Friday, August 27, 2010

Favorite songs for their lyrics part IV

Part IV in edition of songs that have the best lyrics. I believe this is a matter of things personally resonating with you more than it is a judgment of absolute quality:

And to add to that list:

Hey Soul Sister, Train (2010)-Train's lyrics tend to center around platonic love and nostalgia. Rather than sing about physical desire for that special someone, Train's songwriter(s) reminisce about long phone conversations and great soy lattes (Drops of Jupiter). There's a certain old-fashioend innocence which carries through with "Hey Soul Sister." It's so innocent, it feels like the words are coming from an 8-year old boy about a girl he loves playing with during recess. "Hey, Soul Sister" is filled with the kind of wonderment that only a child would bother to have: the narrator speaks of lipstick stains and compares love to the game show "Love Connection." Linking in with this theme of childlike innocence and nostalgia, references to songs of yesteryear are sprinkled throughout: Kyrie's Mr. Mister, Madonna's Like a Virgin, and Lady Labelle's Lady Marmalade.

You Found Me, Fray (2009)-The song makes my list mostly on the basis of its opening two lines: "I found God on the corner of 1st and Amistad/ Where the West was all but won." I love the idea of finding God in such a specific location and how it's just emphatically stated. The next sentence jumps topically to what's practically a non-sequitor: The West being won is a popular expression about history and carries a metaphorical meaning rarely used about the taming of wilderness. It stands in an odd juxtaposition to the first line. The rest of the song is the narrator expressing alternating sentiments of great appreciation for the person who "found him" and was there for him in his darkest hours (kind of like "How to Save a Life" if it were told from the opposite perspective) and a lamentation that his savior arrived a little late and that a lot of pain had already been caused ("Just a little late...where were you? where were you?"). The song switches tenses and narrators and gets a little ambiguous for good effect.

Downfall, Matchbox 20 (2004)-The song opens with just a sense of manic obsession over a past love with all sorts of conflicting viewpoints: "I wonder how you sleep, I wonder what you think of me, if we could go back, would you have ever been with me, I want you to be uneased, I want it to linger, I want you to remember, I want you on my side so bad..." It's clear that the narrator doesn't have a high opinion of the subject. I interpret "I wonder how you sleep" to be a slightly more passive-aggressive way of demanding to know, "how can you live with yourself?" And yet, for his dislike, he wants her on his side. If it doesn't make sense to you, I've been in the exact same situation and have reacted with the exact same set of thoughts, so I get it. The main line is also such a great inversion of a traditional sentiment for a love song: "Be my savior, and I'll be your downfall." Why would anyone want to enter into such a one-sided arrangement?

Jack and Dianne, John Cougar Mellencamp (1982)-The verses are overly cliched but the chorus is something you can base your life on "Hold onto 16 as long as you can, change is going to come around soon and make you women and men....Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." This one hasn't been on my mind lately, but it was a steadfast anthem of mine in my late teens and very early 20s, and there's still a little part of me that tries to keep that bit of wisdom that life is best at the age of 16 and the best thing to do is hold onto that feeling as much as you can. Clearly, the world has opened up and more things have happened to me since I was 16, but it is worth trying to recapture that feeling because at that age, I had so many fewer worries and the newly arriving privilages of adulthood had an added novelty that made me so much more grateful for them (i.e. when I was 16, driving was sheer bliss; 10 years later I'm more likely to think of what a pain traffic is). Also like the first line of the pre-chorus for its association of rock and roll with salvation: "Let it rock, let it roll, let the bible belt come and save your soul"

No Such Thing, John Mayer (2002)-This song opened my eyes up in a way that might be described as life-changing. I look back fondly upon my freshman year of college but it was also a great period of identity confusion for me. Life until I went to college was almost entirely constant in terms of the people and places, and the first major life change left me thinking way too much about what the balance was between being active in my circle of friends and support system from back home verse the new possibilities of college. When I first heard this song, I gained a new perspective about this concept of adulthood that I found so worrying: "I just found out there's no such thing as the real world, just a lie you've got to rise above." The song also encourages you not to think so much in terms of boundaries and classifications that people saddle you with.

Breathe, Anna Nalick (2006)-So many artists (Faith Hill, Michelle Branch, Jill Scott, Blue Cantrell, etc) have used this word for a song title and of the ones I've browsed, none have captured the relief of taking a deep breath like this one. The narrator talks of people who are overwhelmed to the point that the narrator herself is overwhelmed and weary listening to others' grief. You get invested as the song builds up tension. The second line of the chorus, "Life's like an hourglass glued to the table," is followed by the "no one can find the rewind button, girl" followed by the even more bleak line "so cradle your head in your hands" and then the tension is released with the cathartic words "just breathe" repeated 3 times for effect.

Superman, Five for Fighting (2001)-I thought that I covered Five for Fighting pretty well with "Easy Tonight" and "100 Years" but I found the lines in the second chorus surprisingly resonant and poetic when this song recently came up on the radio: "It may be absurd, but don't be naive. Even heroes have the right to breathe. I may be disturbed, but won't you conceed, even heroes have the right to dream." A very interesting inversion of hero worship. Supposedly,the song is sung from the point of view of Superman and the song asks us to contemplate how sad his life potentially would be.

Here is Gone, Goo Goo Dolls (2002)-The music world owes a debt of gratitude to whoever it was that broke Johnny Rzeznick's heart so effectively. His channeling of those feelings into songs like "Iris" have created some of the most poignant songs about heartbreak of his time. Here is Gone is about heartbreak like "Iris", "Sympathy" or "Name," but it is simultaneously an anthem of empowerment. It is Rzeznick taking that brooding energy and fighting back with it. Two lines that jump out at me are 1) "Somehow, here is gone" because it doesn't even try to make sense syntax-wise. It just portrays a sense of disillusionment well. 2) "I've got my defenses when it comes to your intentions with me." Sometimes, that's all you have is your version of the story after a break-up.

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls (2007)-Another Goo Goo Dolls selection but one that's completely different. Rzeznick is so obsessed with singing about broken hearts but he steps outside his problems in a way so few musicians do and sings about something along the lines of world peace. He sings from the point of view of a poor kid on Christmas who doesn't need a simple present but selflessly aspires that his family sees better days. The song gets heavier as it goes along. It decries consumerism "Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings/And designer love and empty things" and manages some light religious commentary over the storyline of a kid looking forward to Christmas: "And the one poor child who saved this world/
And there's 10 million more who probably could/If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them."

Songs, that have been covered so far. For past editions of this series, click on the tag on the bottom entitled "Lyrics."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

20 best performances of the decade that got no oscar buzz

A message board post I found myself going to town on at a message board. Please share your favorites as well. Please also check out 20 Great Actor/Director Pairings. This post has been published at so as a way to ensure all traffic goes there, much of this page will be abbreviate and duplicate content will be eliminated:

Adrien Brody, Hollywoodland

Angela Bassett, Sunshine State

Amara Rakam-Darjeeling Linmited-She's very interesting as a steward aboard an Indian train who has a brief fling on a train with the protagonist's younger brother-a damaged boy who was probably never in a fit enough to enter into a relationship anyways.

Brendan Gleason, In Bruges (he did get a Golden Nom for best comedy, I concede, so he was the most acknowledged person on this list)-In this film where no character is exactly as stereotypes would play out, Gleason plays a hitman who's an art and history buff and more importantly, someone with a far better conscious than a man of his profession can tolerate. He wrestles with his consciousness endlessly and is the only beacon of hope for his partner who accidentally shot an innocent child and can't cope with the guilt.

Denzel Washington, Manchurian Candidate

Ed Harris, Radio-Like Ryan Gosling for Half-Nelson or Robin Williams for Dead Poets Society this is one of those inspirational parts of teacher/mentor that can easily get lost in the shuffle if the film's marketing presented the story as overly schmaltzy. I found a much more nuanced performance than I was expecting: Similar to Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

Forest Whitaker-Great Debaters-Obviously, with the solid material, the heavy themes, and the usual caliber of Whitaker as an actor and Denzel Washington as a director, you'd expect something great, but this was beyond what I expected. In Whitaker's character, we see a powerful juxtaposition in the eyes of his son between a most respected figure in the world of academia and a man stripped of his dignity by uneducated white farmers before the era of Civil Rights. Ultimately, he comes across as a father who's kids have every reason to be proud of him and Whitaker carries that juxtaposition well.

Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Blindness-The dystopic film about a massive epidemic that causes blindness was gritty and realistic. It was shot in a documentary style and that gave more authenticity to the film's characters and in the case of Bernal, made the villain easily scarier.

Gwenyth Paltrow, Royal Tenenbaums: What a massive surprise: The glamorous Oscar winner and Hollywood product plays eccentric, loopy and depressed: It's a part more for Ally Sheedy or Parker Posey, but Paltrow owned it.

Jude Law-Road to Perdition

Judy Greer, Adaptation-Cute as a button, this perky waitress only has a couple scenes but is priceless as a study of how attraction can quickly turn to sudden awkwardness.

Kate Beckinsdale-The Aviator-Cate Blanchett at Katherine Hepburn was just an impression. She was only interesting as far as the audience saying "doesn't she nail Hepburn?" Beckinsdale played someone who was interesting to watch on screen regardless of whether it was based on a historic character: A self-assured Holywood starlett who was Howard Hughes' match. If I had my choice of who I'd rather see a movie about, it would be Beckinsdale's character.

Paul Giamatti-Lady in the Water-Not necessarily a good movie, but that does nothing to take away from Giamatti's performance: It's got layers of subtext (he's a wounded soul), it's got physicality (he has a distinctive stutter), it's got dramatic moments, and it's got dynamicism (he grows to believe in himself throughout the movie).

Penelope Cruz-Vanilla Sky: She was just such a bundle of joy. Cameron Crowe is a romantic who writes movies about the girls he had distant crushes on in high school, so sometimes the women in his films like Penny Lane are fantasies. Still, she's enticing here

Robert Downey Jr-Soloist: An inspiring film with an inspiring performance at the center. Downey Junior, who's been great in everything lately, doesn't go for the big tear jerking moments but is very nuanced and subtle.

Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma: Christain Bale also belongs here because the film's success has as much to do with the relationship between the two men as it does anything else. Crowe is just a Western bad guy but he delivers maxims and responses to his captor like a classically trained actor in a Shakespeare film, and he just about pulls it off.

Tea Leoni-Spanglish

Tom Hanks-Catch Me If You Can

Tom Hanks-The Ladykillers-I'm not saying I love every Tom Hanks performance, but he was the only bright spot on an otherwise drab film. He just has a knack for comedy and reacts to everything around him with assuredness even though things are most certainly not ok and his band of cohorts are all subpar.

William H Macy-Bobby