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: 25-16 (with a nod to MLB’s WAR system)

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 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, 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 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.

Hangover 3

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.

Hunger Games Catching Fire

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.

Bitter Poem:

Bottled Affection:

Loner Phase:

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.

Cloud Atlas

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 ( 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.

Man of Steel

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.

iron man 3

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.

Pacific Rim

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.

Upsteam Color