dark horse potential following Sniper‘s success. But the industry isn’t going to miss its chance to honor Keaton both for his career and for, by all accounts, a great performance.

Should Have Been Nominated: David Oyelowo, Selma. The Selma snubs run deep and wide. Oyelowo doesn’t look like Martin Luther King, Jr., but you forget that during Selma. It’s important in biopics to make the audience forget they’re watching a reenactment. Oyelowo reaches a point in Selma that none of the nominated actors come close to reaching- transcendant embodiment. I know those are lofty words I’ve chosen, and I don’t care.

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Best Actress

Nominees: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night*
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice*
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild*

Will Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice. I haven’t seen this one yet, but no one is expecting anything different. It was nice of the rest of the actresses to play, but Julianne would like her prize now. You all can go home.

Should Have Been Nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin. Johansson has yet to be nominated, even though she has a more interesting career than half of this list (though, to be fair, we could easily credit that to the lack of good roles for women rather than their own choices). In Under the Skin, Johansson plays what we’re supposed to think is an alien, I guess, seducing men to come back to her house so she can…consume them? I don’t know, but she’s fascinating in the role as she goes from an unfeeling puppet, pretending to relate to human beings, to a being that feels like a person does, surprising herself. Few actresses could pull off either of those settings, let alone both.

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Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Robert Duvall, The Judge*
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman*
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash*

Will Win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash. His ferocity in this role has carried him to almost every other possible award, it’d be a shame not to fill the whole mantle.

Should Have Been Nominated: Zac Efron, Neighbors. By the time Efron is respected enough to be nominated by the Academy, he’ll be dead and the Oscars will be broadcasting straight into our brains. But for my money, there wasn’t a better comedic performance in a movie this year.

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Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild*
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman*
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Will Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood. We can’t write about Arquette’s performance in Boyhood without saying something about how brave she was to let them film her body aging and changing, so don’t mind me while I make a fart noise in your general direction. No one, of course, is making the same claims about Ethan Hawke. It’s no use protesting, though- in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

Should Have Been Nominated: Carmen Ejogo, Selma. ANOTHER SELMA SNUB IT’S A CONSPIRACY CALL THE FEDS. I swear, if Coretta King had just been white, damnit, Ejogo would have been nominated.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice*
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash*

Will Win: Whiplash. A lot of experts have The Imitation Game winning here, but I refuse to allow for the possibility that Imitation will win any awards. Whiplash is unique enough to stand out from the rest of the pack, so it gets the (slightly unconfident) nod here over anything else.

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl. I don’t understand how they overlooked Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own book from a pop culture phenomenon in one medium to a pop culture phenomenon in another medium. I would have gone with Guardians of the Galaxy, but I wasn’t sure it qualified. Besides, Gone Girl is such a better choice than Imitation and Theory, it’s worth spending the plug on a movie I don’t like quite as much as Guardians.

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Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Birdman*
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler*

Will Win: Birdman. Since they’re all going to vote for Boyhood in Best Picture and Directing, they’ll throw Birdman a bone here. Again, I haven’t seen Birdman, but I would have gone with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Should Have Been Nominated: Love Is StrangeLove received enough attention for its acting that I don’t think it was out of the realm of possibility that it could have received a nomination for something. The movie proves ultimately very insightful about how relationships change with time and within different contexts. It deserved something.

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Best Cinematography

Nominees: Birdman*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
*
Unbroken*

Will Win: Birdman. You can tell just from the trailer that Birdman is visually stunning. But man, what I wouldn’t give to see Ida win this.

Should Have Been Nominated: Interstellar. Frozen out of all the main categories, this seemed like the one place Interstellar could sneak in. It is one of the more beautiful movies of the year, and a nomination for Cinematography would have been an award for the movie’s sumptuous visuals en toto.

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Best Animated Feature

Nominees: Big Hero 6*
The Boxtrolls*
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea*
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya*

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2. This one kind of comes down to whichever was the most popular in general; Dragon is for sure the most widely seen. But Guardians of the Galaxy uses a lot of effects, so it’s basically animated, let’s nominated that one.

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Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: CitizenFour*
Finding Vivian Maier*
Last Days in Vietnam*
The Salt of the Earth*
Virunga

Will Win: CitizenFourVirunga, the first Netflix film to be nominated for an Oscar, has come on strong since its nomination, but Laura Poitras’s document of Edward Snowden’s “file sharing” is historic.

Should Have Been Nominated: Did they make documentaries last year? I didn’t see any. But Guardians of the Galaxy uses some cinema veritas techniques, I hear, let’s nominate that one.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia*
Tangerines, Estonia*
Timbuktu, Mauritania*
Wild Tales, Argentina*

Will Win: Ida. This category is up in the air, but Ida has been out longer and has gotten more attention. Plus, it’s a masterpiece.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ida was the only foreign-language movie I saw from last year. But Guardians of the Galaxy had some different languages in it I think, let’s nominated that one.

Smearing the Smears

It’s Oscar season, so naturally that means all the smear campaigns are in full swing. Some of the smear campaigns are at their peak, some have run their course, and some are just now beginning. If you’re unfamiliar with this aspect of the Academy Awards, here’s a primer: human beings are terrible, but studios are worse, so they actively campaign against other movies competing for Oscars, usually pretty transparently. This happens to be a year in which I don’t agree with a single negative campaign, so I’m going to run my own smear campaigns against all the smear campaigns. I cordially invite you to join me on the campaign trail.

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First up, the toughest stop: American Sniper

The smear: Sniper’s critics have complained that the movie doesn’t address the accusations of slander made against Chris Kyle’s book, in which he makes claims that were ruled false in court (none of the disputed claims involved the war- they instead involved Jesse Ventura); and they have complained that it’s jingoistic, right-wing propaganda for the war in Iraq.

Smearing the smear: I tend not to read much about movies I know I want to see, so I knew none of this when I saw the movie. Maybe this gave my first impression a boost, but regardless, I thought Clint Eastwood’s Sniper was a thoughtful exploration of a specific kind of person. While Kyle makes a lot of bold claims within the movie about why he decided to enlist, the plainly shot movie treats his patriotism objectively and never seems to take a stance on America’s place in the war. Sniper does treat Kyle like an American hero, which I suppose is arguable, though it’s inarguable that he saved many American soldiers’ lives. If you know anything at all about the way Eastwood directs (he shoots rehearsals, doesn’t do many takes, and is generally about efficiency in storytelling), then you can see how he may not have thought much about this story being a political firestorm or about including anything involving Jesse Ventura. Instead, he seems to have told a simple, effective story about an elite American soldier’s struggles both in the war and as a veteran here at home.

You may have also heard about the robot baby. Again, I didn’t know about it before the movie. Therefore, I didn’t even noticed how fake it looks- and it does look fake. Why didn’t they use a real baby? I don’t know. But who cares?

FOXCATCHER

Next stop on the trail: Foxcatcher

The smear: One of the movie’s subjects, Mark Schultz, after supporting the film at first, went on social media to decry the implied homosexual relationship between him and his benefactor, John Du Pont, as “sickening” and “a lie”; he also called, Bennett Miller, the director, a “punk”, “pussy”, and “liar”.

Smearing the smear (spoilers ahead): I can only imagine how hard it must be to watch a movie about your brother’s murder, so we’ll give Schultz some grace here. It would be hard to argue that Miller didn’t construct a specific scene to imply a homosexual relationship between Schultz and Du Pont (’cause he definitely did), and I’m not actually sure about the ethics of that decision. Is it okay to make assumptions about someone’s biography within a movie presented as an adaptation of a true story? I don’t know. I do know that Foxcatcher is an eerily effective look at psychosis and male relationships with three astounding performances. I’m sure I’d be pissed if I was Mark Schultz, since the movie depicts him falling apart at the seams; but I’m not Mark Schultz, so the best I can do is give an honest evaluation of the movie, and it gets full marks from me.

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The easiest stop: The Theory of Everything

The smear: The movie presents a soft, romantic version of Stephen Hawking’s life without really devoting any time to explaining his theories, which are the real contribution he’s made to this world.

Smearing the smear: The Theory of Everything doesn’t do much with Hawking’s theories, but that’s fine. Director James Marsh and the filmmakers made the conscious decision to focus on his condition (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his relationship with his first wife. I understand the argument that they perhaps made too many easy parallels between his studies of time and the idea that he thought he didn’t have much time left, but I think the artistry of the rest of the movie movie lends that decision legitimacy. By choosing to focus mainly on Hawking’s debilitating disease and his first marriage, the filmmakers were able to highlight two wonderful performances more fully (Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane) and to present fascinating moral tensions between the two of them as they navigate their differences in faith, their efforts to maintain a relationship in the face of overwhelming odds, and the eventual, sensible dissolution of their marriage.

SELMA

The stop most likely to derail this campaign: Selma

The smear: Multiple people have bashed Selma for portraying LBJ as a villain rather than MLK’s accomplice (or even the man who had the idea to march in Selma in the first place).

Smearing the smear: Moving past the fact that these critics have made a movie about MLK into a movie about LBJ, the thing that everyone is overlooking about Selma’s depiction of LBJ is that the worst thing about it is the performance itself. Tom Wilkinson is generally a very good actor, but he’s horribly miscast as Johnson; he’s literally the worst part of the movie. A better performance arguably would have served the screenplay better, and we could have avoided all this chaos.

Beyond the bad performance, I think the only way you come out of Selma seeing LBJ as the villain is if you only watch the parts of the movie with LBJ in them and completely disregard the rest of the movie, which clearly presents other people (some of them black) as bigger obstacles than LBJ. If you’re so worried about a former president’s reputation being sullied, take comfort in the fact that our public school education includes quite a bit on LBJ and will paint its own picture of him while virtually ignoring the march in Selma.

Here were my initial thoughts on Selma.

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The final stop: Boyhood

The smear: Some have accused Boyhood of racism on the same level as The Birth of a Nation, widely recognized as the first feature film (it was released in 1915), which depicts the KU KLUX KLAN AS AMERICA’S SAVIORS.

Smearing the smear: Blahhhhhdsfoscxmlvclmvlmflmw *throws computer, rips out hair, kicks couch, smashes window*

Look, the fact that there are only a couple Latino characters in the movie (and the fact that they’re construction workers) could be problematic, and we don’t need to let Richard Linklater, the director, off the hook for it. But can we please avoid comparisons to the most racist film of all time? I’ll be among the first to remind everyone that racism is still a major (MAJOR) problem and it sucks and it’s everywhere and I hate it, but can we at least all admit that we’ve come far enough that our movies aren’t as racist as a movie that shows lynching as a viable solution to America’s problems?

Song of the Hour: “You Are Luhh” by Frank Ocean

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Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the influence that Aaliyah had on R&B music. Popular R&B has taken a few detours since her death, but I can’t imagine a world with Beyoncé if Aaliyah hadn’t made her music. On the week of what would have been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday, Frank Ocean posted this cover of Aaliyah’s “At Your Best (You Are Love)” (itself a cover of an old Isley Brothers song). Ocean may be having the same level of influence on R&B now that Aaliyah did in the ’90s, even if it’s harder to see since music is so thinly spread out these days. Aaliyah’s version from 1994 is iconic (she was 15!), but Ocean’s voice is so honey-smooth and far-reaching, his tribute to her may have eclipsed her version entirely.

January 2015’s Notable Music

Hits

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Belle and Sebastian, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance: If you know what to expect from Belle and Sebastian- twee, peppy instrumentals combined with dark, dreamy lyrics- then, by and large, you know what to expect from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. What sets Girls in Peacetime apart from B&S’s past work is a greater appreciation for synths and what they can do for Stuart Murdoch’s twisted stories. Bandleader Murdoch has characterized Girls as his most personal record yet, and it’s easy to hear why. The synths add a depth and a weight to the songs that their most recent records have lacked. Favorite song: “The Party Line”

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Dawn Richard, Blackheart: Dawn Richard’s Goldenheart was one of my favorite albums of 2013, as well as one of the most ignored. You’d think one year after channel ORANGE that the culture would have had more of an appreciation for alternative R&B, but almost no one was listening. Then Danity Kane reunited last year, released a terrible album, and broke up again in the midst of rumors of a physical fight between Richard and another member of the group. Richard’s back with Blackheart, and she’s pissed. Blackheart leans on EDM stylings more than Goldenheart, which may sound like selling out, but the glitchy, wall-to-wall production fits her anger. Goldenheart was a more melodic record, but Blackheart gets under your skin. Favorite song: “Phoenix (feat. Aundrea Fimbres)”

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Rae Sremmurd, Sremmlife: Remember when rap was simple, and it was just verses with a hook, and we didn’t have all these rappers trying to sing and using AutoTune? Didn’t those days suck? Maybe you prefer your rappers rapping, but I prefer them doing as much with their voice as possible to express themselves well. Rae Sremmurd are a rap group, and they spend a lot of their debut, Sremmlife, speak-singing. There’s rapping, too, of course, but nothing too technically impressive. What’s impressive instead is the vast range of what these two brothers do with their voices. From low croons to high squeals, RS give every song their all. Their shtick gets a little old after listening to 11 songs worth, but pull any one song off this album and you’ll find a hit every bit as strong as my favorite, “No Flex Zone”.

Misses

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Panda Bear, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper: Panda Bear has always exuded a sort of calculated beauty; Noah Lennox’s songs are pleasant, but he shows his work. In the past, his music has been peaceful enough to transcend whatever 0s and 1s were involved, but Grim Reaper finds Lennox exploring more complicated themes, and the tension between his style and his subject matter creates a wall that I couldn’t get past. He gave off vibes in recent interviews that he might be looking to retire the Panda Bear name, and Grim Reaper sadly seems like just the time to do it.

Under the Radar

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The Sidekicks, Runners in the Nerved World: Emo holds a special place in my heart. One of the first bands I discovered when I began listening to music was My Chemical Romance, who are well-known for The Black Parade, but who were even more super-emo before that record, which is a more straight-up rock opera. The Sidekicks sound nothing like MCR, but they have a similarly emo sensibility, especially in their pained vocals. The music, however, adopts a more jangly, indie-pop vibe, making Runners in the Nerved World like Jimmy Eat World meets Band of Horses. Favorite song: “Deer”

Off the Grid

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Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Here’s the thing: I’ve never heard a Sleater-Kinney record before. I’m not really ashamed to admit this, since their entire career took place before I started listening to music, but it does make it hard to participate in the excitement over their reunion. No Cities to Love has an appealing rock groove running through its center, but every song sounds about the same to me. I’ll bet if I went back and listened to their old albums, I’d have the proper context for this one. But right now, there’s no way I can decide if this is a hit or a miss.

If I Ran the Grammys 2015

Last year, I ran the first of what will hopefully be an annual feature about what the Grammy Awards would look like if I ran them. All systems are broken, but this year it’s more evident than ever that the Grammy system is a knot with no chance of being untangled anytime soon. We know this, because there’s only one worthy Album of the Year candidate (last year saw at least three- okay, at most three), and because there’s a legitimate chance Sam Smith might sweep the four major awards. This would be awful. I’m holding out hope that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has come to their senses, so you’ll see below that I’ve bet against him in every category. Seriously, Academy- for the sake of all our brains overloaded with thinkpieces about race, do not give Sam Smith all the awards. Please.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated with my choice for the best in the group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2013-September 30th, 2014 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. So no 1989, but Reflektor (from 2013, but released after October 1st, 2013) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. The War on Drugs made my favorite album in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. Lana Del Rey’s album isn’t even my favorite pop album of the year, but it’s the likeliest of that group to be nominated for Album of the Year. You get the idea. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, bands like Slow Club, Twin Peaks, and Kye Kye getting nods over more popular bands in their respective categories..

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Beyoncé could really fit into pop or R&B, Arcade Fire could fit into rock or alternative, Drive-By Truckers could be rock or Americana, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Lecrae belongs in the rap or Christian category, sorry.

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Album of the Year

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
X, Ed Sheeran
In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith
Girl, Pharrell Williams

My nominees: Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Platinum, Miranda Lambert

grammys2If anyone but Beyoncé wins, the Grammys will have returned to their stupid ways. Daft Punk last year was fine; even if you liked Kendrick Lamar’s album better, it was hard to argue against Random Access Memories as a quality choice. But there is nothing else in this category that even comes close to being a worthy Album of the Year. And that’s not for lack of quality albums either! Why not Arcade Fire’s bold Reflektor, or The Black Keys’ solid Turn Blue, or Lana Del Rey’s legitimately and surprisingly great Ultraviolence? Are we really convince that Beck’s Morning Phase was anything but a rehash of Sea Change? And the other three nominees seem like votes for mediocrity and the status quo rather than quality. It’s a shame Miranda Lambert, who is a bona fide star, couldn’t get some love over Ed Sheeran, of all people. There’s only one right choice here, and the Academy better make it, or the Internet’s shit is gonna hit the fan.

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Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Fancy (feat. Charli XCX)”, Iggy Azalea
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Problem (feat. Iggy Azalea)”, Ariana Grande
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“Boom Clap”, Charli XCX
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

IGGY AZALEA, ARIANA GRANDE“Fancy” is nice and all that, but everything Iggy in that song gets on my nerves. Regardless of how I feel, though, it was the biggest song of the year, and the Grammys will likely reward it for its success (though I prefer Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap”). For everything I said about Sam Smith, “Stay with Me” is actually a really great song. Still, if I had to choose, I’d choose the remaining three. And where is “Problem”? There was a point over last summer where we didn’t know whether “Fancy” or “Problem” was the song of the summer, and just because “Fancy” won doesn’t make it the better song. I would’ve liked to have seen some love for “Drunk in Love” too, but “Problem” was the coolest record of the year.

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Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Take Me to Church”, Hozier
“All About That Bass”, Meghan Trainor
“Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”, Sam Smith
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

My nominees: “Afterlife”, Arcade Fire
“Drunk in Love (feat. Jay Z)”, Beyoncé
“West Coast”, Lana Del Rey
“Chandelier”, Sia
“Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift

grammys6Song of the Year is a songwriting award, and there wasn’t a better-written song this year than “Chandelier”. I’m not a fan of “Take Me to Church” at all, so I’ll gladly replace it with Arcade Fire’s best song of Reflektor. As much as I love “All About That Bass”, “Drunk in Love” beats it out by a mile. And “Stay with Me” isn’t a well-written song at all (especially considering the Tom Petty controversy); its charm is in its performance. I’d rather include one of the most interesting songs of the year, Lana Del Rey’s “West Coast”.

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Best New Artist

Real nominees: Bastille
Brandy Clark
Haim
Iggy Azalea
Sam Smith

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer
Charli XCX
Meghan Trainor
Sky Ferreira
Sturgill Simpson

grammys8If I’m honest with myself, Sam Smith is probably going to win this award. In an ideal world, either Brandy Clark or especially Haim would get it. But if any award is Sam Smith’s to lose, it’s this one. Even if the Academy realizes in the other categories that Smith isn’t the most deserving, it would be hard for them to ignore him in this one. But I’m kind of leaning toward a full-on Sam Smith fatigue having set in for the industry, so I’ll bet on Azalea’s monster year to push her into the lead. As far as my Grammys go, where are 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX, and Meghan Trainor? Any of them would be better than Bastille, for goodness’ sake. I’d pick Charli XCX over Iggy Azalea even, since “Fancy” is largely successful because of its hook and not because of Iggy’s verses. And, just to make myself happy, I included two stars in the underground, the pop savant Sky Ferreira and the country up-and-comer Sturgill Simpson.

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Best Pop Album

Real nominees (Pop Vocal Album): My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ghost Stories, Coldplay
X, Ed Sheeran
Prism, Katy Perry
Bangerz, Miley Cyrus

My nominees: 5 Seconds of Summer, 5 Seconds of Summer
My Everything, Ariana Grande
Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey
Midnight Memories, One Direction
Night Time, My Time, Sky Ferreira

grammys10I promise I don’t have anything against Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith. I just find them bland. That said, Sheeran has the inside track on this category, since he obviously had enough support to secure an Album of the Year nominee. The best album actually nominated, though, is My Everything. The best pop album not nominated was Sky Ferreira’s brilliant Night Time, My TimeUltraviolence got my vote for one of the more realistic Albums of the Year, so she’s obviously in here as well, taking Coldplay’s more alternative pop slot. And I’d replace Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus with a couple of other hit generators who were more on target: One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer.

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Best Rock Album

Real nominees: Morning Phase, Beck
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
Ryan Adams
, Ryan Adams
Hypnotic Eye, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Songs of Innocence, U2

My nominees: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
English Oceans, Drive-By Truckers
Wild Onion, Twin Peaks

grammys12Why do people think Beck is good? He hasn’t made an authentic album since Sea Change. Every album since then has been an effort to appease rather than challenge. That wouldn’t be a problem if the attempts were interesting, but he’s always boring. I’d choose any other album on that list over his. But on my personal list, I’d shoehorn Arcade Fire in on this ballot rather than the alternative genre, and give some love to some of the more underrated artists of the year: Against Me!’s brash punk, Drive-By Truckers rootsy epic, and Twin Peak’s blast of indie rock.

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Best Alternative Album

Real nominees (Alternative Music Album): This Is All Yours, alt-J
Reflektor, Arcade Fire
Melophobia, Cage the Elephant
Lazaretto, Jack White
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

My nominees: Electric Ursa, Joan Shelley
Fantasize, Kye Kye
Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts
Are We There, Sharon Van Etten
Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs

grammys14St. Vincent has the edge, since she was the critical darling of the last year on this list. I love Reflektor, but it belongs in the rock category, as does Lazaretto. In what world is Jack White not considered rock? I don’t care about alt-J or Cage the Elephant- they belong in the bland category with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. I’m surprised The War on Drugs didn’t make it onto the Grammy’s list, since they received just as much if not more critical attention than St. Vincent. The same goes for Parquet Courts, thought they surely couldn’t care less. I enjoyed the albums by Sharon Van Etten, Joan Shelley, and Kye Kye far more than I liked St. Vincent’s. But that’s just my personal taste.

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Best R&B Album

Real nominees: Lift Your Spirit, Aloe Blacc
Islander, Bernhoft
Black Radio 2, Robert Glasper Experiment
Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Love, Marriage & Divorce, Toni Braxton & Babyface

My nominees: Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Cupid Deluxe, Blood Orange
Food, Kelis
There’s a Light, Liz Vice
Complete Surrender, Slow Club

grammys16Aloe Blacc is probably the only one the Academy has actually heard of on their own list. For my list, this is the category Beyoncé belongs in. She would fit just as well into pop music, but Beyoncé is way more D’Angelo than Katy Perry. Kelis also deserves some love for her sexy album, Food, but it went by this summer without anyone really noticing. Blood Orange and Slow Club received a little more attention in the indie world. And Liz Vice is the outlier of the group, a little-known Christian artist who has nailed how to pull worship R&B off.

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Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Because the Internet, Childish Gambino
Nobody’s Smiling, Common
The Marshall Mathers LP2, Eminem
The New Classic, Iggy Azalea
Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q

My nominees: Instruments of Mercy, Beautiful Eulogy
Old, Danny Brown
Anomaly, Lecrae
Crimson Cord, Propaganda
Sinema, Swoope

grammys18I don’t like Iggy’s style at all, but there’s no doubting she has all the momentum here, especially in such a down year for mainstream rap. I wish Danny Brown would get some love, but he’s the lone winner in a year full of rap losers. That wasn’t the case in the Christian rap scene though, with Beautiful Eulogy, Lecrae, and Swoope all releasing stellar versions of the genre. None was better than Prop though; he’d never win it in real life, but since I’m running things, Prop’s Crimson Cord would get the love it deserves.

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Best Christian Album

Real nominees (Contemporary Christian Music): Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong., for KING & COUNTRY
If We’re Honest
, Francesca Battistelli
Welcome to the New, MercyMe
Hurricane, Natalie Grant
Royal Tailor, Royal Tailor

My nominees: Devotion, Anberlin
Neon Steeple, Crowder
As Sure as the Sun, Ellie Holcomb
Borderland, John Mark McMillan
Rivers in the Wasteland, NEEDTOBREATHE

grammys20“Christian” is hardly a genre, but it’s a useful denomination for music that doesn’t really belong anywhere else. You could make the argument that Anberlin, Crowder, and NEEDTOBREATHE all make rock music, but they’re undeniably pigeonholed into the Christian category. Nothing on the Grammy list belongs in the conversation, though Francesca Battistelli probably has the most industry pull. I’d rather listen to Ellie Holcomb’s full-length debut any day. And the most overlooked of all will always be John Mark McMillan, always on the outskirts of even the Christian mainstream, forever going to be ignored by the Academy. He gets my vote though.

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Best Americana Album

Real nominees: Terms of My Surrender, John Hiatt
Bluesamericana, Keb’ Mo’
A Dotted Line, Nickel Creek
The River & the Thread, Roseanne Cash
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

My nominees: Stay Gold, First Aid Kit
Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger
Small Town Heroes, Hurray for the Riff Raff
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson

grammys22Sturgill Simpson’s album was a wonderful breath of fresh air in the country genre. There are plenty of artists like him out there, injecting a stale genre with modern ideas, but he’s received the most attention for it, and deservedly so. But Roseanne Cash is the daughter of Johnny Cash, so she’s going to win. One of those other artists like Simpson is Hurray for the Riff Raff, and her Small Town Heroes was maybe the second most acclaimed album of its kind behind Metamodern Sounds. Hiss Golden Messenger and First Aid Kit both released my favorite folk albums of the past year, but the award should really go to Miranda Lambert. She’s nominated in the Best Country genre, and she’s the best example of mainstream country in years. Literally years. She may lose her real Grammy to Eric Church (another for the bland pile), but she would win my Grammy.

I’m aware I didn’t include all the nominees for these categories. I blame the layout of the Grammys’ website.

Quick Take: Ida (2014)

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Many people are going to watch all eight Best Picture movies. Some will watch half. Very few will watch Ida, and that’s sad to me. There are more important things in life than movies, for sure, but the most important movies are the ones that force you to contemplate the other important things in life. Ida follows a young woman named Anna who was raised in a convent. She’s about to take her vows when the mother superior forces her to meet a long-lost aunt, who exposes her to long-held family secrets. Those secrets shake her at her foundation, but the actress portraying Anna, Agata Trzebuchowska, needs only a glance, a sigh, a look away, to convey how completely her life is changing. The magic of Ida is that her strength isn’t in how she responds to her life changing but in the power the calling has over her even as her life is changing.

Quicker take: Somber, sobering, and magical- all in black and white!

Top Five (2014)

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I must admit I’ve never seen Chris Rock’s standup. I would claim ignorance, having grown up in a culture that was very white as well as sheltered from all things raunchy. I didn’t even know what standup comedy was until college. This isn’t a blemish on how I was raised, merely a statement of fact. That said, it is a shame that my only exposure to Chris Rock before Top Five was him hosting the Oscars in 2005. While he showed spurts of his furious humor, it was a mostly lackluster performance and not really his scene anyway.

I shouldn’t say the 2005 Oscars were my only experience with Chris Rock; I saw Head of State when I was in 8th grade. But if you’ve seen Head of State, you know why I would only mention the Oscars. This makes Top Five the de facto best Chris Rock movie. I don’t mean that to be faint praise at all though. Top Five is a legitimately wonderful movie, full of delightful conversations and winning romance. Chris Rock has said himself that his taste veers toward the “arty”, and you can tell. Sometimes Top Five meanders with the grace of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, and other times it jump cuts through a scene with the precision of Woody Allen’s best.

Chris Rock’s character, Andre Allen, can only be a fictional version of himself. He’s a world-famous comedian trying to turn his career around after a string of embarrassing movies. On the eve of his newest attempt at legitimacy, a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) spends the day and night with him for a piece. There are some wonky plot twists involving Dawson’s character that hardly belong in this movie, as well as some unnecessarily raunchy flashbacks that mess with the movie’s overall tone. Even with these missteps, Top Five manages to hold its head above water as one of the best comedies of the year, and a rousing success for Rock, Dawson, and everyone involved.

Trailer of the Hour: Fantastic Four (or, Why Are There Black People in My Movies?)

Somewhere deep in the Internet, a troll found the Fantastic Four trailer. These are his thoughts…

Oh, look, there’s a trailer for the new Fantastic Four movie. Let’s watch.

Fascinating. If there’s anything the genre of superhero movies needs after Christopher Nolan, it’s more grit. I’m all in on this darkness. I’m also all in on all these actors: Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B.-

Hold up. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm? That can’t be right. Let me check again.

Yep, that’s Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. Michael B. Jordan as the white Johnny Storm. The very black Michael B. Jordan as the very white Johnny Storm. The dark-haired, dark-eyed, all-African-American Michael B. Jordan as the blonde, blue-eyed, all-American Johnny Storm.

This can’t be right. This is a travesty of the highest order (THE HIGHEST ORDER), and it can’t stand. Our country’s heroes would never stand for this. George Washington would never stand for this. Thomas Jefferson would never stand for this. Jack Bauer would never stand for this. Spider-Man would never stand for this. Spider-Man might stand for half black, but Michael B. Jordan black is one half black too far.

Look, I’m not racist or anything, but do we have to make everything black now? Haven’t we given y’all enough? Isn’t it enough that the president is black?

We even gave Selma a couple Oscar nominations. It may have deserved more, but we did let 12 Years a Slave win last year. And Selma is nominated for the ultra-competitive Best Song award. When is enough enough?

What if we made Martin Luther King white in the next MLK movie? How would y’all feel then?*

All I ask for is a little fairness, a little justice, a little equality. Is that too much to ask?

*This is a real thing that people I know have said. America!

P.S. Please don’t comment on this calling me a racist. It’s satire. It may be poor satire, but it’s satire.

The Imitation Game (2014)

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Did you know homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967? Did you know that thousands of men and women were arrested for and convicted of homosexuality as a crime before that date? I didn’t until the end of The Imitation Game, a movie about Alan Turing, a man who not only helped invent one of the first computers in order to break a super-complicated Nazi code but was also gay. When The Imitation Game ended, the placard stating the aforementioned facts about homosexuality appeared before the credits rolled, and I thought to myself, “I want to watch a movie about that.”

To be clear, The Imitation Game is a very interesting movie. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing as a pseudo-autistic genius, completely antisocial until he meets the only female member, Joan (Keira Knightley), of the team trying to crack the code. Joan is his only true intellectual equal on the team, and their relationship forms the crux of the movie. The rest of the cast is filled out by talented performers like Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance, who all add to an effective drama that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war and the terrible decisions that have to be made in the midst of one.

But Alan Turing is gay, and the movie barely knows it. Imitation Game instead focuses on the drama surrounding the creation of the code-breaking computer, which is all well and good, except you don’t really learn how they made the computer at all. It’s sort of glossed over with some flashy camerawork, and Turing’s homosexuality is glossed over with some cheap psychoanalysis involving his one childhood friend. Cumberbatch and Knightley are both riveting, and they go a long way to make Imitation Game riveting in turn. But when the placard at the end of your movie is more interesting than your movie, why did you make the movie?

Song of the Hour: “Phoenix (feat. Aundrea Fimbres)” by Dawn Richard

There are plenty of diva songs out there in the world right now, but this is the one that I have on repeat. It has all the subtlety of “Let It Go” and the openness of “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, but Menzel and Gomez are old news. Like those stars, Richard puts everything into her vocals, heart and all. Unlike them, she fully embraces pop’s current EDM climate from start to finish. As a result, “Phoenix” would sound right at home on the radio while sounding nothing like its peers.