My Favourite Song and Film of 2013

Without any further ado or hullabaloo, My Favourite Song And Film of 2013:

(If you’d like to know what “WAR value” is and how I’m using it, click here:

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Despair (WAR value: 11.0)

“Despair” is the song that elicited my most visceral reaction. It’s the one song I shed tears to in 2013. It’s the one song that took a direct flight from my brain to my heart, my ears to my blood, my senses to my sensibilities. It’s the song that not only defined the year in music for me, but my ever-growing openness to different ideas, different considerations, different possibilities.

“Despair” is a distilled desire to dream: in song, in art, in life.

“Oh despair, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’re there through my wasted years…”

The music is sensational. Nick Zinner’s guitar work is among the best he’s ever done. Brian Chase’s drums are gargantuan. Karen O is, per usual, superb. Her vocal — pitch, timbre, the way she accentuates (read: sings) certain words — is phenomenal. Although their most recent album, Mosquito (from whence “Despair” comes) is good, I don’t like it quite as much as their gobsmackingly good previous LP, It’s Blitz. For as powerful as that record was and remains (see/hear: “Hysteric” [the only song from that record that can rival the power of “Despair”], “Soft Shock”, “Zero”, “Heads Will Roll”, and “Skeletons”), it doesn’t contain a singular force of expression quite like “Despair”. I may be blaspheming, but I think “Despair” could be as good or better than their ace-in-the-hole, and one of the best songs of the 2000’s, “Maps”.

“My sun is your sun, my sun is your sun, my sun is your sun, my sun is your sun; their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun…”

“Despair” exemplifies the rare instance when a song and video are of the same artistic soul. Videos, first and foremost, are vehicles that promote: the song, artist, and (possibly nefarious) desired image. In order to keep turning, the wheel must be greased after all. This video is not that. There are some occasions where the promotion at hand is more: of an emotion, of passion, of life. This video is that. The video for “Despair” serves to connect, to espouse, to free. It does so more than any other song/video combination I can remember. It’s as if the video and song are true soul mates, in a world where that term is both overused, and like a plume of smoke, hard to actually grasp.

Brian Chase’s smile lights up the video, and makes me want to give him the biggest bear hug of all-time. Karen O’s facial expressions are perfect. In the darkness, in her blue winter coat, she wears hopeful sadness. As night turns to morning, she embraces the light, shedding her dark coat for a yellow suit to welcome the sun, like a butterfly discarding the skin of its former self. It crawled, but now it flies.

There’s a moment in the video, at 5:09, when the music climaxes, and Karen O’s smile melts away all the cold in the world. This is a celebratory euphoria so rarely seen; it’s pure, sincere, and bigger than everything else. It’s more important than everything else. This is revelation.

A symbol of death, ashes are black, gray, and dull as they rest together, fragile and still on the ground. But something happens when the wind picks them up. They immediately brighten when caressed and carried by the deep blue vastness of the sky. And one by one, slowly but surely, each piece of ash dissolves in the air, into something else. The beauty of an ash becoming part of something else, something new, is a freeing, serendipitous process. “Despair” is this transformation’s kin.

This song is inexorably about despair, about pain, loss, and fear. There is no escaping that. Such is life. But like a phoenix, the song rises from the darkness, soaring into the air, where pedals of sunlight bloom in a burgeoning warmth. It affirms the idea that to appreciate the sun, one must accept that it rotates with darkness. There is such a profound, simple beauty in this idea, this video, this song, this art.

All of it, a gift.

“Through the darkness and the light, some sun has got to rise.”


Blue Is The Warmest Colour (WAR value: 11.0)

Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a love story above all else. It just so happens to be the best one I’ve experienced since Brokeback Mountain.

I love everything about this film, but the brilliance that transcends the other brilliance is the acting of the two leads, Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma). I haven’t seen a love story this real and natural, this powerful, since green was warmer than blue. This is all the more mystifying and impressive given that the leads are both heterosexual in real life. (Although frankly, it doesn’t matter if they’re heterosexual, homosexual, or anything in between or outside of that in real life — their performances are all that matter.) Their performances, strewn with brush strokes of passion, colours of anxiety, sounds of pain, and aches of torment, make the fact that this is a lesbian couple a moot point. It’s probably not a moot point to the gay and lesbian community, and that’s okay too — this film and the performances of its leads should be exulted in every way, shape, and form — it’s just that all I saw in this film was love, all I see when I play it back in my mind is love. This is what should be gleaned from this utterly incomparable display of cinematic magic.

Yes, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is Adèle’s coming of age story, and her realization that straight isn’t as warm as blue is a central tenet of this film, but her developing sexuality is not the point. Just as the long, graphic, much discussed sex scenes are not the point. The point, again, is love. Real, wonderful, awful, beautiful, hideous, lifting, crippling, love.

If Blue Is The Warmest Colour were just about love, it would still be coruscating jewel, but it’s not. It’s much more than that.

There are so many penetrating scenes in director/producer/screenwriter Abdellatif Kechiche’s scintillating, controversial, touching masterpiece. So many ideas, stylistic elements, subtleties worth mentioning. I fell in love with how the scenes are given time to breathe. Conversations are allowed to flow naturally, looks are given time to make an impact, and silence is revered. There’s no cutting for cutting’s sake here. There are many American films that I love, but there’s also a distinct “American Style” of filming that I’m so grateful is missing here. Generally, the “American Style” compromises, cuts, moves quickly (often too quickly), and much of the time, has a fundamental distrust (at best) or disdain (at worst) for its audiences ability to exercise patience and critical thinking. Kechiche doesn’t compromise at all in those ways, and a fresh beauty bombards the viewer because of it.

I’m in awe of the way Kechiche weaves fascinating intellectual and philosophical ideas throughout. There are two scenes in particular that I was rapt by. Near the beginning of the film, Adèle’s philosophy class poetically discusses water’s only vice: gravity. The other is during Emma’s first showing, where her art gallery owner-friend and the group discuss pleasure and the difference between a man and woman’s experience, perception, and representation of pleasure. It’s one of many fantastically written and acted scenes dealing with philosophy, with ideas.

Dealing with ideas of any real consequence does not seem to be a priority for too many films these days, so to experience one that cares about thoughts and sharing them in such a witty, charming, organic way is a feat Kechiche and all involved should be extremely proud of.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour made me yearn for education, consider how I learned, jealous of how the French approach schooling. It seems as though the French value critical thinking, philosophy, and art in a way that should make Canadian and American education systems blush with envy. The film illuminates philosophy, intellectualism, fantasy, art, teaching, gender roles, perceptions of race, economic disparity, and the anxiety of job prospects for young people with such grace and effectiveness that in one viewing, it could replace certain textbooks and improve education by leaps and bounds.

I also adore that the dialogue is French (with English subtitles). French is a beautiful, romantic language as it is, and its use here, to my ears, is such a compelling vehicle to convey the myriad wonders this film has to offer. The French dialogue dances with such elegance, elocution so divine, that I wouldn’t dare dream of it being delivered in any other language.

There are so many joys to behold in the film that inexplicably, for me anyway, music falls lower on the list of important features here than it would almost anywhere else. That said, there are two songs in particular that grabbed my attention and that I now link with Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Aventura’s “Mi Corazoncito” (, and my favourite, the sensational “I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix)” by Lykke Li:


In atypical fashion, Blue Is The Warmest Colour paints a devastating, raw, uncomfortable, realistic portrait of a break-up, of how some ties can never be wholly severed, and what that does to a person’s emotional state. The break-up scene is absolutely terrifying, and terrifyingly glorious. Archopoulos and Seydoux’s acting in this scene is a step beyond phenomenal. Emma and Adèle do not stop loving each other. But they’ll never be together again. If at all possible, there’s a scene later in the film, set in a café, that’s even more heart-wrenching, an imbroglio of lust, regret, and the shattered remnants of love. These two scenes are without a doubt the most powerful in a film rife with powerful moments.

I adore the allusions to colour in this film. The first time Emma, with her blue hair, visits Adèle’s school, Adèle’s wearing a blue top. Some time after the break-up, Adèle’s still clearly overcome with a deep emptiness, and on a day trip to the beach with her young students, she asks a fellow teacher to watch her kids as she makes her way to the water. She lets her hair down, and floats in calm water so clearly blue. No matter her pain, she cannot overcome water’s only vice: gravity. She cannot escape Emma. She cannot escape the torturous warmth of the love they shared. She cannot escape blue, as it continues to douse her life with various shades of melancholy. Near the end of the film, at Emma’s prestigious gallery opening, Emma no longer has blue hair, but Adèle still can’t let go. She watches what love does when it moves on. The emotion on her face, like her dress, blue…

There’s a lot going on in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, emotionally, intellectually, philosophically. There is one line, though, that Emma somewhat begrudgingly admits to Adèle in the café scene that perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this film, how Emma feels for Adèle, Adèle for Emma:

“I have infinite tenderness for you… and will my whole life.”

Blue is indeed the warmest colour.

The sky kisses water, the sun blesses them with heat.

Hearts are broken, love remains.

It has nowhere else to go.


Top 25 Songs and Films of 2013 (5-2) (With Top 40 Albums of 2013)

This is my penultimate list of the best songs and movies of 2013. Before I issue those favourites, here is a lightning quick rundown of my Top 40 Albums of 2013:

1) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City; 2) Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe; 3) Paramore – Paramore; 4) Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time; 5) Biffy Clyro – Opposites; 6) Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts; 7) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories; 8) Shad – Flying Colours; 9) Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork; 10) Arcade Fire – Reflektor; 11) Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You; 12) Surfer Blood – Pythons; 13) Phosphorescent – Muchacho; 14) Foals – Holy Fire; 15) The 1975 – The 1975; 16) Lady Gaga – Artpop; 17) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito; 18) Lorde – Pure Heroine; 19) Arctic Monkeys – AM; 20) Charli XCX – True Romance; 21) Bastille – Bad Blood; 22) Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob; 23) One Republic – Native; 24) Kanye West – Yeezus; 25) Placebo – Loud Like Love; 26) The Neighbourhood – I Love You; 27) The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law; 28) The Knife – Shaking The Habitual; 29) Blue October – Sway; 30) Britney Spears – Britney Jean; 31) Miley Cyrus – Bangerz; 32) Major Lazer – Free The Universe; 33) Panic! At The Disco – Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!; 34) City and Colour – The Hurry And The Harm; 35) Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse; 36) Valleys – Are You Going To Stand There And Talk Weird All Night?; 37) Stereophonics – Graffiti On The Train; 38) Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us; 39) Jon Hopkins – Immunity; 40) Jimmy Eat World – Damage.

Before I issue my top 5 songs and films, here are a few random awards I’d like to dole out to 2013 films:

Best Performance In An Otherwise Lacklustre Film – Jim Carrey, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Best Cameo – Will Ferrell, The Internship

Scariest Use Of Product Placement – Google, The Internship

Reddest Beard On A Dude You Wouldn’t Expect To Have One – Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave

Worst Oral Hygiene – Leonardo Di Caprio, Django Unchained

Best Pimp Walk/Example Of An Actor Who Won’t Change How He Carries Himself Under Any Circumstance – Charlie Hunnam, Pacific Rim

Best Use Of Sequins: Michael Douglas, Behind The Candelabra

Best Hair/Best Jewellery: Matt Damon, Behind The Candelabra

Best Use Of Song: James Franco, singing Britney Spears’ “Everytime”, Spring Breakers

In case you’re wondering what “WAR value is” click here:

Here are my Top 5 Songs and Films of 2013 (5-2):

(NB: I finally saw Fruitvale Station, and Michael B. Jordan’s performance was a master-class in acting. If I’d have seen it in 2013, it would be in my top 5 films of the year. It’s a must-see movie.)

5. Phosphorescent – Song For Zula (WAR value: 9.5)

“Song For Zula” is the most heart-wrenching tune of 2013. It’s a masterpiece. It’s the best track Matthew Houck’s ever done. “Song For Zula” is a restrained wonder. A steady, sad, imprisoned song. The strings are sooooo bloody good. With no chorus, the song never loses sight of its soul. Its cell is small, but its attempt to free itself is massive. The song ebbs in and out of light, flowing through darkness on its melancholic, melodic journey. The song is rife with lyrical lynchpins of love and its like: “See the cage it called. I said come on in. I will not open myself up this way… again,” and “But my heart is wild, and my bones are steel. And I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free.” A deep irony pervades: “Song For Zula” is trapped, scarred, burned by love, but the honest, gorgeous expression of these horrors is a catharsis, revelation, freedom. By the time it’s over, it’s no longer just Zula’s song, it’s everyone’s.


Prisoners (WAR value: 8.0)

Prisoners was absolutely riveting, a “what would you do to save your family” thriller of the highest order. Hugh Jackman was incredibly good as a father who pushed his moral compass to the limit. It’s the best I’d ever seen him. Paul Dano is a fantastic actor, and was eerie to the Nth degree here. The Canadian director, Denis Villenueve, did a fantastic job dousing this film various shades of greys, with the cinematography and the tone, in its sadness and in its message. I was held captive from beginning to end by Prisoners.

Link between “Song For Zula” and Prisoners:

The sadness. The greys. The feeling of helplessness. The doing everything within reason, and more importantly, outside of it, to get back what is a fundamental right, the reason for the fight: freedom.


4. The Vaccines – Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down (WAR value: 9.9)

Eminently enjoyable. Luxuriously listenable. Earth-shattering earworm. “Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down” is all of these things. That guitar riff is my favourite of the entire year. It forms a sensational series of hooks. This is the best song the extremely underrated London quartet has ever done. Lead singer Justin Hayward-Young sounds restrained but seething. This might be the smoothest song of the year. I couldn’t stop listening to it. “Everybody’s gonna let you down,” but this song hasn’t, and I don’t believe it ever will.


Gravity (WAR value: 9.0)

There had never been a movie that looked liked Gravity before. It may be some time before one looks like it again. It’s hard to judge the story — after some consideration, I think it was a good, probably not great plot — when the visuals look so real, so captivating, so awesome. Alfonso Cuaron is a brilliant director. His filmography, particularly Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban prove this, but this may be his finest work in terms of sheer imaginative gall. I’d heard Cuaron tell of wanting to do a “space” movie for many years; I’m glad he waited until special effects caught up to his imagination. There is a cold, peaceful beauty about the “space” that Cuaron created here. Gravity’s pull is unrelenting.


3. Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey/Hannah Hunt (WAR value: 10.0)

Ya Hey

“Ya Hey” holds a special place in my heart. I adore Ezra Koenig’s lyric, his delivery, Rostam Batmanglij’s music. I’m so impressed with how Vampire Weekend began their story (on their impressive eponymous debut) and how they’ve continued to tell it (on what I consider the best album of 2013, Modern Vampires of the City). Musically, I think they could very well be the most inventive, creative band on the planet. They’re strange and likeable, qualities embodied by the thrilling, wondrous gem that is “Ya Hey”. For a while, I couldn’t listen to this song without getting goosebumps from the line, “Through the fire and through the flames, you won’t even say your name, only I am, that I am.” “Ya Hey” is an exposition of faith, a dialogue with the mystic, a hymn to heaven. All of this, but it joyously avoids preaching. Such is the beauty of Ezra’s tone and lyric, and their familial connection to Rostam’s music.

Hannah Hunt

It would be easy to assume that no song could match the power of the talismanic “Ya Hey”. Normally, this would be true, of other bands, of other albums. But this is Vampire Weekend, and they are different. So is “Hannah Hunt”. It doesn’t seek the light like “Ya Hey”. It’s content to take turns, basking in a small piece of the sun one moment, serenading the coolness of shade the next. I think the music and lyric are wonderful, but what makes the song for me, what makes the hairs on my neck stand, is when Koenig sounds like I’d never heard him before, singing as if nothing else in the world could matter more (at 2:59): “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah, there’s no future, there’s no answer. Though we live on the U.S. dollar, you and me, we got our own sense of time.” Ezra and Hannah may have their own sense of time, but I can’t help but get lost in it. Over and over and over again.


12 Years A Slave (WAR value: 9.5)

12 Years A Slave was not an easy movie to watch. But it was spectacularly acted, particularly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, and Alfre Woodard, and beautifully shot by Steve McQueen. The horrifying reality depicted in the plot is juxtaposed with a creepy, almost calm sense of dread, of malice that lingers in the sun-strewn fields and pretty white houses. This contrast made the film an unsettling triumph. Seemingly everyone and everything in this movie told a story: a whisper in the wind, a tear-drowned eye, a blood-soaked back, a bead of sweat. This is a story of endurance, telling, I think, of how it will be viewed in the future. This film will linger in the hearts and minds of many for a long while. It deserves to.

12 Years A Slave

2. Chvrches – The Mother We Share (WAR value: 10.5)

The plainest way I can put it is that “The Mother We Share” is the best pop song I’ve heard in ages. I heard it very early on in 2013, and it stayed a gargantuan powerhouse right through the end of the year, even as it began to be heavy rotated on all manner of radio stations. Atypical of most songs, it didn’t lose any lustre when played and played again. In fact, I think it gained something. The music is perplexingly perfect, so pristinely produced, so preened and polished. And that chorus. My God, that chorus. I can’t be 100% sure — the music too big to be measured by human tools — but my best guess is that the chorus contains 1.7 trillion hps (hooks per second). Let it be known that this is a conservative estimate. Lauren Mayberry’s vocal is downright tremendous. Her soft, pure, sirenesque voice mixes magically with the music. The lyric, especially for a pop song, is smart and contemplative. Who’s mother do we share? I think the point is to wonder. The combination of music, voice, and lyric is a shrine to nostalgia, a throw-down to everything else in music right now, and a vision of the future.

I was flabbergasted by the quality of Chvrches’ debut album. It’s clear these musicians are preternaturally gifted, and even still, they hit the jackpot with the collection of songs that comprised their first LP. And even though their talents are bulging at the seams, and even though they’ve just begun what’s hopefully a long career in music, I feel like they’ll never top “The Mother We Share”. And you know what? That’s okay. Sometimes a band releases the best they’ll ever do the first time around. It happens more than we realize. The band has already gifted the world with what I think will go down as one of the songs of the decade. This is pop music at its absolute peak. The air here is rarified, clean, and fresh. The sound here is immaculate, supportive, and free. Life here is great.


The Place Beyond The Pines (WAR value: 9.9)

I revere this film. Director Derek Cianfrance is a relatively new filmmaker, but he’s already one of my favourites, and one with an incomparable style. I say this having seen only two of his movies, the heart-breaking Blue Valentine and this, the torrential, towering triptych, The Place Beyond The Pines. His style, ability to say something even in silence, wizardry with tone and eye for cinematography make him a very special artist. Cianfrance also handles his cast beautifully, and directed some fantastic performances here. The supporting cast were brilliant, particularly the chillingly cold Ray Liotta, the devastating Ben Mendelsohn, and the anchor-leg runner, Dane DeHaan. All that, and the leads were all great too. Bradley Cooper was on fire (as he has been for the past couple years), and the performances by Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling were sterling. (I like Gosling in pretty much everything — such is his charm — and right now, I’d rank his top 3 performances: 1) Blue Valentine; 2) The Place Beyond The Pines; 3) Drive. Semi-tangent: I can’t even begin to qualify how much better a love story Blue Valentine is than the rote blandness that is The Notebook.)

There’s something magical about The Place Beyond The Pines that doesn’t happen often in movies. There are feelings I have about this film that I can explain, and there are some that I can’t. I love that this film does that to me; I believe the best art elicits that type of duality.

The Place Beyond The Pines