Random Album Facts: Loveless


My Bloody Valentine released their magnum opus,Loveless in 1991 after a grueling two-year recording process. Since its release the Irish shoe gazers have been silent. No follow up album, no live performances since 1995, and pretty much nothing holding the band’s reputation together but rumor, hype, and the fact that Loveless remains one of the most innovative and untouched experimental albums out there.

This year MBV embarked on its first world tour (or really first tour) in over ten years. The band is currently scheduled for an appearance at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom–one of five U.S. cities on the band’s lineup. So far setlists from the band’s recent shows look to be rooted primarily from MBV’s two studio albums–Loveless and Is this Anything–along with a handful of EPs including Tremolo and Glider. In interviews the band’s talking head, Kevin Shields claims that a new album is three-quarters of the way finished but whether or not new material will be unleashed on the eager audience of shoegazers awaiting the band’s arrival is up in the air.

While most serious music lovers are probably familiar with MBV and most likely escape into the world of Loveless on a semi-regular basis, I thought it would be cool to uncover some of the secrets and random trivial facts that went into recording and releasing this album.

  • My Bloody Valentine got its name from an obscure Canadian B-Slasher film of the same name. Kevin Shields has said in interviews that the band had toyed with earlier names for the band including Burning Peacocks.
  • The recording process of Loveless was a long, grueling experience that took over two years, in 19 different recording studios, and cost Creation Records nearly £250,000 almost bankrupting the label all together.
  • While past MBV endeavors were collaborative between the band members, Loveless was hands down Kevin Shields baby. The control freak musical mad scientist played all of the guitar and bass parts, wrote 2/3 of the album’s often undistinguishable lyrics, and even recorded many of the drum tracks.
  • MBV’s drummer and co-founder Colm Ó Cíosóig only contributed to two of Loveless’ tracks, the punch the gut opener “Only Shallow” and “Touched.” While Shields need for creative control played into this outcome, Ó Cíosóig was also extremely ill during most of the recording stages for Loveless and was at one point homeless. The other remaining tracks were produced from pre-recorded drum loops from Ó Cíosóig.
  • Loveless was the first project for then new vocalist Bilinda Butcher. It is said that Shields was inspired by Butcher’s dream like vocals but still made her endure bizarre recording practices such as closing off the window between the studio and the control room, thus not allowing anyone to watch the musicians at work.
  • MBV moved from one cheap studio to the next over the recording process and listed every single person involved in the liner notes for Loveless. Shields once said that, “even if all they did was fix tea, that might have had an effect on the album’s outcome.” In reality Shields only trusted himself and producer Alan Moulder with the important recording procedures thus giving him near complete control.
  • MBV deliberately did not include lyrics to Loveless in the album’s liner notes since the mystery of the sound is an important element of the sound. In the Japanese release there are printed lyrics (a requirement in Japan) but they are supposedly not even close to being correct. Likewise internet lyric sites all differ in some way with their interpretations.
  • While it’s assumed that the band took copious amounts of drugs–specifically psychedelic substances such as ecstasy–while recording Loveless, the truth is Shields main mind-altering drug was lack of sleep. Shields was interested in dreams and achieving the hypnagogic state, which is experienced between wakefulness and sleep and can produce hallucinatory events. Much of Loveless was created or imagined late at night while Shields was alone in the studio.
  • While much of Loveless’ “swirling guitars” sound like a dozen or so instruments being used, the majority of the effects used during the recording was simply realized with a tremolo arm or wammy bar.
  • The large budget for Loveless nearly bankrupted the band’s label, Creation Records. Creation would later be propelled from Indie status to mega stardom with its work with the U.K. band Oasis. Shields has said in interviews that most of the money spent was actually for living expenses over the two years and that the music itself only cost a couple thousand pounds. MBV believes Creation exaggerated greatly how much the album actually cost.
  • Loveless was recorded almost exclusively in mono.
  • Shields and Butcher both had a fascinating obsession with chinchillas and during the recording of Loveless it wasn’t uncommon to have up to 14 little critters running around the studio on a give day.
  • Shields once said in an interview, “My whole memory of making [Loveless] was just this constant sense of presence, like it was a mixture of angels and, funnily enough, cow ghosts, ghosts of cows. I don’t know why, but I kept having this impression of bloody animals and cows all the time–really big, weird faces with big brown eyes. But not like aliens.”
  • For a quick, highly informative read about Loveless and My Bloody Valentine check out Mike McGonigal’s book Loveless, which is part of Continuum’s 33 1/3 series.

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Off The Radar Summer Entertainment

ImageAs the summer months approach there are undoubtedly a lot of exciting things in the entertainment world to look forward to. At the movies there’s the return of Indiana Jones and a handful of big budget popcorn superhero movies (the most exciting of course being The Dark Knight). In the music realm there are countless outdoor concert festivals across the country featuring a range of different artists and groups. Add this to new albums by Coldplay (Ole!), Weezer, Death Cab For Cutie, My Morning Jacket (already making a splash in the indie music blogosphere), and a number of interesting solo albums from the likes of actress Scarlett Johansson, Jakob Dylan, Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, and one Gavin Rossdale. Even 80s pin-up Rick Springfield is apparently making a comeback. How ‘bout that?


Then there’s the democratic primary battle, which is entertaining, if not totally nerve-racking, and will most likely carry on through the summer. If we’re lucky the commonwealth of Puerto Rico with its 63 delegates may become a major player in the drawn out race. Supporting players like the outspoken and misunderstood Rev. Wright only add to this fascinating political turn of events.


Then there are the less obvious highlights to look forward–the pieces of the entertainment industry that are still hiding off the radar. The following is a short-list of some the more intriguing but under-hyped upcoming events this summer. 

MUSIC

Chicago seems to have become a haven for some of the best summer music festivals around. Lollapalooza enters its fourth year at Grant Park, Pitchfork Music Fest returns for another indie music filled gala, not to mention staple favorites like Jazz and Blues fest. Some of the more surprising concert events this summer come at Chi Town’s lesser-known festivities. 

Stevie Wonder is on board to perform a free show at The Taste of Chicago and nothing compliments brats and deep dish better than a collection from the master of soul’s songs in the key of life.


Since its construction Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion has long been a haven for classical and niche musical events but ever since artists like Mavis Staples and Wilco took the stage the sheik amphitheater is slowly becoming one of the hotter outdoor venues in the city. This summer Death Cab for Cutie and Chicago’s own Andrew Bird will play to a crowd of fans under the hum of the lights of the city skyline, the latter being a free show.
Other traveling acts to look out for: Erykah Badu on tour for her tour de force new album New Amerykah Vol. 1 with The Roots, hip-hop’s truly talented band backing her up. Sly Stone originally planned a mini U.S. tour after years of reclusion but he recently cancelled a handful of shows including an upcoming appearance at Chicago’s Vic Theater due to health issues. Finally, Tom Waits, the minister of the bizarre, is set for a rare tour of Europe and the U.S. 

AT THE MOVIES
ImageForget the upcoming explosion of big blockbusters and superhero outings. The most intriguing film of the summer that has yet to make a splash is political satirist Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous, which is set for a mid-July release date. Very little is known about the comedian and longtime non-believer or secular rationalist’s new documentary except for what he’s plugged on his show, Real Time With Bill Maher and his appearances on Larry King. The film, which was directed by Larry Charles of Seinfeld and Borat fame, is supposedly a broad overview of the absurdities of organized religion and is in the running to be this summer’s most controversial film (after all it seems every summer post Fahrenheit 9/11 must feature at least one controversial film).


Some Bill Maher haters (mainly far right-wingers and various religious groups) have already started a shitstorm of protest for the film with no doubt more to come closer to its release date. Many people may be unaware of the film but it’s safe to say it will stir things up (it was originally set for an Easter release date if that tells you anything about his intent). Bottom line, if Mel Gibson can make an ultra successful two hour film chronicling the painful torture of J.C, Bill Maher has every right to make a film explaining why he believes Gibson and other’s favorite Bible stories are ridiculous. The big question is will the film garner the same following. Will he be able to connect to the large minority of so-called “rationalists” that he believes is out there without a voice.


Other smaller films to look out for: acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris’ new film about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and more importantly about the issue of military torture. Not exactly a feel good summer romp but arguably one of the more socially important films to see.


The Academy Award Nominated film Mongol, Kazakhstan’s official foreign language film submission for 2007 finally gets a (limited) U.S. release. Very few films have been made about Genghis Khan, quite possibly one of the most fascinating and underappreciated conquerors in world history (if you remember the man almost moved in on Europe), and none have been done at an epic scale. While a film entirely in the Mongolian language with zero movie star pull may not lure the masses, film buffs and historians alike will no doubt find some intrigue in this release.


Most people are more than ready to stand amongst thousands of Radiohead fans at one of the band’s various American appearances this summer and it’s safe to say many of us are dying in anticipation to see what Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger did with The Joker character. There is more than enough hype for major events like these–and rightfully so. Still the many other smaller, understated happenings and releases this summer are equally intriguing and deserve to be recognized so as not to be overlooked.

The Best Films You’ll Never See


For every movie that makes it to the big screen there are hundreds of other projects or ideas that never reach production, let alone an actually release. Budget issues, lack of major star power, legal conundrums, constant script rewrites, political strife with major studios, whatever the reasons may be, there are countless cases of potentially major films that never see the light of day. 

Recently I read an article about Michel Gondry’s (one of the more interesting directors working today) proposed next project falling through. Set to direct an adaptation of Rudy Rucker’s novel, Master of Space and Time, a story that chronicles two mad scientists quest to control time, Gondry has supposedly moved on thus leaving the film’s future questionable.

The story is supposedly prime material for Gondry’s knack for surrealism and interests in bending the line between dreams and reality. Still the film, at least Gondry’s version, seems destined to join the long list of films you’ll never get to see. Below is a short-list of what I feel are some of the best examples. Some are projects that were simply too big or problematic to be completed. Some are alternate versions of pre-existing classics. All have gone down in history as some of the best films never made.

Kubrick’s Epics

Steven Spielberg once said in an interview that he was shocked that Stanley Kubrick passed away at 70 because he had expected the director to make his magnum opus well into his 80s, similar to Japanese great Akira Kurosawa’s late masterpiece Ran. The truth is Kubrick had been toying with a number of potentially epic films throughout his career, most notably a grandiose and highly detailed biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte with Jack Nicholson set to star. The film was originally to follow 2001: A Space Odyssey, then later during the time between The Shining and Full Metal Jacket but somehow never developed. Many speculate that the film’s scope and more importantly its budget was just too big. Some believe the coinciding release of the epic film adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and the film Waterloo played into the projects delay. Others believe the major studio system shot the idea down. 

What little is known about the project comes from Kubrick’s estate, which featured countless articles, books and roughly 25,000 note cards chronicling day-to-day happenings of France’s notorious tyrant. Rumor has it Kubrick even had ties with the Romanian army, which was going to lend the ambitious filmmaker roughly ten thousands soldiers for extensive battle sequences. 

It’s possible that Kubrick spent much of his life dwelling on this one project. Add this to Kubrick’s original vision of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (another project he supposedly worked on for much of his life) and a proposed Holocaust film calledThe Aryan Papers that was scrapped around the same time as Schindler’s List and you have a director who still had some tricks up his sleeve before his untimely departure. 

Tackling Cervantes

One of the most fascinating film projects that failed to launch on a number of occasions was the adaptation of the Spanish literary giant Don Quixote. Following Citizen Kane Orson Welles was attached to the project and actually shot a great deal of footage but the project eventually fell through due to Welles’ reliance on independent filmmaking and the death of the film’s star. Welles continued editing the film throughout his lifetime and was supposedly set to complete the film before his death in 1985. Unfortunately much of the footage was eventually lost and what little was left was released in the early 90s as an incomplete version of the film directed by smut filmmaker Jesus Franco. (It should be noted that Welles was notorious for having countless other projects under way during his career. Another notable example was a proposed adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which was later loosely adapted by Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now)

In 2000 director Terry Gilliam took on the Quixote tale and added his own modern twist. The project entitled, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, eventually crashed and burned due to countless obstacles during the production, including, yet again, a serious injury inflicted on the film’s star. At the time the film boasted to have one of the largest budgets of any film shot in entirely in Europe (roughly $40 million) and Gilliam had admitted that it would be his most ambitious project to date. In 2002 a fascinating documentary, Lost in La Mancha, was released chronicling the film’s rise and fall.

More Terry Gilliam
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is just one of many films that Gilliam failed to complete. His most recent effort, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was put on hiatus after the unexpected death of its star, Heath Ledger but is not back on board. Gilliam once tackled another literary opus, The Tale of Two Cities, originally with Mel Gibson (he dropped out to direct Braveheart) and then Liam Nesson (not a big enough star according to the studio) on board to star. Ultimately the film fell apart due to conflicts with the studio financing the project (money has never seemed to agree with Gilliam’s creativity). During the early 90s he twice attempted to get Alan Moore’s monumental graphic novel Watchmen made into a film and was J.K. Rowling’s first pick to helm the first Harry Potter film, The Philosopher’s Stone. Fans of Gilliam might also be interested to know that he’s long had a script for a Time Bandits sequel floating around, another possible classic destined to go to his grave

From Star Wars to Dune to Blade Runner

Often times films shuffle around the creative players with projects often going through multiple scripts and different visionaries. George Lucas had always expressed his admiration for surrealist David Lynch, particularly his film Eraserhead, and at one point tried to woo him towards the director’s chair of Return of the Jedi (originally titled Revenge of the Jedi). Lynch instead ended up taking the helm of another sci-fi epic, the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

Dune itself went through many different incarnations. In the 1970s epic filmmakers David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) and Alejandro Jodorowsky were both set to take on the novel. Jodorowsky was very close to making a version starring Mr. Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and, get this, Salvador Dalí as the emperor. If Jodorowsky’s version would have gone through it is said Pink Floyd would have provided music for the soundtrack. Later in the 80s before Lynch finally took the reins Ridley Scott was attached to direct (he would go on to later direct Blade Runner and Alien shortly after).

ImageThe Best of the Rest 
Dalí Disney Project: 
Around the same time painter Salvador Dalí was collaborating with fellow surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchock he began storyboarding an animated short film for Walt Disney entitled Destino. The film remained as just that–a vision and a collection of drawings and test animation footage–until 2003 when it was finally completed by a group of animators with the blessings of Roy Disney for use in the never finalized Fantasia 2006. NOTE: The film was eventually released for film festivals and briefly played before the filmCalendar Girls during its theatrical release. The original Dalí incarnation will never truly be imagined on screen though. 

Stalingrad: Italian Spaghetti Western auteur Sergio Leone was hard at work at the end of the 1980s on a film chronicling the siege at Stalingrad during World War II. With a supposed large budget of over $100 million, half funded by Americans, half by Russians with Robert De Niro in line to star, this project might have been Leone’s final epic masterpiece.

Kaleidoscope: Hitchcock’s Darkest Film: After Alfred Hitchcock hit a low point in the mid 60s after his film Marnie failed to capture the same suspense as previous endeavors he began work on a radically different script about a violent killer who dabbled in necrophilia. Much to the dismay of studio execs Hitchcock wanted the film to be shot from the POV of the killer, he was keen on utilizing more experimental or “European” filmmaking techniques, and also planned for an elaborate death sequence involving an acid bath. The 60s title was originally Kaleidoscope, however, after the film failed to get a go-ahead from any studio, despite Hitchcock’s plan to film with a miniscule budget, aspects of the story were eventually fleshed out a decade later on screen in 1976s Frenzy

Global Hollywood


Last Sunday the 80th annual Academy Awards was broadcast to some of the lowest viewer ratings in recent years. The winners seemed predictable, save a handful of smaller technical categories. The gala’s emcee (the usually witty Jon Stewart) had his moments but overall brought more yawns than laughs and above all the festivities just seemed to be more of the same with very few memorable moments. 

A lot of factors may have played into the Oscar’s fairly mediocre outcome. Two months ago people were unsure if there would even be a ceremony after this year’s writers strike debacle halted previous award shows such as the Golden Globes. The high caliber of performances and films released in 2007 should have made the race all the more interesting but unfortunately so much had been written and hyped about the nominees that most major categories had been unanimously called by those covering the industry (exception might be made for the Best Supporting Actress win by Tilda Swinton, who herself seemed to be a bit jarred when her name was called).

Still the one thing that was most striking about the fairly uneventful evening was how much of a presence and force there was from International talents. If there was one particular sign of the times to take from the Oscars it was that now more than global cinema is beginning to best Hollywood, and rightfully so. 

In the acting arena two Brits, a Spaniard and a Parisian took the four major prizes. Many of the technical awards went to those whose foreign tongues kept their acceptance speeches short and endearingly awkward. Even both music categories were swept by those from overseas–Dario Marianelli’s moving score for “Atonement” and the Irish/Czech duo from the little movie that could, “Once.”

Now to be fair the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always had somewhat of a global eye when it comes to gathering the nominees but more often than not there is a limit to its scope. Take for example the Best Foreign Language Film category, which this year had baffling results thanks to shameless disregard for a number of masterpieces. Now while I have yet to see this year’s victor, the Austrian Holocaust piece, The Counterfeiters, it’s hard to imagine it being a more powerful piece of cinema than Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Here was a film coming out of what is now being called Romania’s own New Wave of filmmaking, that not only tackled the controversial issue of abortion but more impressively portrayed the way of life during a dark time for one of Europe’s most overlooked and forgotten countries. Set in the final years of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu’s reign, the film is not only a scathing look at the Romania’s former ban on birth control and abortion (a decree that caused a wave of underground, dangerous illegal abortions and subsequently a rise in overpopulated orphanages that plagued the country many years after the fall of communism) but also a portrait of how everyday life was under this regime. 

Still despite picking up the top prize at Cannes earlier this year, along with countless other important film festival awards it was ignored by the Academy. 

In past years I can think of a number of examples of foreign language films that were not only better than most films being released in Hollywood but were for the most part overlooked all together. Take last year’s Oscar gala. While the Academy finally bestowed some love for Martin Scorsese, they picked one of his more mediocre films. In fact of last year’s Best Picture nominees–The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Queen, and Babel–none of the films were truly as masterful, in my humble opinion, as some of the international fodder that came out. 

Take The Lives of Others for example, which took the Best Foreign Language Film statue last year. This film (truly one of the best of last year) combined themes of the sly conspiracy political thrillers from the 1970s with a historical portrait of the paranoid and restricted life in East Berlin under the GDRs regime. The film was so well received that it is even garnering an American remake to be helmed by either Sidney Pollack or Anthony Minghella (it should be noted that The Departed was itself a pseudo-remake of a far superior thriller, Infernal Affairs, from Hong Kong). 

ImageThen there was Water, Deepa Mehta sobering end to her element trilogy that focused on India’s British colonial period in the 1930s and the commonplace of women being married off young and the questionable treatment of widows. The film was not so much a scathing look at India’s cultural roots but rather a portrait of what life was like in this part of the world, again a common theme among foreign films that truly sets them apart from the mainstream. 

In past years there have been rare moments where international pictures blew the competition away or was able to leak into the bigger prizes usually reserved for Hollywood films. Take Bernardo Bertolucci’s biopic of the last monarch of China, The Last Emperor sweeping the awards in 1988 (technically not a foreign language film, but most definitely not something mainstream Hollywood would put out). Everyone remembers Roberto Benigni taking Best Actor and Foreign Film for Life Is Beautiful. Or how about Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar snatching up the well-deserved Best Screenplay prize and a Directing nom for his film Talk To Her, which was not only snubbed from contention in the Best Foreign Language film category but was one of the year’s best and remains to this day one of the finest films to be released in the new millennium. 

This year was a great one for film, no question about it but what is most interesting and promising about the Oscar outcome is that perhaps Hollywood is beginning to open its eyes to an entire world of filmmaking. Every year hundreds of great films slip by the publics eye or are completely ignored because they are subtitled. What’s fascinating about many of these films is that they are often capsules of times not familiar to us, and worlds that are radically different to what we know. While Hollywood still has a ways to go until they truly honor the finest films from a global standpoint, 2007 was proof that perhaps they’re making strides in the right direction.

Oscar Night Approaches


Well it’s Oscar season again, the annual soirée of Hollywood shakers and movers all dying to take the stage for their extended acceptance speeches, and all the glory and recognition that comes with that little gold statue. Normally I avoid most major award shows. The Grammys have never really interested me since I’m convinced it’s more of a popularity contest than an actual polling for the best of the best in the music industry. The Emmys always seem to ignore the shows that truly matter (The Wire anyone?) instead honoring the ones that ten years from now will be forgotten (Ugly Betty perhaps). The Golden Globes are like Oscar/Emmys light and then there is the slew of ridiculous MTV awards, which hold no real merit but are rather arenas for mass celebrity whoring. When it comes to the Academy Awards I can’t help but closely follow the annual road to the red carpet. What can I say I’m a sucker for the Oscar race.

When it’s all said and done the Academy Awards aren’t that much different from the other popularity contest award ceremonies listed above. There is plenty of celebrity attention grabbing during the pre-shows and escapades down the flash bulb red carpet. Picking the winners and nominees has always involved a certain level of illogical politics. Individuals are often honored decades too late (take last year with Scorsese), certain masters are shamelessly overlooked year after year often doomed for the end of their career achievement award, and for some reason certain films can sweep the awards (remember how well received Titanic was? Try watching it today).

Still there is something about the Oscars that for me always keeps me coming back for more and this year is certainly no exception. In my opinion 2007 was one of the finest years for film this side of the millennium not so much because of the films themselves but because of the raw performances that carried them. 

Major contenders like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood were undoubtedly very strong films, respectively, but each had flaws that, at least for me, keep them from becoming masterpieces. Still the stand-alone performances that were spawned from these films were some of the finest I’ve seen in recent years, which makes this a year of actors rather than filmmakers. 

Veteran master of the craft Daniel Day-Lewis locked down his nomination and probable win when he took on the role of oil man/power monger Daniel Plainview, an impressive performance that epitomizes truly awe-inspiring acting. With all due respects to the other contenders in the Best Acting Category–the wise Tommy Lee Jones, the bizarre but gifted Johnny Depp, the devoted to the role Viggo Mortensen and the popular favorite George Clooney–Day-Lewis’ commanding tour de force may be the finest showcase of true acting chops seen in a long time.


Ellen Page has earned the most buzz for her leading role in Juno, still people should rent Sarah Polley’s moving film Away From Her, which features the truly great leading lady role of the year by Julie Christie. Page is on her way to a promising career and while her role in Juno was something fresh I was much more impressed with her supporting turn as a psychotic, vengeful teenager in the indie sleeper Hard Candy (seriously rent this and watch as all preconceived notions of Page being a sweet little Canadian teenager go right out the window).

Powerful performances filled both supporting acting categories this year. On the actor side Javier Bardem seems to be the locked down nominee for his haunting take on Cormac McCarthy’s walking monster, Anton Chigurh in No Country, still one shouldn’t overlook the other stellar noms including my personal favorite, Casey Affleck in the shamelessly overlooked, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, seriously one of best films most people missed this year. 

Or how about Philip Seymour Hoffman for Charlie Wilson’s War who, like reserve wines and soft cheeses, seems to be getting better and better with age. Then there was the great Hal Holbrook who turned in one hell of a riveting performance in Into the Wild opposite the snubbed Emile Hirsch. 

On the supporting actress side Amy Ryan’s frightening take on the hard-lived Boston mother and druggie in the surprisingly good Gone Baby Gone would be my pick but all signs seem to be pointing towards Ruby Dee for her brief role in the fairly mediocre American Gangster. Here’s where politics get involved with Oscars. Dee is a veteran actress (and a damn good one) who has never won but honoring her for a bit role (seriously she’s on screen maybe 4 minutes total) in Gangster over someone like Tilda Swinton as the conniving businesswoman in Michael Clayton, Cate Blanchett (the new Meryl Streep) as Bob Dylan, or the young newcomer Saoirse Ronan in Atonement would be disappointing.

I’ve often thought that there should be a third acting category reserved solely for cameo and bit roles that, despite their limited time onscreen, end up becoming scene-stealers. For example, No Country featured a cast of greats but one of the finest performances in my mind came at the end when Tommy Lee Jones’ old sheriff pays a visit to his wheelchair stricken uncle/ex-lawman Ellis played wonderfully by the relatively unknown Anton Corbin. Or how about Swedish great Max Von Sydow’s small but crucial tear jerker performance in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film that like many others was snubbed from the Best Foreign Film category, another political flaw in the Academy’s selection of nominees. 

There were a number of stellar films to come from overseas that for some reason or another were disqualified from contention in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Besides Butterfly, which did garner a Best Directing nod for artist Julian Schnabel, other foreign tongue masterpieces were ignored. Among them Spain’s The Orphanage or Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, which took home the top prize at Cannes earlier this year (SIDENOTE: this film is truly a masterpiece and is only now getting a limited theatrical release but can be viewed on IFC OnDemand). How the Academy decides what qualifies and what doesn’t in this category will always baffle me, and it’s a shame because countless classics have been overlooked due to this hitch in the system.

As for as the final coveted Best Picture category it seems to be down between No Country and this year’s Little Miss SunshineJuno. I’ve always judged the best picture films on the merits of which movies I will revisit ten or twenty years down the road. Juno was a nice movie with a great screenplay (scribe Diablo Cody is a shoe-in for Best Original Screenplay) but was it truly the finest film this year? Jesse James was on par with No Country but nobody saw it. Despite critics who say Sean Penn strayed too far from the book, Into the Wild was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time and will surely be revisited in the future. Eastern Promises was also a masterpiece for the bizarre Canadian director David Cronenberg but alas it too was snubbed from most major categories despite being just as violent as many others nominated. 

With Jon Stewart returning as host and a slew of great actors set to take the stage, not to mention the possibility of another Michael Moore “shame on you” acceptance speech slam at our current administration if he wins Best Documentary for Sicko, next Sunday’s ceremony should make for one interesting night celebrating film in 2007.

Films You May Have Missed in 2007

Image

 So it’s the end of the year and you know what that means, the inevitable swarm of Top Ten lists. Whether it be a magazine, newspaper, or website, it seems anyone and everyone dealing with popular culture sums up the year with a series of rankings. For the most part, these lists are predictable and unanimous. In the music arena there is Kanye’s Graduation heading off against The Boss’ Magic or indie sensation, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible versus internet music marketing savvy Radiohead who kind of unleashed In Rainbows this year (this album may also be on next year’s lists…). In the realm of cinema, people can’t stop talking about the Coen’s haunting return to form in No Country For Old Men or Oscar hopeful George Clooney’s “proof that I’m more than just a pretty face” legal drama vehicle, Michael Clayton.
 
Now I could follow suit and provide a short-list of this year’s highlights and award season shoe-ins but it would be more of the same. I’ve always been interested in shedding light on the films that for some reason or another fail to make the lists and are worthy of some attention. The following are ten films, in no particular order, that most people may have missed this year.

Film:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
It’s easy to see why this film had a short life in the theaters and failed to garner any major attention. This is not the suave, ultra charming Brad Pitt that most moviegoers are used. This is why it’s also one of his best performances. This film has been labeled a Western when in reality it’s about an early form of stardom in American history and the obsession and corruption that comes with it. Pitt’s performance is full of detailed nuances that bring both a sense of melancholy and fear to his take on the legendary James. The cinematography by one Roger Deakins (also behind No Country For Old Men) is some of most richly toned and distinctive in recent years and Casey Affleck’s take on the Coward is one of the finest performances this year (seriously, he’s ten times the actor his brother is). Still very few people actually saw this in the theaters, which is a shame since its also one of the most visually stunning films you’ll see this year completely worthy of the $9 admission ticket.

The Lookout

This little indie film from last spring featured yet another scene stealing performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, arguably one of the better young actors working today (sorry Shia Lebouf). This small town bank heist sleeper is one part Fargo, one part Simple Plan, with a little Memento thrown in the pot and features a scene stealing performance by Jeff Daniels, one of this generation’s most underused actors.

Sunshine

Danny Boyle is by far one of the most unique and diverse filmmakers working today who–and I know people will find fault in this comment–is likening his career to that of Stanley Kubrick. Allow me explain. Similar to Kubrick, Boyle continues to change his style up with every film. Trainspotting put him on the map with the same grittiness and eye opening themes and imagery as A Clockwork Orange28 Days Later was his foray into horror, helping to reinvent the zombie genre for this generation (Kubrick’s The Shining remains one of the finest thrillers out there), and Millions showed he could do a children’s story (Kubrick’s A.I. would have been a similar venture). Sunshine, Boyle’s sci-fi epic holds many comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey–beautiful special effects, moving score, and a things fall apart in space storyline–but is also an extremely unique film with a fairly believable premise, which also serves as scathing social commentary to that inconvenient truth that Gore was on about.

28 Weeks Later
Speaking of 28 Days Later, this surprisingly good sequel to Boyle’s instant classic zombie nightmare film featured one of the best opening chase scenes of any scary movie in recent years, had a fairly original and unique storyline for a sequel and above all was as frightening as its predecessor. Still this film had a short run in the theaters but should not be missed if you’re up for a good old-fashioned scare.

Zodiac
During the rush of Award season hopefuls it’s easy to forget the films that were released earlier in the year. David Fincher has long been a master of the modern thriller but Zodiac was proof that he also had a knack for crafting a realistic investigation flick, in the same vein as All the President’s Men. Add a stellar performance by the always-great Robert Downey Jr. and you have a forgotten slow burner from last spring that should be sought out on DVD.

Into the Wild

Sean Penn’s faithful adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name may be my favorite film this year. Perhaps its because I’ve always loved a good road movie, or maybe I just have a certain level of admiration for the character of Christopher McCandless who in the early 90s set off on a major walkabout of the America’s heartland. Penn has always had a knack for directing (seriously seek his little seen 2001 film The Pledge that featured Jack Nicholson’s best role of the decade) and his young star Emile Hirsch joins the ranks of Gordon-Levitt as one of the best young actors working today.

Paris, Je T’aime

It’s hard to make a bad film about the beauty and magic of the city of Paris and sure enough this collection of vignettes from a crew of international filmmakers doesn’t disappoint. Sure some film shorts are better than others but overall this is a beautiful and at times surreal look at the city of love. Highlight segments: “Quais de Seine” Gurinder Chadha’s (Bend It Like Beckham) lovely boy meets girl story, which is sure to bring a smile to your face and the Coen Brothers’ brilliant use of Steve Buscemi as a confused and unlucky American tourist.

Lucky Miles

This instant classic from Down Under has yet to get a wide release but was one of the gems I was lucky enough to see at Chicago’s International Film Festival earlier this fall. In true indie fashion this film relies on a clever often-funny storyline, great performances by extreme unknowns and an important social commentary floating just under the surface. It’s also a film that should be seen fresh without any prior knowledge of the plot so I’ll leave it at that.

No End In Sight

Forget Sicko. If you see one documentary this year your time should go towards this scathing look at the Iraq war. Told by the people behind the downward spiral of our presence in Iraq, this film will/should make even the staunchest of conservatives second-guess our current administration.
Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog is one of cinema’s best-kept secrets. He’s a natural filmmaker who isn’t afraid to tackle some of the toughest and most fascinating tales and has a unique adoration for natural surroundings. Dawn joins the ranks of The Great EscapeThe Deer Hunter,Escape from Alcatraz and even The Pianist as one of the finest escape/survival films out there and is also a fascinating look at the pre-stages of the Vietnam war. Funnyman character actor Steve Zahn delivers a career best dramatic performance and Christian Bale proves that even though he stars as everyone’s favorite caped crusader, he still has time for thought provoking and challenging roles.



C Dub’s Top Fifteen Films of 2006 (So far…)

1) The Departed
2) The Fountain
3) The Proposition (Officially 2005)
4) Half Nelson
5) Little Children
6) Babel
7) The Queen
8) The Prestige
9) Who Killed the Electric Car?
10) United 93
11) Water (Officially 2005)
12) The Science of Sleep
13) Casino Royale
14) Thank You For Smoking
15) A Scanner Darkly

MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS YET TO COME:
Volver
Pan’s Labyrinth
DreamGirls
The Good Shepherd
The Good German
Children of Men
Blood Diamond
Factory Girl
The Painted Veil

Worst Film Thus Far: Tie for “Little Man” & “Let’s Go to Prison”
Freakiest Film of the Year: Hard Candy
Best, Get Your Ass Up and Help Save the Planet Film of the Year: An Inconvenient Truth
Best Slap Stick Horror Film of the Year (The Evil Dead Award): Slither
Scariest Motherfucker of the Year: The Descent (Officially 2005)
Hands Down Funniest Film of the Year, Possibly the Decade: Borat