Sunday, February 22, 2009
It's time for the Oscars. Here are my thoughts on the main categories. I'll give the nominees, my prediction, and my personal pick.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire. The front runner for the past few months. This year I've seen all the Best Picture nominees. I don't feel any of them were really outstanding. All good and well made, but I feel some better movies were released in 2008. This category missed out on several of my favorites movies of the year like WALL-E, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight, Revolutionary Road and even In Bruges.
Personal Pick: Milk. I usually have fundamental problems with biopics, but this one contains strong performances and a solid screenplay.
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
Prediction: Sean Penn. I'd say this is Penn's best performance next to Dead Man Walking. He pulls off the mannerisms and accent. He stays pretty low key and rarely show boats with this one.
Personal pick: Mickey Rourke. Rourke knocks this one out of the park. He fulfills much of the promise he showed as an actor in the 1980s. Not only is this a great comeback story, but I thought it was the most personal and touching performance of the year.
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader
Prediction: Kate Winslet. It's her 6th nomination with no previous win so I think they Academy will finally recognize her. Meryl Streep seems to be the biggest threat, but I really found her the worst part of Doubt. She was over the top and turned her scenes into unneeded comedic relief. Special notice of Melissa Leo who gives a subtle, strong performance in the little seen Frozen River.
Personal pick: Kate Winslet. It should have been for Revolutionary Road though. I thought that was a fantastic performance and much stronger.
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey, Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road
Prediction: Heath Ledger. Ledger owns the part of The Joker in The Dark Knight. He's the best thing in a strong and entertaining movie. It's an instant, iconic role.
Personal pick: Heath Ledger. Ledger not winning would be a major shock and upset.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis -Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Prediction: Penelope Cruz. Cruz and Viola Davis have been the front runners. Cruz has the advantage and history of working with Woody Allen. Davis has a short but critically lauded scene in Doubt. I was bothered by all the crying, slobbering, and snot though.
Personal pick: Marisa Tomei. She's won before (My Cousin Vinny), but she's grown as an actress since that movie. Like the movie itself, I think Tomei has the more personal, heartfelt performance of this group.
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant - Milk
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Prediction: Danny Boyle. Boyle has made movies that I prefer (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later), but this one seems to have touched and inspired a larger audience. The film was made with many non-actors and in difficult circumstances in Mumbai so I think he'll be awarded for that hard work.
Personal pick: I'm not totally sold on the film's story, but I do like Boyle's work.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Eric Roth - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley - Doubt
Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
David Hare - The Reader
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
Prediction: Simon Beaufoy. Best Picture winners often win a screenplay award as well making this the front runner.
Personal pick: I had problems with the screenplays on all of these films. I guess I'd go with Eric Roth's Benjamin Button since it took a short story and expanded it into a larger story.
Best Original Screenplay
Courtney Hunt - Frozen River
Mike Leigh - Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh - In Bruges
Dustin Lance Black - Milk
Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon - WALL-E
Prediciton: Dustin Lance Black. First time screenwriter on a well liked movie about an important subject. Oscar loves that.
Personal pick: Stanton & Reardon. My favorite movie of the year was WALL-E, and I thought the story was great. I'd love to see the Academy ignore their usual prejudice against animated films, and give the award to this most deserving movie. In Bruges is also a movie worthy of recognition.
Best Animated Film
Prediciton: WALL-E. This should be a lock. The others were good (esp. Bolt), but I think WALL-E should have been nominated in the Best Picture race. I enjoyed it more than any of the other nominees.
Personal pick: WALL-E. Pixar just makes great movies.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Day three might have been the best day for me of the festival. I started out at The Current's Free Yr Radio Party. This party was particularly great because each band was interviewed and broadcasted on live radio. The first band that I was able to catch was The Duke Spirit from the UK. They played two awesome tracks from their latest release, Neptune. Shortly thereafter, She and Him took the stage for a few songs and to discuss the future for the duet. I was happy to learn that this is will be a long term endeavor for them. She and Him is the collaboration of singer/songwriter M Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel. This was probably the my most anticipated act of the festival and did not disappoint. His unique style of songwriting and her classic voice make this duo outstanding. The next band I caught was the scratchy Times New Viking from Columbus, OH at Emo's. I had to use my earplugs since their sound is often rough and distorted. While this is not normally the type of music I listen to, I will say that I certainly did enjoy this show. I walked back over to Red Eye Fly to catch a bit of Grand Ole Party again. It may have been just hearing a different sound from the previous club, but I just couldn't get into this band on my second time around. Around six, I made the trek over to the Auditorium Shores stage to catch Canadian alt-country band The Sadies. I had some familarity with this band, but had never seen them. I have to say that I was impressed with their style. It is certainly unlike any alt-country band I have ever heard.
The night time started for me at Bourbon Rocks where I caught Seattle singer/songwriter Sera Cahoone. This show got off to a rocky start as the sound crew at Bourbon Rocks seemed to have trouble keeping the equipment working properly. Once they got that fixed, the show was outstanding. I really like Sera Cahoone's soothing acoustic sound and look forward to hearing her new release. I walked over to the Parish to catch the next few acts that would go on there. The first was Radar Bros. I found them to be rather ordinary and couldn't really get into them. Following them were the Shout Out Louds. I found this show of theirs to be much better than the one I had seen the day before at Flamingo Cantina. The final act I saw at the Parish was She and Him. This set was much longer than the one I had seen earlier in the day. They reeled off many cuts from their upcoming (now released) album. I tried to watch the Castanets at the end of the night but got too hungry to continue.
I spent most of the day time of day four at the Garden Party at the French Legation. The first band I saw was Lightspeed Champion, whose eclectic power pop did very little for me. I was impressed with Sons and Daughters, though it really isn't they type of music I normally get into. I couldn't see the next two acts, J Mascis and Thurston Moore, but I did hear them and both sounded great. The last act I caught was She and Him for a third and final time. The show was quite similar to the night before. They are still magnificent and probably my favorite act of the festival.
At night, I caught the first few songs of Boston, MA band Tulsa. The first song didn't do much for me, but they sure did rock after that. I have since purchased their CD. I tried to catch the M Ward and Jim James show at St. David's Church, but for some reason, they wouldn't let me in. They said they were filled to capacity, but all reports I heard said that they were not. I heard I missed a great show. I ended up at the Parish again. The first band I saw there was The Most Serene Republic. I didn't get too into them. Musically they were good, but their singer weirded me out a bit. Following them, the Constantines gave a rather nice show. I had heard they were good but never really got into them. It took me a few songs to get used to the scratchy voice of the singer. I think I'll have to go back and listen to a few of the albums of theirs that someone gave me. The last band I caught was Jason Collett. This time I got to pay more attention to him and his band. I enjoyed this show a lot more than the one at Emo's Annex on day one. I tried to go by Emo's Annex to see The Spinto Band, but I guess I was just not in the mood for it. I walked into the Thirsty Nickel to meet up with B and watch Kid Dakota. He certainly got more into it than I did. We tried to catch British Sea Power at the end, but nobody was really up for it, so we left.
This year's festival was as strong as ever. I've found a few new bands to listen to and hopefully catch again. I'll be reviewing those which I like in the coming weeks. The rest of my pictures can be found here.
Friday, March 21, 2008
The final day of SXSW started with a trip to see the Flatstock show at the Austin Convention Center. There were a number of exhibitors with stylish and artful posters and prints on display and for sale. After checking out the art work, it was time to walk to the day party so it was off to the French Legation Museum for The Garden Party sponsored by Harp Magazine and Press Here. This was a nice outdoor show with a solid line-up and $1 PBR. The downside was the long lines for the bar and bathrooms. I think they mis-judged the number of people that would attend.
Lightspeed Champion (2:20pm) - This band led by Devonte Hynes also features vocalist Emmy the Great and mixes a variety of genres. They made for fine background music while I read my free Harp Magazine.
Sons & Daughters (3:00pm) - It was good to see the Glasgow band (pictured) again. Adele Bethel's strong vocals and Scott Paterson's guitar were impressive. The tracks off their new CD sound really solid live, and it was a treat to her them play the song Johnny Cash off their debut, Love the Cup.
J. Mascis (3:50pm) - Best known for his work with alt-rock pioneer, Dinosaur, Jr. It was nice to get to hear the legend play a solo show. His singing my not be as dynamic as it once was, but he still plays a mean guitar.
Thurston Moore (4:30pm) - Another solo show from an alt-rock legend. Moore is best known for his work with Sonic Youth.
She & Him (5:15pm) - This was a third offering of M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel at SXSW 2008. I really enjoy their collaboration. Deschanel has written some fine songs and fits perfectly with M. Ward's lo-fi approach. I've since purchased the debut CD, Volume One, and recommend it.
Okkervil River (6:05pm) - I've yet to see a full set from this Austin band even though I'm a big fan. I saw them open for The Decemberists a few years ago and only caught the final two songs. The shows at The Garden Party day show had been running behind so G and I listened to a few songs before heading to get food and get in line for the first of the night shows. What I heard was great and maybe I'll be able to check their Dallas show in early April. Last year's CD, The Stage Names was one of my favorite releases of 2007.
M. Ward (St. David's Church, 9:00pm) - Since we arrived early, we were able to get seats in the front row right by where M. Ward was setup. This show was simply incredible. One highlight was Poison Cup from Ward's last CD, Post-War. Towards the end of the set, Jim James joined Ward. They played Ward songs and some My Morning Jacket songs. Video of Ward's Chinese Translation and My Morning Jacket's Golden courtesy of G.
Laura Gibson (The Thirsty Nickel, 11:00pm) - This Portland, OR indie-folk artist had the unfortunate luck of being stuck in this inappropriate venue. The stage was right near the street so street and bar noise drowned out some of her lovely songs. As the set continued I was able to get closer and really enjoyed what I heard. I picked up her latest release.
Kid Dakota (The Thirsty Nickel, 12:00am) - This guitar & drum duo from Minneapolis, MN played louder than Laura Gibson so they were able to overcome any extra noise problems. Their songs are pretty simplistic and have some odd phrasing, but I still found the music catchy so I picked up their latest CD.
British Sea Power (Maggie Mae's Rooftop, 1:00am) - For the final show of the festival, we walked down a few places to Maggie Mae's to take in the British indie rock band. I had not heard any of the band's new release, but was familiar with their previous work. It was enjoyable enough, but from where I was standing I was unable to even see the band.
And so ended another SXSW. It was a wonderful 4 days of music, both new and old. I look forward to next year's festival. More photos can be found here.
Best of the Day: M. Ward & Jim James
Best New Find of the Day: Laura Gibson
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Day 3 started at the Free YR Radio Broadcast Corner hosted by Minnesota public radio station 89.3 The Current. These shows ran each day on the corner of 7th and Red River. The show was live on the radio and the host would ask a few questions of the artist followed by a short set.
The Duke Spirit (1:00pm) - G, J, and I arrived early and we were able to get a spot right in front. It was quickly announced that the band would only play two songs as lead singer Leila Moss was suffering from a scratchy voice. She was still energetic and sounded pretty good considering. This was my first exposure to the band other than a download of the song Lassoo from the SXSW site. I'm glad I was able to see the band, and I'm eager to hear their upcoming release Neptune. It would be good to see them do a full set as well.
She & Him (2:15pm) - There was a large crowd gathered for the SXSW debut of the collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Host Mark Wheat started by asking about how the two met and if they would collaborate again. They indicated they would record again and hope to do a proper tour in the future. Zooey then introduced the band, and they played three songs off the new CD, Volume One, including the track This Is Not a Test (video courtesy of G).
The Sadies (Dirty Dog Bar, 2:40pm) - After the short She & Him set, it was off to Dirty Dog Bar to see the end of The Sadies set at the Yep Roc day party. I was only able to catch the last two songs of their set, but it was just as great as the previous night. These guys rock.
Fleet Foxes (Emo's Main, 3:30pm) - By this time the Pitchfork day party was in full effect. G and I stopped in to catch a few repeat songs of our favorite new band from the previous day. They were still very good.
Times New Viking (Emo's Jr., 4:00pm) - I knew going in to expect loud and raw from this Columbus, Ohio band, and I was right. But I was surprised at how fun it was too. Oddly enough their live sound is less rough than their latest CD, Rip It Off.
A Place to Bury Strangers (Emo's Jr., 5:00pm) - We stopped in for one song from Yeasayer over at Emo's Main, but it really did not sound good to me or G so we decided to grab a good spot for Strangers instead. I decided not to stand as close to the stage this time for the band. On Wednesday they really blew me away with how loud they actually play. They've earned the moniker, "loudest band in NY." At one point singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann was swinging his guitar by the strings as they broke. Awesome fusion of rock and noise.
The Sadies (Auditorium Shores, 6:00pm) - Yes, it was off to see The Sadies again. This time at the venue on the banks of Town Lake. J and I found a nice spot for badge holders with free drinks and shade. The Sadies played the same set as the night before, but it didn't matter to me as they are just too good to miss in a live setting.
Ryan Bingham (Momo's, 8:00pm) - From Auditorium Shores, we walked a few blocks to Momo's for several performances. To start was local Americana/roots singer Ryan Bingham. He had quite a crowd gathered for his set, but I was really there to see the next two bands.
Future Clouds and Radar (9:00pm) - This Austin band lead by Robert Harrison is an eclectic art rock band that had a critically acclaimed debut double CD last year. The single Back Seat Silver Jet Sighter has become a new favorite of mine over the past month. You could see how much Harrison and his band loved playing, and it came out in their lively set. The bass player used to play for Spoon so there was a Britt Daniels sighting after their show.
The Submarines (10:00pm) - I was here to see this band based on one song called You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie. I'm very glad to have made that decision. Singer Blake Hazard is adorable and was so appreciative of the crowd. The crowd was appreciative right back for her and John Dragonetti's incredibly catchy songs. I look forward to their new CD release later this year.
She & Him (The Parish, 12:00am) - After Momo's it was time for a full set of She & Him. They were set to play a midnight show so I thought I'd catch a little of the Shout Out Louds who were playing before them. That was not to be. What met me was a long badge line at The Parish. G didn't make it in, but luckily I did about 10 minutes prior to M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel taking the stage. She seemed more comfortable during this set and really showed off some singing skills and play keyboard on a couple of songs. It was a well rounded set of tunes from their new CD. In my opinion the band is more than just some novelty interest because of the high profile collaboration.
Castanets (Central Presbyterian Church, 1:00am) - I've seen the Castanets on each of my three SXSW visits. This was a unique chance I thought to see them in a perfect venue. Last year I was able to see two shows (Shearwater, Vashti Bunyan) at the church, and both were great shows with amazing acoustics. Castanets frontman Raymond Raposa commented on the great venue. He and his backing band went on to play mostly cover songs (Suspicious Minds). It was an interesting show, but it featured more Castanets experimentation then a focus on their beautiful, haunting songs.
Favorite of the Day: She & Him
Favorite New Find: The Submarines
Monday, March 17, 2008
Elf Power (12:45pm) - The Athens, GA band started off the day for me, and they played a solid set featuring several tracks from their new CD In a Cave which will be released on March 25.
Fleet Foxes (1:35pm) - This Seattle, WA band filled the venue with three part harmonies and melodic indie rock. Their debut EP, Sun Giant, will be released on April 8. Luckily they had copies for sale, and I predict I will be playing it regularly over the next month. Check their myspace page and give the song English House a listen.
Akron/Family (2:25pm) - This band did not work for me on Day 1, but the rest of the day's lineup was a must. Flamingo has a rooftop so we headed up there to escape the sounds of Akron/Family.
The Helio Sequence (3:15pm) - I first saw this Portland, OR duo at last year's Sasquatch Festival. I enjoyed them even more this time. Drummer Benjamin Weikel was impressive and Brandon Summers easily captured the audience's attention with his vocals and guitar. I'll be picking up their new CD, Keep Your Eyes Ahead now.
Rogue Wave (4:05pm) - The California band played several tracks from their latest CD (like Lake Michigan) and also played Bird on a Wire and Publish My Love from Descended with Vultures. The band keeps things exciting by mixing things up on their songs. Always a band worth seeing.
Shout Out Louds (5:00pm) - I had only heard the song Tonight I Have to Leave It which although catchy, it still sounded like a band trying to be The Cure. Luckily, the band is not just a rip off band. They put on an energetic and entertaining show.
Li'l Cap'n Travis (Bourbon Rocks, 8:00pm) - The evening shows started with the popular local band who deftly mix country and rock.
The Evangelicals (Mohawk Patio, 10:00pm) - After Li'l Cap'n Travis, it was off to Mohawk to get a place for the 10pm show plus it's one of the better places to relax and enjoy the city and music. Unfortunately things were running 30 minutes behind so I saw the end of Brooklyn band Phosphorescent which included a Leonard Cohen cover, but not much else that interested me. They were followed by Bodies of Water which interested me even less. Finally at about 10:30pm The Evangelicals took the stage and kicked into their psychedelic rock reminiscent of fellow Oklahoma natives, The Flaming Lips.
Chatham County Line (The Continental Club, 11:00pm) - Prior to The Evangelicals ending it was time to catch a taxi to head to The Continental Club. The reason was for the midnight band, but it was a nice surprise to see this acoustic bluegrass band. Also in attendance was Mike Mills of REM.
The Sadies (The Continental Club, 12:00am) - G and I were able to snag a spot in front of the stage right in front of singer/guitarist Travis Good. I had seen The Sadies one other time when they opened for Neko Case a few years ago. Their blend of alt-country, spaghetti western, surf rock is a joy to see and hear. The Good Bros. are impressive guitar players and keep things lively with their gusto to perform. Video courtesy of G.
Black Mountain (Mohawk Patio, 1:00am) - This Canadian band can really rock. Their new CD In the Future has already been getting some regular playing time from me, and I was a fan of their debut as well. Things were still running late at Mohawk so they didn't start until 1:30am so it was a shorter set than I would have liked. I hope to see a full set from these guys sometime in the future.
Favorite of the Day: The Sadies
Favorite New Find: Fleet Foxes
Friday, March 14, 2008