I decided to spice up the format of my Top 25 Songs of 2013 list. I saw a lot of good films, some dazzling ones, in 2013, and wanted to list my favourites, but didn’t want to keep writing best of 2013 lists into June, so in lieu of two separate lists, I thought I’d deliver more bang for the less bucks and list songs and movies together in a smorgasbord of pop culture delight. So henceforth, from 25-1, each slot will contain both a song (there may be more than one song — see here https://thepunissure.com/2014/01/07/top-100-songs-of-2013-100-81/ for my rationale behind this) and a film.
Lists are a fun endeavour, and part of that fun, for me, is being as accurate as possible in conveying the specific value of a song or movie. In order to impart this specificity, I sought a way to augment the basic list number (25, 24, 23, etc.). Why? Because many of the top 25 songs are, for the most part, more special to me than the films residing in the same slot. Why is this the case? First and foremost, because music is the dearest art to my heart. But practicality plays a part too. One is able to listen to a song more often than one is able to watch a movie. One can build a rapport with a song more easily, on the whole, than with a film, which takes 30-50 times longer to watch and engage with. Occasionally though, there are transcendent films, that even upon a single viewing, can have an effect equal to or greater than a song.
What I want to do with this Top 25 Songs and Films of 2013 list is illuminate my favourite tunes and movies and distinguish the precise value between one and the other. (I know, I know. In the grand scheme of things, art’s value is unquantifiable and ebbs and flows as tides of passion rush forward and recede. But bear with me, I’m trying something fresh and having some fun with it, so let’s just roll with it, shall we?)
How have I chosen to do said distinguishing? With a system of measuring value that’s used in Major League Baseball, called Wins Above Replacement (Player), or WAR for short. I’m a big baseball fan, and part of the beauty of baseball is the depth with which statistical analysis pervades the sport. One such statistic, and probably my favourite of the new stream of measurements, is WAR.
What is WAR? Diehard baseball fans and/or stat geeks will already know, but for those who aren’t that, I’ll try to be as general and brief with the description as possible.
The WAR system says, generally, how much better or worse a given player is than the average (or replacement level) player in a given year. Specifically, it says how many more wins a player has produced for his team than the average player. Since WAR is a newish system of measurement (to most people), WAR is constructed differently depending on the source, but the goal is the same: to signify the total sum (offence, defence) of a player’s worth.
A player with a 2.0 WAR is a decent player, and it means he has produced two more wins for his team than the average player. Progressively, a 4.0 WAR is really good, a 6.0 WAR is excellent, and anything above that is freaking fantastic. Simply, the higher the WAR number, the better the player.
Using a specific example, Mike Trout had a 10.4 WAR in 2013 (according to Fangraphs http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=10155&position=OF), meaning he produced 10.4 more wins for his team than the average Major League Baseball player. That’s beyond brilliant. That’s historically good. That number is nearly impossible to obtain, but then again, Mike Trout is impossibly good at baseball.
Got it? Good. I realize that’s a very brief description of a relatively complex system, and it’s kind of an obscure thing to reference in a list about songs and movies, but cross-genre blog posts are where it’s at in 2014, and that’s where I intend to be.
I chose to include a WAR number beside each song and movie in the Top 25 because I want to be unequivocal about the value each song and movie hold for me.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say there will be some very good movies missing from my list; because of the time needed to experience a film, it cannot be consumed at the same rate a song can. Unfortunately, I’m not a film critic (Guinevere is snickering https://thepunissure.com/2013/03/01/how-to-do-better-at-predicting-the-oscars/) and can’t watch 5-10 films per week, so I’ll have missed some movies, probably some very good ones. Here are a few I would’ve loved to have seen but haven’t at present: Her, Fruitvale Station, Captain Phillips, All Is Lost, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, and many others.
Lastly, the songs and films that are listed together in the same slot won’t necessarily have any connection, be it thematic, emotional, or otherwise.
Here are my favourite 25 Songs and Movies of 2013:
25. Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know? (WAR value: 5.5)
It took me some time to fall heavily for “Do I Wanna Know?”. The guitar riff is punishing from second six. Alex Turner’s magnetism abuses soundwaves. His swagger accosts the mic. His slick back don’t take no crap. This song is at once bad-ass and nonchalant. I love Matt Helders’ (AM’s brilliant drummer) soaring backup falsetto. The song’s climax of sounds is delectable. The song is a straight-away tease. Do I Wanna Know? Of course I do, if it sounds like this.
Hangover 3 (WAR value: 3.0)
I’ve a different opinion than most people I’ve talked to about the Hangovers. I really like Hangover 2, and enjoyed Part 3, the darkest of the trilogy. Some were thrown off or dissatisfied by the linear structure of this one, but not me. Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis, and Jeong are great and they seem remarkably comfortable playing their characters. I was sorry to see this franchise come to the end of the road. To-da-loo muthaf***asssss (must be said with a lilting voice, preferably as a tinted window closes), thanks for all the laughs.
24. Paramore – Still Into You (WAR value: 5.7)
After all this time, I’m still into this song. I cannot get sick of it. This tune offers a quick synopsis of why Paramore are so good: Hayley’s playfulness, sincerity, and hooks galore. From the band’s gobsmackingly amazing self-titled album, “Still Into You” got better with repeated listens. Their crossover country/alt/pop ballad, “Hate To See Your Heart Break” was my jam when the album first came out — it’s still a super track — but this tune stands above it and the rest of the eye-opening collection of genre-scrambling tunes on Paramore’s latest. This song is the next logical step from still-brilliant “That’s What You Get” and “Misery Business”. I’m glad “Still Into You” exists. The feeling is more than mutual.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire (WAR value: 3.3)
More interesting than the first, which is a good flick, and more action-packed. Apropos of nothing, Donald Sutherland’s hair in the film is whiter than an arctic snowflake, and it’s fantastic. I’m looking forward to the next two films, to see what comes of Catniss and company, but also, and perhaps just as much, to see what becomes of Sutherland’s regal, frosted coif.
23. Cold War Kids – Bitter Poem/Bottled Affection/Loner Phase/Lost That Easy (WAR value: 5.7)
These four songs are the highlights of what I think is Cold War Kids’ most consistent and compelling album to date, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Sure, for most, they’ll probably never top “Hang Me Up To Dry” or “Hospital Beds” in terms of leaving a turn-your-head impression, but the band continue to sound better, more comfortable, and more cohesive with each passing album. I enjoy all four of the following songs equally, though Nathan Willett’s delivery, and lyrics of “Bitter Poem” hold a special place in my heart.
Lost That Easy:
Cloud Atlas (WAR value: 3.3)
Cloud Atlas was a lot of things, including messy. This offering from the Wachowski siblings shot for the moon, and missed, though they deserve kudos for trying. Segments of the movie made sense, and I’d even go so far as to call some scenes beautiful, but overall, cohesion was absent. This could’ve been the best movie of the year if it was more tightly knit. I applaud many of the actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae come to mind) for displaying dexterity while inhabiting multiple characters. Faults notwithstanding, I have a feeling I’d enjoy this movie more with a second viewing.
22. London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years (WAR value: 5.9)
Possibly the most heartbreaking song of the year. The formula is pretty simple: Hannah Reid has a stunning, incomparable voice; the lyrics are extremely powerful; the melody is simple but resplendent. The resulting amalgam is what I consider to be, already and unassailably, a classic song.
Trance (WAR value: 3.4)
A cool, zig-zagging, trippy film from Danny Boyle about altered realities and trust, set to a high-stakes game of life and death. I really enjoyed the performances of the three leads: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel.
21. Daft Punk – Get Lucky (WAR value: 6.0)
I think one word sums the song up: Ubiquitous. “Get Lucky” was literally everywhere in 2013. On pop radio, rock radio (!), EDM stations, it connected with a huge range of demographics and permeated pop culture like few songs do. It was a bona fide phenomenon. A trick that could’ve only been done by the masters, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the progenitors of electronic funk. Beyond being extraordinary sound-crafters, the duo is incredibly savvy with their image, both in how they look and how they’re perceived. They showed their acuity as they staggered the release of “Get Lucky”, building a frothing fervour of interest, fanning the flames of anticipation for their comeback. I’d argue it was a much needed comeback too. They had a bulletproof reputation, thanks to their indomitable 90’s material, but for as much as they’re loved, they were without a bona fide hit for about 10 years. That’s an eternity in pop music. I think they knew this, and realized they had to bring the heat to sate, excite and re-captivate their massive built-in audience. That they did so with such ease speaks to the nature of their considerable talents.
Man of Steel (WAR value: 3.6)
I loved the opening scenes; Krypton looked amazing. I enjoyed much of the rest of the film too. The fight scenes may have been a little overbearing, but all-in-all, I’d consider this a successful reboot. And sure, it might not have been Michael Shannon’s best role of 2013 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dngOH9G4UPw) but he was still convincing as General Zod, and Henry Cavill was solid in the lead role. This franchise has a lot of potential, and I’m really excited for the next instalment.
20. Justin Timberlake – Mirrors (WAR value: 6.1)
I couldn’t believe it when I heard JT had been sitting on this track for a few years. Must be nice. 99% of players in the pop game would’ve killed their manager to get their hands on a track this good. This is the best song from both of the LP’s JT released in 2013. I think Timberlake is best when his pure pop side shows. Sure, he can pull off the new school Rat Pack crooner schtick, but he’s best when he does a song like “Mirrors”, except there are almost no other songs like “Mirrors”. It’s a one-of-a-kind gem. It’s funny that the song’s lyrics are kind of narcissistic if you examine them with any depth, but the tone is so sweet and the melody is so strong that it hardly matters.
Iron Man 3 (WAR value: 3.9)
Iron Man 3 was a tonne of fun. Robert Downey Jr. looked ever so comfortable playing Tony Stark. The effects were great. Ben Kingsley was the real scene-stealer though, particularly in the scene where the script gets flipped.
19. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline (WAR value: 6.1)
What a comeback. The original Sugababes proved that they still have what it takes to flourish as a collective. Their maturity as women, singers, and friends is striking. More importantly than those important things though, is that I don’t think there’s another girlgroup or boyband on the planet, counting the last 20 years, that can harmonize like Mutya, Keisha, and Siobhan. “Flatline” is Capital P Power Pop at its absolute best.
Drinking Buddies (WAR value 4.0)
An eminently likeable film. Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are just so damn down-to-earth. The chemistry and futility between two close friends who know deep down that they should be more to each other but “can’t” for reasons having to do with “life” is played with such poise, perfection, and grace by both leads.
18. Lorde – Royals (WAR value: 6.3)
To give the racism backlash any credence whatsoever is to miss the point entirely. This is a teenager who put her life (feelings of apathy, disillusionment, etc.) on blast, and I’m sure that was, at least in some way, a terrifying thing to do. I think this is a great commentary on what “home” feels like for a young person from a small country or town: being proud of where you come from, confused that it seems unfulfilling, wanting to break free (and out), but aware that the bright lights might not be all they’re cracked up to be. To comment on such things — at Lorde’s age no less — over such a simple and delicious beat is what makes “Royals” so special.
Pacific Rim (WAR value: 4.2)
Popcorn cinema at its finest. It’s not a surprise when any Guillermo Del Toro vehicle is a success, but this is an impressive display, as in other hands, say Michael Bay’s (I reserve the right to retract this sentiment a few spots on), Pacific Rim would’ve probably been a hot mess.
17. Best Coast – Fear Of My Identity (WAR value: 6.7)
I can listen to this song over and over and over. It’s a melodic delight. “The hate is getting darker, the fear is growing larger, but I know, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooh-oooh-ooh, I know…” is a lyric I found myself humming or singing often in 2013. The lyric “You taught me that my heart would grow old…” is sung by Bethany Cosentino with such sweetness, belying its corosive, acidic intent.
Behind The Candelabra (WAR value: 4.7)
I came upon this movie by chance, on television, and I was transfixed. Matt Damon is absolutely brilliant as Scott Thorson, Liberace’s young, secret lover in a relationship built on tumult. It’s possibly my favourite Matt Damon performance ever (he’s pretty awesome in “The Informant” too). Michael Douglas also deserves credit for a splendid turn as Liberace. Steven Soderbergh is a fantastic director who’s been on a great run with his last 3 films: Magic Mike, Side Effects, and now, Behind The Candelabra. I can’t wait to watch this movie a second time.
16. Arcade Fire – Reflektor (WAR value 7.0)
I was so intrigued by Arcade Fire’s choice to go in this sonic direction that I think it took me some time to warm to “Reflektor”. I had to adjust to James Murphy’s influence on Arcade Fire’s sound. There’s so much going on here, so many layers. The dynamism of this song is off the charts. It’s not surprising that Arcade Fire could pull off a dance track with such ease. There’s nothing they can’t do. The lyrics, the piano, the sax, the production — everything is superb. It’s a great track now, and I think it will have staying power. If the “songs of 2013” are looked back on in 5 or 10 years, this will be a must mention, and quite possibly, the cream of a loaded, bountiful crop.
Upstream Color (WAR value: 4.9)
Upstream Color is not: an easy watch, a particularly enjoyable watch, a wrist watch (although this could be debated). It’s relatively light on dialogue too, and at times, the pace is super slow. So why the fuss? Because it’s incomparably unique, the visceral vision of writer/director/actor/editor/Craft services provider Shane Carruth. The film is weird, tough to follow (I don’t think there’s one definitive thing I’d say this movie is “about”), but also, extremely impressive, a piece of art that’s tough to look away from. Upstream Color is a dreamy film. Hell, it might even be a dream. I can’t be sure if it’s of fancy or physics. It’s somewhere. It just is.