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Best of 2019: Movies February 9, 2020

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Photo credit: flickr user Hans Splinter

Another pretty mediocre movie year, based on my Rotten Tomatoes reviews of what I saw on the big screen. I’m a pretty tough grader, but am open to arty films for grownups as well as blockbusters. I gave a rare 4 (out of 5) star review to The Irishman, but the only 3.5 star picture was Uncut Gems. I saw a dozen worth 3 stars and 18 at 2.5.

I got a fair-to-middling 17 of 24 Oscar picks right, and lost the Card family pool to my brother-in-law again. I was predicting “chalk” i.e., 1917 big wins, and it didn’t even sweep the technical awards. Parasite was a better movie, so there was that. Greta Gerwig and Scorsese were robbed. Hollywood hates Netflix more than it hates foreign films, I guess.

Two of the best movies I saw in the cinema last year were black and white re-releases from the ’60s: Battle of Algiers (1966) is horrifyingly prescient and frighteningly relevant, and High and Low (1963) united two of my favorite artists – Kurosawa and Ed McBain – for the ultimate class-conscious Shakespearean police procedural. There’s a reason I live in New York.

According to Box Office Mojo, the U.S. box office was down a little (less than 5%) versus 2018. A similar mix of superheroes, cartoons or live re-makes of cartoons, Star Wars, and one horror movie made up the top ten. The final Avengers movie was huge, with over $850 million in domestic ticket sales but Marvel/Disney only had one other superhero in the top 10 if you don’t count Sony’s Spider-Man movie. Nonetheless, Disney dominated again, even without adding its Fox acquisition. Netflix doesn’t talk, so Mojo doesn’t know what movies like The Irishman and Marriage Story did in their limited releases. (Indiewire says $7M and $2M, respectively.) Some other things to watch:

  • There’s some evidence of superhero (Marvel) and Star Wars fatigue, but probably not enough to panic Disney yet. Lots of effort on those franchises will go into on-demand streaming, perhaps more than theatrical releases. With the departure of a lot of Marvel stars (current Avengers, Iron Man), Black Panther is by far its most promising building block. That’s pretty remarkable. Or it may be an opening for a Warner Bros./DC re-emergence.
  • If you don’t count Avengers, which was pretty sombre, there were only two “serious” movies in the top 20. And one of them was Joker! The other was Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. That’s identical to 2018. Likewise, the top 10 and top 20 chewed up most of the ticket sales, and only a handful of surprise mid-budget successes. There’s no sign of the demise of hits, though there might be some subtle shifts in what franchises propel them.

So here’s my take on my favorite new movies in 2019. PS, that’s two years in a row my favorite was released by Netflix:

  • The Irishman – Marty gets the boys together one last time and earns some grand performances. Epic betrayals. Elegaic, almost tragic. There’s no redemption here; gangsters die alone. Does Scorsese wistfully regret making them so glamorous?
  • Uncut Gems – Overheard exiting the packed theater: “That was stressful.” Great cast headed by Sandler, who’s mesmerizing as a mostly unloveable loser @-hole adrenaline junkie. The pace is frantic and anxiety-inducing, goofy, dangerous, even touching; I’m beginning to love the writer/director Safdie brothers team.

The best of the others, not in any particular order:

  • Little Women – Can I admire the craft and still admit it’s too girly for me? Beautifully shot, designed, and costumed; suitably proto-feminist. Director Gerwig is 2 for 2.
  • Ford v. Ferrari – Lots of fun and even more testosterone. The cars are raw sex. Thrilling racing scenes with minimal CGI, but not quite as exciting as 2013’s Rush.
  • Parasite – High craft and a terrific cast. To my thinking, Parasite handles its tone shifts and (similar) themes more effectively than “Us.”
  • The Nightingale – Savage. Australia has much to answer for, though in this telling it’s mostly the fault of English white fellas. Brutal, if ham-handed indictment of racist, paternalistic “civilization” – there’s none here. Excellent cast.
  • Crawl – Tight, tense, efficient, gory throwback to the Nature’s gone bad B-movies of yore. I can’t stress how shockingly good are the gator effects from its micro-budget. The two leads play it straight and suffer heroically and convincingly (even through the corny familial conflict dialog).
  • Avengers: Endgame – Fairly epic, with 5 or 6 Big Moments, but immensely satisfying if you’ve invested in these characters.
  • The Lighthouse – Director and co-writer Eggers may be drawing on a few too many sources in this weirdly funny, hallucinatory psychodrama with its New England folklore, horror, and and Beckett moments. But it sure looks and sounds great. Channeling Ahab and Lear by way of Jaws’ Quint, Dafoe overwhelms Pattinson’s semi-straight man, whose method acting might be trying a bit too hard.
  • John Wick 3 – Gorgeous, witty ultra-violence. “Art is pain.”

Some of the big ones and Oscar nominees didn’t do much for me. 1917’s tension and magic of its single-take filming wore off for me about a third of the way in. It hits the classic war movie cliches fairly effectively, but remains emotionally aloof. I thought Joker was unpleasant, even disturbing, and pretentious but with nothing to say. It has several powerful scenes and a performance from Phoenix that’s even more over-the-top and mannered than Ledger’s, though not as charismatic. Once Upon a Time had two terrific movie-star performances from Leo and Brad. But unlike Tarantino’s best, it lacks tension and any truly great scenes.

Happy 243rd July 4, 2019

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Source: Nike via NBC

This year’s patriotic plug tells the story of two American warriors who couldn’t help but be doomed by their conflicting cultures. It’s pretty convincing on the parallels between Crazy Horse and Custer. For a funny, cynical, literary take on some of the same issues, Robert Coover’s Huck Out West does a right passable imitation of Sam Clemens’ Huck.

Of course, neither Custer nor Crazy Horse – nor Huck – was a Virginian. But each is an Amuhrican type, that’s for sure.

I’m not trying to be controversial, but this year’s flag image reflects a lot of what the country’s facing these days: dueling identity politics, commercialization, abuse of icons, etc. Sigh. You know the drill.

Happy Fourth. Throw another burger on the grill for me. As usual, I’ll bring Mom’s potato salad (never tastes the same twice, but always good).

Best of 2018: Movies March 31, 2019

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Photo credit: flickr user Hans Splinter

Based on my personal Rotten Tomatoes ratings, 2018 was a poor year compared with the two years prior. I only rated two new movies 3.5 stars out of 5, versus 6 in 2017 and 5 plus a rare 4-star the year before.

My two favorites of the year didn’t even chart in Box Office Mojo’s domestic top 100. As usual, the top 10 were dominated by superheroes and cartoons, though a biopic snuck in. Does Freddie Mercury count as a superhero?

Some other comments on the box office:

  • For most of the 2010s, there have been three or four $300 to $400 million sellers at the top. 2012’s big Avengers movie bested $600 million, and 2015 saw two re-booted franchises explode: Star Wars sold over $900 million in the U.S. and Jurassic World over $600. Star Wars follow-ons also tended to do very well. In 2018, Disney again did spectacularly, with Black Panther over $700 million, another near-$700 million Avengers title, and the long-awaited Incredibles sequel over $600 million, but the Star Wars Solo was a relative flop. Like 2015, overall ticket sales were up strongly, over 7% better than the prior year.
  • I saw seven of the top 10. The only one I gave a 3-star rating was the latest Mission Impossible. I loved Black Panther’s Afro-futurist look, its women, and Michael B. Jordan’s villain. (I’m definitely Team Killmonger thematically.) But it was way too long, poorly paced, and the special effects were awful.
  • Disney again ruled the roost; its 26% market share was 10 points better than number two Warner Bros. And it’s swallowing up Fox as we speak, presumably to re-unite the rest of the Marvel superheroes.

I have no problem with super blockbusters. I enjoy ’em as much as I do movies for grown-ups. It’s just that this year’s batch wasn’t very good. I’m looking forward to the last Avengers movie, but have no desire to see Aquaman or Shazam. And not because they’re light-hearted – I’m a big fan of the funny Thor episode, even if there’s only so far improv should go.

Last year, like 2017, my tastes looked more adult. The two 3.5 star movies I saw last year:

  • Roma – Full of life and Cuaron’s love of this (his) family and home. The film is beautifully shot, edited, and sound-designed – by all means, see it on a big screen if you can.
  • Free Solo – You’ll catch yourself holding your breath during this documentary. Spectacular footage and gets pretty deep into the heads of the climber and those around him.

The best of the others:

  • First Reformed – Ethan Hawke takes a long look at despair. Will he emerge pastor or Taxi Driver? The script cheats a little – it’s pretty clear whose side of the modern church Calvinist Schrader is on – but the director/writer’s moral convictions are ferocious, his construction formal, and at 71, it’s his best work in 20 years.
  • The Favourite – Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for anachronism, misanthropy, and tone shifts. Swift is name-dropped appropriately. Excellent cast, costuming, cinematography (natural lighting plus fish-eye lenses!), soundtrack.
  • A Star is Born – The first half is pretty terrific, but the draggy second half wilts, and I’m torn as to how effective is its meta-ness. While it’s admirably ambiguous on the “what is authentic” angle, the script – by director Cooper – cheats for actor Cooper with a lame backstory and sweetens the male resentment. And “Shallow” is no “The Man That Got Away.”
  • BlacKkKansman – Painful demonstration of just how little has changed. And – no offense to Jordan Peele and Boots Riley, but this is how a master handles tone shifts. The usual Spike Lee high craft in photography and scoring/soundtracking; if only the cast was more charismatic. Driver, who’s growing on me, is very good and Grace is superbly typecast. But Washington shows no signs of his dad’s charm.
  • 8th Grade – I was cringing throughout – I can only imagine how women or parents with daughters will shudder. Pity the middle schooler. 14 year-old Fisher is terrific; was she acting? Does it matter?
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout – The Franchise that Never Fails. Fast chases, silly stunts, triple crosses, a new hot villainess, and the masks are back. Even earns a few laughs poking fun at Tom’s height, running, and stunting.
  • Widows – Artsy heist movie that doesn’t care much about the heist, but digs into the characters and Chicago race/corruption/politics milieu. Solid cast and good script.
  • And a handful of horror movies:
    • Halloween – Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode still have it. Far more than serviceable updating, with a slow build to its very tense last half hour.
    • Hereditary- Superbly cast with several excruciating scenes, classic camera work, and great sound design. But it lacks momentum and chickens out on its toughest themes. Those scenes will stay with you, though.
    • Suspiria – Nobody goes over the top like Guadagnino. (Except, maybe, Argento.)

This year’s Oscars – I went only 17 of 24 and lost the family pool again – made some, shall we say, dubious choices. They didn’t display much in the way of Big Themes in Pop Culture, either. Maybe a bit of a multi-culti vibe. Green Book was charming enough, I suppose, if glaringly obvious. And its attitudes toward race relations seemed far more Driving Miss Daisy than BlacKkKlansman.

Finally, two big disappointments. I had high hopes for what turned out to be the worst movie of the year. A Wrinkle in Time replaced spacey psychology and Christian insights with Oprah-esque self-help platitudes. Please read the book instead. And one of my favorite talents to watch, writer and sometimes director Taylor Sheridan botched the Sicario sequel badly, losing all the first one’s moral ambiguity. If you want some of that, read Don Winslow’s epic War on Drugs trilogy (The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, The Border).

Best of 2017: Music January 9, 2018

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Photo credit:  flickr user Ryan Atkins

Friends who like hip hop more than I might disagree, but 2017 wasn’t a very good year for new music. At least not to my alt-rock, Americana, post-punk, ’50s jazz tastes. I’m not sure I can even hit a Top 10 list, so, in no particular order, my favorite new releases of the year were:

  • Cherry Glazerr “Apocalipstick” – catchy, snotty. “We wear our underpants three days in a row.”
  • The National “Sleep Well Beast” – the usual, mostly quiet, despair.
  • St. Vincent “Masseduction” – twisted take on pop.
  • Waxahatchee “Out in the Storm” – rocking a little harder and with a little more polish.
  • Lorde “Melodrama” – now she’s a big star, minimal sophomore slumping.
  • Spoon “Hot Thoughts” – their familiar sound, with just a hint of electronica.
  • Queens of the Stone Age “Villains” – some glam, some Zep, and a little funk from Mark Ronson.
  • Willie Nelson “God’s Problem Child” – the rest of the album is a little limp, but the title track is the best song of the year.
  • Steve Earle & the Dukes “So You Wannabe an Outlaw” – old fashioned country.
  • John Mellencamp “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” – see above, with more fiddles.

My usual collection of angry and/or fierce women and still-sounds-like-the-’80s bands, plus a whole lot of country/Americana this year. Randomly(?), I’ve got four artists from 2013 repeating this time. I was disappointed by Japandroids and Kendrick Lamar, as well as by the the alterna-supergroups Filthy Friends and Prophets of Rage.

I only bought about a dozen albums, half or less my recent rate. Yes, I’m using streaming (Spotify and Amazon) more. But I still like to throw as much money the artists’ way as possible, and I download rather than stream to my phone. Hey, I still have an iPod. My younger brother’s the one that buys vinyl, though.

Read Mark Mulligan for what real, modern digital aficionados do. I may be aging out of that psychographic.

Best of 2016: Music December 23, 2016

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Just like last year, I’m doing this barely in time for stocking stuffers. Following are my 10 favorite new releases from 2016:

  • Radiohead “A Moon Shaped Pool” – this is a low-flying panic attack.
  • Parquet Courts “Human Performance” – slacker punks take a step forward in song-writing depth. And guitar solos!
  • David Bowie “Blackstar” – sad, wise, haunting, experimental. Way to make an exit by one of the all-time greats.
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Skeleton Tree” – absolutely wrenching.
  • Sturgill Simpson “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” – outlaw country meets orchestra, hot horns section, and “In Bloom,” and somehow it all makes weird sense.
  • Angel Olsen “My Woman” – folky singer-songwriter rocks harder, does a little pop, still goes deep.
  • Paul Simon “Stranger to Stranger” – whoulda thunk? Still catchy after all these years.
  • Iggy Pop “Post Pop Depression” – still snarling after all these years.
  • P.J. Harvey “The Hope Six Demolition Project” – just as angry as Iggy.
  • A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” – thou shalt not say “old school.”

Possibly, the gloom and sadness and anger of this list matched my mood for the year.

It didn’t quite make the Top 10, but honorable mention goes Car Seat Headrest’s “Teens of Denial,” hooky indie rock that’s way more rock than mope, even if its lyrics aren’t quite as clever as Pitchfork thinks. And the Stones showed they could still play the blues on “Blue & Lonesome,” but we knew that already. Metallica showed they could still be metal on “Hardwired…to Self-Destruct” where maybe we weren’t so sure.

Not being modern, I still buy albums – 28 this year, 8 from the back catalog, very similar to last year. I like that Amazon will sell me a CD with instant download often for the same price – physical and cloud backup. Some of this behavior is because I want to pay artists better than Spotify does, and some of it’s because I listen to downloads on my phone and an old iPod, rather than streaming my data plan away.

I’m what we used to call back in the Jupiter Research days a “digital music aficionado” (digital user, high spender), so I love the streaming services to experiment and dive deep. But I also agree with Mark Mulligan that $10 per month isn’t a mainstream consumer product, regardless of whether it screws artists worse than their labels used to.

Best of 2015: Music December 23, 2015

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Slipping in this post in case you need stocking stuffers.

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Photo credit: flickr user Ryan Atkins 

Here they are, my 10 favorite new releases of 2015:

  • Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” – like they never went away. Still ferocious
  • Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” – we all need a 2-disc punkish concept album about manic depression sometimes. And it’s got the best punk song in years (Dimed Out)
  • Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” – remember how fresh Liz Phair’s first album sounded? It’s kinda like that
  • The Decemberists “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” – though I’m not sold on the horns, the whole thing is maddeningly catchy
  • Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” – justifiably on everybody’s Best of 2015 lists, I love its jazziness
  • Alabama Shakes “Sound + Color” – soulful ear-worms
  • Blur “The Magic Whip” – does this qualify as my usual “geezers who’ve still go it” nomination?
  • Dead Weather “Dodge and Burn” – swampy. The best thing Jack White’s done in years, though it’s really Alison Mossheart’s band now
  • The Libertines “Anthems for Doomed Youth” – see Blur, above. Plus they’ve finally added some polished songwriting around the very British english-major lyrics
  • Grimes “Art Angels” – just one of the weirdest, most eclectic pop albums you’ll hear

Honorable mention to Wilco’s surprisingly rockin’ freebie “Star Wars”, and two more double albums – what? in the age of streaming? – Tenement’s garage-y something or other “Predatory Headlights” and Killing Joke’s ponderous but pounding “Pylon.” Kamasi Washington’s, gulp, 3-disc jazz album, “The Epic” is absolutely worth a listen, but not to my 50s jazz/bop tastes.

I bought 29 albums this year, about 6 or 7 of which were back catalog. That seems to be my pace these days. I still buy downloads, because that’s what I load on my phone. I stream on-demand for discovery, variety, and try-before-you-buy. That’s probably not mainstream behavior, but neither is streaming at $10+ per month. See Mark Mulligan for actual data-backed analysis.

Huge ad merger’s scale argument doesn’t hold up July 29, 2013

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Two of the biggest advertising holding companies, Omnicom and Publicis, would combine to make the biggest mega-agency ever. But is that a good thing? I’m skeptical.

As Om points out, all companies have to be tech companies these days, and advertising powers the business of two of the most important forces in tech, Google and Facebook. Even mainstream media thinks the merger is a big data play. Big tech players like Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe are bulking up on marketing and advertising technologies through acquisition, and maybe we are heading for a showdown between advertising “art and science.

I’m not going to dwell on how hard it is to pull off mergers of equals, or that client overlap and conflict will open up competition from other agencies. But think of what ad agencies do for their clients. They’re creative consultancies who buy media efficiently in order to reach specific audiences.

I’m hard-pressed to see how getting bigger is going to make the combo more creative. Nor will sheer mass help it respond to one of the key opportunities in marketing: i.e., figuring out how to really use social media for something other than cheap inventory.

The combo may have more buying heft when negotiating media buys – but that’s in television. With the proliferation of ad networks and analytics, buying specific digital audiences is a pretty level playing field, if not a commoditized skill. In theory, the merged company could look at the data from all of its campaigns, digital and traditional, to better understand buying patterns and audience interest, and properly asses the impact of branding campaigns on purchases. That would be huge.

But do you really think a massive organization with all of its fiefdoms and differing “religions” on market analysis – let alone different platforms and tools – is going to pull that off?

 

Happy 237th July 4, 2013

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This year’s patriotic plug, courtesy of a sideways recommendation from Cormac. But White House Down just isn’t Independence Day. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any real Virginians in either. And I’d vote for Jamie Foxx over Bill Pullman, especially if he wore Jordans and packed a rocket launcher.

Happy Fourth. Throw another burger on the grill for me. As always, I’ll bring Mom’s potato salad (never tastes the same twice, but always good).

Gigaom Research launches IT buyer surveys May 22, 2013

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Gigaom Research is launching the first of a series of 2013 surveys of enterprise IT decision makers. This will help drive our analysis on cloud infrastructure, big data, and enterprise mobility issues. To gain further insights into cloud computing issues, we’re collaborating with North Bridge Venture Partners. Together, we’ll share survey results and compare attitudes on the future of cloud computing among mainstream IT buyers, leading-edge customers, and technology vendors. We’ll present some of our findings next month at our annual Structure event in San Francisco.

I encourage GigaOM Pro subscribers and other readers to take North Bridge’s survey – the more responses we get, the deeper we’ll be able to dig. You can see their 2012 results here.

Below is a result from last year’s GigaOM Research survey. I wonder how attitudes are evolving.

[dataset id=”160565″]

Unleashing the European app economy May 9, 2013

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While the markets for apps that run on mobile and social platforms have exploded in the U.S., they’re just getting underway in Europe. GigaOM Research is teaming up with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway and the European Commission to better understand the potential European opportunity, and to identify potential hurdles to growth that EC policies might address. We’re kicking off the project with a workshop in Brussels on June 14.

We profiled apps developers and their business models in this 2012 survey-driven report with the help of the Application Developers Alliance, and we’ll be doing similar scoping for the Eurapp project, as well forecasting spending and job creation, and using workshops and crowdsourcing challenges to help guide EC policy ideas. Eurapp is part of the Startup Europe initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, which aims to help tech entrepreneurs start, maintain and grow their businesses in Europe.

The Shape the Future workshop in June will have invited speakers from the apps industry, including Samsung, Tyba, and Betapond. The format will be a series of lightning talks featuring experts in the space, followed by Mapping Sessions to probe attendees’ collective thinking and examine some of the issues to be tackled in growing the app economy in Europe. After the workshop, we’ll crowdsource solutions to address bottlenecks and to suggest potential success strategies via two innovation challenges via the Innocentive platform.

Attendees at the event include: Peter Elger, CTO of Betapond; Kumardev Chatterjee, founder of the European Young Innovators Forum; Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs EMEA at Innocentive; and Eurapp project lead John Breslin, who is also co-founder of boards.ie and the app company StreamGlider. I’ll be there as well.

The workshop will be held in BU33, Auderghem in Brussels on 14th June 2013. There are very limited places available for the workshop, but you can apply to attend at http://eurapp.eu/