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: https://thepunissure.com/2014/01/13/top-25-songs-and-films-of-2013-25-16-with-a-nod-to-mlbs-war-system/
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” 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.
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.
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.