Best films of 1969 and 1970


The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)
Z (Costa-Gavras)
Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)
Downhill Racer (Donald Ritchie)
Une Femme Douce (Robert Bresson)
My Night at Maud’s (Eric Rohmer)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls)
The Unfaithful Wife (Claude Chabrol)
Medium Cool (Haskell Weller)
Age of Consent (Michael Powell)


Gods of the Plague (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer)
Tristana (Luis Buñuel)
The Landlord (Hal Ashby)
The Wild Child (François Truffaut)
Wanda (Barbara Loden)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Sam Peckinpah)
Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson)
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Vittorio de Sica)
The Butcher (Claude Chabrol)

I can teach you somethin’: Best of Beyonce

I quibble with her ubiquity as culture force. Monoliths turn into statues in the park, visited by pigeons. But I can think of no mass audience artist of the last twenty years who can inspire poolside amateur choreography by teenage girls like “Sorry” did in May and red light chanting like “Drunk in Love” did a couple years ago. With a sense for visuals as shrewd as her song curating, she made Lemonade into one of 2016’s best albums and perhaps its most lasting cultural statement (in my experience this has been the Beyonce album whose sales/streams don’t reflect its penetration) Her voice has matured along with her imagination and appetite for good songs; she’s up to Etta James and “When the Levee Breaks.” The last decade has reduced her fun first album to a simulacrum of fun, a parody of excitement; I don’t feel guilty about excluding “Crazy in Love” from the following list.

1. Love On Top
2. Countdown
3. Jealous
4. All Night
5. Suga Mama
6. Naughty Girl
7. Irreplaceable
8. Sorry
9. Ring the Alarm
10. I Miss U
11. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
12. XO
13. Schoolin’ Life
14. Rocket
15. If I Were a Boy
16. I Care
17. Daddy Lessons
18. Blow
19. Don’t Hurt Yourself
20. Partition

Donald the Dread in Miami

My Cuban brethren haven’t recovered from the collapse of the campaign of Marco Rubio, the plankton with a hairpiece who ran for president last spring and faces an unexpectedly close reelection to the legislative body he despises. Nevertheless, plenty will vote for the Republican candidate, a boob named Donald J. Trump who will lose even more soundly than Rubio. For fifty-two years Cubans have sat in thousands of back rooms and followed sunburned northerners into Cafe Versailles who insist on sugar-free cafecitos. They have been CIA dupes. They have been burglars. They led mobs for the purpose of disrupting ballot counting. The reward? Suffering in silence as a nominal Republican who wiped his ass with the Cuban embargo speaks to them in English sentences less complex than a cockatoo’s.

Trump paid tribute to Bay of Pigs veterans who had honored him with a historic endorsement.

He listened to the mother of Brothers to the Rescue pilot shot down by the Cuban government over the Florida Straits.

“Very sad story,” Trump told Miriam de la Pena.

And he eagerly repeated criticism of rival Hillary Clinton when longtime Miami Republican donor and activist Remedios Diaz-Oliver declared, “She has never done anything right.”

“It’s just about true,” Trump said. “She’s never done a thing right. Bad judgment.”

Trump’s overtures reflected his broader problem two weeks from Election Day: He has yet to consolidate the conservative vote. The more time he spends trying to do so, the less time he’s got to try to persuade independents and moderates who decide general elections.

Polls show Clinton holding on to a 3-percentage-point lead over Trump in Florida, according to a Real Clear Politics average. Depending on the survey, Cuban Americans have been either split or only narrowly favoring Trump.

I can imagine the disgust, draining like pus, as these accomplished men listened to this charlatan patronize them. In ordinary circumstances I feel no pity for men and woman confronted with the depths of their cynicism, but when these people die with them goes the dream of a Cuba that never existed.

My mistakes are no worse than yours: Best of Dolly Parton

To mention that Dolly Parton’s visibility and reputation got a lift when the White Stripes covered “Jolene” is a reminder of the subtler forms of sexism extant in the biz. No doubt this savviest of entrepreneurs appreciated the royalties. And there’s no doubt the wider audience, insofar as one exists in our atomized era, has remembered her as entrepreneur and cultural figure far longer than her brief period as Nashville’s best singer and songwriter; she was the actress in 9 to 5 and, egads, Steel Magnolias, period. The Grass is Blue and The Essential Dolly Parton changed my own mind — I can still link to my 2005 conversation with Thomas Inskeep published in Stylus because it records a moment when Parton, as exotic to my ears as Thomas Mapfumo, was confounding me.

A decade later she confounds me less than she leaves me breathless: these are tough songs about erotic abandon, tender songs about growing up so poor that she saw Biblical parallels in the rough-hewn coat that her mother gave her, and erotic songs about jealousy. She still writes songs by the wheelbarrow, so I don’t doubt she has a couple albums in her begging for the treatment that White lavished on Loretta Lynn in 2004. She still covers unexpected songs — check out Backwoods Barbie‘s version of “She Drives Me Crazy.” And she’s a savvy entrepreneur, recall. I doubt she needs a Jack White after all.

1. Touch Your Woman
2. Just Because I’m a Woman
3. Jolene
4. My Blue Tears
5. The Bargain Store
6. Here You Come Again
7. Joshua
8. Baby I’m Burnin’
9. Silver Dagger
10. The Seeker
11. My Tennessee Mountain Home
12. Two Doors Down
13. The Mystery of the Mystery
14. Traveling Man
15. Love is Like a Butterfly
16. 9 to 5
17. If I Don’t Lose My Mind
18. Save the Last Dance For Me
19. Hungry Again
20. It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right
21. Coat of Many Colors
22. Eagle When She Flies
23. Little Sparrow
24. We Used To
25. To Know Him is to Love Him (with Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris)

The drip drip drip of semantic barbarism

It’s been a punishing campaign season. If any group besides American voters has endured the worst of the sucker punches, it’s those who believe in the purity of English. Here are six political cliches I hope get burned with Trump campaign signs.

drip drip drip

“If the drip, drip, drip of emails continues it could have a negative cumulative effect on Clinton,” said Michael Genovese, political scientist and president of the World Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. (Newsmax)

ground game

“The candidate veered off message, jumping from one controversy to the next, his poll numbers plummeted, and the ground game his campaign had long vowed to jumpstart with an injection of cash and resources languished.” (CNN)


“Something very interesting has happened over the past two weeks in the presidential campaign: Donald Trump has seized the momentum from Hillary Clinton and is climbing back into contention in both national and key swing state polling.” (Washington Post)


“There was a lot of skepticism about Trump’s latest purported pivot when he made Kellyanne Conway his campaign manager last month, but he has indeed pivoted. He is always going to be the same guy with the same idiosyncratic cluster of views — e.g., taking Iraq’s oil — but his campaign has done much more to get him in settings where he isn’t shouting, and that can only help him.” (Mother Jones)

Sister Souljah

“[Charlie] Sykes said he is still waiting for Clinton to reach out to Republicans with a ‘Sister Souljah moment’ — a reference to the time Bill Clinton impressed social conservatives with a provocative remark before Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. In the 1992 incident, Clinton repudiated a hip-hop artist’s take on black-on-white violence.” (L.A. Times)

respect the political process

“In a horrifying threat to the American democratic process, Republican nominee Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the presidential election.” (Rolling Stone)

Get yourself together: Best of U2

What my students think of U2 in 2016 would kill me with yawns. Unlike R.E.M., their parents are more likely to have five or six songs if not an album they grew up with. If I cover my ears I hear how robust early U2 can ring; Bono and The Edge could be singing “New Year’s Day” in Wolof. My U2 problem is growing up with U2 and thinking they were boring pompous asses until they wore leather and wraparound glasses. The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree mean nothing to me. More than their predecessors Achtung Baby and Zooropa are closer to an album like So: albums designed to sell left of center referents to a mass audience. I’ve learned to like the early records as products of post-punk/post-disco tumult, with Bono babbling like Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer over churning Joy Division-damaged boogie — this despite Adam Clayton treating bass like a bird he picked up five minutes ago at the pub. This explains the placement of “The Unforgettable Fire.” A rolling rhythm peaking with orchestral synth blasts worthy of Trevor Horn, it stops, alas, with Bono getting twaddle about silver and gold stuck between his diaphragm and brain. Asking Bono to change is like asking Donald J. Trump to pivot. But imagine hearing it in a Berlin discotheque in 1984 — who needs Real Life and Alphaville?

1. Stay (Faraway So Close!)
2. The Unforgettable Fire
3. I Will Follow
4. Rejoice
5. Mysterious Ways
6. Lemon
7. The Fly
8. Until the End of the World
9. Out of Control
10. October
11. Two Hearts Beat as One
12. Wire
13. New Year’s Day
14. Babyface
15. Seconds
16. Zoo Station
17. Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
18. Your Blue Room
19. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
20. The Electric Co.
21. Walk On
22. Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
23. Spanish Eyes
24. Love is Blindness
25. 4th of July

Teenage lust: ‘Being 17’

Once in a while you watch a movie that dredges buried emotions and nuances. Being 17 is one of them. Directed by the seventy-three-year-old André Téchiné, Being 17 is as observant about teenage lust as a movie made by a man half his age, even if you discount the fact that Téchiné has long had an interest in exploring love roundelays with the eye of a novelist and grasping the consequences with the heart of a family friend. I wanted to hug this movie.

Set in the Hautes-Pyrénées, Being 17 follows two young men who excel as fighters, not lovers. When Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) comes onscreen he has just cut his mop of blond hair; a silly purple earring aims to startle. These prove too much for Thomas (Corentin Fila), who trips him in class after hearing Damien recite Rimbaud. In retaliation Damien attacks on the basketball court. The war is on, as much about class as adolescent rage. On Damien’s large estate lives a family friend who teaches Damien boxing. Part of Téchiné’s achievement is to toy with the audience’s knowledge about what really fuels the boys’ contempt for the purpose of building curiosity about the architecture of their families, hobbies, habits. Damian’s mother Marianne is a veterinarian, his father a military doctor with whom she often Skypes; Thomas, an adopted child of mixed race, helps his father on the farm while his mom’s laid up with a pulmonary infection. During a house call (it’s a small town), Marianne tells the mom, Christine, that she’s pregnant. Because Thomas’ grades are slipping and the three-hour journey from home to school exhausting, Marianne proposes Thomas stay with them.

Marianne enforces a truce but it doesn’t last long. A broken wrist and a bruised torso are added to the damage report. At one point Thomas and Damien are so pissed at each other that after school they meet in an isolated snow-covered summit to pummel each other. Nevertheless, classic rivals still manage mutual respect. Téchiné’s shots of Thomas watching Damien’s ease in the kitchen (Marianne prefers drinking wine to cooking) and complete mastery of poetry and math adduce his veiled envy; the intimacy between Damien and his parents is a delight too (we Americans want parents with whom we can drink wine at seventeen). For Damien it’s Thomas’ spontaneity and natural warmth; in one of Being 17‘s attempts at brief poetry Thomas strips and dives into an icy creek, an act which leaves Damien breathless. But dichotomies don’t interest Téchiné much. Given a warm bed and people interested in his well-being Thomas proves as diligent a student as Damien; and his parents, grateful to Marianne, make up in love what they lack in sophistication; they genuinely want Thomas to do well on his “bac.”

Klein and Fila give wonderful performances; I hope they get recognized for creating modern queer archetypes. With her prominent jaw and white sunburned radiance, Sandrine Kiberlain’s Marianne not only matches physically with Klein but proves a third corner of a romantic triangle. Suffice it to say that Téchiné upsets expectations on this front too. But as The Witnesses, Wild Reeds, and My Favorite Season showed, a democracy of feeling animates his best work; he may be the greatest living French devotee of Jean Renoir’s oft-quoted line said by his character Octave in The Rules of the Game, “The truly terrible thing is that everybody has their reasons.” Alone and required to project authority, Marianne has her reasons too. A woman whose cheerful surface masks hidden resentments and passions is a movie cliche; Marianne, however, relishes the projection of cheer, in large part because she’s good at it. Entwined in this cheer is a deep sensuality (even Christine responds to it). In one of Being 17′s few violations of its interest in the boys Téchiné’s camera watches as Marianne’s husband Nathan, back from his danger zones overseas, makes love to her. Then she awakens — it’s a dream. That Téchiné regular Alexis Loret plays Nathan makes Marianne’s pangs understandable. And Damien is on to Thomas: he accuses him of catching a bout of strep throat on purpose (he turns off the space heaters and lets the bitter cold mountain air into his room) so that he can stay in bed and be attended by Marianne.

This accusation comes at Being 17‘s midpoint, and it’s a tribute to the sturdiness of Téchiné’s architecture that Damien’s motives are revealed as part of a pattern instead of an epiphanic moment; in his films our private thoughts, because formed by friction with external forces, have public consequences. Having sketched the other characters first, Téchiné returns to Damien. He asks Thomas to drive him to a thwarted online hookup with an older man (there’s a charming icebreaker when each reveals the other’s lied about his age). This man owns a large livestock farm, and Téchiné does what few directors would: interrupt the narrative so that the man can explain to Thomas, the farmer by birth, how his modern equipment works and the number of gallons of milk he produces (the scene doesn’t work; Téchiné’s quick, glancing approach is off a beat). Infuriated, Damien lashes back on the car ride home: “You’re more his type anyway.” Thomas is unprepared though for another confession. “I don’t know if I’m into guys or into you,” Damien says without affect, thus all the more shattering.

Attentive to the painful ritual of clandestine peeking, aware of the thin line between sadism and suppressed homosexual attraction, Being 17 isn’t a gay film so much as a queer one—in both the contemporary and classic sense of the adjective. It’s queer that the white Marianne would feel a shiver in the bones around the mixed race Thomas. It’s queer that the white kid—a child of privilege—with the Bowie posters on his bedroom wall would fetishize the farmhand of color. The singularity of Téchiné’s approach is to delineate the contours of a relationship but suggest the rest. Parsing every filigree but eschewing motivation has sometimes produced baffling pictures. A worthwhile aesthetic, nevertheless. Psychology matters less than behavior. It’s possible that Damien means what he says: he doesn’t know if he’s gay but he sure loves Thomas (his character doesn’t scan this way though; call it adolescent delusion). Thomas’ attraction to Damien may be as much situational as the frisson between him and Marianne. To be queer is to be aware of possibilities and, animated by the thought of transgressing, seizing them.

In its last half hour Being 17 does. While many plot threads get tied the film’s conclusion is as open-ended as Wild Reeds—and it ends with another beautifully executed whirling camera. I won’t reveal what happens to Thomas and Damien; the denouement may strain plausibility too, an exemplar of what A.O. Scott called in his review of 1998’s Alice et Martin “an excess of curiosity about the world it depicts — a surfeit of generosity, intelligence and art.” There are worse accusations. Being 17 is a film in love with characters, played by actors comfortable in their sets and with each other, interacting in a natural world; it’s a film that, thanks to Julien Hirsch’s camerawork, is in love with air, animals, and water (an important secondary character in Téchiné films like The Witnesses and Wild Reeds). Why did you trip me, Damien asks when the hostility ebbs. “I thought you were pretentious,” Thomas explains. Applause, please, for co-writer Céline Sciamma, whose own Girlhood last year limned similar charged moments. The shifting-sands texture of Being 17 reflects the muddle of youth better than any film I’ve seen in years. It’s one of 2016’s best.

Best films of 1971 and 1972


The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)
The Emigrants (Jan Troell)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller Dir. Robert Altman.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (John Schlesinger)
Beware of a Holy Whore (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich)
Bananas (Woody Allen)
Duel (Steven Spielberg)
A New Leaf (Elaine May)
The Hospital (Arthur Hiller)
Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle)


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel)
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
The Merchant of Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
Cabaret (Bob Fosse)
Ulzana’s Raid (Robert Aldrich)
Sounder (Martin Ritt)
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)
Deliverance (John Boorman)
Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman)
Pink Flamingos (John Waters)

You’ll have to do: Psychedelic Furs


I mistrust anyone who doesn’t love Talk Talk Talk.

1. Pretty in Pink
2. She’s Mine
3. Into You Like a Train
5. We Love You
6. Forever Now
7. President Gas
8. The Ghost in You
9. Imitation of Christ
10. All That Money Wants
11. Dumb Waiters
12. Love My Way
13. Sleep Comes Down
14. Heartbeat (12″ Extended Remix)
15. Pulse
16. Housee
17. Flowers
18. Danger
19. Run and Run
20. Here Comes Cowboys
21. Until She Comes
22. Sister Europe
23. Mr. Jones
24. I Wanna Sleep With You
25. Shock

Singles 10/21



– “Cranes in the Sky” is our highest rated single of 2016 and highest rated Solange single to date, scoring a full decimal point better than 2012’s “Losing You.”

– Two aging pretty boys and one decent boy distinguished Friday. It’s possible that I underrated Niall’s single because it went in — wait for it — one direction.

Click on links for full reviews

Solange – Cranes in the Sky (8)
Kim Gordon – Murdered Out (7)
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (6)
Years & Years – Meteorite (6)
Ricky Martin ft. Maluma – Vente Pa’ Ca (6)
Emeli Sandé – Hurts (6)
Bruno Mars – 24K Magic (5)
Ward Thomas – Guilty Flowers (5)
Valesca Popozuda – Boy Magia (5)
Niall Horan – This Town (4)
LP – Lost on You (4)
Mickey Guyton – Heartbreak Song (4)
Lindsey Stirling ft. Rivers Cuomo & Lecrae – Don’t Let This Feeling Fade (4)
Robbie Williams – Party Like a Russian (3)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – I Need You (2)

A doorway to a thousand churches: The best of Peter Gabriel

People aren’t born with good taste; it’s a phenomenon you edge into if you’re lucky. Plenty of kids grew up with KISS and Save Ferris records. Peter Gabriel was my first Serious Crush, and with all due respect to Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter, I still love the old frog. In the summer of my sophomore year in high school, which coincided with one of those century-long breaks between albums that older Gabriel fans had learned to expect, I checked what was then called Security out of the public library. Tribal drums. Oblique references to Jung. A song called “San Jacinto” boasting i in its last forty-five seconds the creepiest Fairlight sample — some kind of manipulated basso whistle — in recorded music (fans know the one I mean). A song about shocking the monkey that might’ve been about shocking the monkey whose video creeped the fuck out of me as much as the Fairlight sample in “San Jacinto.”

As correctly as carpers have dismissed the eighties as a time of rapine and greed, it was also a period when musicians enjoyed the largess of label recording budgets; if you were a Peter Gabriel, this meant a last shot attempt to exploit growing stardom to make an album that honored his influences. So was a perfect gateway. Fairlights, sure. Also: hi-hats, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Youssou N’Dour, the poetry of Anne Sexton. In “Sledgehammer” Gabriel wrote and sang the only convincing Otis Redding homage by an English public school graduate. With “In Your Eyes” he created John Cusack and Ione Skye for the purpose of watching them fall in love to a song about the kind of desire from which doorways to a thousand churches, light, and heat spring. In some ways “In Your Eyes” is one of the subtlest of Bowie tributes. Think about it: the church of man-love is such a holy place to be.

Three years passed before he released a lumbering, sincere record About Relationships. Anticipation led to a high chart placement for US — it’s hart to remember that Peter Gabriel was a genuine star in 1992 — before the mass audience he’d gained in 1986 realized “Steam” wasn’t another “Sledgehammer,” although, boy, did it try. As my interest in most of his records waned, I still listened to Passion. This ostensible soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ celebrates relationships too: Gabriel’s to music from many lands. Unlike his forebears he respects distance; he’s an art school rocker who used to dress as a flower, after all. Turns out this distance gives him the proper respect for the sounds of Zaire, Sudan, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Passion contains the most committed music of Gabriel’s career. Even when the arrangements get bombastic, he’s generous enough to allow the players to do it on their own terms. Often the synthesis of Gabriel’s keyboard and percussion effects and these native players is breathtaking. Check it out.

1. Shock the Monkey
2. Mercy Street
3. Solsbury Hill
4. Here Comes the Flood
5. A Different Drum
6. No Self-Control
7. Not One of Us
8. Red Rain
9. I Don’t Remember
10. Zaar
11. Sledgehammer
12. Games Without Frontiers
13. Don’t Give Up
14. Washing of the Water
15. Of These, Hope
16. Blood of Eden
17. In Your Eyes
18. San Jacinto
19. Walk Through the Wire
20. This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
21. D.I.Y.
22. Digging in the Dirt
23. Moribund the Burgermeister
24. Wall of Breath
25. I Have the Touch

‘I can’t wait for this election to be over’


A busy day in Sotoland, not least because I delayed last night’s slumber to watch a bit of the Al Smith dinner, one of those institutions beloved by giggling plutocrats and clerics whose chasubles swell with the effort to keep the corruption from bursting. The reports you’ve read are correct: after a couple of drinks Hillary Clinton loosens up enough to tell jokes and get a chuckle or two; Donald J .Trump was a vulgar, stupid asshole. The estimable Charles Pierce wrote the most succinct summary:

The Trump campaign these days has all the inherent charm and optimism of a bankruptcy clearance sale. Off the media room at the debate on Wednesday night, the Trump children were romanced in the half-light by Sean Hannity while, over behind a partition, Sarah Palin entertained film crews of foreign lands. Les Americains, zey are so, how you say, tres amusantes. She stuck up for Trump’s announced plan to monkeywrench the election results. “Why wouldn’t-cha?” was clearly audible over the cacophony of questions asked in broken English and answered in obliterated English.

Three times elected governor of New York, Al Smith was a mighty figure during the Democrats’ post-Wilson and pre-FDR exile in the wilderness: a Catholic who opposed Prohibition, or, to use the era’s parlance, a wet Romanist, thus dooming his election chances against Herbert Hoover in the decade’s third consecutive electoral landslide loss. The success of Roosevelt in 1932 so embittered him that he became a charter member of the sad little organization called the American Liberty League, a forerunner of the Democrats who went Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s. He needs a new comprehensive biography. Maybe I’ll write one to entertain myself between now and November 8.