By Spencer Davis. Every year, I give you a new batch of overlooked Halloween movies to get you through the night—or if I’ve done my job properly, keep you awake through it—and this year, we go in some new directions. Some might say the world we live in right now is scary enough! And yet it’s perhaps no coincidence that the past two years have brought horror into a new era of acclaim, with hits like Get Out and A Quiet Place being named as serious awards contenders. Even the remake business is being taken a lot more seriously, with bold new visions of Halloween and Suspiria taking over the theaters and proving themselves to be more than cheap cash grabs. But if, like me, you think the best place to seek out your scares is in the darkness of your own living room, then enjoy these under-the-radar film frights. Continue reading
By Spencer Davis. Time for another vinyl time capsule in our continuing series, The Vintage Collector. I’m making my picks for the essential classic albums you need in your vinyl collection. This time, we’re doing barroom piano ballads, proto-hair metal, sultry lounge standards, soul/blues fusion, and a lost album from a titan of jazz. Continue reading
By Spencer Davis. This is always one of my favorite columns to write every year, because October horror movies are like the gateway to fall for me. It starts getting dark a little earlier each night, and with Halloween around the corner, there’s no more perfect way to enjoy that darkness than with a good scare. And sure, in a year where horror movies like Get Out and It are dominating the box office—and even earning Oscar buzz—there’s no shortage of great options out there. But once you’re done with all of the more obvious choices, take a dive into the deep cuts with these underrated and sometimes forgotten screen terrors. Continue reading
By Nicole Funari & Spencer Davis. In the latest edition of the Movies That Matter podcast, we discuss the critically-acclaimed World War II film, Dunkirk, from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar). It’s a decidedly unconventional summer blockbuster; though the subject matter and the production values put it squarely into Oscar bait territory, it plays like an action movie or even a disaster flick. Nolan’s pedigree as the thinking person’s crowdpleaser of choice make him the perfect filmmaker to tackle this topic, and he once again plays his usual tricks with time, utilizing a complex intersection of three different timelines to reframe the narrative on the key theme of cooperation in a time of crisis. The result is perhaps the first truly modern war picture—a complete stylistic break with the past. And the movie raises fascinating questions about how our history is written, how we talk about the virtues of military service and heroism, and the basic value of human lives during times that sacrifice them so cheaply. You can download the podcast here or via iTunes.
By Spencer Davis. One of the appeals of exploring foreign cinema is seeing how filmmakers from other countries are free to entertain story ideas that would never get the green light in Hollywood. It’s not necessarily that foreign directors are given more leeway to take risks; it’s that a plot device that seems absurd to us may, in the eyes of another culture, make total sense. With that in mind, let’s look at five more pictures from around the globe that redefine the boundaries of what movies can do. Continue reading
By Spencer Davis. Yes, there will be subtitles. That’s the first hurdle you need to overcome when opening your mind to foreign film. But trust me, it’s worth it. You see, when you’ve only watched Hollywood movies, you unknowingly—through sheer repetition—become conditioned to believe that movies have to look and sound and feel a certain way. But popular art is influenced in all these subtle little ways by the culture that produces it. And just as there are distinctive stylistic differences between, say, American and British literature, or Italian and German opera, or even Japanese and Chinese food, the movie repertoire of a particular country takes on its own unique essence, flavored by the language and the history and the cultural values of the people who made it. That’s the magic of exploring foreign film: discovering how something so familiar as the American movie experience can, in new hands, become fresh and provocative and unexpected. Continue reading
By Spencer Davis. Today in our continuing series on the most iconic uses of music in film, we look at two recent transformative illustrations of the music-writing process, along with a small piece of Hollywood history, a slice of brilliant visual comedy, a brief musical interlude in war, and a tribute to a recently-lost icon. Continue reading
By Spencer Davis. Time to pick back up where we left off with The Vintage Collector, our continuing series on the overlooked throwback records you need to add to your vinyl (or digital) collection. This edition highlights a team-up of jazz titans, plus some innovative punk pioneers, a progressive French provocateur, a delta blues legend, and a classic rock name you might not know—but ought to sound plenty familiar. Continue reading
By Nicole Funari & Spencer Davis. In the latest edition of the Movies That Matter podcast, Nicole and I discuss writer/director Mike Mills’s latest film, 20th Century Women, starring Annette Benning as the single mother of a teenage son in 1979 who enlists the help of the jaded teenage girl he loves (Elle Fanning), an artistic punk rock photographer (Greta Gerwig), and a quiet hippie handyman (Billy Crudup) to teach him the ways of women, men, and life. It’s an ambitious movie that’s rife with big questions about the gender roles we impose on one another and the inability to connect across generations, and as Nicole and I agree, it only partly succeeds in meeting those ambitions. We talk about that and plenty more, from the “end of men” to online dating to the status of marriage and divorce in America today. You can download the podcast here or via iTunes.
By The S&N Staff. Once again, a group of S&N contributors—Hendricks, Mark, Biff, and myself—have voted on our favorite songs of 2016, and we present them to you here as a Spotify playlist for your streaming pleasure. In a year where politics dominated everything, it shouldn’t be surprising that a number of the songs we picked delve into that theme. But it’s still satisfying, nonetheless, to see that two of the most powerful political statements of the year came from A Tribe Called Quest and Drive-By Truckers. To hear East Coast hip-hop and Southern country rock come together on common ground like that speaks to the incredible bridging potential of music, and maybe offers a little hope about our ability to start a meaningful conversation that connects us despite our deep cultural divides. And there’s plenty more here, too, from S&N favorites like Hiss Golden Messenger and Blood Orange and The Range to some under-the-radar artists who deserve far more of our attention, like Lucy Dacus, Pinegrove, Hinds, and Chairlift. Enjoy, and happy holidays! Continue reading
By Spencer. For those who love our movie coverage but think there’s way too much reading involved, you’re in luck. This week, all you have to do is listen! I’m guest hosting the latest edition of the movie podcast, Movies That Matter, which focuses on “films going above and beyond the call of box office returns to boldly explore a social issue affecting people’s lives.” On this edition, host Nicole Funari and I share a wide-ranging conversation on this month’s surprise art-house sci-fi hit, Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, and directed by Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario). It’s a movie full of big ideas about communication, the nature of time, grief, and the things that bring us together as human beings. And naturally, we couldn’t help but get into a little political conversation as well, with some of the film’s themes proving timely in the wake of an election that exposed deep failures of communication between red and blue America. You can download the podcast here or via iTunes. And stay tuned to Movies That Matter, because they’ll be bringing in a number of other guest hosts over the coming weeks to explore some of the best year-end Oscar fare.
By Spencer. Picking up where we left off with our series on the most iconic uses of music on film, many of today’s picks use song to play with reality, spanning the gap from indie musical to surrealistic nightmare and looking at masters of the form like Tarantino, Lynch, Anderson, and Hitchcock. Continue reading
By Spencer. It’s a good week to focus on simpler times, so we continue our series on the essential vinyl albums with a look at a couple of guitar gods from very different eras; Kurt Cobain’s favorite Depression-era icon; the godmother of punk; and a team-up of the two greatest drummers of all time. Continue reading
By Spencer. If you hate costume parties as much as I do, then you’re probably in need of a few quality scary movies to watch on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters are gone. Last year, I gave you a few of my favorite lesser known options, from It Follows to Suspiria to The House Of The Devil to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. And if you haven’t watched all of those yet, you’re making a grave mistake. But if you’re looking for even more horror flicks that don’t suck, then fear not, because I’ve dug up a few more—headlined by Sundance 2016’s haunting indie horror breakthrough, The Witch. Continue reading
By Spencer. Seems like a good time to revisit The Vintage Collector: our picks for the essential classic albums you need in your vinyl collection (or just your digital library). Today, we’ve got French jazz guitar, proto-punk, sultry lounge music, rockin’ blues, and one of the strangest jazz/symphony hybrids ever recorded. Continue reading
By Spencer. Continuing with our series on the essential albums to add to your vintage vinyl collection—or just your digital collection if you’re still clinging to modernity—we’re looking at classic records from jazz greats, blues legends, prog rock innovators, and the original grandfathers of metal. Continue reading
By Spencer. Last year, I became part of the problem. After years of rolling my eyes at them, I’m now one of those assholes who buys records on vinyl. Naturally, such a complete reversal of everything a man stands for could have only one explanation: it happened because of a girl. But while that quirky hipster artiste is long since out of my life, the way I listen to music is forever changed thanks to the phenomenal sound I heard from her record player one night. A few notes of Otis Redding through a proper turntable and speakers and I was hooked. So when I finally threw down the $300 for an Audio-Technica phonograph and started spending $20 a piece for albums I already owned in digital form, it made complete sense that I started with mostly vintage artists—Redding, Miles, Coltrane, Sinatra, The Beatles, Led Zep. Because as my record collection quickly expanded, I learned the first rule of vinyl is this: if it was recorded during the era when vinyl was still the predominant musical format, it really does sound better on vinyl. Continue reading
By Spencer. Today we continue our look at the greatest on-screen musical moments. Miss Volume 1? Click back to see what we’re shooting for—those scenes where the song becomes absolutely essential to the film. In today’s batch, we look at several iconic moments where the song spoke not just for the movie but for an entire era. Continue reading
By Spencer. By now, many of you have already seen Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice—and been disappointed. I haven’t. Putting Superman and Batman together in a movie was an easy lift, and yet it’s been obvious from the very first trailer that director Zach Snyder completely and utterly blew it. And I just can’t keep rewarding this kind of mindlessly shitty filmmaking with my dollars. See, that’s what they count on. They think that all that matters is the brand. They think that if their marketing campaign can establish it as an “event movie,” that you will literally have to plop down your fifteen bucks to be a part of it. They think they don’t have to earn it anymore. And of course this phenomenon is strongest in the area of franchise movies—where the perception that they have a guaranteed fan base inevitably breeds laziness.
Look, making movies is an incredibly difficult craft, and there will always be more bad ones than good ones. I get that. Even with a premise as exciting as pitting our two most popular American superheroes against each other, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. But there are movies that fail for the wrong reasons and movies that fail for the right ones. Movies that fail for doing too little and movies that fail for doing too much. Movies that had the best of creative intentions and movies that shrugged that off in the name of making a quick buck.
So whenever we talk amongst ourselves about bad movies, I think it’s crucial that we maintain a dichotomy—between the truly terrible, and another category that I’ll call the “interesting failures.” Continue reading
By Spencer. As a website devoted to both music and film, there’s an obvious cross-section we’ve been ignoring up until now. Sure, we once featured some movie musicals that don’t suck, but that’s only the most glaringly obvious marriage of music and film. Today, we kick off a series devoted to another kind of on-screen music moment: those stand-out instances where the song just makes the scene, where it perfectly captures the mood or plays an integral role in the development of the story. Where music takes over the movie at a crucial point and accomplishes what no bit of dialogue ever could. These are the moments when song and script combine effortlessly to form an unforgettable movie memory. Continue reading
By Spencer. I grew up in Texas, so maybe the constant presence of cowboy culture is to blame—but I grew up absolutely hating westerns. Or perhaps timing was a factor. The 80s might have been the lowest decade for westerns; due to the lingering impression that westerns were kid fare, a hokey bygone of those carefree 50s and before, not a lot of westerns were made anymore. They were a dead genre, and I liked it that way.
In the early 90s, that started to change. First Dances With Wolves and then Unforgiven won the Oscar, reviving interest in a more modern, more realistic take on the time period. And since then, we’ve seen a number of great westerns that have embraced grittiness and given more honest portrayals of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the period—acknowledging the racial tensions, for example, and de-romanticizing the outlaw violence and vigilante justice that pervaded. The result is a fundamental divide between old and new—between those who still prefer their heroes in white hats and their villains in black ones, and those who want to see reality on the screen.
Whichever style of western you prefer, this list has a little of both, and it’s your starting point for a tour of all the ways in which this genre has achieved movie greatness over the decades. Continue reading
By The S&N Staff. As part of our year-end festivities at S&N, we’ve gotten together and voted on our favorite individual tracks of the year. As with all things, democracy yielded a diversity of opinions! And yet after a couple of rounds of balloting, we all found ourselves gravitating toward the same songs. So check out our Spotify playlist, featuring favorite tracks from Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Leon Bridges, Houndmouth, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Courtney Barnett, Jason Isbell, Hop Along, Beach Slang, and plenty more. Special thanks to our friend Hendricks for putting this playlist together. Enjoy, and happy holidays! Continue reading
By The S&N Staff. All things must end. And even though it took almost as long to count down our favorite albums of the 90s as it did to actually make it through the 90s, we’re finally ready to give you our top five. While it should come as no surprise that bands like Nirvana and Radiohead top out our list, you just may be surprised at which order they placed once the final votes were tallied. Continue reading
By Spencer. I don’t do costume parties. When Halloween comes around, the only acceptable form of celebration for me is to dim the lights, raid the bowl full of candy I bought for the trick-or-treaters, and watch a classic horror film or two. I say “classic” because, right now, mainstream horror flicks are in the biggest rut we’ve ever seen. In the past fifteen years or so—really ever since Wes Craven brought the genre back from the dead with Scream—horror movies have devolved into a pastiche of terrible cliches. From the torture porn of Saw to the shaky cam “found footage” pictures that come out seemingly every week, it doesn’t feel like Hollywood is trying anymore. Horror is there just to make a quick buck, with films done fast and cheap and according to a formula that guarantees several dozen jump-from-your-seat moments and not a second of genuine fear.
So this Halloween, forget the theaters. The best horror movies are the ones playing at home: The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, Night Of The Living Dead, Carrie, even the original black-and-white Frankenstein. You don’t need me to tell you about those. Instead, I’ll give you some less conventional picks you can stream from the darkness—and safety—of your own couch. Continue reading
By The S&N Staff. Over the past few months, S&N has been counting down our list of the essential 90s albums. So far, we’ve seen historic albums from Nine Inch Nails, Biggie, Green Day, Beastie Boys, Counting Crows, Rage Against The Machine, Oasis, and plenty of others. Today, we finally reach the top 10, and it should comes as no surprise that there’s hip-hop, nerd rock, and of course, plenty of grunge. We start with a band better known for their 80s output—and a 1992 masterpiece that may (or may not) be their best work. Continue reading
By Spencer. This is a website that celebrates both movies and music, so you know an article like this was inevitable. In revisiting our ongoing Movies That Don’t Suck series, it seems like the perfect time to look at the movie musical—the bane of the true music fan’s existence. Maybe our generation has such trouble accepting the musical because we were the first to be raised with movies that actually aspired toward realism—and there’s nothing realistic about spontaneously breaking out into song. But for the first half-century of filmmaking, the musical was Hollywood’s go-to crowdpleaser. And you don’t have to look beyond Bollywood to see that, even today, other cultures don’t share the modern American disdain for this genre. Continue reading
By The S&N Staff. Earlier this month, the S&N staff began our countdown of the 25 most essential albums of the 90s. Number 25-21 featured groundbreaking works from Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, Beastie Boys, Elliott Smith, and The Notorious B.I.G. Today, we continue the list with numbers 20-16: Continue reading
By The S&N Staff. There may be some generational bias at play here, but the 90s just might’ve been the peak of the album experience. In that gap in time between the MTV and radio dominance of the 80s and the Napster and iTunes takeover of the 2000s came a wave of rock and hip-hop artists who saw music as more than just a collection of singles. Whether fueled by nostalgia for the classic rock era of the concept LP, or a reflexive cynicism of “selling out,” these artists had ambitions toward a higher level of creativity. Continue reading
By Spencer. If you’re anything like my friends, you saw 2011’s The Artist—the first silent movie to win the Best Picture Oscar since 1927—and were unimpressed. Obviously, a huge part of its win was the novelty and bravery of making a silent movie in modern times. But while critics raved, audiences yawned (if they went at all).
Even some classic film buffs have a hard time getting enthusiastic about the silent era. Yes, the pacing is much slower than we’re accustomed; the lack of dialogue requires overacting that comes off as unrealistic at best and shamelessly hokey at worst; and dammit, does there have to be so much reading? But if you’re willing to approach them with the right attitude, there are a handful of movies from the silent era that can actually be—gasp!—fun. You can’t just view these as movies; they’re pieces of living history. And best of all, since most of them are in the public domain by now, you can usually watch them for free in their entirety online! So if you’re feeling open-minded and you’re looking for a place to start, here’s your guide to silent movies that don’t suck. Continue reading