Best Albums of 2008

I usually kick of my personal awards with songs of the year followed by albums of the year then, of course, the ten best movies. This year I’m going to hold off on listing tracks because there’s so many good ones and, instead, list albums, because there are so few. Lots to get to so here it goes… It just wasn’t a remarkable year for the album and I think everybody knows it. Here’s a few that didn’t totally suck. Well, actually one does suck but there’s a reason it’s on the list.

1. Crystal Castles’ Self Titled

8-bit NES sounds are an obvious inspiration. So is self mutilation. That the two go so well together, so perfectly well, is the real surprise and perhaps the most remarkable musical feat of 2008. This guttural, howling classic is not only underrated as albums go this year but the most successful effort to date of blending vocals with 8-bit electronica. It’s the best album of the year simply because it’s the most memorable album of the year.

2. Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip (and Ghosts)

To put it lightly I’m a Trent Reznor fan. His sneezes would crack the top ten. I even have a rule of not placing his albums at #1 because otherwise every year would be a Nine Inch Nails year. This doesn’t change the fact that The Slip is a Nails classic that holds a high place in the pantheon of Halos and, in my opinion, just about any album released in 2008. Short and fierce (just like Trent!) and black all over (uh, not like Trent), I have listened to The Slip over and over and over and will continue to do so more than any NIN album since The Fragile. Every song suits a specific mood. From atmospheric bliss (“Lights in the Sky,” “Corona Radiata”) to Year Zero-esq political clawing (“Letting You”) to thoughtful pessimism (“Head Down”) to good old fashion personal favorites (“1,000,000”) to the most direct and personal anthem in Reznor’scareer (“Discipline,” a song that, in addition to rocking the rehab, feels right at home as an in-game tune to the racing game “Midnight Club: L.A.”). Radiohead got the press for being there first on their bullshit “free” album despite the fact that Reznor has been talking about doing this kind of release for years. The difference is that Reznor actually put his music where his mouth, or mic, is. Oh, and on top of all this Reznor also found time to release a four part instrumental album. When it rains…

3. Super Furry Animals’ Hey Venus

Furrier than ever. This album came out last year in Europe and crawled into the states with little fanfare or recognition in 08. What a shame. It’s a fantastic album. Slight and sentimental by SFA’s blitzed out standards but the band’s warmest release to date. The album opens with the announcement that “this song is a gateway song…” and right they are as the proceeding tracks take the listener into a world of symphonicallypsychedelicpleasantries that find themselves shadowed by a 50s inspired aesthetic. With a heavy Welsh accent, Gruff announces on the second track that “This song is based on a true story… which would be fine if it wasn’t autobiographical.” It is on this wonderful song that I started to understand, for perhaps the first time, this band’s playful sense of humor and circular logic. I’m not exaggerating when I say that almost every song on Venus is a memorable event.

4. Spiritualized’s Songs in A&E

Mortal words can’t describe the beauty and sheer redemptive qualities of a Spiritualized album. The experience is a serious and cleansing affair but at the same time not a hassle or burden like the new (…or any…) Sigur Rós album. You feel lighter and freer after listening. That’s not to deny Spiritualized its darkness. Ranging from love loss to drug use to murder, the album cathartically dispels all the demons inside. One song is about a man who kills his father and a family. Horrifying, yet sad when, at the end of the song, we find out he’s run out of bullets for himself. Add to that, Spiritualized obligitory inclusion of lyrics describing “fire,” “baby,” the scary power of “Jesus” and the Devil himself and you have the full experience. A&E came about after a near death hospital stay of Jason Pierce (A and E stands for Accident and Emergency Ward) but, really, every album of his could have claimed this. The difference is most evident in a newfound freedom found in Pierce’s approach as he is willing to take challenges musically (the production is barren compared to most of his wall of sound albums) and even rejects vocal distortion. It’s just him, his music, his drugs and, thank god, us too.

 

5. Ladytron’s Velocifero

Look, I wouldn’t place a Ladytron album this high if there wasn’t a good reason. I’m amazed at how efficiently Ladytron is able to raise the bar on their best efforts. This album works on a whole different level as it trims all the fat of previous album to deliver a clean and accessible electro-pop experience which is what I think they’ve always been striving for. The organ play is as novel and fresh as it ever was and the band can even brag that the newest album contains the best Bulgarian language track of the year. npekpaceh!!!!

 

 

 

6. Neon Neon’s Stainless Style

Gruff Rhys other brilliant album of 2008. Neon Neon is, if you will, his Groillaz to Super Furry Animal’s Blur. That is to say a wild departure that finds the frontman embracing rap, DJs and indulging in a strange, sexually charged concept project. Stainless Style is all about John DeLorean, creator of that Back to the Future car, music engineer and eventual drug kingpin. If that’s not worthy of a WTF! than I don’t know what is. But it all comes together perfectly. The songs “Rachael” and “I Told Her” help make Stainless Style the best 80s synth rock record that never came out in the 80s. The biggest outta left field surprise of the year.

7. Nick Cave And the Bad Seed’s Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!

Not as epic as Orpheus/Abattoir but harder and more pressing. Brilliant even, but more of a Grinderman inspired album than a gospel rock classic. From calling upon the author (i.e. God) to explain to aww, poor Larry, the best lyrics of the year can be found in this strangely humors package. Dig!!! means a lot to me. It brings back wonderful memories and painful ones. And so it goes. Oh, and Cave kicks old-man ass when playing these songs live.

8. Steven Wilson’s Insurgentes

Porcupine Tree frontmangoessolo for the first time ever. Bad for the band, good for us because a year without a Porcupine Tree album is a year not worth living. Well, good for meat least as I have yet to find another fan. Though PT is pretty much the Steven Wilson show, one can still tell the difference in albums. While this album doesn’t have the “wow” moments as PTs last few release its caution and measured pacing is commendable. Oh, and the prog elements are so strong on 8 minute tracks like “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun” that I could have sworn that I was listening to the most mature Mars Volta song ever recorded.

9. Beck’s Modern Guilt

Listen and listen and listen and listen and you still may not warm up to Beck’s new album. Hell, it took me two years to realize that his last effort, The Information, is one of the best albums ever made (and thatalbum didn’t even make my top twenty!). This new set is sadly, more rap-Beck than techno-Beck but it is also, perhaps, Beck at his white-rappin’ finest. Meaning: the rhymes are not self-amused, guerro shtick but a real cathartic experience where Beck gets to work with Danger Mouse to sing about –what else– death and gamma rays.

10. TV On the Radio’s Dear Science

Way better than HDTV on XM. The band’s best album. The vocals are no longer intrusive but inclusive, and totally vibing with the rock sounds. That makes TV one of the most daring rock acts working today. If you don’t believe me than check out the video for the wonderful “Golden Age” consisting of dancing cops and bird men atop a mountain and try to imagineanyone else pulling that off. I can really see why this album is making everyone’s number one and glad I found space for it in my top ten.

 

11 through whatever: Any of these albums could have made the top ten had I made the list yesterday or tomorrow… it was that kind of year.

  • Magnetic Fields’ Distortion–From the battleax smack down of tan and blond “California Girls” to grooving with necrophilia on “Zombie Boy,” MF is bitter and better than ever. As a concept, Distorted works wonders, with each track examining, both musically and lyrically, that theme through various characters. Each track ironically clocks in at exactly three minutes in length (which is orderly not disorderly). Add to that the cover art (denoting, again, non-distortion) and you have a clue as to the wonderful contradictions at play within every facet of this album.
  • Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid–The most bombastic album of the year. An avid follower (if not fan) of Mercury prize winners, I instantly grabbed this album when I heard it took the award over the never-won Radiohead and their In Rainbows. At first I was not sold on Elbow’s vintage rock/soul landscapes but I was soon a convert. The song “A Day Like This” is the reason. It is a sweeping love song with an undeniable emotional resonance.
  • Fuck Buttons’ Street Horrrsing–As this year’s “Fuck” bands go, the Buttons are way better than “The Fucking Champs,” a good deal more interesting than “Fucked Up” and on par with “Holy Fuck.” Fucking-A!
  • Fleet Foxes and Dr. Dog— On the list for making me dig folk music. That I would relegate two wildly different (yet excellent) albums into one slot is further proof of how little I respect the genre. Hey, it’s a baby step forward at least.
  • Jim Noir’s Self Titled Album–The best indie pop album of the year. So perfectly catchy that I’m amazed it didn’t set the world on fire. This is one band to watch out for.
  • Girl Talk’s Feed The Animals–In keeping with Girl Talk’s ethos, I’m not going to bother to write a review. Instead I’m going to steal, er, sample other people’s thoughts: Though every track has a couple of grin-making highpoints, what really makes me love Feed the Animalsaren’t any of the specific mash-ups, it’s the record’s Utopian vision. As much as advocates of Greg Gillis might try to fanwank Girl Talk into a continuum of post-modern sampling whatevers, the real essence and marketability of Gillis’ music comes from the ability of the average listener to recognize most, if not all, of the samples being dropped. Girl Talk is really, really, good. Girl Talk is poo and suxxx.  
  • Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours–Empty disco sex!
  • British Sea Power’s Do You Like Rock Music?–Yes, yes I do, thanks for asking.
  • The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam in Goliath–Still crazy after all these years. I mean that literally too for the band is fucking loosing it. I guess that’s what makes their new stuff so wild. In what seems like annual Volta release, the band reverts further and further up their own ass and into a solipsistic cocoon of multi-genre musicmaking. The difference is that this album’s many tangents add up to a collage of fascinating instability. In a strange way it all holds together. In particular, I responded to the middle eastern jazz influences that crash, and clash, head on with the prog stacatto-isms. The only downside to Volta’s new hodgepodgian epic is the lack of anything resembling a melodic single, which they usually bury a gem or two under all the obligatory sonic rubble. This album is all rubble, which is intended.
  • Lindstrom’s Where You Go I Go Too–It’s been a underwhelming year for techno but Where You Go stands out not for its originality but for its beguiling minimalism. This is one of the few bands on the list that I listened to only because it made so many lists at the end of the year. Glad I did. It’s slow burning nature (one song is half an hour!) and constant brain thumping make this a perfect pick for electronica euro trash philes. As a bonus, try playing this album over “Flash Gordon” and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Monkey’s Journey to the West–Little heard Damon Albarn concept album. The Gorillaz/Blur singer went to China and came back with this strange, theatrical amalgam of evocative Chinese sounds. Like Mali Music, this album represents another outstanding cultural exploration from the always curious and talented Albarn.
  • Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs–The creepiest act of the year. Stalking, depression, and self hatred from what has become a mainstream indie act. I love it! “I will Possess Your Heart” is a masterpiece and one of the best tracks of the year.
  • MGMT’s Self Titled Album–yeah, yeah, yeah, fine.
  • Santogold’s Self Titled Album–Santo-gold, Jerry, gold!
  • Four Tracks From My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges–Love/hate is not suitable enough to describe the range of opinion on this decidedly mixed effort from the Kentucky band. It’s more like love/hate/hate/hate. Never has an album so bad at its core produced so many golden moments. Like, for real, one quarter of this album provides the best music of the year while the other three do everything they can to alienate and subvert the mastery of tracks like “Aluminum Park,” “Touch Me I’m going to Scream” parts one and two and “Evil Urges.” These songs are classics in their own right but then you hear the bad 80s sounding “Highly Suspicious” and a handful of other shitty country rock turds and the mood is spoiled faster than a chicken head in your KFC bucket (to use some southern logic). I’m so divided on this album that to not include some mention of it here would make me feel really bad about calling it one of the worst albums of the year… which it is and, um, isn’t at the same time. Damn you, be consistent!

Just Missed the List…

  • Thievery Corporation, Mogwai, M83, Free the Robot (writes while doing robot dance), Opeth and The Faint.

Golden Globes Nominations

Best Picture, Drama
Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Picture Comedy/Musical
Burn After Reading
Happy Go Lucky 🙂
In Bruges 😯
Mamma Mia
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road

Actor, Drama
Leo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road 😐
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Actress, Drama
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married 👿
Angelina Joie, Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved you So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder  ❓
Robert Downey Jr. Tropic Tunder
Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Actor, Comedy
Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Colin Farrel, In Bruges
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Brendan Gleason, In Bruges 😆
Dustin Hoffman Last Chance Harvey

Actress, Comedy
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia
Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey

Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex
Everlasting Moments
Gomorrah
I’ve Loved You So Long
Waltz with Bashir

Animated Feature
Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E

Screenplay
Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader
Frost/Nixon
Benjamin Button
Doubt

Score
Benjamin Button
Changeling
Defiance
Slumdog Millionaire
Frost/Nixon

Song
Down to Earth, Wall-E
Gran Torino
I thought I Lost You, Bolt
Once in a Lifetime, Cadillac Record
The Wrestler, The Wrestler 

Reaction: The Globes nominations prove that this year’s awards race is just all over the place. Not only do we not know what will win, but everyone else dosen’t seem to know what to nominate.  

In Bruges! Yes. Woody Allen (Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky) kicking old man ass in multiple categories. Hell yeah. No Clint Eastwood for once. Why not? Rachel Getting Married not emerging as the underdog picture and screenplay favorite. Bout time. Dark Knight and Milk getting snubbed for picture. Noooooo. Tom Cruse getting a nom for Tropic Thunder over Valkery. Wha-just-what?

A strange slate of nominations to say the least. Some will be reflected by the Oscars (the dominance of Frost, Slumdog and Button in the drama category is hard to deny at this point) but not representativeve in so many others, like the disturbingly random acting selections that range from out-of-the-blue love for Bruges (BRENDAN GLEESON!) and Tropic thunder to Ralph Finnes getting nominated for The Dutchess rather than The Reader. Also random is the exclusion of Milk. It’s stupid to cry homophobia at this point because, well, the Globes are the gayest awards ever. Hello, people, Dreamgirls won! Other than the randomness of missing Milk, the Globes went with a lot of obvious, high profile “artistic” titles that have wowed critics and at the same time were non-obvious when they shied away from fan AND critic favorites such as Wall-E and Dark Knight (two big winners with the LA film critics awards) so ratings and popularity were not a top priority–which is okay by me because if they were Beyonce would have been nominated… again. Oh, wait, she did. And so did Miley Cyrus. Fuck off, then, the Hollywood Foreign Press can suck it! The Globes picks were either safe prestige picks (see directors/best drama), eccentric ones (Burn After Reading, Clint for best song?) or just erratic. The latter is exciting in a way because where else could James Franco secure a nom for Pineapple Express rather than, say, his more lauded turn in Milk. Which reminds me, Josh Brolin, despite gaining a lot of momentum in the last two weeks, didn’t get nominated. And neither did Deborah Winger (thank god). But that’s all good because Kate Winslet got two! 

 

 

 

National BORED of Review

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (see review below)

(In alphabetical order)
BURN AFTER READING
CHANGELING
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
DEFIANCE
FROST/NIXON
GRAN TORINO
MILK
WALL-E
THE WRESTLER

other winners…

• Best Director: DAVID FINCHER, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
• Best Actor: CLINT EASTWOOD, Gran Torino
• Best Actress: ANNE HATHAWAY, Rachel Getting Married
• Best Supporting Actor: JOSH BROLIN, Milk
• Best Supporting Actress: PENELOPE CRUZ, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
• Best Foreign Language Film: MONGOL
• Best Documentary: MAN ON WIRE
• Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
• Best Ensemble Cast: DOUBT

Reaction: The NBR is a joke (not national, nor a board it is just bunch of old New York codgers getting together and talking about the films they happened to see) but seeing the first top ten of the year is always fun. Mainly, it’s useful because we start to see how group-think mentality starts to develop. Ex. Everybody falling in line and celebrating “Rachel Getting Married” because, well, others are. Glad to see “Wall-E” and “Dark Knight” slip in the top ten (the NBR asses usually avoid non traditional, non prestige films) but the rest of the list is safe and boring. Happy for Fincher nabbing a director award (he’s one of out best and, up till now, most neglected filmmakers). Clint Eastwood’s dominance (he went two for two this year!) is ho-hum–I love Clint but “Grimace Torino” looks like a goof (I still can’t wait to see it though for the line “Get off my lawn!” which I’ve been bellowing all week to my confused Pug). And it was refreshing to see Josh Brolin get some notices for his amazing turn in “Milk” even if that means it took Heath Ledger’s rightful honor. Brolin, at times, is a classical antagonist to Harvey Milk but the film fails to develop his character in the middle section which is a pity.

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

“Slumdog Millionaire” is…

(a) Danny Boyle’s “comeback” after the horrible sci-fi mishmash known as “Sunshine.”
(b) The best film of the year.
(c) A gritty yet, at the same time, overly syrupy tale about orphaned brothers and a fellow social outcast girl they encounter. As the years pass, Dickensian turns fate take the star-crossed trio out of the slum and into a world were a zombie virus has claimed untold millions. Featuring an extended framing device set around a legendary “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” match, the protagonist struggles to earn enough money to win the love of his life and seek a cure to India’s crippling rage virus. 
(d) Trite and overrated as a rags-to-riches stories go (really, this is just a average retelling of “Oliver Twist”) but rather well made and, at times, heartfelt in comparison to similarly themed and stylized “City of God.”

Answer: NOT A, B, or C.

Grade: A, B, C or D?
Answer: B

Review: Twilight


What’s Good: Almost gets a pass for being so innocent and simple-minded.
What’s Not: The state of films these days because I saw “Twilight,” “Bond” and “Rachael Getting Married” in a few day span and this was the best of the three. Scary.
Fake Peter Traverse Quote: Blood boiling romance with action that bites you in the danger zone.
 
 
Am I “Twilight’s” target audience? Lets see… XX Chromosome? No. Bored housewife? No, seeing as how I’m missing an X. Gay? No, not the last time I checked. Holding out for that perfect man, a literal child predator a couple hundred years my senior that will stalk me, then save me then be my master for all time? Ummmmmmm, no. Virginal? No thanks. Christian? No. Mormon? God no! Chubby. No but I’m working on that. Dateless? Nowadays, yuh-huh. Damn, got me on one–guess I better watch it.
 
While Stephanie Meyer’s novel of the same name is not bad I find it to be far too self precious, spineless, inarticulate (as prose goes), and lacking in any sense of real danger. Also, the romance is muted and it’s hardly even a vampire story–when was the last time you saw a bloodsucker sparkle in the sunlight??? At it’s gooey core, the story lacks the emotional resonance of, say a Potter story (take your pick), a baroque Lestat melodrama or just about any teen drama written by someone with half a brain. That being said, the film version is better than the source material if you can believe it but only because when a real writer (Melissa Rosenberg, who has her name all over “Dexter”) adapts crap, the effect is polished crap. Not good, but one of those rare adaptions that improves if not redeems.
 
First and foremost “Twilight” the film feels outdated, and looks even worse; it’s as if a lost, dream-set episode of “90210” (the original!) or some forgotten camp vampire film from the 90s crept into the bosom of modern culture and was able to brainwash, er, I mean enthrall a legion of readers and, now, viewers. Having hungrily and happily consumed “Interview with the Vampire,” “Buffy” (my favorite-all-time-anything) and even creative new vampire lore such as “True Blood” I simply cannot spot anything special or unique or new about “Twilight.” The one thing the film version has going for it however is crude aura of total innocence and, stemming from that, likability. On every other count it disappoints–even when judged on it’s own level/genre/type it fails to elicit many sparks. Particularly in terms of tone. There can be no doubt that the film is serious about its subject matter but it is inadvertently silly about it too. And sloppy! Director Catherine Hardwicke has an aesthetically foolish fondness for close-ups (just try to get through the many false-start make out sessions, cheese ball vampire show-downs or basic exposition scenes where one may find themselves looking at skin pores and eye color rather than listening to dialogue). Bad music cues and wince worthy slow-mo style choices are equally haphazard and unnecessary. I found myself giggling like a schoolgirl at how overdone this turkey is. The filmmaking element is crude, yes, but pallet of emotions on display, though overwrought, is handled a lot more adroitly than the non-pallet of motion.
 
The story, pardon, saga of “Twilight” is all character based. I find this ironic because the characters are not terribly original to anyone who has browsed fictive themes of vampire stories or high school dramas. In the story’s universe there are of course “friends” and the “Fathers” (who is easily the best part of the film) and the occasional “local” that enters and exits the small Washington setting. And of course there’s the Romeo and Juliet of this film’s world. Innocent young girl meets troubled 200-year-old boy. The big show stopper (more like dribbler) for fans is Edward Cullin, the brooding vampire protagonist played by Robert Pattinson. He’s a vampire in love, you see, uh, with a human young girl who, in turns, falls even morein love and, wellllllll, that’s it as far as story goes. Ooh, but some “bad” vampires come into town and the Cullins (i.e. the good vampires) attempt to stop them from hurting the girl, Bella. They even play a spirited game of baseball but, yeah, there you go. Characters engage in a number of so-bad-it’s-funny vampire aerobics (besides tree frolicking, that vampire baseball setpiece just might be the dumbest scene of the year… and I’ve seen the Zohan catch fish in his ass!) and just as many wistful and vaguely creepy lines about “watching you sleep” because “it’s amusing.” I would tell this lad to get a life but he’s undead. Though dead, this lip bitter of a hero comes off as constipated and always on the verge of tears. The reason for all the torrid EMOtion is because his desire for nubile young flesh is a temptation and hunger that will always tests Edward’s resolve (der, is that a metaphor?). Edward’s marble mouth affect and attitude, though, is not ageless vampire hunk (which is what I think they were going for) but mush mouth dork. Bella is played by Kristen Stewart (a star-in-the-making since “Panic Room”) and she is the real hero of this story. But she has no discernible skills, weapons or intellect. Bella reminds me of the Princess from Super Mario Brothers. As she goes to school, rolls her eyes at her dad and makes tim with a reanimated corpse, Bella is nothing if not earnest. Boring is another adjective I would throw out were I in a particularly negative mood but I’m not so I’ll add that at least she’s not annoying.

This film doesn’t bite (to borrow my fake Peter Traverse quote), it would rather lull the viewer into submission. Angst replaces tension, young adult histrionics replaces reason and the supernatural is made almost natural on this film’s watch. But there’s a lesson in here. Primarily, it’s that the film offers a certain comfort to any viewer looking for vampire romance. Like a late night trip to McDonalds we’re not going to be tested or challenged or teased or prodded. We’re going to be fed an ass load of sweetness and a teaspoon of danger (here is an “event” film in which the big action finale takes place in a ballerina studio). Mediocrity is a powerful force and this is as mediocre as motion pictures get these days. As milquetoast too. But, you know, I didn’t find myself terribly bothered by this specimen of disposable art.

Grade: C+

Review: Rachel Getting Married

What’s Good: A great film… if you love watching people loading the dishwasher.
What’s Not: My god, everything!
Fake Peter Traverse Quote: “This is one wedding I’ll be RSVPing.”

I was soooo close to walking out and leaving the bride at the altar. Phony “reality” makes me want to kill myself–maybe not myself so much as everybody in or involved with whatever train wreck I happen to be watching. This particular train wreck plays out in the vein of the world’s worst Dogme 95 film (a 90s movement where a “natural” filmmaking aesthetic is upheld above all else) with the added bonus of being sketched out like a bad indie filmmaking exercise. The scinerio (notice I didn’t say story) is that Kym (Anne Hawathy) comes back form rehab for the weekend. It happens to be her sister Rachael’s wedding and Kym, a druggie/former child model (the two are exclusive), happens to have a lifetime of pent up issues that she’s got to work out at the worst possible time. Pardon, I should say worst possible times in the plural seeing as how the film tackles about one issue, crisis or repressed memory a minute. The fatal flaw here is that it is pretty much the same issue/crisis/repressed memory getting worked on then re-worked on every minute. “Rachael” drones on as if director Johnathan Demme rangled a bunch of overzealous theater students together, gave them this broken-home scenario, and said: GO!

And, boy, there sure is a lot of go. For two hours Rachael and co. fight, dance, play music, sing, cry in public and even find time for family competitions to see if the father (the should-stay-in-theater Bill Irwin) can load the dish washer faster than the black dude from TV on the Radio. Yes, a dish washer loading contest acts as a central set piece in this film. And this dish washer loading contest ends… in tears. Not of joy, which many of us dish washer loaders have apparently experienced, but, rather, tears of horror and profound sadness. I’m sorry but… what the fuck! Oh, sure critics laud this masterpiece but, really, it’s 2008’s year’s phoniest indie drama that blends “Family Stone” with “Pieces of April” with DISH WASHER LOADING (an act “April” also indulged in). And as a bit of trivia, failed actress and newtime (crappy)screenwriter Jenny Lumet is Sydney Lumet’s daughter!

“That is so unfair! That is so unfair!!!” Kym shrieks during a fight with Rachel. What’s unfair? The fact that Rachael announces she’s pregnant in the middle of an argument about Kym’s disastrous pre-wedding toast. So, then, mid-fight, the whole family (remember, ALL fights in this house are done publicly) jumps up, laughing and cheering… and then fighting. All at once. The writing, acting and directing departments all suck at conveying and transitioning the bi-polarity of emotions. I’m sorry, but when theatricalities ring false I go berserk. This family ensemble is not just dealing with the past (drugs, accidental deaths, divorce, lies, and two major car accidents) and the present (uh, did I mention how many dishes need to be cleaned in this household), but they dwell so much on the two as to beat them into the ground to a point of un-recognition. Their problems become not only redundant but a homogeneous mishmash. If you want to see a (good) film that thrives in the everyday chaos of our lives, a title where multiple layers of dialogue and drama are managed effectively, then I suggest you see “Happy Go Lucky.”

The lynch pin in this prefab madhouse is Anne Hawathaway and she’s going to get an Oscar nomination for her tour de fierceperformance as this total wreck of a human who must make everything about, her, her, her. And though her part is competently done (for what that statement is worth given how I feel about this film), the constant bickering, harping, shouting and emotional group hugs madethe performance feel as winded as her many heated conversations. Characters do not just talk, shout, eat, punch and bitch at Kym (and vice versa) but they talk eat and bitch at her as if the world is ending RIGHT NOW and they have to get it all out of their system at this time and in this house. The fistfight with dear old mom (Debra Winger) is so excessive that it boarders on ludicrous. With tears on tap and arms on flail, lives are lived x100 and Johnathan Demme captures the range of bourgeois emotion with a single camera, shooting his subjectsdocumentary style. With past credits that include “Silence of the Lambs” and the underrated “Manchurian Candidate” remake, Demme has been obsessed with non-fic docs ranging from subjects Neil Young to Jimmy Carter for the better part of this decade and, well, maybe he should stay in that field. The fatal error here is that the dysfunctional family tension is so contrived and bottled in this setting that the realistic shooting style only heightens the falseness at play. There’s a reason why Dogme 95 burned out and this naturally unnatural story highlights its demise every step of the way.

Rachael Getting an: F