My 2013 Music Playlist

I received some positive feedback after I posted my early 2014 rap favorites last night. So, I figured that I would post my Spotify 2013 playlist, full of all of my favorite songs from last year. If you want more background on the music on display, check out this post. Also, some of the music on my playlist, like the songs from Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and RFA, you have to download on your computer to listen to them, because they aren’t on Spotify. Downloading them is very easy, and I highly recommend doing so. The site that I download them from, DatPiff, is totally legit. Here are the links to Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Vic Mensa’s Innanetape, and RFA’s Just Don’t Turn the Lights On. Enjoy!

Oscars Takeaways: Deserving Winners, but One Huge Snub.

Last night was the first time that I ever watched an awards show in full. Being a cynic, I always thought that awards shows were just a vehicle for pretentious people to bask in the applause of their contemporaries while wearing fancy clothes that cost a year’s worth in college tuition (that was just a guess, but could certainly be right). But I watched more new movies this year than I ever have before. I saw Solomon Northup’s story unfold in the extraordinary 12 Years A Slave; I witnessed Sandra Bullock make her astonishing escape from certain death in Gravity; I laughed in horror at Leonardo Dicaprio’s antics in The Wolf of Wall Street, and then stared in boredom at the Coke Zero version of Wolf (not just in the obvious cocaine way), American Hustle. In a year with so many great movies, it was surprising how many of the awards seemed locked before the show started. In the end, all of the locks won: Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor, Jared Leto for Supporting Actor, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, Gravity in the technical categories. And while not locks, the two major awards were won by the heavy favorites: Alfonso Cuarón for Best Director and 12 Years for Best Picture. While I wasn’t interested enough to watch the various celebrities parade into the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, I was interested enough to care who won. So, in a year of great movies but little controversy in terms of which ones won the awards, I have 5 general takeaways:

1. 12 Years A Slave gets its due:

The best movie of the year is rewarded with the Best Picture. Seems obvious, right? But there were definite reasons for director Steve McQueen to be worried that his magnum opus wouldn’t win: Gravity was dominating the categories it was nominated in, and many people loved American Hustle. But in the end 12 Years walked away with the big award. Not only an important “message movie”, 12 Years is an extraordinary, seemingly impossible artistic achievement. McQueen films his movie with a sense of serenity. He could have opted for a much more frantic movie, but instead his calm shooting makes the film more powerful. The performances are excellent, from the Best Supporting Actress-winning Lupito Nyong’o, nominated Chiwitel Ejiofor in the lead, and Bendict Cumberbatch in a cameo, to the evil Michael Fassbender, also deservingly nominated for Best Supporting Actor. These actors thrive off of the superb script from John Ridley, which like McQueen’s shooting is powerful because of its willingness to be subtle at times. This subtlety only makes the more emotional parts more powerful.

2. Gravity’s technical wonder is rewarded:

While a great movie in its own right, Gravity cannot compare to the overall impact of 12 Years. But in one way, Gravity  does surpasses 12 Years: its technical accomplishments. It won 7 Oscars, and 6 of them in technical categories, like Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Mixing. Gravity is a technical masterpiece. Visually it is breathtaking: some of the shots of the earth are shockingly good, and Cuarón’s and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s long shot style is used to great effect, as Lubezki’s camera zooms in and out of the rubble surrounding Sandra Bullock. And Cuarón deservedly won Best Director. While McQueen also did an amazing job, not to mention Martin Scorcese, Cuarón is almost solely responsible for Gravity. A great movie that deserves the accolades it received.

3. The best Best Actor race in a long time:

Every single nominee deserved to win, from Dicaprio in Wolf to Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Even people not nominated (Oscar Issac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, among others) had a legitimate claim to giving the best performance of the year. Now, McConaughey probably should have won for his great performance as Ron Woodruff, straight AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club. One of the great things about McConaughey’s performance is that even at the end, after he has saved the lives of many AIDS patients by providing them with illegal medicine, Ron Woodruff does not consider himself a savior, nor does he even like gay people. He solely considers himself an opportunist who now has some sympathy for people different than him. This ensures that the movie does not become too preachy and instead is focused on the internal struggle of a man. But even though that performance was so great, the other nominated actors have real gripes. Leo gives arguably his best performance yet in his already storied career, and Ejiofor gives a beautifully reserved performance in 12 Years. For my money, my favorite performance of the year was Issac’s, as he gives a truly despicable character some needed humanity.

4. American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street both go home with nothing:

One of these movies I loved, the other I didn’t. Wolf of Wall Street broke barriers and went beyond normal measures in its efforts to depict the debauchery of Wall Street during the ’90s, while American Hustle wasted great performances from its A-list actors in a movie with no real climax or interesting hustle. But both movies went home awardless. I very much wanted Wolf to win something. I felt that such a bold movie should have been rewarded with an award. I was secretly rooting for Scorsese to bring home his second Director trophy, and for Leo to get his much deserved Oscar. And even though I didn’t like Hustle, I wouldn’t have minded Bradley Cooper winning Best Supporting Actor. American Hustle even had a chance at Best Picture and Best Director, as the Academy generally loves David O. Russell. Jennifer Lawrence also had a legitimate chance of upsetting Lupita Nyong’o. But none of these things happened. In a weaker year, these two movies would have dominated the Oscars. But in such a strong year, Wolf was too polarizing and Hustle too bland. Dicaprio must be shocked that The Great Gatsby won 2 Oscars while Wolf won none.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis is snubbed:

This is a true tragedy. In my opinion, Llewyn Davis was the only movie that could hold a candle to 12 Years. It was smart, sad, funny, interesting. Oscar Issac was truly phenomenal as the title character, a folk singer down on his luck. As I mentioned above, Issac inserts some essential humanity into this truly bad person. Without this humanity, the audience would feel no sympathy for Llewyn Davis. But instead, we spend the whole movie rooting for him, even as he takes advantage of people and criticizes his fellow performers. Issac is supported by stellar showings from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and the amazing John Goodman (how he has not even been nominated for an Oscar, much less won one, is beyond me. He must have deserved to win for playing the immortal Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, another Cohen brothers’ classic). The cinematography is brilliant, creating a depressed atmosphere. And of course the score is superb. Issac not only sings his own songs, he sings them live. Overall, this was an outstanding film, which had very interesting things to say about the futility of being an artist, and whether creating art actually fulfills people. This is my favorite Cohen brothers’ movie, and that is saying something.

And one more: Ellen was funny!

I know, shocking! A funny awards show host host! The only other Oscars I’ve watched a ton of is last year’s, and Seth MacFarlane was just not funny. I don’t like his work in general… Actually, I hate it (I’m sure he’s a nice guy though!). So that was bad. But Ellen was good! The pizza bit was good, the selfie was funny though manufactured, and her other jokes were good. She was by turns self-depricating and self-promoting with her trademark sense of irony. Good job, girl.

Hopefully we get half as good a movie year in 2014. Happy movies!

Union Preview Part 2: Depth Chart

The 2014 Union season is rapidly approaching. In only 6 days, the Boys in Blue will begin their 5th campaign off of the coast of the Pacific in Portland. There are  many reasons for Union fans this season to be more optimistic about their team’s playoff chances this year more than any other Union season. In Part 1 of my preview, I looked at 5 new players who could be huge difference makers as the U look to reach the playoffs for the 2nd time in their short history. In this part, I will take a look at the Union in a more general sense, by looking at the entire roster, and who coach John Hackworth will look to start. Overall, the personnel on hand makes the Union a playoff team; anything short of that would be a disappointment.

Union Depth Chart:

Goalkeeper– 1. Zac MacMath 2. Andre Blake 3. Brian Holt

For the first time in his young career, MacMath will face stern competition from the 1st overall draft pick Blake, who many believe to be the best goalkeeper prospect in the league for many years. MacMath is talented in his own right- he played a splendid last 3 months of last season, showing improvement at collecting balls in the air to his decent shotstopping skills- and he will not give up the #1 shirt without a fight. In order to retain the starting job, MacMath must continue to improve at dealing with balls in the air, and must improve greatly in his distribution. He could also be more aggressive in organizing his defense. In Blake, the U have a GK prospect who has the total package: athletic, mature, good in the air. Blake will certainly push MacMath hard. Holt is the last resort, and will probably get very little game time this season.

Centerback– Starting- Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry; Reserves- Richie Marquez, Ethan White

Okugo and Berry are the clear starters. Okugo is primed for a breakout season, one which could cement him as one of the 5 or 6 best CB’s in the league. Since entering the league in 2012, Berry has won a Rookie of the Year and has played in 62 games, including playing every minute of the Chicago Fire’s 2013 campaign. The most important part of a defensive partnership is continuity and comfort, and with both players very durable and won’t miss many games, expect the pair to develop chemistry early on. They could be one of the 3 or 4 best pairings in the league by the end of the season. Out of the backups, White is more experienced, though I think he has had a disappointing camp, as he has gotten very little playing time with the 1st team. And, if he was playing well in camp, Haackworth would not have needed to acquire Berry to pair with Okugo. Marques is a rookie, but I think he will get some playing time this year, considering he beat out the more heralded fellow rookie Kevin Cope for a centerback spot.

Right back– 1. Sheanon Williams 2. Ray Gaddis 3. Matt Kassel

This is Williams’ spot. Last season he broke the record for most appearances for the Union, and he did so while quietly putting in a campaign that some people rated as the best for a right back in the entire league. He is able to both defend solidly and attack with real results, leading the league in assists for a defender with 8. Gaddis is an excellent backup. With his amazing speed, he is able to overlap on the attack with ease, knowing he can run back to cover on defense when needed. He is far more comfortable on the right side. Kassel is the emergency option, and in limited minutes last season played okay.

Left back– 1. Fabinho 2. Ray Gaddis

It seems that Fabinho narrowly won the starting spot over Gaddis during the preseason. Fabinho provides some things that Gaddis cannot on the left side; as a left footer who has spent some time at left midfield during his career, he is able to attack and send in crosses down the left flank. However, his defensive skills are lacking. Gaddis is far more effective on the right than on the left. On the left, his crossing ability is negated, and he is far less effective as an offensive weapon. However, Hackworth did surprisingly start Gaddis at left back last season, so do not be surprised if he gets the nod again.

Center midfield– Starting- Maurice Edu, Vincent Noguiera, Brian Carroll; Next subs- Pedro Ribeiro, Zach Pfeffer, Michael Lahoud; Last resorts- Corben Bone, Keon Daniel, Leo Fernandes

There are so many center midfielders on the roster that many of them will only make the Union’s gameday roster, much less start, a few times this season. Edu and Noguiera are definite starters. They were both paid a lot of money to come here, and the U’s fans will expect a lot of results. Both players are in the prime of their careers and have a lot of pedigree; Edu is a former national team player, while Noguiera was the captain of a French Ligue 1 side for many years. Expect Edu to do a lot of work in defense while running forward to connect the side, and Noguiera to act as a “faux-creator” in John Hackworth’s system (more on why he is a “faux-creator” as opposed to just a “creator” in my look at the Union’s tactics). Captain Brian Carroll is virtually a lock in the side, occupying the 3rd midfield role. However, there is concern among the fanbase that Carroll may be redundant in the side, and that the U require a more offensive 3rd midfielder. That other option could be rookie Pedro Ribeiro. At 6’4″, he has the physical stature to dominate other teams with his strength, but he also is extremely gifted technically. He could be a real difference maker for the side this season. Pfeffer is a player with a ton of potential. He is Homegrown, having went to Upper Dublin. With all of the midfielders on the roster, he may not get much playing time this season, but he still has a ton of talent. Expect Lahoud to be a defensive option for Hackworth late in games. Bone, Daniel, and Fernandes may not get much time. I can’t see any of them making a major contribution, although Bone was a pickup this offseason, so it is possible that Hackworth plays him, and Daniel is a veteran who has shown flashes of talent in years other than 2013.

Right wing– 1. Sebastian Le Toux 1b. Danny Cruz 3. Jimmy McLaughlin

This battle is close between Le Toux and Cruz. Both are limited technically, but are excellent athletes who use their athleticism in different ways. Le Toux is one of the most fit soccer player I have ever seen. He is capable of running for 90 minutes every week. Last year, he added a new dimension to his game, as he became an accurate crosser, even taking the lead of Union corner kicks. This technical skill is a huge boost to his game, as he is not a great passer. Cruz, on the other hand, expends all of his energy in a 55 minute stint. He is constantly buzzing around the opposition fullbacks, looking to win the ball off them high up the field to start quick attacks. However, he is limited tactically, as he often doesn’t supply enough defensive cover for his fullback. Add that to his seeming lack of all technical skills, and the U have a player who can infuriate the fanbase. But Hackworth likes him a lot, and even though Le Toux is the better player, Cruz will get a ton of time this season. McLaughlin is the last option and may be sent down to the Union’s lower division affiliate, Harrisbug City Islanders.

Left wing– 1. Cristian Maidana 2. Cristhian Hernandez

This is Maidana’s wing to roam. Signed as a Designated Player like Mo Edu (meaning the U went over the individual salary restriction to sign him), Hackworth desperately needs Maidana to provide tangible results in goals and assists, not just improved technical play on the left flank. On all accounts Maidana is a very skilled player, able to dribble at players and create for others. In fact, he has played a lot of his career as the central attacking midfielder, meaning that he could provide an essential creative option for the side. The Homegrown Hernandez could play with the big club this season. He is versatile, able to play multiple positions, but he won’t get much time unless there are injuries.

Forward– Starting- Jack McInerney; Bench- Connor Casey, Antoine Hoppenot, Aaron Wheeler

This is the year for Jack Mac to cement himself as one of the MLS’ best forwards. After leading the league in goals through May, McInerney only added 2 more the rest of the way. A very intellegent player, who makes excellent runs off of the ball to put himself into good positions, he must prove he can add quality in the buildup. But, his most important task will be becoming a consistent goalscorer. The Union probably need 15-20 goals out of him, and he has the ability to do it. Casey is a very good backup who provides a very different look than McInerney, as he is a very physical player who excels in holding up the ball. However, injuries have hampered his preseason, so he may not provide as much of an impact as last season. Hoppenot is Hackworth’s spark plug off of the bench. But, while he certainly provides energy in the last 30 minutes of games, able to dribble directly at opponents and create dangerous offensive opportunities, he must become a more capable goalscorer. Wheeler is a big body while limited technically, and a bad sign for his playing time this season is that Hackworth had him playing a lot of centerback this offseason.

Now that I have went over the entire Union roster, next time I will focus on their tactics: what Hackworth will implement, and what I think they should play.

Oscars 2014: Predictions and My Favorites

2013 was considered by almost everyone as an awesome year for movies. I saw many more movies this year than I have previously, and I agree with this sentiment. So, I am actually interested in the Oscars on Sunday. Here are my predictions for some of the major categories, and my personal favorites in those categories. (NOTE: I didn’t see every movie nominated for these categories, though I did see a lot of them.)

Best Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Prediction- Jared Leto. Although I didn’t like this performance at all (way too over the top), it seems like Leto is a lock.

My favorite- Michael Fassbender. Fassbender was excellent in this great movie, but has very little chance of winning. Mark Harris on Grantland made an interesting point about Fassbender, saying that the Academy will not want to make itself look bad by giving a white performer from a movie about slavery an Acting award.

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Prediction and my favorite- Lupita Nyong’o. Great performance here. I think that the Academy will want to reward one of the actors from 12 Years a Slave, and I think Nyong’o is in the weakest category of the actors.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

Prediction and my favorite- 12 Years a Slave. Powerful script, with some great, subtle passages. The tension between the white slave owners and the slaves is so noticeable, and not just through the visuals.

Best Original Screenplay:

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

Prediction- American Hustle. An Academy favorite, though I didn’t like it very much.

My favorite- Her. I really liked this movie, although the screenplay was not amazing. It was certainly good. My favorite screenplay of the whole year was Inside Llewyn Davis, which did not get a single nomination in a major category.

Best Actor:

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club- Excellent performance, and the probable winner. The Academy loves when someone has to change their appearance for a role. Recent examples of this include Anne Hathawy for Les Mis and Christian Bale for The Fighter.  McConaughey carries this movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- Maybe Leo’s best performance, up there with The Departed and Blood Diamond. Magnetic, charismatic, shocking, Leo proves again that he can play a movie star role with the skill of the best character actor around.

Christian Bale, American Hustle- My least favorite nominee out of the 4 that I saw. He was fine, but was nowhere near the class of the other 3, and American Hustle was the worst movie out of 12 Years, Wolf and DBC.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave- An amazing, reserved performance. Ejiofor will probably lose out to either Dicaprio or McConaughey in the end because his performance was much less flashy, and the voters will probably want to reward multiple movies with the top award instead of giving everything to 12 Years.

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Sidebar: Oscar Issac for Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off for his amazing job as the title character, somehow putting some humanity into a dreadful, horrible person. And he sings live during the movie. Probably my favorite performance of the year.

Best Actress: only saw one of these performances (Amy Adams in American Hustle) so I can’t say which my favorite was. That being said, it seems like Cate Blanchett is a lock for Blue Jasmine.

Best Director:

Alexander Payne, Nebraska- Didn’t see it.

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street- Scorsese directs another great movie here, although one that is probably too polarizing to win Scorsese the award. Some classic Marty touches here.

David O. Russell, American Hustle- I like Russell a lot. I think he does a really good job in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. But he can’t find a movie plot or any kind of climax here in the mess on display. 

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave– A remarkable job, but one that won’t win him the award. McQueen puts a remarkable stamp on the movie, overseeing some amazing shots of the swamplands in Louisiana and depicting the struggle of slaves in such an intense, vulnerable way.

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity– This technical masterpiece will win Cuarón the award. Without him, Gravity could not exist. He is truly a visionary filmmaker, previously making my favorite movie, 2006’s Children of Men. His extraordinary cinematography is on display here again.

Best Picture:

Dallas Buyers Club– Very good movie, though probably doesn’t deserve to be nominated. Without McConaughey, it flops.
Nebraska– Didn’t see it.
Captain Phillips– Great movie, but no chance to win. A couple of stellar performances, particularly from Tom Hanks and the nominated Barkhad Abdi.
Philomena– Didn’t see it.
The Wolf of Wall Street– a glorious debauchery, with Leo at his finest and excellent performances from the supporting class, including Johan Hill, McConaughey (this guy owned 2013, and has started out 2014 well with True Detective) and a great cameo from Rob Reiner. Too polarizing to win, although in 20 years may be the 2nd most remembered movie from 2013.
Her- Cool atmosphere, with some awesome performances, especially from Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johanson. Spike Jonze does a great job of setting this futuristic atmosphere where technology is sentient.

American Hustle– a mess of a movie that would crash without the great performances, especially from Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper. But the two leads (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) aren’t as good as the Academy says, and there is very little climax. A lot of show, but little substance.

Gravity-  A visual masterpiece, although not a good enough movie to win. Some great cinematography, but the script is weak, which will hurt it come Sunday.

12 Years a Slave– The best movie of the year, and should certainly win the award. This movie is extraordinary, combining great performances with an amazing script and and vibrant atmosphere. In a year when many of the other favorites (Hustle, Wolf, Gravity, DBC) were flashy, 12 Years will win off of the back of its reserved script which is far more powerful than any other script this year.

Final note: Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off. I think that it is the only movie that compares to 12 Years. It has amazing things to say about life in general, and making art in particular. And some great backup performances from John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan. The Coen brothers have made some fantastic movies, from The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men to Fargo, but I think that this is their best movie.