Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Oscar Predictions

some of these might be slightly different than in my initial posts.

Animated Short
Will win: Day & Night
Should win: Day & Night
Live Short
Will win: God of Love
Should win: ???
Documentary Short
Will win: Strangers No More
Should win: ???
Will win: Inside Job
Should win: Inside Job
Foreign Language Film
Will win: In a Better World
Should win: ???
Animated Feature
Will win: Toy Story 3
Should win: Toy Story 3 (or The Illusionist)
Visual Effects
Will win: Inception
Should win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1
Sound Editing
Will win: Inception
Should win: Inception
Sound Mixing
Will win: Inception
Should win: The Social Network
Makeup Design
Will win: The Wolfman
Should win: ??
Costume Design
Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: The Tempest
Art Direction
Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: Inception
Should have been nominated: Shutter Island
Will win: "We Belong Together"
Should win: "We Belong Together" OR "Coming Home"
Will win: The Social Network
Should win: The Social Network
Should have been nominated: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1
Will win: True Grit
Should win: True Grit (or Inception)
Should have been nominated: Shutter Island
Will win: The Social Network
Should win: The Social Network
Should have been nominated: Inception
Supporting Actress
Will win: Melissa Leo
Should win: Hailee Steinfeld (or Jacki Weaver, for an actual supporting role)
Should have been nominated: Dianne Wiest for Rabbit Hole
Supporting Actor
Will win: Christian Bale
Should win: Geoffrey Rush
Should have been nominated so that he could have won: Andrew Garfield for The Social Network
Will win: Natalie Portman
Should win: Annette Bening 
Will win: Colin Firth
Should win: Colin Firth
Should have been nominated: Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine
Original Screenplay
Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: The Kids Are All Right or Another Year
Adapted Screenplay
Will win: The Social Network
Should win: The Social Network
Should have been nominated: The Ghost Writer
Will win: David Fincher
Should win: David Fincher
Should have been nominated: Christopher Nolan
Will win: The King's Speech
Should win: The Social Network
Should have been nominated: Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, Harry Potter

i've begun to have doubts about TSN winning best score, but i'm sticking to my guns.  that is one category where i'll actually be pretty upset if it doesn't win, because it deserves it.  Also, while i've maintained the frontrunner predictions for Actress, S. Actor, and S. Actress, i'm gonna predict there will be an upset in at least one of those categories (Annette Bening, Geoffrey Rush, or Steinfeld/Weaver/Carter).  i'm still very unsure about Art Direction and Costumes, so i've defaulted to King's Speech.  Also, if all the hype about a King's Speech sweep proves to be unfounded, look for an upset in Original Screenplay as well.

that's it, these are my final best guesses, we'll see what happens tonight.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wrapping up

i'm gonna try an power through all the rest of the categories now.

Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1
Iron Man 2

Iron Man's effects were kind of sloppy, i though, and Alice looked (unintentionally) cartoonish.  Hereafter's nomination is confusing to most people, though it is the one film here i've not seen, so i can't speak well to it.  Suffice it to say, it has basically no chance of winning.  i personally would pick Harry Potter and would select it to win.  However, logic tells me otherwise, so my prediction is for Inception, which also had some pretty outstanding effects, and would make a deserving winner.

Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman
The only film here i've seen is The Wolfman, and most predictions say it will win here, which makes sense to me (though i'm always partial to aging makeup like in Barney's Version, will seldom gets to win here, frequently overshadowed by creature designs).  So let's predict Wolfman, though Barney's Version might surprise.

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

This category is one of the harder to predict this year, along with Art Direction, because there isn't even a frontrunner and a possible spoiler, but several films that could easily win and deserve it.  The Tempest is the one here i've not seen, but from the trailers, i suspect i would prefer it most in this category.  However, it will likely not win.  This category is a bit of a toss-up between Alice in Wonderland and The King's SpeechI Am Love is a truly outstanding movie, with some nice upper-class Italian dresses that really nail down the characters, but it's too contemporary to actually win here.  True Grit would also be deserving, but it's unlikely.  i'm not totally sure what all the costumes in King's Speech did for the film other than accurately place the period, but it appears to have the edge over the competition, so i'll predict it (though the more i predict for King's Speech, the more likely it seems to sweep, which isn't a thought i like...), but i am partial to the designs in The Tempest, and really all of Julie Taymor's films.

Original Score
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

How to Train Your Dragon was wonderful, but not really quite a winner, in my mind.  Inception, the same thing.  It had the now kind of iconic BWOMP thing going, but there were several times in the movie where i actually think the music was very distracting.  It's nice that after a decade of snubs, Hans Zimmer is getting recognition again, but this isn't the one to win it again for him.  i think that in 127 Hours, Rahman rips off sounds from a half a dozen other composers, like Zimmer, Rachel Portman, John Williams, even Thomas Newman, and there's one riff that basically sounds like the intro to Eminem's "Lose Yourself" on loop...
Anyway, this appears to be between The King's Speech, going for a sweep and a win for the three-time loser Alexandre Desplat, and The Social Network, which it seems most people think actually deserves to win.  For me, it's not Desplat's score is bad or weak, it's actually quite appropriate for the film...but i think he wrote two other scores this year that were actually better and he wasn't nominated for them - The Ghost Writer and HP7.  Also, i'd be surprised if anyone actually believes this was the best score of the year.  The Social Network's score created an entire mood and atmosphere for the film that would have been totally different with a soundtrack or something lighter.  It's a tremendous piece of work, and deserves to win here, and i think that it actually will hold off the surge from The King's Speech, so i predict The Social Network.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem - Biutiful
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours

i've still be unable to find Biutiful to watch somewhere, so i can't speak about Bardem here, though i suspect he is excellent as always.  That said, this really is Firth's to lose.  Some people criticize that, thinking it's just making up for losing last year, but let's be honest, he is absolutely phenomenal here.  It's a much smaller, more detailed and nuanced performance than the naysayers are giving it credit for.  James Franco and Jeff Bridges did good work, but i suspect that there are possibly other actors who could have given performances of a similar caliber.  Eisenberg was really just as good as Firth and would also deserve to win, and as some have pointed out, he actually had a much more challenging role, in terms of playing an unlikable protagonist and getting the audience's sympathy without necessarily making him more likable.  Firth's sympathy factor was built in - Oh, he's got a stammer.  Aw, everyone is looking at him.  Oh my, his daddy's mean to him.  So in that respect, Eisenberg's accomplishment might be more notable.  But the prediction has to be for Firth.  In any other year, Eisenberg.

Best Original Screenplay
Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech

This will probably go to The King's SpeechInception has the best chance at an upset here, if people are feeling a lot of support for the film and still upset about Nolan missing a director nod.  personally, i'd like to see it go to Another Year or The Kids Are All Right, but can see that's unlikely (although this will sadly be Another Year's writer Mike Leigh's seventh Oscar loss).  Plus, The King's Speech has an excellent screenplay, and it wouldn't be the worst thing ever if it wins.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen - True Grit
David Fincher - The Social Network
Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
David O. Russell - The Fighter

Here is yet another question of King's Speech and Social Network.  At this point, it's just unclear as to how big King's Speech will win.  Actor, obviously, Picture and Screenplay, probably, but Art Direction?  Cosumes?  Sound Mixing?  Supporting Actor?  Supporting Actress even?  It could go either way in almost every category.  i think David Fincher is going to keep his place here.  He's well respected, and people want to give him an award.  There's also the idea that Hooper was less essential to his film than Fincher was to his.  And plus, in times of doubt, it's helpful to remember that Fincher really actually did do the best direction of the year.  So, prediction and preference: David Fincher

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

First off, in my opinion, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, and The Fighter shouldn't even be here.  They should be replaced by Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, and Harry Potter.  But whatever, i can't fix that.  This is the question of The King's Speech and The Social Network, and if The Social Network can get enough support to come from behind with the upset.  i've seen a few websites that did the math and predicted a Social Network upset with almost absolute certainty.  It has something to do with the way they do the math with the ballots - if Social Network gets enough #1 rankings and enough #2 rankings, and The King's Speech doesn't get enough #2 rankings, then, well, who knows?

To be clear, i loved The King's Speech, i thought it was an exceptional film, just not the best of the year.  And considering how few Best Of lists it made, a lot of people actually didn't think so either.  So i'm not sure how it got here as the frontrunner, except that it was well-made, and it sure does make you feel happy, doesn't it?  So, i'll predict The King's Speech because i'm not as confident in all the intricacies involved with an upset, though my preference is obviously for The Social Network, and i'll be extra thrilled if it deservedly wins, considering, you know, it actually is the best movie of the year. 

now, on to the awards that are practically impossible to get all right!

Best Documentary Feature
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

i've seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, and intend to watch some of the others tonight and tomorrow.  From what i've read on this category, a lot of people are predicting Inside Job, but saying that Exit Through the Gift Shop is the best one.  Considering that this is one of the categories where you have to have seen all 5 nominees in order to vote (as are the rest of the categories i'm gonna get to here), i suspect that if people are saying one is the best, that that is the one most people will vote for.  So i'm gonna predict Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Best Documentary Short
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Quigang

Uh, Strangers No More.  Because someone else said so.

Best Foreign Language Film
In a Better World
Outside the Law

Again, i've not seen any of these (but i'll try to at least watch one before tomorrow).  In a Better World appears to be the favorite, but this category is notorious for surprise winnersSo i'm not positive what will happen.

Best Animated Short
Day & Night  (you know, it's the one that played before Toy Story 3)
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, carnet de voyage

Well i've seen Day & Night and i've seen The Gruffalo, and i thought Day & Night was better, so let's go with that.

Best Live Action Short
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love
Na wewe
Wish 143

God of Love.  Because i heard it somewhere.

So, all right, that's all.  i'll post again summarizing my predictions/preferences, and some tallies.  Peace.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Keepin' on keepin' on

and here's some more for ya.

Sound Editing
(again, i believe this is the category about actual aesthetic sound design)

Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

i've now seen all the movies here, but i must admit Tron and Unstoppable were good, but not dvd quality bootlegs.  Regardless, i doubt either have a real shot at winning here.  True Grit did win a guild award a couple days ago, but i doubt it will actually win here - a wider set of voters will reward it in cinematography and possible supporting actress.  My pick would be for Toy Story 3.  7 of the last 8 Pixar films have been nominated in this category, and only The Incredibles won.  i find it baffling that films that literally have to create and record every single sound we hear (aside from dialogue) do not win more often.  That said, Inception is the most critically acclaimed of the technical wonders this year, and will likely win here.  Like many of the categories this year, a well-deserved probable win, but not the one i'd most like to see. 

That said, the sound categories are notoriously difficult to predict, and i'm even starting to have doubts about the Sound Mixing prediction i made earlier....i'm starting to think either True Grit or The Social Network have a chance at an upset there.  But this one should be squarely in Inception's corner.

"Coming Home" from Country Strong
"I See the Light" from Tangled
"If I Rise" from 127 Hours
"We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3

This is another tough one.  i haven't actually seen Country Strong or Tangled, but that's less important in this category.  Having listened through all the songs today, i have to admit i find "I See the Light" to be a little simplistic and cheesy, not likely to actually win i don't think.  i understand that for a while "If I Rise" was the frontrunner here....but honestly, that song is terrible.  It is dull and lethargic.  There's a chance people are looking for a chance to reward the film somewhere, but i can't imagine many people actually think this the best song from movies this year.  i admit bias here in that i have a passionate grudge against A.R. Rahman for beating Thomas Newman and Wall-E and i can't abide the thought of him winning a 3rd and/or 4th Oscar this year.  At least this time the lyrics are in one language... 

It looks to me like this is between "Coming Home" and "We Belong Together."  Honestly, i don't mind if either win - i think if people actually listen to the music, there's a chance for "Coming Home" which is actually a really good song, but more likely i think is Randy Newman (on his 20th nomination with only 1 win), the chance to give Toy Story 3 more than just one win in Animated Picture, and the really really good and fun song that is "We Belong Together."

(I'm holding off on Best Score until i have the chance to listen through the whole score for Inception on Youtube like i have for the other nominees.)

Best Actress
Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Lawrence totally carried her film, but she's young and there are better in the category this year.  Williams was very good but the film's too small, and this just isn't here year.  Kidman's already won, and she needs to do a few more good performances like this before she'll actually get to win again.  This is clearly a race between Portman and Bening.  Portman is obviously the frontrunner, and she will probably not suffer the upset from Bening.  However, Bening has more previous nominations (3 to Portman's 1), and there is criticism of Portman's performance as too "showy," while Bening creates a nuanced, emotional performance of a person who seems like she might actually exist in the real world.  My pick would be Bening, as i think it legitimately is the better performance, but i have to predict Portman as i don't see the upset as very likely.  Portman was excellent, don't get me wrong, and this won't go down in history as a great mistake on the Academy's part, but i do think it's not the most deserving win.

Adapted Screenplay
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

The Social Network, all the way.  i cannot imagine there being such a backlash against this movie that it loses this category.  That's what people thought about Up in the Air last year, i know, but this has got to be even more of a lock.  Somehow Sorkin wrote A Few Good Men, The American President, and Charlie Wilson's War without ever getting nominated, and he's gonna make up for it here with the best screenplay not only of this year but of the last several years.  Sorkin and Firth (for best actor) have got to be the two most locked locks of the year.

Next categories

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

Honestly, i can imagine any one of these winning.  The King's Speech is riding a wave of support in general, but i still don't imagine it pulling a total sweep, and it doesn't really deserve the win here.  Alice in Wonderland i feel the same about as i did with Avatar last year - i can't tell where the visual effects end and the art direction seems like most of the credit should belong with the special effects teams than the designers, and the designs honestly didn't really do much for me - most of the time i thought they were just trying to do too much visually with this movie, and the effect was to come off jumbled and mismatched - it really is a pretty ugly movie.  True Grit got 10 nominations, which is a lot, and people are wondering if that means it'll get some surprise wins in these types of categories.  i don't see it happening here, since the art direction demands here seems fairly simple for a period piece.  My personal preference is for Harry Potter to win here, though i doubt it will happen - i'm keeping my fingers crossed for part 2 next year to finally win a few for the franchise.  For my money, i think Inception is the likely and very deserving winner.  Several dream worlds, all distinct and imaginative, from the Japanese castle to the James Bond-esque snow fort, from the hotel to Cobb and Mal's "memory lane," consistent, effective work.  i'll predict Inception will pull it out, but a King's Speech sweep could make me eat my words.

Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

This is really up between Inception and True Grit.  It seems to me that the camera in Black Swan was a little too focused on making sure we didn't see Natalie Portman's legs while she danced, and that got on my nerves.  A lot of people will find the odd composition and framing of The King's Speech to be a little too, i dunno, calling attention to itself, to merit a win.  The Social Network had some tremendous photography, but i don't think anyone really credits the camera it for the success of the movie as much as Fincher's being behind it.  True Grit had some great work from the now 9-time Oscar nominee (never the winner) Roger Deakins, but i've gotta be honest, i'm not sure it's his best work and he did have the template of the first movie for several sequences...  My pick would be Inception, again citing the juggling of several different feels and looks of the various dream environments, but also the different sorts of narratives - photographing action in world and suspense in another, and always giving the viewer just enough info on the screen to not overload us.  Not to mention the floating/rolling hotel sequences which still totally blow my mind.  My preference: Inception, but i'm still gonna predict that True Grit and Roger Deakins get the sympathy/career respect vote, and the desire to reward the movie with a statue or two.  And it's not like this would be an undeserving win, just not the one i personally would go for.  (i still say Inglourious Basterds should have had it over Avatar last year...)

Film Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

Again, i think Black Swan was trying to conceal things from us (like Natalie Portman's legs... not like plot things).  I'm shocked to see 127 Hours here if only because that tri-fold thing they did was so enormously distracting - totally calling attention to the post-prod, and just clawing at ways to make the movie more interesting or visceral - really bugged me.  The King's Speech...not sure that the editing did much here, and same for The Fighter - both were really just piecing the story together effectively.  My preference and prediction are both for The Social Network here - the editing here really propels the narrative - it turned shouldabeen boring scenes like uploading photos into heists - it helped keep a 160-page script not only under 2 hrs, but really interesting and compelling and exciting and totally coherent all at the same time.  This just seems like an obvious call to me.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale - The Fighter
John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner - The Town
Mark Ruffalo - The Kid's Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech

John Hawkes will not win, as his nomination was a surprise and it likely took the place of Andrew Garfield who not only should have been nominated, but should have pulled an upset win for giving one of the best performances of the whole dang year in The Social Network.  Also, Jeremy Renner was very good, but not really mind-blowing i didn't think - it's just a Boston spin on the Joe Pesci thing.  Mark Ruffalo is a very likable actor who played a very likable character and, at least to me, somehow gave a really annoying performance.  i should have liked him (despite the story about him sleeping with the married lesbian), but i just found him really annoying and aggravating at times.

This is really a race between Bale, the frontrunner, and Rush, possibly pulling the come-from-behind upset riding The King's Speech wave.  i have to admit, i have never like Christian Bale as an actor, i find something about him really annoying.  i will not deny that he gave an exceptional performance in The Fighter, a film i didn't really care for either.  However, it's a really flashy, showy performance, and i'd just personally like to see performances awarded where the acting goes on a little more below the surface.  i think that Rush deserves this win over Bale - consider that without Rush, the entire premise of The King's Speech is blank.  Not just his character, but his performance - if his performance were anything less than what it was, the movie would have flopped, or at least not been as successful as it is, because no one would have known why they were watching it.  If we're going to reward Firth for a movie that is essentially about a friendship, how can we not reward the other half of the relationship?  However, i cannot in conscience make an actual prediction for Rush, as that really would be the upset of the year - Bale has been winning everything, he's never been nominated though he's enormously respected, plus it's a chance (along with supp. actress) to reward The Fighter since it won't get anything else.  Prediction: Bale, preference: Rush.  (i'll be excited to get this prediction wrong.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Round of Oscar Nominations

So i'm gonna go through categories for which i've seen all of the nominated films, and work on finishing up some of the other movies so i can have discussions/predictions/preferences in all the major categories.  So let's start out with a few categories i've seen all the way through, in no particular order.

Sound Mixing
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

First, a brief note on this category.  Basically, "sound mixing" refers to the compilation of all sound effects in a film, from music and dialogue to ambient noise and sound effects.  "Sound editing" is the actual creation and construction of sound effects, either with computer audio effects or foley recording, etc.  Again this is very basic, but this category is about the overall putting together of the sound in the film, while sound editing is more about the sounds themselves.  They're both actually very important fields, it's just hard to be actively aware of that while watching a good movie.

Now, i'm not 100% sure why The King's Speech has a nomination here, as that audio all seemed pretty straightforward.  The Social Network and True Grit had a little more to do, but again, sound wasn't exactly a driving technical element for those movies.  That leaves Salt and Inception.  i saw Salt, i thought it was fun and entertaining and the sound design is definitely important , but even in technical categories, the Oscars tend to reward average movies with nominations and not awards, so i think Inception is the clear favorite here.  Also, Inception kind of deserves it - it had to juggle a whole lot of moving parts and the sound helped a lot with the transitions around time and space.

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom

Melissa Leo is still the frontrunner, but she has a lot of obstacles stacked against her.  1) Splitting votes with Amy Adams, who is also an admired previous nominee. 2) Jacki Weaver, who is outstanding in her film and competing with Leo for the "worst mother of the year" award in movies. 3) Helena Bonham Carter, who will surely get votes riding the wave of The King's Speech popularity.  and perhaps most importantly 4) Hailee Steinfeld, who, though in the wrong category, gives a better performance and a more vital performance to her film - plus i think voters will probably want to reward True Grit with more than just cinematography.

Leo was wonderful, and i like a lot of her work recently (including the tv show Treme, and i'm looking forward to her work next to Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce), and if she wins, i won't be sad or disappointed, it will be well-earned.  i don't think Carter really deserves to be here - she's a great actress with a lot of versatility, but her performance here wasn't really all that special to me.  It was serviceable, but i feel like a dozen other actresses could have played the role and achieved the same success.  Adams was also very good, but again, i felt like other actresses could have done something similar.  i was floored by Weaver, and would love to see her win here just because that would be really cool, but i have to acknowledge that it probably won't happen.  All that said, Steinfeld was really the standout here and i think she deserves the trophy - Oscars aren't totally opposed to rewarding young talent, either - let's not forgot Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress for X-Men The Piano).  So my prediction is still Melissa Leo, with a strong chance of a Steinfeld spoiler, and while my preference is for Steinfeld, either would be deserving wins.

Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

This category is hardly even a question, Toy Story 3 will win, and should win.  i enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon a lot, but we've seen so many examples now of how animated movies can elevate the format to something greater and with more depth than mere entertainment.  Sure, it had a nice message about coming together and understanding differences, but it had a couple of pretty frustrating plot issues and it just didn't resonate quite as well with me.  Good movie, yes.  Oscar winning animated film?  Probably not.  (side note: i'm curious about how there will be a How to Train Your Dragon 2 since they already trained all the dragons...)    

Okay and then there's the issue of The Illusionist.  Look y'all, i hated this movie.  i hated it because it was so awesome.  i just couldn't handle it, it ended up being just way too emotional and heartbreaking and awesome and hopeful, and i still don't know what to do about it.  So there.  It won't win because it's a little too obscure, but imagine if the emotional impact at the end of Toy Story 3 was repackaged into something a little more resembling real life... you don't want to, because you couldn't handle that either.

So yes, Toy Story 3 for the win, great movie, great adventure, and it was phase one of my farewell to my childhood.  Phase two commences this summer with HP7 Part 2...

So yes, that's the first 3 categories.  i'll be back soon with 3 or 4 more.  (i still need to watch some more movies for Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Makeup, Costumes, Song, Actor, and Original Screenplay, but i have all the others.)  see ya soon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Celebrating Rock'n'Roll Legend Lady Gaga

So a friend of mine recently sent me a Huffington Post article about the recent Passion conference, Chris Tomlin, and Christian rock in general.  It was basically saying that Christian rock is finding a niche, citing Tomlin's two albums on Billboard's top 20 last month. 

It was interesting enough, but it's not exactly news to those in a Christian community that David Crowder, Matt Redman, and Chris Tomlin are popular.  The comments on this article though, I found particularly interesting.  

There were a couple of people who were happy to see something about Christian music in a secular news source.  But mostly people were grumbling.  They were complaining about how Christian music sucks, doesn't sound good, is too cheesy, is lyrically too limited, is like love songs that just insert the name "Jesus."  What got to me most, though, were the comments about "what rock music is supposed to be."  

Rock is about rebellion!
Rock is supposed to be about sex and drugs and resisting repression - Christian music only promotes more repression under a religion!
Rock is about resisting conformity and Christianity is all about conformity!

From what I can tell, those commenters whose memories stretch back to the late 70s-early 80s believe rock is all about rebellion.  Those whose memories extend to the early 70s might believe rock is about sex and drugs and individual freedoms.  There were a few who apparently remember all the way back to the late 60s and claim that rock is also about love, joy, peace, and harmony (and who further understand that in many ways Christian rock does reflect those values).  

Now, I will concede a few points to the naysayers.  There is a subgenre of Christian rock, "Praise & Worship" (I find that the ampersand is an important feature here), which can sound quite cheesy.  In which the chorus are repeated ad nauseum like a mantra that rarely changes meaning or emotion - that is, until the band drops out and we find ourselves singing a cappella and can really feel the Spirit moving…that is, until the band comes back in louder than ever and we realize, "Oh, THAT'S when the Spirit's supposed to start moving, I get it!"  Most of all, the genre of Praise & Worship IS quite lyrically challenged, because frankly, there's only so much to say.  We've recently taken to lifting the lyrics of old hymns, changing the melody, and then writing a new chorus just to mix it up.  All this is to say nothing of one of my favorite trends (insert eyeroll), adding the line "Who was, and is, and is to come," after almost any reference to Jesus, Christ, or Lord, which is meant to present Christ's timelessness and eternal presence, but which I suspect is truly only a filler where the creative process leaves a gap.  

[NOTE: Unresolved issues unrelated to songwriting - I wonder why so few worship leaders are women.  And I wonder, if Tomlin and others are sincere when they say their image isn't important and that they don't "want people staring" at them while they sing, why they insist on going into their middle ages wearing clothes that look like they came from Abercrombie & Fitch and spiking their highlighted hair with so much gel.

Now, anyone who read my last post knows I have a few issues with Christian music, but don't think me a total cynic.  I just don't like the lazy stuff, the stuff that sounds like everything else and has nothing challenging or theological or profound to contribute to our faith outside of a pretty basic "God is great!  I love Jesus and he loves me!"
However, those naysayers who criticize Christian rock as somehow less than legitimate rock music miss a few other significant points: 

1) Praise & Worship is, after all, merely a subgenre of Christian music.  Other subgenres include actual Rock & Roll, some alternative rock, country, folk, bluegrass (obviously), R&B, hip hop, rap (though it's rarely good), and gospel.  I'm surely leaving some out, but I know no one is going to try to tell me  that Ricky Scaggs, Allison Kraus, Heather Headley, and Aretha Franklin all suck, even if their style is not your cup of tea. So to say that Christian rock sucks might be an incomplete thought but a valid opinion, but please don't argue that Christian music sucks, because you'll only put your ignorance on display.  

2) There are a LOT of really good Christian music artists out there.  Consider the crossover success of acts like Flyleaf, Skillet, Underoath, Anberlin, Lifehouse, Needtobreathe, Switchfoot, and others.  The legitimate talent of Christian groups like Jars of Clay, who explore new sounds and styles with each album, recently playing with genres from traditional folk to euro-pop.  Then of course there are popular bands and musicians who identify as Christians but do not identify with Christian music.  Bono and U2 come swiftly to mind.  They're kind of a big deal. 

3) Rock and roll is the music of sex, drugs, and rebellion?  Really?  In the 70s, I'd buy that, but let's take a quick gander around our culture, shall we?  I see sex and drugs and decaying morality all over the place.  I don't say that to condemn or judge, I just observe it.  We release press statements that decry the state of our society and culture, yet magazines still print hypersexualized images and as we've seen just this past weekend with the shooting in Arizona, we are far from being a peaceful, hate-free society.  Now, given this state of affairs, how can we classify "rock and roll" music which is predominantly about sex (or "love") or drugs or violence as "rebellious" when it is so clearly in line with the state of mainstream America?  If the only music that can classify as "rock" is that which is against the conformity to and repression of broader secular culture, then it seems to me that the only true "rock" music out there today comes from Christians and Lady Gaga. 

4)Finally, there are those artists who are both Christian and blatantly rebellious.  What about Justin McRoberts' song "Safe," which takes a sardonic approach to the isolationist policy that churches frequently take in an attempt to protect their congregations from the evils of the world outside?  (Ask me to send you the file if you're interested.)  Derek Webb is another who certainly comes to mind.  He writes songs challenging predominant Christian practices, from linking religion to politics, attitudes towards the LGBT community, and really just hypocrisy in general (an occupational hazard when it comes to being a Christian), all the while not afraid to use words like "bastard", "whore", and singing:  "Cause we can talk and debate until we're blue in the face/About the language and tradition that he's comin' to save/Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a shit/About 50,000 people who are dyin' today."  If rock is about rebellion, and Christian rock isn't, then will someone tell me where this fits in? 

So there, see, really I just have problems with everyone!  The people who make lazy, boring, typical Christian music and the people who make blanket statements about the state of Christian rock and music based only the poor representations.  Who would listen to one Nickelback album and surmise from it that all rock music from the past decade must have been terrible?  And of course, I haven't really heard much pop music lately that rebels against anything, not repression or culture, there's nothing political, there's nothing philosophical out there.  And given how much of it sounds the same, it's hardly a celebration of individualism and freedom.  So we need to redefine our notions of what counts as "rock" music, as well as what counts as "Christian" music.  Because I don't think I can live in a world where the only rock musician left is Lady Gaga.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Some people say, "Our God is too big for our body," and then I say, "Compared to what?"

One week ago, i was in the middle of worship at InterVarsity, enjoying myself, praising like i do.  And then we sang a song that made me sit down and totally lose my vibe.

No way? Yah-weh.

It wasn't until we got to the chorus of Chris Tomlin's latest big hit, "Our God," that i realized which song we were singing.  i thought, "oh, this is that song i heard on the radio that made me really uncomfortable," and then of course i was uncomfortable at IV as well.

For those of you who haven't heard it, the chorus and bridge read:

"Our God, Our God
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
What can stand against?"

And as is typical of praise&worship music, these mantras are repeated over and over and over again.

i wonder just what Tomlin could have been thinking when he requests that the Body of Christ sing about itself as an unstoppable force.  When he took a verse from Paul and completely adapts the meaning and context of it for the purpose of a catchy tune, did he mean to create a dangerous, almost aggressive subtext?  Surely not, but i fear he may have done just that.

Let's just start by taking a look at the shoddy song-writing.  "Our God is greater, our God is stronger."  Tomlin here describes God with comparative adjectives.  He then fails to draw any comparison.  Greater than what?  Stronger than who?  Tomlin does not complete the thought implied by comparative adjectives, which essentially leaves the task up to us, the worshipers, sometimes more aptly described as the audience.  This is an exceptionally dangerous open end.  One member of the congregation might be thinking, "Our God is greater than the sin and temptation i experience."  Totally valid, right?  But what if someone is thinking, "Our God is stronger than Allah and all the Muslims?"  i don't claim i think that is a particularly rampant notion in our humble IV chapter, but the ambiguity of this chorus cannot possibly be 100% healthy for various congregations to be singing, especially considering that racism and anti-Muslim ideologies can be prominent among conservative Christian communities.  And who knows what other words people might be using to fill in the blanks left by Tomlin?

i do not mean to indicate that i personally don't think that factually, yes, our god is stronger and greater than just about anything you put after Him, but this song is less a testament to his greatness and strength than it seems to be an emphasis on the fact that he is ours and not yours or theirs.  The follow-though seems to indicate that because our God is greater than x, y, or z, that we are greater by association.  In case you disagree with that idea, let us continue to the next set of lyrics.

Next is the part that some people might refer to as the bridge.  What a tremendous irony that is, for something called a "bridge" to involve such dialog-halting sentiments.  "Who can ever stop us?...Who can stand against?"  (Yes, of course, we might also consider this a "Chorus II" but work with me.)  Here Tomlin is paraphrasing Paul's line in Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (ESV).  But by lifting this half of a verse, he fails to consider the fuller context of what Paul is saying.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans probably around the mid to late 50s CE, when Christianity in it's fullest form was hardly 20 years old.  The Roman Empire almost didn't even notice it, but when it did, it wasn't friendly about it.  Christianity, for 300 years, was the subject of persecution - not necessarily the violence and martyrdom that we emphasize at times, but at the very least a sense of condescension and nonacceptance was directed by the pagan (or Jewish, depending) majorities.  He writes of the Christians' sufferings compared to the glory of Christ's return.  He writes of dedication and perseverance in the face of persecution.  It is to embolden when he asks rhetorically, "Who can be against us?"

But this context is enormously different from the situation of American Christianity today.  Perhaps there is not quite the same conservative political force present as there once was with institutions like the Moral Majority, but surely no one would claim that Christianity is under any systemic attack in our nation.  To sing a song declaring that no one can stop us because God is with us rings with an almost aggressive subtext.  (This is supported by the music swelling to its forte climax, drums banging loudly in simple eighth-note marching rhythm.)  It is not a message of perseverance in the face of persecution; instead it becomes a song celebrating our own correctness and validating our own efforts against other people.  Everyone believes God is on their side - it's the best way to add strength to their argument.  Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles inscribed Gott mit uns - "God with us."  Both armies in the American Civil War believed the causes they fought for were justified by God.  Modern Ugandan politicians believe God is on their side when they argue for a death penalty for homosexuals.  White people as recently as one hundred fifty years (and, sadly, more recently) continued to believe that God supported their oppression and enslavement of black people - policies which bled over in spirit into British imperialism in Asia and other regions less than one hundred years ago!

Another problem with Tomlin's lyrics is his adaptation of the text from Romans.  Romans asks, "who can be against us?"  Essentially, this creates a passive form of an other.  To "be against" something is not an active state, it could be a simple as disagreeing or objecting to a position, being unfamiliar with it, or not understanding it (as was certainly the case for the majority of the Roman Empire given the newness of Christianity).  But by changing this question to, "who could ever stop us?...what can stand against?" we have assigned our others with actions like stopping and standing against which have very different connotations from the basic passive differences established by Paul.  We are now in a mindset of an enemy who is actively opposing us which allows us to believe ourselves victims, when this is not the case.  

To use Romans 8:31 in modern settings is almost a cop-out from seeking true, logical reasoning to support one's arguments and positions on matters of great importance.  The most important word in the verse is that big fat "IF" right at the beginning.  We claim God is for us because we want him to be, but that claim may many times be false - not intentionally perhaps, but false nonetheless.  We project our own sense of righteousness onto God's identity and use this verse to rationalize it.  Sometimes God is for us, and no one can stand against, but in those instances we get it wrong, we might never know because songs like Tomlin's pervade our Christian atmospheres with a sentiment that tells us to charge forth regardless. 

Now i know that many people might read this incredulously, claim that i am overreacting and reading too far into the matter.  This might be true.  But i object to the notion that we should be above taking a critical eye to the music we sing when praising our great, strong God because it's easier to gloss over the nuances, and i absolutely object to the notion that we should be singing music in our worship services that are too simple to even merit that analysis.  We must challenge ourselves and other members in our community to do better, to constantly be pursuing the best ways in which we can observe God's wishes and praise Him with the honor he deserves, instead of lazily repeating a single verse or two repeatedly for five minutes when that verse may not even apply well to our circumstances. 

Perhaps best of all, Chris Tomlin's upcoming CD is entitled, "And If Our God Is For Us..." 

i take it that the ellipsis means the possibilities for us when we are with God are endless.  Let's hope it does not also imply that the potential for our distortion of His message for us is endless as well.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

some notes

Why, hello there!  Let me just change sweaters real quick before we sit down and have a chat. 

Okay, that's better.  It's been a long time since i was here, and there are a few reasons for that.  One is that i've been in the process of moving back to college for my senior year.   But i'm all moved in now so i have no real excuses.  Except this other one, that i've been wanting to write something deep and profound and epic about several loose ends that have been in my brain lately - among them, Paul's idea that "if God is for us, who can be against us," Chris Tomlin's recent song celebrating that idea, the danger that idea presents to Christians in a nation where patriotism and faith so frequently collide, and tying a lot of it up through the perspective of the Civil War.  i'm sorry, i just haven't gotten around to it yet.

But here's another thing that happened - the Creative Arts Emmys!  Overall, pretty good stuff, good shows represented well.  However, we need to talk about the guest actor/actress awards for a moment.  Okay, go:

Best Guest Actor in a Drama - John Lithgow, for Dexter.  You know what?  This was a freaking awesome performance.  You know what else?  It was also a supporting performance, not a guest spot.  Which means Lithgow kind of probably took this award (since he was all but guaranteed to win it) from someone equally deserving in an actual guest role capactiy.  Not totally his fault maybe?  Since also, if he won supporting actor for his single season on the show, he could have taken that award from someone who's put in more time into their show.  So i love him and his performance and i'm glad he won something, but i can't help feel that someone else got gypped someway or another by the process.

Best Guest Actress in a Drama - Ann Margaret for L&O:SVU - i didn't see this, i'm sure she was wonderful (i hear she got the only standing ovation of the evening), i just wanted to say that i was partial to Lily Tomlin in Damages, and i'm sad she didn't win.

Best Guest Actor in a Comedy - Neil Patrick Harris for Glee.  i'm sorry, but are you freaking kidding me?  He did nothing special...nothing really at all in his episode.  He played a slightly more musical version of Barney Stinson.  Which probably means he won't win in Best Supp. Actor in a Comedy yet again this year, and i think everyone just really wanted him to have an Emmy.  And i know that's how this works sometimes....but seriously, why can't we award the more deserving acts?  Like, oh, i dunno, Will Arnett for 30 Rock where he is consistently amazing?  Or even Eli Wallach, who is still better at what he does at AGE 94 (that's even older than Betty White) than most of the other guys doing this!!  (i admit that Jon Hamm probably did not deserve his 30 Rock nomination for the 4 minutes or so he was on the air this season - he got the nomination the same way NPH did - by not winning for his other show.)

Best Guest Actress in a Comedy - Okay, here's one that i know i would take some heat for if anyone read this and cared.  Betty White did not deserve this award.  She was absolutely hysterical on SNL, i'm not denying that, but here's two things to consider: SNL hosts are not guest actors, no matter what the Emmy categories say.  They are hosts - they are individual performances in a variety show (note that all of SNL's other merits are acknowledged in a variety show category, yet their performers are in the Comedy Series sections - that's not fair or right to the other shows and actors).  Because they are hosts, doing sketches, i do not believe it's fair to think of them as guest actors in the same fashion as the other nominees - the other nominee's bear the responsibility of creating a fully realized character in their limited time and episode arc, whereas on SNL, they have only to do caricatures and read funny cue-cards.  And let's please also note that Betty White, well-versed as she is in live tv, still wasn't spot on the entire night.  The Muffin sketch was pure gold, but the Scared Straight sketch was...well, awkward.  And no one can say, Oh but how impressive that she did it at age 89!  because as i've just pointed out, Eli Wallach is 94, and no one felt like awarding him for that.

SO, in conclusion, Betty White is wonderful, but did not deserve this award - because Kristin Chenoweth did, for Glee.  She did the best job of creating a comic character while on a comedy series (as compared to the guy who played Kurt's dad, who was also nominated for Glee, who was wonderful, but was essentially a dramatic character in the comedy series, which i personally feel contributes to his not winning - just as that will contribute to Chris Colfer not winning in his category next week as well). 

And that's what i have to say about that.  If i have time this week, i hope to also get on here and lay out some opinions on most of the main nominations before the awards next Sunday. 

Now, i'll go to church.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Strangers on a train

Whew, i'm back.  i've kept on thinking about things that might be worth blogging about...but i've been a little busy lately, and certainly a little i've just never managed to get my thoughts together with my time until right now, this moment.

First off, for the past 2 weeks i've been going to bartending school, learning about making drinks and stuff - definitely been having a blast,  but i've had to wake up around 6AM, a lot earlier than i am used to, so it's wiped me out a lot when i get back home in the afternoon. 

But now i'm here.

So which thoughts should i begin with for my first post in a while?  Let's start with the Metro.  i love the metro.  i love riding it.  i love going in a tunnel and coming out the other end in a totally new place.  i love the people on it, they're the best!  Last week i saw a guy reading Thomas Hardy start surreptitiously, but totally checking out this one girl who got on reading Henry James.  i saw a girl reading The Irresistible Revolution, which was just nice to see.  Also nice to see was the guy going through Deuteronomy - i'm not sure if he was trying to do the whole bible cover to cover or what, but it was cool no matter what.

but here's what i really like about being on the metro: that feeling of knowing just exactly where i'm going.  When you're a tourist, you have to carry around a book and a map with you so you know which attractions to see and where they are.  There's plenty of hurry-up-and-wait involved while you figure your surroundings out.  But i'm not a tourist here - i don't know the city like the back of my hand or anything, but i'm definitely not a tourist.  i'm familiar with the metro lines, where they go, what's at the major stops - so when i get on, i sit down take out my book, and keep a tally in my head of the numbers of stops we've gone through.  And when i reach my stop, i get off, quickly find the escalator to my next train if i'm transferring (sometimes running to catch it if i'm lucky enough to have it waiting for me), and i'm good.  i'm confidant, comfortable.  i know where i'm going.

Of course, we very seldom get that opportunity in life, knowing where we're going and how to get there.  But here's this one chance to make sure you've got it figured out.  And it isn't hard to look around and see who's ridden that line a thousand times, and who's just trying to get in to see the monuments.  i like to imagine the tourists seeing me and thinking, "Oh, we could ask him, he probably knows what to do."

On my more profound days, this is the part where i might try to find some interesting sermon-esque way of tying this all up with Christianity or something.  Maaaybe that we have confidence in living with Christ, so it's okay if we don't know where we're going?  Or we can take comfort in Christ the same way we take comfort in the things that help us know where we're going?  i'm not sure...i had a few more in the back of my head, but i'm not gonna do any of that.  i'd just be forcing it, it doesn't come naturally to me this time.  So i'm just gonna let it stay as is - i enjoy the comfort that comes from being one of those guys on the metro who knows what's up.  Feels good.  Nothing more complicated than that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I just thought that ice tongs was the way to do it.

Wow, i did not realize it had been more than a week since my last post.

i haven't been on here because, although i've watched several movies in the past week or two, none of them have completely totally knocked me off my feet (the way, say, Titus did), so i was waiting for a collection.  Also, i've spent some time watching some TV shows, in light of the Emmy nominations announcement.  namely, catching up on Nurse Jackie and watching the first season of The Good Wife.  My parents told me that show was good, but i didn't have time this past year to keep up with it, but now i have, and it is indeed good.  i enjoy a good legal procedural, and this one manages to keep the characters in focus and interesting (similar to one of my favorites, Boston Legal, but on the serious side).

As for movies:

i finally rewatched Shutter Island, a movie that has now blown me away not once, but twice.  Its mixed and negative reviews must surely be from people who are stupid. 

The African Queen, with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.  A really fun adventure movie (i would assume one of the first of the "adventure" genre as we know it today).  i was watching with an interesting perspective though, thinking, "In today's Hollywood, i don't think anyone could make a movie about a riverboat escaping Germans in WWI occupied Africa...and still manage to make it a bit of a romantic comedy, without it being lambasted as political incorrect and insulting in tremendous ways."  Yet we look back and view this film as a classic.  Interesting how situations reverse and flip and turn oh all sorts of ways.

Poltergeist - really exciting horror movie from the early eighties.  Written and produced by Steven Spielberg, though not officially directed by him.  However, many have come to believe Spielberg to be the de facto man behind the curtain, and those familiar with the look and feel of Spielberg's movies (especially the earlier ones), can easily see his thumbprint all over this movie - with the possible exception of the final sequence where suspense and supernatural thrills turns to all out horror (coffins popping up out of the ground and skeletons falling out, all in the mud and rain, etc etc).  Really well worth the time for an example of how a movie doesn't have to be a scare-a-minute kind of scary to still work.

A Passage to India - David Lean's final movie, another epic.  This time set in India (obviously), it is, as Lean's work always is, incredible to look at.  As with Doctor Zhivago, it's difficult to avoid getting sucked in and immersed in all the sights and sounds...but then again, why would you want to avoid it?  That's the experience!  This movie is benefited by a better story than Doctor Zhivago, focusing its energies on the class system of British Imperial India, and the friendships and relationships therein, rather than on a romance.  i can't think of much to say specifically, except that it has held up really well over almost 30 years, is fascinating and enjoyable. 

Finally, i've been continuing in my viewings of Woody Allen movies, still enjoying them immensely.  Of particular note is Zelig, a faux documentary about a man in the 20s and 30s who had a particular chameleon-like genetic trait, allowing him to develop the features of those around him, and therefore, blend in.  (For instance, when standing next to Orthodox Jews, he grew a beard almost instantly.  His skin color would even change around African and Native Americans.)  it sounds absurd when i simplify it as such, but it was really amusing and interesting.  A psychiatrist (or psychologist...) played by Mia Farrow is determined to help figure out his condition and help him control it.  Between the lines, it's a movie about learning to be comfortable with ourselves as we are and not feel the need to conform to whatever seems to be the easiest way for us to get by.  Taken on that level...well, it was a really great film.

That's it for now, i guess.

shalom, y'all!