Sunday, December 4, 2016

2015 BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

As I write this, it is December 2016, so I thought it about time to make my picks for the best albums of 2015.
Hey, better late than never.
Right?

So,
Without Further Ado

The Best Albums of the Year


Best Christian Album of the Year
Contemporary Christian Music has been a big part of my musical life for a long time and I have a huge collection  of Christian CDs that would probably shock most people.  So, it is with great sadness that there were no Christian albums released in 2015 that I bought.  Thank God, Carman and Michael W. Smith both released albums in 2014 which has kept me going.

Best Pop Album
Mikky Ekko - Time




Released in January, Mikky Ekko's debut album, Time, started the year off as a high point which no further pop releases were able to top. Time features an eclectic group of tunes that showcase Ekko's high voice with a sound reminiscent of Maroon 5's, Adam Levine.  Good stuff.
Here is the video of the first track of the album, Watch Me Rise:




Best New Age Album
Enya - Dark Sky Island





Yay!!!  Enya released a new album this year, her first since her Christmas album in 2008, and it is good but maybe not great. But, Enya is definitely back and this album is a good example of her style without being a classic album like earlier efforts such as Shepherd Moons.
BTW, I call this album a New Age album but don't take that to mean this is some kind of weird transcendental album that puts you in a trance.  It's really just a description of music that might be called meditative mixed with a heavy synthesized sound often repetitive melodic motives.
Here is a video of the title track of the album:



Best Electronic Album
Ratatat - Magnifique






Yay!!! Ratatat released a new album this year, and it was pretty good.  After their foray into a highly synthesized sound for LP3 and LP4 (their two previous albums) that resulted in their music sounding a bit like old-style video game music, Ratatat returns to a more guitar-heavy sound resulting in some cool grooves that remind me of their earliest albums such as Classics.  A welcome return.
Here is a video of the opening track and first single from the album, Cream on Chrome, which really exemplifies the sound of this album:




Best Christmas Album
I try to buy a Christmas album every year and up till last year, I was able to keep that tradition going, but due to circumstances, I didn't get any Christmas albums in 2015, so no pick for this category this year.


Best Classical Crossover Album
2Cellos - Celloverse




The Slovenian/Croatian cello duo of Luka Sullic and Stjepan Hauser released their 3rd album in 2015, Celloverse, and it is their most mature and barnstorming album showcasing this duo's awesome talents.  I have to say that if you haven't heard 2Cellos, do yourself a favor and give them a listen.
Here is the video of my favorite track from the album, a cello version of Michael Jackson's They Don't Care About Us:




Best Album of the Year

Pentatonix - Pentatonix




The acapella group Pentatonix released their first album of original material in 2015 and it was a triumph featuring catchy pop-flavored acapella songs that showcase their talents not only as performers but as songwriters as well.  I'm a sucker for acapella music and Pentatonix is the best in that type of music that we have right now and this is a great album and my pick for best of the year.
Here is the video of my favorite track and the first single from the album, Can't Sleep Love:




I know I didn't go into much detail about each album which is why I include videos just to give a taste of the albums and hopefully inspire you, the reader, to go and sample these albums further.

But wait...
How could I forget?

Best Film Score Album of the Year

The Force Awakens - John Williams




Yay!!! John Williams composed a new Star Wars film score this year.
John Williams once again proves he is the best film composer of this time or any time and it came in a new Star Wars movie.  Now, as a movie, I wasn't too thrilled with The Force Awakens but the music was definitely Star Wars quality and far and away the best of the year and the best thing about the movie.  Not too great a movie but a great score.
Here is the final track of the score in which we finally get to the only reason I went to see this movie (No Spoilers but his initials are L and S):




OK, that was the best of the music of 2015 in a nutshell.
Happy Listening!!!

Thursday, December 1, 2016



PIC OF THE DAY


I don't want this blog to deal in politics but this pic from the recent election is one of the coolest pics I've ever seen and may become one of the most iconic pics of all time.

Take it as you will.










Thursday, July 21, 2016

STATE OF THE BLOG

As of this writing, it is nearing the end of July 2016 and anyone that has visited this blog will notice that I haven't posted anything this year.  There are several reasons for this that I want to explain and maybe map out some sort of future for this blog.
At the end of last year, I had decided that I wanted to do several posts as a kind of block, once a month.
However, toward the end of last year, I got sick and didn't really recover until about mid-May so my enthusiasm and energy that I could devote to the blog waned and I had to leave it by the wayside.
I would like to get back to the blog but many of the topics that I blog about have altered over the last year, such as: 
-My soundtrack-collecting has been been greatly affected by the fact that I didn't see very many movies last year and couldn't even make an entry in my Top Scores List for 2015.  Also, many of the movies I see these days, I really don't like so I don't really want to blog about them.  I'm seeing a few more movies these days but the music in most of these movies is fairly undistinguished and forgettable.
-Twitter No More - I recently cancelled my Twitter account so no more Twitter Pics of the Day will be featured.  I came to the realization that I really didn't like all the social media stuff, so now I'm completely out of the social media thing (I cancelled my Facebook account several years ago). 
-I've developed a great interest in Christian Apologetics this year (akin to my interest in such religious things as Christian music and Angeology) but I don't want to blog about this topic as I don't want this blog to turn into a religious or political blog.

Perhaps I'm just getting older and my interests are changing.

I can't guarantee that I will blog with any kind of consistency but a post may appear from time to time.

SO STAY TUNED... 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR

YEAR BY YEAR

The 1970s


Continuing my series of posts on the subject of what I think are the best films of each year, we now tackle the 1970s.  The movies of the 1970s changed from previous decades.  Gone were the big-budget biographic epics (except for one notable exception in 1970, but more on that in a bit) and the big-budget musicals (except for another notable exception in 1971, but more on that in a bit and the last of the great musicals Grease in 1978).  Taking their place were grittier, more realistic movies dealing with flawed and often violent anti-heroes (this trend climaxing in the Martin Scorsese movie Taxi Driver in 1980).  But also we see the beginning of sci-fi and adventure movies that would populate the movie cinemas in the late 70s and early 80s.

But, for now let's examine the best movies of each year for the 70s.
So, without further ado...

1970
Patton
In the tradition of Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia comes this biographic epic of the famous WWII general played brilliantly by George C. Scott.  It is without doubt, one of the greatest male performances of all time, along with Peter O'Toole in Lawrence and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi of 1982 (but more on Ghandhi in a later post), housed within an almost perfect movie.

1971
Fiddler on the Roof
The last of the great musical movies, Fiddler is sometimes a forgotten classic with a towering performance by Topol as the milkman Tevye, but it is every bit as good as any musical ever made.

1972
The Godfather
Could there be any other choice?
Really nuff said.

1973
The Exorcist
Possibly the most disturbing movie of all time.  It is not easy to watch and not easy to go to sleep after watching.  But beyond the shock-factor of the subject matter, this is a very well-crafted movie and although he's only in the movie for a bit, Max Von Sydow gives an absolutely riveting performance as Father Merrin.

1974
Murder on the Orient Express
This could be the greatest ensemble cast ever assembled for a movie of this Agatha Christie classic mystery but the real star of this movie is Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot in a spot-on performance that is amazing to watch.  Watch it first to solve the mystery, watch it multiple times for that Finney performance.

1975
Jaws
Yep.
Easy choice.
Spielberg's best movie and the first true summer blockbuster movie.

1976
All the President's Men
A personal choice for this year (most people would probably go with Rocky in this year) but considering the times (post-Watergate), this movie was as timely and important as a movie can get.  And it is a quality movie as well.  If you haven't watched this one in a while, go back and pay attention to the way this movie is shot and directed.

1977
Star Wars
No other choice.
My personal favorite movie of all time.
The movie that changed my life by firing my imagination.
It also changed the movie business forever and was the sleeper hit of all time.
No other choice.

1978
Superman
A comic book icon comes to the big screen in this magnificent adaption with an iconic performance by Christopher Reeves.  Just Super!!!

1979
Apocalypse Now
A difficult year to pick the best picture.  It came down to Alien or Apocalypse and I have to go with the latter.  Apocalypse Now is an amazing movie (there are scenes in this movie that I wonder at how they were filmed).  Apocalypse Now is a disturbing movie (the scene at the bridge is about as weird as you will ever see in a war film).  Apocalypse Now is a timely movie.  The country was still reeling a bit out of control in 1979 and was not fully healed from the times of the Vietnam War and here comes this movie that illustrated the chaotic nature of that war probably better than any other movie on the subject matter and can be painful to watch even in all its disturbing greatness.


OK
1970s done.
Onward to the crazy 1980s.


CHRISTMAS ALBUM SPOTLIGHT


Every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I like to exclusively listen to Christmas music.  It gets me in the Christmas spirit and I just like Christmas music overall.  I also try to, each and every year, buy at least one new Christmas album so you can imagine that through the years I've managed to collect quite a few Christmas CDs.  In this post I would like to highlight one of the best Christmas albums that I've ever heard.
It is Michael W. Smith's Christmas from 1989 (the best year of my life and one of the best years of the century).  If you don't know the name, Michael W. Smith is one of the most successful and talented Christian music artists of all time.  In his nearly 30 year career he has released 23 studio albums that represent the best of Christian music.  He is my favorite Christian singer and I have all of his albums on CD.  Around the time of the release of Christmas in 1989, Smitty (as he is known) was at his peak.  In 1988 he had released  i 2 (EYE), his best and most successful album up to that time (and IMO still his best) and followed it up with 1990's Go West Young Man followed by the monster album Change Your World in 1992 which had huge crossover appeal with the hit "Place in this World".  And lodged in between these releases was Christmas in 1989.  As a Christmas album, Christmas offers up the expected carols such as "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night" but in unexpected arrangements such as piano solos (all the keyboards on the album are played by Smitty) or accompanied by orchestra and choir.  Some tracks don't even feature Smitty singing at all and are just choral works with orchestral accompaniment.  The album also features some original songs such as "All is Well" and the highlight of the album, a song called "No Eye Had Seen" which is a duet with fellow Christian singer Amy Grant.  But this duet is not like a common duet as each singer (Smitty and Grant) sing different words at the same time crescendoing to an almost euphoric climax of sound.  The conclusion of the album is a song called "Gloria" which incorporates "Angels We Have Heard on High" with Smitty singing and on piano accompanied by full orchestra and a full choir.  It is a tour de force which can be heard below.
If you have never heard of this album, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  It is a true Christmas delight.

"Gloria"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR

YEAR BY YEAR

The 1960s


Continuing my series of posts on the subject of what I think are the best films of each year, we now come to the 1960s.
So, without further ado...

1960
Spartacus
What a year 1960 was for film!
It was quite difficult to narrow it down to just one film as the best of 1960 because several classic films came out that year.  In fact, there are no less than three films that are in my Top 25 that date from 1960 (and a fourth film that as a Texan, its only natural I would love it).
In addition to Spartacus (which I will talk about in a bit), The Magnificent Seven and Psycho also came out in 1960.  Magnificent Seven boasts one of the great ensemble casts of all time (maybe the best) and Psycho features one of the greatest male performances on film of all time of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  The film that, as a Texan I love, is The Alamo directed and starring John Wayne and is an incredible epic of Texas history featuring great performances by an iconic cast.
But, we must address the best movie of the year which is Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus.
Continuing a tradition of "sword and sandal" epics, Spartacus is a lavish production with big battle scenes and even bigger performances.  Kirk Douglas gives his finest performance in a role that seethes with inner tension and rage.  Lawrence Olivier is along for the ride in a stately performance that only he can give.  But who can forget Peter Ustinov in one of the best supporting roles ever.  Ustinov steals every scene that he is in, but it's not the over-the-top scenery-chewing that he did as Nero in Quo Vadis.
This was Kubrick's only truly great film as he then ventured into more esoteric film-making that tainted his reputation as a great film-maker.

1961
West Side Story
And here again is a musical for the Best Picture of the Year and it is probably the greatest musical film of all time (and the argument could be made that this is one of the best movies of all time - it ranks #5 on my list of all-time greatest movies).
Jerome Robbins achieved choreography in this film not seen since Singing in the Rain for its sheer perfection.
And don't forget Natalie Woods in her most radiant performance (even if she lip-synced her songs).

1962
Lawrence of Arabia
The finest male performance in a film ever.
Peter O'Toole.
'Nuff said?

1963
The Great Escape
Another great ensemble picture that comes together seamlessly and even though its a long movie it holds its tension remarkably well throughout.

1964
My Fair Lady
Another remarkable musical of lavish proportions with a performance for the ages by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn as radiant as ever (even though she also lip-synced her songs much like Natalie Wood in West Side Story and interestingly both singing performances were by the same woman, Marni Nixon).

1965
The Sound of Music
The turbulent and society-changing 1960's produced some of the greatest musical films of all time and the trend continued with Rogers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music with a female performance by Julie Andrews (who had been rejected for My Fair Lady due to not being a big-enough star) that is one of the greatest of all time.
This movie was so popular at the time that it actually challenged Gone With the Wind as the all-time box office king running in some theatres for over a year.

1966
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Epic and Western don't often go together but that's exactly what this movie is with a barn-storming performance by Eli Wallach who absolutely carries this movie.  But don't forget Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleaf giving steely-eyed performances (or Angel-Eyed in the case of Van Cleaf).

1967
Camelot
And the musical parade continues with perhaps my favorite musical in Camelot.  Richard Harris gives his best performance as King Arthur in this magical adaption of the Lerner & Lowe classic musical.
This movie is pure magic and scrumptious to behold onscreen.

1968
Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zefferelli delivers my favorite and the best Shakespeare movie of all time in the tale of the star-crossed lovers.  Leornard Whiting and Olivia Hussey deliver spot-on performances that elevate this movie to absolute greatness.

1969
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Bond.  James Bond.
George Lazenby delivers the finest performance of Bond ever onscreen in the best Bond movie of all time.
I've blogged about this movie (and other James Bond movies) extensively.  See post here: http://mattstarr28.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-best-bond-james-bond-other-day.html
A personal favorite.


Before I conclude this entry, I can't not mention some of the other great movies of the 1960's (and perhaps a few stinkers as well).
I addressed 1960 earlier as one of the best years for film of the 60's but consider 1962 with not only Lawrence of Arabia but also the movie adaption of the musical The Music Man with Robert Preston iconic performance and Shirley Jones as effervescent as ever (and super-talented too, no lip-syncing here), The Miracle Worker with two incredible female performances from Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke as Helen Keller, the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard giving an incredible performance as Captain Bligh, and finally, the iconic How the West Was Won starring half of Hollywood (just kidding) in the other great epic Western of the 1960's.
And speaking of epics, consider Cleopatra in 1963 (Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor in the title role and dozens and dozens of costumes).
And let's give a shout-out to Richard Burton as Becket in 1964 alongside Peter O'Toole.  Does it get any better?
Well, let me throw this out when thinking of iconic performances.  How about Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger in 1964?  The best Bond movie?  The case could be made.
And how about another shout-out to another Cleopatra co-star with Rex Harrison in Agony and the Ecstasy of 1965 along with a certain Charlton Heston.
Did anyone mention epics of the 1960's?  Doctor Zhivago of 1965.
1967's Best Picture winner was In the Heat of the Night with a stellar performance by Rod Steiger and cool as the other side of the pillow Sidney Poitier.
Paul Newman gave his best performance in the ultimate guy movie - Cool Hand Luke in 1967.
1968 was an interesting year as the musical Oliver won Best Picture, Charlton Heston played with the monkeys in Planet of the Apes and the worst movie of all time (IMO) 2001: A Space Odyssey was released.
Truly, the 1960's was a great decade for movies.  I wish I could have seen some of these in the theatres.
I have been lucky enough to see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen which may be the best movie of the decade so I'm satisfied and this concludes my survey of the Best Pictures of each year of the 1960's.

Coming Soon - the 1970's

Tuesday, September 15, 2015



BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR

YEAR BY YEAR

1939-1959


I'm going to start a new series of posts with this one on the subject of what I think are the best films of each year beginning with the year 1939 (and hopefully I can narrow it down to just one per year).
Now, going back so far into film history, I have to admit that there will be years that are not going to be represented since I haven't seen any films from those particular years.
To begin, I'm going to take the 20 year period from 1939 to 1959 and discuss briefly the best movie for each year IMO.
So, without further ado...

1939
Gone With the Wind
This is an obvious choice and I have blogged about this film extensively (see post here: http://mattstarr28.blogspot.com/2013/08/frankly-my-dear-youre-greatest-movie.html )
I believe it to be the best movie ever made with all of the facets of movie-making at the highest level.
I also recently blogged that I believe Viven Leigh's performance in this movie to be the best film performance of all time.
So, GWTW - obvious choice but before going on, lets talk about the other films of 1939 that are noteworthy.
1939 is widely considered to be the greatest year for film of all time.  More classic movies came out in 1939 than ever before or since.
As an example, just consider the male performances in 1939.  Not only did Clark Gable give his definitive performance in GWTW, but Laurence Olivier was also lauded for his portrayal of Heathcliff in the arch-romantic version of Wuthering Heights of 1939 (which also starred Merle Oberon in one of her finest roles as Cathy, the obsessive love of Heathcliff).  Charles Laughton gave a mesmerizing performance as Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame (along with Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda).  Jimmy Stewart starred in a little movie by Frank Capra called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Henry Fonda brought President Lincoln to life in John Ford's classic Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford also directed Stagecoach with a young actor named John Wayne in 1939).
And also, lets not forget a little movie called The Wizard of Oz starring the effervescent Judy Garland.
1939 - The finest year for film ever.

1940
And now we come to one of those difficult years because I've only seen two movies from 1940.
One of those movies is the Disney classic, Fantasia which is a wonderful experience but not a traditional movie in any sense due to its lack of narrative so I'm not going to say that Fantasia is the best movie of the year.
The other movie that I've seen is The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda.  Now Grapes is considered a classic movie with an iconic performance from Fonda but I've always found the movie a bit dull and not very satisfying.
So, 1940 is the first of those years that I can't commit to any film as the best since I don't have enough knowledge of those films to make a judgement.

1941
Sergeant York
Sergeant York is the quintessential Gary Cooper film role (and he was rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Actor for this role) and a very good movie directed by Howard Hawks.
As a sidenote, 1941 was the year Orson Welles made Citizen Kane which regularly is regarded as the greatest movie of all time but to me, Kane is a very ordinary and dull movie that I've never connected with.

1942
Casablanca
Obvious choice here as Casablanca is one of the greatest movies of all time (and could be argued as THE greatest movie of all time).
This seems like a good time to mention that many of these movies are in my Top 25 Movies of All Time which you can view here: http://mattstarr28.blogspot.com/2013/08/top-25-movies-of-all-time-recently_13.html 

1943
And here we go again with my limited viewing of films from a certain year.
The only film I've seen from 1943 is Jane Eyre starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine and it is a fine film but, once again, its the only film I've seen from 1943.

1944
None.
I haven't seen any films from 1944.
Next.

1945
And Then There Were None
This is the first adaption of Agatha Christie's classic novel (one of my all-time faves) with an all-star cast including Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston. 

1946
It's A Wonderful Life
This is another obvious choice with the quintessential Jimmy Stewart performance and the shimmering Donna Reed.  Easily the best film of the year.

1947
None.
Another.
Let's move on.

1948
Hamlet
I'm a huge Shakespeare fan and this is the only film of 1948 that I've seen.  Luckily it is Laurence Olivier in probably his best role that he also directed (the only actor ever to direct himself to a best actor Oscar in the Oscar winning Best Picture of the Year).

1949
The only film of 1949 that I've seen is the musical On the Town which is a good musical (although many of the songs from the Broadway original were not included in this film version) but perhaps not a great film.  However, it does have Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and the blazing dancing of Ann Miller.
This is the first musical that is mentioned on this list and you probably should get used to them appearing because I'm a huge musical film and they will be coming hot and heavy.

1950
Annie Get Your Gun
And here we go with the musicals.
Annie Get Your Gun is Irving Berlin's musical masterpiece (much like Kiss Me Kate is Cole Porter's) and this is a great film adaption of the Broadway hit starring Howard Keel and the absolutely superb Betty Hutton as the title character.  Wonderful music and a wonderful film

1951
The African Queen
To me, this is an obvious choice.  I think it is Humphrey Bogart's finest role and he is more than complemented by Katherine Hepburn.  To me, this movie is magical as you watch these two very different people fall in love and you believe it every step of the way.
As a sidenote, 1951 also featured the musical Showboat starring Katheryn Grayson and Howard Keel and is a wonderful musical of one of the most iconic musicals in history.

1952
Singing in the Rain
Did I mention that I like musicals?
Obvious.
The dancing.  Absolutely amazing.
Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.  Absolutely amazing.

1953
Julius Caesar
Another great love of mine is William Shakespeare.  I've already mentioned Hamlet of 1948 and in 1953 Julius Caesar was adapted with an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, James Mason, and John Gielgud.  My only complaint with this movie is Louis Calhern as the title character seemed a bit out of his depth and not up to the other members of the cast.  Just to see Brando doing Shakespeare is the highlight of this movie.

1954
Brigadoon
Once more Gene Kelly and once more a musical.
This lush adaption of the Lerner and Loewe Broadway show is a delight and one of my all-time fave musicals.

1955
Oklahoma
A landmark Broadway musical is made into a beautiful movie with incredible dancing and singing.  Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones (in her first movie) are wonderful and you throw in Rod Steiger as the menacing villain and you have a great movie.

1956
The Ten Commandments
Is there any other choice?
Charlton Heston in his most iconic role along with Yul Brynner and the legendary Cecil B Demille directing, you know you can't go wrong with this one.
As a sidenote, Yul Brynner also starred in his best role in the film adaption of the Broadway hit, The King and I and won an Oscar for his efforts.
Likewise, I think Gregory Peck also delivered his greatest performance in the film adaption of Moby Dick in 1956.
And don't forget, Laurence Olivier as Richard III was also in 1956.

1957
12 Angry Men
An amazing cast highlights this great movie anchored by Henry Fonda in what is, IMO, his best performance with a supporting cast for the ages - Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, and most importantly Lee J. Cobb in a barnstorming performance.
 
1958
South Pacific
One of Rogers and Hammerstein's best musicals is given the big-screen treatment and is a beauty to behold and a joy to watch.  Another great musical movie in the pantheon of musical films.
 
1959
Ben-Hur
And in conclusion to this part of the survey is another obvious choice in William Wyler's epic starring Charlton Heston in one of the greatest performances of all-time (and Oscar rewarded).  Heston and the movie itself are a tour-de-force and an absolute treasure of filmmaking.
 
OK, that will do it for this part of the survey.
Coming soon - the 1960s.