Sing a Song of Sixpence That Goes...
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I like A Moon Shaped Pool more than I've liked a Radiohead record since Amnesiac, or maybe Kid A. As was the case with that turn-of-the-millennium pair, the new album works really well on multiple levels of listening: it justifies and rewards close attention (which the last two didn't--there was no "there" there, to borrow a line from the band), but it's also great, melodic sonic wallpaper if that's what you want it to do (unlike the more stubbornly intrusive Hail to the Thief, which seemed to signal something or other of some import in 2003 but hasn't held up particularly well 13 years on). At present A Moon Shaped Pool is serving splendidly as background music while I grade some four dozen final exams--but it keeps reminding me, politely yet insistently, to give it my full attention again when I can spare the time. Will do.


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As busy as I am these days I just couldn't resist getting out to the Museum of the Moving Image's Terence Davies retrospective. When I noticed that Davies himself (one of my favorite filmmakers) would be in town and appearing for Q&As at some screenings, it became an absolute must-attend. In person, Davies was as eloquent and thoughtful as any longtime fan could hope. But he was funnier than I expected, gushing effusively about his love of the Hollywood musical and American songbook, emphatically asserting that no actor (regardless of their fame) deserves to be paid inordinate sums of money, and musing that he is so close with his therapist that even he now hates Davies' long-deceased, abusive father. And while Davies said that he has been celibate since 1980, he coyly described The Long Day Closes's striking image of Christ on the cross as a "very sexy" scene.

That film (one of two screenings that I attended, along with the local premiere of Davies' latest, Sunset Song) looked and sounded incredible in the museum's handsome theatre. It'd been years since I'd seen it, and watching it again I was struck by how well it would play alongside great recent coming-of-age films like Boyhood, Girlhood, and Blue is the Warmest Color. Hearing Davies speak about this deeply personal work -- capturing, despite the film's melancholic notes, the happiest period of his youth, between the death of his father and his entry into secondary school, and, crucially, the period when his long romance with "the pictures" took root -- only contributed to my admiration of it.

Nevertheless, the masterful, extraordinarily beautiful Sunset Song (also a coming-of-age story) confirmed conclusively that I prefer Davies' later adaptations to his earlier, autobiographical films, a preference that probably puts me in a small minority among Davies devotees. As in The House of Mirth (still Davies' best in my view, though a second or third viewing of Sunset Song could well change that), the rhythm and pacing of his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's revered Scottish novel are so perfectly calibrated. The result is completely cinematic, with its eye-popping exteriors shot in 65mm and its digitally-shot interior scenes no less gorgeous, while also capturing the distinctively immersive quality of reading, and living with, a great novel. It is Davies' uncommon skill as a narrative storyteller that isn't really present in his looser, dreamier early work, but is showcased to expert effect in his later films, not least the utterly engrossing Sunset Song. While this shift would typically be ascribed to "maturation," it is more likely connected to Davies' twice-repeated conviction that "content dictates form, every time."

Another key aspect that characterizes Davies' later, non-autobiographical films is the stunning performances of their lead actresses, from Gena Rowlands to Gillian Anderson to Rachel Weisz (and I expect great things from Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson in Davies' forthcoming A Quiet Passion!). Agyness Deyn, though less famous (for now) than the others aforementioned, is certainly no less remarkable; her performance here is as powerful and nuanced as any on film in recent memory. Deyn, who was also present at last night's screening (wearing a baggy grey hoodie that contrasted sharply with the film's rustic WWI-era costumes), displayed real, palpable affection for her director. Davies', and DP Michael McDonough's, affection for her is expressed in every exquisite frame of Sunset Song. Before the screening started, Davies asked of the audience, "Watch it with your hearts, we made it with ours." So I did, and it made for a moviegoing experience I won't soon forget.
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2016's top five albums:

05. This Is Acting
04. The Life of Pablo
03. The Hope Six Demolition Project
02. Lemonade
01. The legendary bounty of unreleased Prince material that might finally see the light of day, perhaps (???) by year's end

ESSENTIAL NOTE: Numbers 2 and 4 would absolutely, positively not have been possible without the creative precedent(s) established by Prince. Their creators are, in fact, our two most substantially Prince-like contemporary artists, by which I mean, in the first place, superstars who couldn't possibly ever not be; and more specifically, self-involved visionaries obsessed with love/sex, black culture/their place within it, 'royal' iconography, the provocative potential of fashion and self-presentation, and - esp. in Kanye's case - religion.


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This one really hurts.


My thoughts exactly:

Every time Sanders is challenged on how he plans to get his agenda through Congress and past the special interests, he responds that the "political revolution" that sweeps him into office will somehow be the magical instrument of the monumental changes he describes. This is a vague, deeply disingenuous idea that ignores the reality of modern America. With the narrow power base and limited political alliances that Sanders had built in his years as the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, how does he possibly have a chance of fighting such entrenched power?
I have been to the revolution before. It ain't happening.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates for the presidency in modern times, as was Al Gore. We cannot forget what happened when Gore lost and George W. Bush was elected and became arguably one of the worst presidents in American history. The votes cast for the fantasy of Ralph Nader were enough to cost Gore the presidency. Imagine what a similar calculation would do to this country if a "protest vote" were to put the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court all in the hands of the extreme right wing that now controls the Republican Party.
Rolling Stone has championed the "youth vote" since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first given the right to vote. The Vietnam War was a fact of daily life then, and Sen. George McGovern, the liberal anti-war activist from South Dakota, became the first vessel of young Americans, and Hunter S. Thompson wrote our first presidential-campaign coverage. We worked furiously for McGovern. We failed; Nixon was re-elected in a landslide. But those of us there learned a very clear lesson: America chooses its presidents from the middle, not from the ideological wings. We are faced with that decision again.
In 2016, what does the "youth vote" want? As always, I think it has to do with idealism, integrity and authenticity, a candidate who will tell it like it is. It is intoxicating to be a part of great hopes and dreams — in 2016 it's called "feeling the Bern." You get a sense of "authenticity" when you hear Sanders talking truth to power, but there is another kind of authenticity, which may not feel as good but is vitally important, when Clinton speaks honestly about what change really requires, about incremental progress, about building on what Obama has achieved in the arenas of health care, clean energy, the economy, the expansion of civil rights. There is an inauthenticity in appeals to anger rather than to reason, for simplified solutions rather than ones that stand a chance of working. This is true about Donald Trump, and lamentably also true about Sanders.


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The ten best films I've seen since compiling this top 100 of the half-decade list:

01. The Witch (Eggers)
02. The Assassin (Hou)
03. Sunset Song (Davies)
04. Knight of Cups (Malick)
05. Inside Out (Docter)
06. Magic Mike XXL (Jacobs)
07. Girlhood (Sciamma)
08. Bridge of Spies (Spielberg)
09. Spotlight (McCarthy)
10. Carol (Haynes)


Unknown Pleasures
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Come for The Life of Pablo (didn't we all?), stay for the great, hitherto unheard Shakira live record (her "Nothing Else Matters" cover rivals Bif Naked's) and easily overlooked gems like Colleen Green's I Want to Grow Up.


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within this execrable discursive climate. And here in his hometown, no less!


You just haven't earned it yet, baby

Just because.


This Globe and Mail article is excellent, harrowing, and deeply important. Everyone should read it.


Movie of the Year
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I have not seen nearly as many new films this year as I do most years--being the parent of a seven year-old kid, I think I've seen more animated features than not--but even if I had, I strongly suspect that Hou Hsiao-hsien's astonishing The Assassin would still, by a formidable margin, be my movie-of-the-year pick. Even by Hou's superlative standards, his latest work is exquisite and thoroughly entrancing, so strange and enigmatic, yet elegant, in its rhythms. It also provides more compelling evidence for why Hou is our greatest narrative filmmaker: that is, specifically, because he manages, at once, to work within the basic, essential constraints of narrative stoytelling and to subtly subvert every pro forma rule of plot and character. This is particularly pertinent given that Hou is operating within a genre, the wuxia drama, with such distinct rules and tropes. There is a story here, and a fascinating one, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the relationships between characters, and the connections betweens events, are as ethereal and shifting as the streaks of light and shadow that Hou, as ever, employs to masterful effect. The causes and meanings underlying the events of the narrative--the political and familial feuds, obscure details of history or legend--are purposefully dwarfed by the majestic enormity of the natural landscape, which Hou and DP Mark Li Ping-bin capture in stunning, painterly compositions that are formally classical but never remotely obvious. The fight sequences, occurring in fits and starts and often abruptly abbreviated or de-emphasized within the frame, further underscore the small-scale quality of human relations against the longue durée history of a natural environment that still, in the ninth century, wholly overwhelmed all human societies--even purportedly powerful empires. This fundamental aspect of the distant (premodern, pre-industrial) past has rarely been captured so purely or expressively on film.


I was honestly just going to post some observation about how Donald Trump has, rather shockingly, evolved from a mere idiot and asshole into nothing less than the American Marine Le Pen--if not, perhaps, Jean-Marie Le Pen--but the New Yorker beat me (and no doubt many others) very precisely to the punch. (They even sort of look alike, no?) As John Oliver reminded us, the European far right is quite a different animal from the North American far right. Now, the only thing distinguishing the hateful rhetoric here from there is the language in which it's delivered. What is more horrifying still, both Trump and Le Pen have at least a semi-realistic chance of getting themselves elected, thanks entirely to the lowest common denominator of humanity in their respective countries. Good on the politicians who've expressed disgust at Trump's insane proposals. Martin O'Malley put it best.


If pressed...
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At this precise moment, I would say this is a pretty fair accounting of the 25 films and albums that I like the most (with zero effort made to diversify w/r/t directors/artists):

01. Days of Heaven (Malick)
02. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson)
03. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
04. Citizen Kane (Welles)
05. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
06. Sunrise (Murnau)
07. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight (Linklater)
08. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
09. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou)
10. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
11. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
12. The Tree of Life (Malick)
13. Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami)
14. Histoire(s) du Cinema (Godard)
15. Boyhood (Linklater)
16. Chimes at Midnight (Welles)
17. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
18. The New World (Malick)
19. Nosferatu (Murnau)
20. Sátántangó (Tarr)
21. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson)
22. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick)
23. City Lights (Chaplin)
24. Touch of Evil (Welles)
25. The Thin Red Line (Malick)

01. The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
02. PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos
03. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
04. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks
05. The Smiths, Rank
06. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis
07. Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
08. X, Wild Gift
09. Jay-Z, The Blueprint
10. Sleater-Kinney, Call the Doctor
11. Love, Forever Changes
12. Prince, Sign 'o' the Times
13. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
14. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
15. The Beatles, Rubber Soul
16. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
17. The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow
18. James Brown, Live at the Apollo
19. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
20. Talking Heads, Remain in Light
21. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
22. The Beatles, Revolver
23. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
24. Morrissey, Vauxhall and I
25. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


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Perhaps Thomas Jefferson didn't exactly write, "Every man has two countries - his own and France"--but he should have.

Nous sommes tous Français.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.


Holy shit!

This track off the new Grimes record is amazing and addictive. I can't stop listening to it.


Reasons to be Thankful
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Situated between the Canadian and American Thanksgivings:

01. Family
02. Friends
03. The Dawn of the Justin Trudeau Era
04. The End of the Stephen Harper Era
05. Carly Rae Jepsen
06. John Oliver
07. Donald Trump's (finally) faltering poll numbers (though isn't Carson in some respects just the kinder, gentler, less-racist-only-by-default Trump?)
08. Despite Grantland's sad demise, FiveThirtyEight is still with us (for now anyway).
09. It is 18ºC/65ºF on Nov. 2nd in NYC.
10. See above re. family/friends. Also: Trudeau/Harper. (I miss Canada :()


Asking for Lattes
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I just found out (late, as usual) that one of my all-time favorite artists is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from music and is now the proud proprietor of a coffee shop in suburban Ottawa. This news is kind of lovely in its smallness (it fits with the intimate scale of her songs) but also strange. This is not, evidently, an "also/in addition to" project, like mega-artists lending their names to lines of clothing or accessories or perfume. Rather, it's like if, say, Morrissey said 'forget about making records and playing shows' and instead decided to open a bowling alley back in Salford.

I hope for Edwards' sake that her café is a continued success, but for my sake I really hope this hiatus doesn't persist for too long. She's one of the very best we've got, and, frankly, the qualitative difference between a mediocre cup of coffee and a fantastic cup of coffee, while not negligible by any means, is far smaller than the gap between a perfectly-crafted and sung Kathleen Edwards song and ninety-nine per cent of current music.


Gone from us too soon.

I checked in nearly every weekday, and was seldom, if ever, disappointed by what I found there. (Although, to be sure, there were times when I probably could've been more productive without Grantland's many welcome distractions...)

Because it was essentially sui generis it may sound like faint praise to say that it was the best site, or even publication, period, "of its kind" ever, but it's not. Above all, generic categorizations and qualifications aside, the writing was just really good. Sometimes really, really good--which, of course, should hardly be surprising given the diverse murderers' row of talent assembled.

Thank you, Grantland editors and staff. The Internet is a darker place without ye.