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Monday, January 30, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Release Date: 12-25-2011)

        There's always at least one. People will point to the expanded Best Picture field as breeding a greater number of contestable nominees, but even before we were at 10 (or between 5-10, for that matter), Oscar showed a real relish for throwing exactly one wrench into the machine per year. This year's shocker was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a movie that's faced some less-than-positive reviews, and will now be held to even higher standards of quality and contempt. When the Best Picture field was announced in the morning hours of last Tuesday, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was the last film listed, baiting a big reaction across the room, as if the golden man himself had planned out the announcement to say, "There you go, media, there's your surprise." He thinks he's doing the movie a favor, but in truth, he's really just putting a target on its back. Everyone wants to be a Best Picture nominee, sure, but no one wants to be, 'The Best Picture Nominee that on one expected.' That comes with baggage all its own.

        Which is not to say that EL&IC didn't arrive on screen with its own baggage to begin with. How else could you describe a movie that stars a 14-year-old non-actor (Thomas Horn) going on one of the least realistic quests in recent movie memory, surrounded by a pair of America's sweethearts (Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock) and rampant 9/11 imagery? The boy, named Oskar, loses his father (Hanks) in the World Trade Center attacks. About a year later, looking for anything that might keep the memory of his father nearer, Oskar finds a key among his late Pop's things, stored in an envelope with the name Black written on it. Thus begins city-wide search for the Black to whom the key belongs, one wherein a young, lost boy will touch the hearts of many unsuspecting adults, many healed through the guise of a montage. Oh, and little Oskar might be vaguely, you know, autistic... because this movie really needed some more charged material.

        There are a lot of reasons why someone might find Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close unsettling or dissatisfying, most of them listed above under the plot summary. If you've read this far, it should be clear to you that this particular scribe doesn't really think that the movie has any business in the race for the year's top prize, but I could say that about a few other nominated flicks as well. The truth is that EL&IC worked much better on me than I would have ever expected, given the fact that its story is emotional arm-twisting of the purest form. Director Stephen Daldry stitches the thing together with a steady, sure hand, the whole movie filmed quite beautifully, lofting along atop Alexandre Desplat's lovely, emotive score. It's Daldry's first movie in only four efforts to not garner him a Best Director nomination, which is kind of ironic, because its his strength behind the camera that lifts this questionable story to the surprising quality that it eventually accomplishes. Sure, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close might have a few eye-rolling moments, but it also managed to put a genuine lump in my throat on a few occasions, even though I knew I was being played. That kind of real knee-jerk reaction is more than The Descendants, War Horse, The Help or Moneyball could coax out of me, and even if it is in service of something shallow at its core, my love for the technical side of film can't help but admire that's so apt in its manipulation.

Grade: B-

Friday, January 27, 2012

Haywire (Release Date: 1-20-2012)

        Stop me if you've heard this one before: A freakish athlete (in this case, a woman) is brought in and trained under the jurisdiction and watchful eye of the government. She's one of the best out there, efficient and graceful in her works of violence. Then, seemingly out of no where, the people whom she trusted sell her out, attempting to take her down in order to hide a dirty secret. Without anyone to turn to, the woman must go rogue, destroy those who have betrayed her, and finally solve the mystery of what all went wrong. Familiar much? The plot of Steven Soderbergh's newest, Haywire, make no buts about what it is, hitting the beats spot on, daring you to mind its adherence to cliche.

        Soderberg has always been obsessed with the notion of genre; Movies like Contagion and Ocean's Eleven would instantly slot amongst the ranks of high concept genre fair (Disaster Epic, and Heist Flick, respectively) were it not for their outstanding levels of quality. It's clear that this is what Soderbergh is trying to do here, take a framework that we all know front to back, and reveal just how exciting and alive it can still be when handled properly. While his motive and message are worth applauding, it almost seems like the guy wanted Haywire to succeed in spite of its rhetoric, not because of it. The plot is paper thin, impossible to truly invest in, and the way that actors like Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender are wasted is fairly disheartening. As if stacking the obstacles against itself on purpose, the rogue female previously mentioned is played by non-actor Gina Carano, who has occasional good moments, but certainly isn't anything to write home about as a thespian. Where Soderbergh had perhaps wanted to turn a tired movie into a good one, here he's attempting to will a bad movie into a good one.

        The guy isn't without his fair share of successes; This is Steven Soderbergh we're talking about. Some of Haywire's action sequences are clumsy and off-kilter, but others are absolutely electric, owing much to the supreme physical talents of Carano, who battles with the same trained finesse that dancers dance. Other Soderbergh stand-bys are here as well, including the blurry, gold-tinted frame, the vaguely jazzy score, and a hankering to globe trot for no real reason at all. Soderbergh set out to show people how to make a dumb action movie, and while he has fleeting moments of real success, the whole thing just isn't sweaty enough to create real tension. Caught somewhere between the cartoonish wonder of Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, and the edge-of-you-seat seriousness of the Bourne series, Haywire feels cobbled together out of spare parts, and the fact that its kind of supposed to feel that way offers little consolation. It has highs, and it has lows, and a week after you see it, you'll never think of it again. Welcome to January.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Carnage (Limited Release Date: 12-16-2011)

        No matter what they do, Alan and Nancy Cowan can't leave the Longstreets' apartment. They say their pleasantries, offer their thanks, gravitate towards the elevator, knowing that only it can save them, but no dice. For some inexplicable reason, they just can't quite escape. Like a modern take on No Exit or The Exterminating Angel, Roman Polanski's newest, adapted from Yasmina Reza's award-winning play The God of Carnage, is about a group of people that might not like each other, but for one reason or another, they're completely, immovably sewn together.

        The initial reason for the Cowans' visit is simple enough; Each couple has a son at the same school, and the Cowan offspring recently took the liberty of swinging a sizable stick into the Longstreet boy's face, bruising his face, and damaging his teeth. The four guardians of the two young boys have come together to decide what the next appropriate action would be. Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) thinks that the Cowan boy ought to apologize, and Nancy (Kate Winslet) agrees, at least on the surface. Alan, however, is more content to make side comments under his breath about Penelope's passive-agressive ways, while her husband simply does his best to help the whole thing go off smoothly. It's clear from they very start that this is no good, and it all takes a turn for the worst sooner than you might expect.

        Credit Carnage for being gutsy enough to take place in real time; The film lasts for under 80 minutes, the entirety of which spent in the four-or-so rooms of the Longstreets' apartment, the camera never allowing time to elapse unnoticed. It's a fun sort of challenge, the unique nature of which is admirable, but even at its measly length, there are still themes, motifs, sayings, and whatever else that are brought up over and over again, seemingly just to pad the runtime. Still, this is a funny, alluring, and dangerous sort of movie, holding up a fun-house mirror to our own self importance (or lack there of), and letting you see just how ugly it can get. It's a true credit to both the cast (all of which are extremely strong) and the writing that Carnage's nasty themes and implications coax out as much laughter as they do. Moments of the film are genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious, then tempered by a character's philosophical musings, or Pawel Edelman's impossibly communicative camera work, both of which placing it back on its feet, setting up another hardy guffaw. Coming from a master of cinema, this is kind of a slight effort, but its one as full of intrigue as it is knee-slappers and great performances.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscar Predictions 2011: Round Four (Final Nomination Predictions)

        Alright, everybody: The Oscar nominations come out bright and early tomorrow morning, and I'm here to tell you who's going to hear their name called. Below, I have listed my predicted nominees in every category, as well as a few, "Next in Line," picks listed below. All rankings relate to my NOMINATION PREDICTIONS, not who I predict to eventually win, or who I would chose myself. Feel free to use any of these opinions to skim a quick buck off that friend who always wants to bet on this sort of thing. Here they are:

Best Picture:
1. The Artist (Previous Ranking: 1)
        What's there to say that hasn't already been said? It's won a slew precursors, critics awards, guild nominations, and has really been way out in front of the pack for a while now. Missing a Best Picture nod is out of the question.
2. The Descendants (Previous Ranking: 2)
        Spent a day or two at the front of the race a few months ago, and has since been sitting pretty in the runner-up spot. Just like the frontrunner, a snub from the Best Picture category seems impossible.
3. Midnight in Paris (Previous Ranking: 6)
        No, I don't think there's anyway that this one goes all the way and takes the night's biggest prize, but it's invitation has already been sent. It's the only movie of the bunch besides The Descendants to have scored noms from all four of the major guilds, the SAG, WGA, DGA, and PGA. (Actors, Writers, Directors, and Producers, in case you're not as nerdy as I am.)
4. Hugo (Previous Ranking: 3)
        There was a point where I had more hope for this one to sneak up and win Best Picture. I'm not too confident about that anymore, but the fact that Hugo was recognized by every major guild except for SAG, in addition to having Martin Scorsese's name attached, seems to lock it in.
5. The Help (Previous Ranking: 5)
         And to think that I ever doubted. The Help had a huge showing through-out the guilds, and will likely score three acting nominations. Add in the fact that it was an actually hit with audiences, and you've got another nominee.
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Previous Ranking: 9)
        Through out the early awards season, I was championing this one as a big sleeper, only finally backing down in my previous rankings. I should have stuck to my guns: Dragon Tattoo managed to score nods from the WGA, PGA, and, most tellingly, the DGA, where David Fincher slotted in ahead of the likes of Steven Spielberg and Terrance Malick.
7. Moneyball (Previous Ranking: 7)
        I used to think that this wasn't an emotionally resonant enough movie to play with the big boys, but guilds and precursors have proved me wrong. It sure helps to have Brad Pitt headlining your movie...
8. War Horse (Previous Ranking: 4)
        I know, I know: This is crazy-low for a war epic from Steven Spielberg, but hear me out. The movie has already all but fizzled out in the American Box Office (albeit its initial showing was strong), and the movie only managed one measly guild nomination, it coming from the PGA, who still nominates ten movies despite the fact that Oscar will undoubtably slim down from that number. As a matter of fact, the whole Spielberg-In-War-Time vibe is all that it really has going for it, which I still think will be enough, but it's far from safe.
As of now, I am predicting that these will be the Eight that get nominated (I don't have some crazy math equation that helped me determine the number, these just seem like the ones). The following is where I rank the next movies in line.
9. Bridesmaids (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        I'm not ready to predict this one as a Best Picture nominee, but there's ample reason to view it as the most likely sleeper. After all, it received notices from three different guilds (PGA, WAG, and SAG), which is as many as all but two of the films listed above, more than War Horse, and more than any other film in the running.

10. The Ides of March (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        It sure doesn't feel like a Best Picture nominee, but there are a lot of people on board who Oscar absolutely loves, and it's out-of-nowhere PGA nod proved just that. If names are enough to get in, it's still in the race.

11. The Tree of Life (Previous Ranking: 8)
        Yes, I finally had to give up on predicting my baby, after each and every single major guild agreed on snubbing Terrance Malick's movie. Still, the voting system is designed to reward movies with passionate support, and I still believe that there might be some of that hiding within the Academy.

12. Drive (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Copy and Paste everything written under Tree of Life. No guild support, but real love might still be hiding out there.

13. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Previous Ranking: 10)
        No precursors to speak of, and weak Box Office numbers from its debut this last weekend. All signs point to no accept for one: Director Stephen Daldry has yet to direct a movie that wasn't a Best Picture nominee (Billy Elliott, The Hours, and The Reader), the last film cracking the line-up when no one saw it coming, swiping The Dark Knight's slot on the list. 9/11 subject matter, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock... There are a few reasons not to take this off the list until it's all said and done.

How I Did: 7/9

Best Actor:
1. George Clooney (The Descendants) (Previous Ranking: 2)
        If someone were to ask me to bet money on the Best Actor race right now, I would probably go run and hide. Clooney, Pitt, and Dujardin are in an impossibly close Three-Horse race. Clooney gets the nod for being a bigger name than Dujardin, and in a bigger movie than Pitt.
2. Jean Dujardin (The Artist) (Previous Ranking: 1)
        The much loved lead performance, and from the most likely Best Picture winner. Enough said.
3. Brad Pitt (Moneyball) (Previous Ranking: 3)
        I've had him ranked down at 3 all season, and even I wouldn't bat an eye if the Academy finally decided that it was his time, and just handed him the Oscar. Either way, his nomination is a lock.
4. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) (Previous Ranking: 4)
        Huge name, huge role, small competition. I might not like it, but the SAG nod makes him look pretty solid for tomorrow morning.
5. Michael Fassbender (Shame) (Previous Ranking: 7)
         Missed the SAG, and his film's NC-17 rating is cause for concern, but given the performance, and the amazing year he's been having, he seems the most likely.
--------------------------Most Likely to Sneak In----------------------------
6. Demian Bichir (A Better Life) (Previous Ranking: 6)
        Really hasn't received any love other than the SAG nomination, but that's an award handed out from the Academy's ver biggest branch, so if all them like him...
7. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) (Previous Ranking: 8)
        A long shot to be sure, but he surprised recently for Revolutionary Road, and has a lot of critic support behind him.
8. Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) (Previous Ranking: 5)
        It seems as though only the BAFTAs have any real love for this movie, but Old man is long, long overdue, so don't rule him out.

How I Did: 3/5

Best Actress:
1. Viola Davis (The Help) (Previous Ranking: 4)
        I've been a big doubter of her's all along, but even I can't deny that she's out in front at the moment. I still haven't wrapped my head around her actually winning, but I've been wrong up to this point, so who knows?
2. Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) (Previous Ranking: 3)
        Possibly my favorite spoiler on Oscar night, Williams has made a killing through the critic's awards, and playing an icon is something that Oscar almost always has the taste for, especially when it's a former nominee in the role.
3. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Still a big name in an enormous role, but being surrounded by three oscar-less performers seems pretty damning for her chances. Her nomination was essentially locked when she signed to do the movie.
4. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) (Previous Ranking: 4)
        Once a frontrunner, now regulated to, "Happy to be there," status, with a chance of her nomination being suddenly swindled tomorrow morning. Still, probably a nod.
5. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) (Previous Ranking: 5)
        A much-loved former winner giving what's supposed to be an amazing performance, but the movie is so, so small.
--------------------------Most Likely to Sneak In----------------------------
6. Mara Rooney (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) (Previous Ranking: 6)
        A big part of me is saying that she'll steal Close or Swinton's seat tomorrow, but I just don't quite have the guts to call it. I might be kicking myself tomorrow morning.
7. Charlize Theron (Young Adult) (Previous Ranking: 7)
        Oscar has loved a Jason Reitman movie before, and the movie's showing at the WGA means at least someone likes it. Theron, a two-time nominee, is a friend as well.
8. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) (Previous Ranking: 8)
        There's really no reason to believe in this one, but with a smattering of critics calling it the best of the year, maybe she'll sneak some #1 votes.

How I Did: 4/5

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Christopher Plummer (Beginners) (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Plummer has made this one boring race. He seems completely unbeatable at this point.
2. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) (Previous Ranking: 2)
        Not that I really think he stands a chance at the win, but he's the only other candidate who I feel has next to no chance of missing the nod.
3. Jonah Hill (Moneyball) (Previous Ranking: 4)
         With SAGs and Globes and critics awards all in line with both his performance and film, he seems pretty safe.
4. Albert Brooks (Drive) (Previous Ranking: 2)
        If Brooks nabs the nomination tomorrow morning, I'll move him right back to #2 for his veteran status and slew of critic notices. His missing out on the SAG just scares me.
5. Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Has the support of the SAG, and with all of this love for Dragon Tattoo and Moneyball, it seems like the Academy is handing out consolation prizes to all those involved with The Social Network. Love very well might extend here.
 --------------------------Most Likely to Sneak In----------------------------
6. Nick Nolte (Warrior) (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
         He got the SAG, and he's got veteran status on his side, but I just can't wrap my head around the Academy nominating anything from an Ultimate Fighting movie.

How I Did: 3/5

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Octavia Spencer (The Help) (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Looking awfully strong, and they're going to reward the movie somewhere. Her nomination is written in stone.
2. Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) (Previous Ranking: 2)
        Sure to be swept in with all of The Artist love tomorrow morning, but wether she can actually win is another question entirely.
3. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) (Previous Ranking: 3)
        So much love for this performance, it's insane. She's in the race to win it, drama advantage be damned!
4. Jessica Chastian (The Help) (Previous Ranking: 4)
        She's looking good, and if she gets in, I might bump her up like I plan to with Brooks, but I'm still just worried about a split between this and her million other movies.
5. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) (Previous Ranking: 5)
        Missing out on SAG has a lot of people worried, myself included, but I still think the size of her movie will be enough in the end.
--------------------------Most Likely to Sneak In----------------------------
6. Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        She swiped Woodley's seat at the SAGs, but her movie is just so small, and, actually, not very well-received either.

How I Did: 4/5

Best Director:
1. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
2. Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
3. Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
4. David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
5. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
 --------------------------Most Likely to Sneak In----------------------------
6. Steven Spielberg (War Horse)
7. Terrance Malick (The Tree of Life)
8. Tate Taylor (The Help)
9. Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)

How I Did: 4/5

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)
2. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
3. Kristin Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids)
4. Tom McCarthy (Win Win)
5. Will Reiser (50/50)

How I Did: 3/5

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and Alexander Payne (The Descendants)
2. Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillan and Stan Chervin (Moneyball)
3. John Logan (Hugo)
4. Tate Talyor (The Help)
5. Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

How I Did: 3/5

Best Foreign Language Film
3. Pina

How I Did: 3/5

Best Documentary Feature Film:
2. Pina

How I Did: 2/5

Best Animated Feature Film:
2. Rango
5. Cars 2

How I Did: 2/5

Best Cinematography:
1. Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
2. Robert Richardson (Hugo)
3. Guillaume Schiffman (The Artist)
4. Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
5. Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

How I Did: 4/5

Best Editing:
1. Anne-Sophie Bion (The Artist)
2. Thelma Schoonmaker (Hugo)
3. Michael Kahn (War Horse)
4. Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
5. Kevin Tent (The Descendants)

How I Did: 4/5

Best Original Score:
1. Ludovic Bource (The Artist)
2. Howard Shore (Hugo)
3. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
4. Dario Marianelli (Jane Eyre)
5. John Williams (War Horse)

How I Did: 3/5

Best Original Song:
1. Life's a Happy Song (The Muppets)
2. The Living Proof (The Help)
3. Lay your Head Down (Albert Nobbs)
4. Hello Hello (Gnomeo & Juliet)
5. Man or a Muppet (The Muppets)

How I Did: 1/2

Best Art Direction:
1. Laurence Bennett (The Artist)
2. Dante Ferretti (Hugo)
4. Sebastian Krawinkel (Anonymous)
5. Maria Djurkovic (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

How I Did: 3/5

Best Visual Effects:
2. Hugo
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
4. The Tree of Life

How I Did: 4/5

Best Costume Design:
1. Mark Bridges (The Artist)
2. Sandy Powell (Hugo)
3. Arianne Phillips (W.E.)
4. Michael O'Connor (Jane Eyre)
5. Sharen Davis (The Help)

How I Did: 4/5

Best Makeup:
1. The Iron Lady
2. The Artist
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

How I Did: 2/3

Best Sound Mixing:
1. Hugo
3. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
5. Hanna

How I Did: 2/5

Best Sound Editing:
1. Hugo
2. Super 8
3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
4. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

How I Did: 3/5

How I Did: 68/104: 65%
How I Did in Major Categories: 31/44: 70%

Nominations I Hadn't Ranked in Categories in which Alternates were Listed:

Max von Sydow---Best Supporting Actor (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2011 (10-1)

10. Take Care---Drake ft. Rihanna/I'll Take Care of U---Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX/I'll Take Care of You---Gil Scott-Heron/I'll Take Care of You---Bobby "Blue" Bland
        In 1959, a popular artist named Bobby "Blue" Bland released a song called I'll Take Care of You. What does this have to do with the Top 40-Ready Drake and Rihanna track that's blowing up the airwaves lately? Well, I'm glad you asked. Bland's song has been covered by a number of artists over the years, ranging from Elvis Costello to Etta James, and on his final album before passing early last year, Gil Scott-Heron gave it a shot as well. His cover, along with the rest of the album, was given the remix treatment by Jamie XX, the Rising-Star Producer and member of The XX. Finally, under a year later, Drake adopted the song, offering the bulk of Scott-Heron's lyrics to Rihanna while adding his own segments, lifting Jamie XX's beat, wholesale.
        Some might look at this a watering down of sorts, classic artists unwittingly writing hits for the stars of today without hardly any recognition whatsoever. I think it's pretty cool. Bland's original piece, a slow, somber lament, is a great song, and it's no wonder why so many people wanted to try it on. What matters is that all of these artists actually found something in it, and made it their own. Jamie XX's beat is just ridiculous, Down-Tempo and sultry, with Night-Time guitars glowing around the edges. Drake's people were smart enough to leave it mostly untouched, and while Rihanna's filling in for Scott-Heron might sound contrived, she's one of the song's strongest assets. Her smokey lower register is in fine form, and the interplay between her verses and Drake's keeps heat on a cool beat. There's no point in calling one of the 2011 versions better than the other: They are, in large part, the very same track, one chilling out, the other amping up. What matters is that it's just a great song, and it represents another entry into a really interesting Cross-Genre, Cross-Generation movement that's in the works today.
8. (Tie) Pumped up Kicks---Foster the People, and Rolling in the Deep---Adele
        I might be kind of a snob about mainstream music sometimes, but denying either of these songs is just kind of futile. Both exploded in 2011, and that's because they both prompt such undeniable Gut-Reactions, which is what all of the very best pop music does. Pumped Up Kicks came out of nowhere, the first single from the first album of a band that became a household name in well under a year. On this evidence, it's not hard to see why. PUK rides a bass that bounces so convincingly, you'd have to be strapped down not to move to it. Then there's that chorus, as catchy as anything yet made by man, occupied by provocatively dark lyrics that you don't even notice until about the seventh listen.
         As big as Pumped Up Kicks was, there's no arguing against Rolling in the Deep as the biggest hit of last year. The opening lines, "There's a fire/Starting in my heart," is as much a warning as anything, leading into stomping drums, piano chords, and, of course, Adele absolutely wailing. It's the perfect Spurned-Lover song: You can feel the hurt, but there's no way in hell that she's going to let that hurt break her (I Will Survive for a new generation, anyone?). The track that she sings in front of her matches her all the way, surrounding her with a perfect backing chorus, building tension with every passing second. I know half of the world hates these songs by now, but it's only because the other half of the world (along with some of the former group) just loved them too much. Both songs were Break-Throughs, both for their respective artists and respective genres (who else on Top 40 sounds like these two?), and the very Over-Playing that makes them a little hard to listen to now is all the evidence needed for why they rank as two of the year's best.
7. Art of Almost---Wilco
        Part of what's so great about Art of Almost is wondering just where it came from. Following the release of 2004's A Ghost is Born, Wilco had released two albums, Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album), that showed them taking a turn towards the less experimental, and, in my opinion, less exciting. This year's The Whole Love is their best album since Ghost, but even it doesn't really have anything compatible with the Mad-House that is this song. As if turning back the clock, the band again reinvents what we've come to know of them, opening the song with a slew of effects and strings that sound like dark, heavy clouds. Jeff Tweedy's voice then joins in, backed by a sparse, strange track that soon fills up with deep, groovy bass line. Instruments get added in and replaced in this fashion for about half of the song's seven minutes, and then, after a transition of sorts, guitarist Nels Cline rips an into a monstrous guitar solo, because, why not? Art of Almost is a band flexing its muscles, proving to the doubters (like myself), that they still have the capacity to be one of the best bands on the planet. Here's to hoping for more insanity from Tweedy and company in the future, but even if this is just an offering from a distant past, its a gift, and it ought to be cherished (and Rocked-Out to) as such.
5. (Tie) 6 Foot 7 Foot---Lil Wayne ft. Cory Gunz, and Yonkers---Tyler, the Creator
        Another tie, this time because I simply couldn't settle on one of these Out-Ranking the other for Hip-Hop song of the year. Sticking up for Lil Wayne, along with a lot of Top 40 rappers, can sometimes prove difficult, but this song needs no defense. The beat is simply enormous, bass thumps that reverberate in your eardrums, coated in a slew of samples, none of which feel wasted. What's even more amazing than the beat is that it's covered by a flow that actually deserves it. Lil Wayne's avalanche of disses and Self-Promotion is furious and boundless, spitting out lines like "You ni**as are gelatin/peanuts to an elephant/I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate," before just ripping into another, no chorus to get in the way. As if all this wasn't enough, 6 Foot 7 Foot closes with one of the most explosive guest verses of the year, courtesy of Hyper-Speed MC Cory Gunz. Hate on Lil Wayne all you want (and Tha Carter IV deserves a decent amount of it); this song is bullet proof.
        As if Lil Wayne wasn't a divisive enough figure, he has to share the #5 slot with controversy magnet Tyler, the Creator. The Odd Future Hip-Hop collective to which Tyler belongs was everywhere last year, causing stirs with racy lyrics and onstage stunts, but its hard to imagine them taking off the way they did without this song. Yonkers is a sinister track, chugging along on the intense, rattling sound that it calls a beat before adding keys and a wicked turntable. Tyler, only 19 years old at the time, is with the track every step of the way, relaying a sordid inner-monologue, challenging you with his split identities as a troubled youth, and a dangerous lunatic. The video, which is linked to above, hit like a bomb when it dropped, and still stands as the most memorable of 2011 in the brain of this scribe. It's not just because of its values, both artistic and shock, but also for the way that it puts Tyler's alluring, untrustworthy persona front and center, just like the scintillating song to which it's dedicated.
4. I'm Losing Myself---Robin Pecknold ft. Ed Droste
        There's no shortage of great tracks on Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, but my favorite 2011 offering from their frontman, Robin Pecknold, comes from somewhere else: The internet! Back in early March, Pecknold dropped a three song EP of sorts from his Twitter page (no, he does not, in fact, live in the Blue Ridge Mountains). This is the first track, an acoustic Blood-Letting with nothing more than two men, and a single guitar. Pecknold's voice, often set to glorious shouting, or disguised in Four-Part harmonies, opens front and center, singing in a sweet middle register. His words tell a beautiful, painful story of falling out of love, brokenly whispering lines like, "But we speak easy/And we seldom fight/And I chew on the bones of the day/While you sleep soft and warm in the night." Ed Droste, one half of the Two-Headed Grizzly Bear frontman, has a much different voice than any of Pecknold's FF buddies, and the way that they harmonize reveals previously undiscovered strengths in each of their croons, the two linked together in a misty, gorgeous pairing. It's a small song, but sorrowful radiance pours freely from it.
3. Don't Stop---The Dodos
        The Dodos don't always have it going, but when they do, I'd wager that they're one of the more under-rated bands on the planet. Their 2008 LP, Visitor, is one of the most mercilessly overlooked albums of the last several years, The Season cheated out of a deserved slot on a zillion Best Songs of the Year lists. This is their very best piece since that record, and it's a doozy. Meric Long opens the tune with some breakneck guitar picking, neglecting to offer so much as a word until bandmate Logan Kroeber has joined in with his similarly nimble drumsticks. The innate sense of chemistry that the two share is Mind-Blowing, changing up times and rhythms as though they share the same brain, chugging along amid spirited chants of, "Don't Stop!/Don't let your Boss catch you." For an Outro, the band does the only thing that makes sense; They pick up the pace yet again, positively flying into the song's sudden conclusion. Don't Stop is a celebration of a song, set to Speed-Demon pace, by a band whose finest moments are among the finest out there.
2. Calgary---Bon Iver
        I wasn't exactly sure what I thought of Calgary the first time I heard it, and I imagine that's how a lot of people felt. The Justin Vernon of For Emma, Forever Ago was still there, to be sure, but the sound world and atmospherics of what he was doing had changed significantly. Is that 80's-Style Synths-Keys that I heard opening up the song? Are those distorted electric guitars? Do these lyrics make any sense to you? It was a mystifying experience, and what's so amazing about Calgary is that it remains a mystifying experience today. The song has no detectable structure, moving from one section into the next in a way that most songs wouldn't dare, all before dissolving into the air as gracefully as it first came into existence. The words, as impossible to fully comprehend as they may be, are made of poetic allusions, and though we might not know what, "Don't you cherish me to sleep/Never keep your eyelids clipped/Hold me for the pops and clicks/I was only for the father's crib," means, when we hear it in action, we know how it feels. When this one ends, I always wonder where it went, evaporating in its final moments, some vague sense of it still lingering in the air.

And Hype Starts Here's #1 Song of 2011 is...
1. Midnight City---M83
        Like you didn't see this one coming... While I was writing my final entry in my Top Albums list, I left all ten of the albums I had singled out for the top tear unranked, writing my analysis before discovering what I really felt deserved it. Midnight City... No contest. This was my favorite song of the year hands down, and it has been since the second that I heard it. It's kind of disheartening to pick such a cliche track, the song ranked in the Top 20 of the year by Billboard (#19), Paste (#2), Spin (#12), and Pitchfork (#1), but there's a reason that no one can deny it, and that's because it's undeniable. The screeching, wailing opening, blooms effortlessly into pound upon pound of 80's Dance-Rock massiveness. Frontman Anthony Gonzalez fills the verses by painting city life as a psychedelic experience, proclaiming, "At night the city grows/Look and see her eyes, they glow," before getting out of the way so that gigantic chorus can ride again. M83 is throwing a big bash here, but its one that also carries a strange sense of purpose to it, the song's arresting sounds waking you up to the world around you. It's a track that knows just how amazing it is, and it doesn't mind rubbing it in your nose a little, piling on an epic Saxophone solo in its dying minutes, all in the name of one extra layer of utter hugeness. It steps right up to the plate, almost declaring itself Song of the Year before you've even asked. It's not wrong.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2011:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2011: