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Top 5 Everything 2011

As we enter the final days of 2011 and getting ready to eat and drink more in the coming weeks than most Somalian families in an entire year, we can’t help ourselves but look back at the last 365 days that have passed by at the speed of light. Between Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage, the Japan earthquake and the arrival of Rebecca Black, there were still positive happenings this year, and some great quality work from musicians, artists, cinematographers, copywriters and all those folks.

To make sure we all feel a bit nostalgic, here are my personal favorites for 2011.


1. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne
In a year flooded by disgusting club beats à la LMFAO and David Guetta, there was still an incredible amount of quality music that was released, and it was kind of hard to pick one winner, but Jay-Z and Kanye West still deserved the top spot. The two hip-hop juggernauts managed to meet the gigantic expectations with their first collaborative album. As self-conscious and ego-tripping as Watch The Throne can be, it still produces this unique sound and energy that make every rhyme about Margiela jackets and Audemars watches forgivable. To quote Kanye, WTT is definitely luxury rap at its finest, by two of the greatest in the game.
Best Track: No Church In The Wild

2. Florence + Machine – Ceremonials
Florence Welch and her band released their follow-up album to 2009’s critically-acclaimed Lungs, and it is nothing short of epic. The red-headed British singer’s voice is grandiose, and the orchestral melodies will fill you with this feeling to go out and save the world. Rarely have I heard such mature music from such a young artist. At 25, Welch is clearly making a statement that she is the new diva of the 2010s.
Best Track: No Light, No Light

3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
For the record, I hate R&B. For me, it’s always been a cheap excuse for mediocre love songs, performed mostly by talentless good-looking people. The genre needed a new face, a game-changer, and they definitely found it in Toronto’s Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd. As the first mixtape of a series of three, House of Balloons established itself as one of the best albums of the year in the eyes of many. With its dreamy vocals and mysterious yet gripping sound, the 9-track EP is sure to surprise you, either by its uniqueness, or by its openly-sexual, drug-focused dialogue that still stays somewhat classy in dealing with these taboo subjects.
Best Track: High For This

4. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
It would be lying to say that Coldplay’s sound hasn’t changed since they first released Parachutes 11 years ago, but to say that their music has downgraded in quality is a false statement that many critics are sharing. Mylo Xyloto isn’t exactly portraying the orignal Coldplay, but the content of the album still delivers amazing vocals, powerful synths and catchy guitar riffs that only Coldplay could combine together and make it come out this good.
Best Track: Major Minus

5. Drake – Take Care
It’s very difficult for me to have Take Care steal the final spot of this top 5 from Foster The People’s Torches, but as much as I hate a few tracks on Drake’s sophomore album, the rest of it is just plain incredible. The young Canadian rapper shows us why he’s most likely the biggest rap star on the planet right now, with an impressive flow, deep lyrics and a production team behind it all that understands how to complement all of this with some of the best beats in the business.
Best Track: Crew Love feat. The Weeknd

Honorable Mentions
Foster The People – Torches
The Black Keys – El Camino
The Sounds – Something To Die For


1. Beginners
Beginners has a strange feel to it. It is simultaneously funny and sad, but the excellent cast composed of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent make this bizarre mixture feel completely casual. Hell, even McGregor’s dog would be eligible for an Oscar if the “Best Animal in a Motion Picture Drama” category existed. The scenario is fresh and the script is music to our ears. It is also impressively directed, with a past/present intertwining storyline that is very easy to follow thanks to a great job from Mike Mills.

2. Blue Valentine
Disclaimer: Do not watch this movie if you’re currently having suicidal thoughts. Blue Valentine presents the story of a young couple, divided in two parallel storylines; one showing the character’s encounter, the other one portraying the couple at a later and more difficult stage of their relationship. On top of the stunning NYC cinematography and the masterful directing work, it is Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ performances that make this movie one of the best of the year. Rarely have I seen such convincing acting, and it is a shame that Gosling was snobbed by the Oscars earlier this year, because he definitely deserved a nomination over Jesse Eisenberg. Blue Valentine is a movie like no other.

3. Drive
Let’s keep the Ryan Gosling fest going, because as different as his role is in Drive than in Blue Valentine, his performance is no less stellar. With a very introverted character of little words, it’s Gosling’s body language that make “The Driver” come to life in this exciting drama that could be described as an Oscar-worthy Fast and the Furious. The rhythm and mood of the movie are very special and uncharacteristic of a car-heist scenario, but this is what makes Drive that much more interesting.

4. Submarine
This Ben Stiller-produced movie is the story of Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old boy desperate to lose his virginity by his next birthday. Craig Roberts’ debut in feature films shows a promising young actor, and he is surrounded by an equally good cast of both young and older actors. Submarine is sure to make you smile and laugh with its solid and refreshing screenplay.

5. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen has a very particular style of filmmaking, one that can easily be identified in the first few scenes of every single movie he’s made. People could argue that his style hasn’t evolved throughout the years, but he is still a master of storytelling with a very minimalist Allen signature, recognizable by long, wide camera shots, endless dialogues, and screenplays heavily focused on the actors’ ability to render simple but highly developed characters. Midnight in Paris is no exception. Owen Wilson plays the role of a successful Hollywood writer having a career crisis as he struggles to write his first novel. While strolling at night in Paris, he mysteriously encounters artists of the early 1900s, and as ludicrous as this story may seem, Allen directs it in a very fun and enjoyable way.

Honorable Mentions
Margin Call
Shame (I haven’t seen it yet, but I know it would have made the top 5 if it were the case)


1. The Good The Bad – 030
I’m going to cheat a bit on this first-place video, because it was actually released in late 2010, but I didn’t come across it until last winter, and I’ll assume that most of you reading this haven’t seen it either. Warning, this is HIGHLY NSFW, so watch it at your own risks.
It can be hard nowadays to have good music videos for instrumental music, because you’re pretty much obligated to go for a fiction or storylike-video due to the lack of live performance, and we all know that those can easily become cheesy and cheap. Well, Danish rock band The Good and The Bad definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. With this sexually-infused progressive rock melody, director Jeppe Kolstrup managed to produce a video that is just exactly that: sexually-infused. 030 is 3 minutes of love-making between a naked girl and a guitar, and as absurd as it is, it actually makes for a very powerful, sexy, provocative and strangely not out-of-place music video.

2. Justice – Civilization
If there is one band that has rarely failed at releasing top notch music videos, it is definitely Justice. The French duo have dared many things in the past, including the highly controversial Stress, directed by the equally controversial Romain Gavras. For the first single of their album Audio, Video, Disco, Civilization, they tackled a whole different style, going for an all 3D-animated video, presenting a crumbling universe on a herd of frightened buffalos. The animation is just flawless and the art direction is brilliant. They’ve also added stunning sound effects on top of the track, which makes for an even more immersive experience.

3. Tyler, The Creator – Yonkers
I’m absolutely not a fan of Tyler, The Creator, but I definitely admire the buzz that Odd Future is creating with their provocative lyrics, unstable behaviours, and deranged music videos, just like Yonkers. You just can’t buy publicity like this, and Tyler made sure that people would talk about this video, and they did. Even with its simplicity, showing only Tyler on a white background sitting on a bar stool in one long shot, the video managed to reach millions of views in no time because of Tyler’s scary and almost schizophrenic performance.

4. Rihanna – We Found Love
It’s easy to instantly forget any Rihanna video since she releases almost half a dozen of them every year. Since the 2008 David Lachappelle-directed Disturbia, none of them has really stood out from the masses. In fact, the California King Bed video looks like an upgraded version of the ugly Only Girl. For We Found Love, Rihanna hired the services of veteran director Melina Matsoukas, who she had previously worked with on notably Hard and S&M. This was clearly a wise choice, proven by its astonishing 83 million views on YouTube in less than 2 months, but most of all, by the energy and feel of the video. Watching We Found Love will make you want to leave everything behind and recklessly travel the world with the love of your life without any responsibilities.

5. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Otis
What fun, crazy and stupid things can you do when you’re two insanely rich rap stars together ? Well, sawing off the doors and the roof of a $350 000 Maybach is one of them, and The Throne duo did just that in the video for their single, Otis. People could think that, in an unstable American economy, throwing money out the windows like these two guys are doing is clearly out-of-line, but award-winning director Spike Jonze makes it look like just what it is, plain fun by two guys who have enough cash to do anything they want, and don’t have a valuable reason not to do it.

Honorable Mentions
Skrillex – First of the Year
The Getaway Plan – Reckoning
The Weeknd – The Knowing


1. Californication – Season 4
I hadn’t seen a single episode of this TV show back in July, before a friend told me I should start watching it, and rarely has my social life suffered as much from this point on. After getting through the first episode, it just became an addiction and there was no stopping it before getting through the 4 seasons. This is definitely the funniest script ever, and David Duchovny plays his total asshole role with such finesse that you completely forget that this is Mulder from The X-Files. The 4th season doesn’t disappoint, with good old Hank Moody and the introduction of fresh new characters, especially the always sexy and charismatic Carla Gugino. Season 5 is starting in January, and it just can’t come fast enough.

2. Breaking Bad – Season 4
TV’s most original show was back this year with its 4th season, again starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as the two New Mexico drug dealers who rose to the top of the business. Giancarlo Esposito is once again brilliant in his role of the bad guy Gus, and he’s scary like never before. The season starts off kind of slow, but as you go through the thirteen episodes, your level of excitement will reach its peak, guaranteed.

3. 24/7 – Pens/Caps
HBO is no small player in the TV industry, but fans of their fiction series like Entourage, Game of Thrones or Curb Your Enthusiasm tend to forget that they’re also the top players in sports documentary, and they’ve lived up to their title with 24/7 – Pens/Caps, the behind-the-scenes story of the NHL’s Winter Classic. HBO delivered an unprecedented insider look into two of the hottest hockey teams’ locker rooms, genuine interviews with the players and coaches, and beautiful footage from the hockey games of each of the two NHL franchises.

4. Boardwalk Empire – Season 2
Winning pretty much every Golden Globe or Emmy Award there was last year, it was clear that HBO would provide its audience with a follow-up season to 2010’s best new TV show. Set during the prohibition in Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire is a fresh look to a time period and location seldom used in TV or cinema, which makes it that much more interesting. Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt, as different as their characters are in the series, are just incredible in their respective roles. Jimmy Darmody is a man of few words, but the body language that Pitt displays to impersonate his intense character is flat-out perfect. I haven’t quite finished season 2 yet, but so far it lives up to expectations, with stellar cinematography and acting.

5. Entourage – Season 8
Allright, let’s be honest, Season 8 sucked. It was the most rushed and incomprehensible series finale ever, but just spending time watching Doug Ellin’s character for 8 final episodes after 7 years of maximum laughter was still worth it. There was a lack of Ari Gold’s crisis and of Johnny Drama’s stupidity, but the 7 previous seasons make this last one deserve the final spot in my top 5.

Honorable Mentions
Game of Thrones – Season 1


1. Swarovski – Cinema Spot
Acclaimed French director Bruno Aveillan has proven to be the master of style of today’s advertising business, and Swarovski used this potential extensively with their 3-minute spot that was broadcasted on Times Square’s screens. Aveillan created an imaginary, dream-like set for this mostly abstract spot that is nothing short of breath-taking. Every image throughout the 180 seconds is a visual orgasm composed of sets, lighting, make-up, models and cinematography that each flirt very closely with perfection. The spot emanates with glamour and luxury, which is what Swarovski aim for.

2. EF – Live the Language
Most educational establishments try to sell you with false dreams and environments in their advertising strategies, and they often all end up doing the same crap. Education First took a completely different approach to encourage students to travel during their studies, with a very human campaign that actually made me regret not going to university. The spots are so genuine that you would like to be friends instantly with every students playing in the ads, and that is something that very few schools or organizations have succeeded in doing. To put the icing on the cake, the spots are complemented with beautiful typography in the various languages of the locations portrayed.

3. Chrysler – Born of Fire
This is where I start my streak of car commercials. Chrysler premiered this extended 2-minute commercial during the Superbowl in February (yes, that must have cost a shitload of money to air). Wieden + Kennedy demonstrated once again their creativity by selling us a somewhat luxurious car with simple, everyday imagery of industrial and urban landscapes, accompanied by, I will dare to say, the most powerful voice-over in the history of modern advertising. I get shivers everytime I listen to it. This is ad-writing at its finest, by one of the best agencies in the world.

4. Volkswagen – The Force
How could one not absolutely love this commercial? Even if he doesn’t say a single word, mini Darth Vader is adorable and the contrast between John Williams’ music and the kid’s absolute failure at using the Force is just too funny. Deutsch’s LA office has done an amazing job at creating a targeted car ad without showing the product before the very end of the spot.

5. Audi – Oomph
Speaking of car ads not showing the product advertised before the end of the spot, here is another fine example by Sam Brown, the mastermind behind Jay-Z’s illuminati-accused On To The Next One video. BBH London treated the Audi A1 with a slick commercial, featuring abstract imagery that reflect the powerful yet light new model from Audi. This is topped by an entertaining soundtrack from the Glitch Mob that accentuates the fast-paced rhythm of this 45-second spot that rounds up the my five favorite commercials of 2011.

Honorable Mentions
Google Chrome – Dear Sophie
Privilège Gym (Yeah, shameless self-promotion here)

So this is it, the 25 most deserving pieces of the year in my humble opinion. Agree, disagree, be amazed, be shocked, be disappointed, but I hope this post has at least made you discovered one thing that may have slipped under your radar during the last 365 days.

PS: This will be my last blog post of the year, and also for a while. We are in the process of completely redesigning the site, and we’re approaching the final stages of the project, so I will see you in 2012 with a brand new look. Happy Holidays!


Whistler Film Festival

Major film fests’ ads have a history of usually being pretty good (it would be a shame if they weren’t…). The Whistler Film Festival is no exception this year, with this animated short to promote their 2011 edition.

As boring as it may seem in the first minute, the Tokyoplastic-directed ad quickly becomes bold and surprising. Not only is the production excellent, as we’ve come to expect from the London-based studio, but the voice acting is also very believable, in both the fairy-tale and gangster moods of the commercial.


Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch The Throne in Montreal

Over the last few years, I’ve definitely seen my fair share of shows in every music genre there is. From Muse to Eminem, from The Sounds to Stratovarius, and also the countless international artists that came to Festival d’Été in Quebec City like Metallica, Black Eyed Peas, Iron Maiden, Arcade Fire, Linkin Park, and the list goes on…

Still, after attending all these shows, there is still no one in my mind who can match the stage presence that Jay-Z has. Prior to last Tuesday’s show, I had seen Jay-Z twice; once in Montreal for the Blueprint 3 tour in 2009, and once in Detroit, in 2010, for one of the two Home and Home shows that he was giving with Eminem. Both times, I had been completely hypnotized by his charisma and his ability to crank the stadiums’ ambiance to the next level.

With the Watch The Throne tour stopping in Montreal on November 22nd, my expectations were sky high to see how the addition of Kanye West would up the ante of a Jay-Z show.

Opting for a minimalist stage design overall, the two hip-hop juggernauts started the show each on their respective hydraulic platforms, performing their collaborative single H*A*M with just two follow-spots lighting them. They went on with other songs from their latest album: Who Gon Stop Me, Otis and Gotta Have It. The visual effects became more and more elaborated as the show was progressing. The two hydraulic platforms rose from the ground, revealing LED screens displaying images of sharks and dobermans. An insane amount of laser beams started filling the Bell Centre, and eventually, two screens at the back of the arena started projecting live images of the two rappers performing, as well as some related footage to the songs being played.

Jay-Z and Kanye eventually split and performed some solo singles from their vast repertoire of classics. Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Power, 99 Problems, All Falls Down, Hard Knock Life, Jesus Walks and Big Pimpin’ were just a few of the titles that could be heard throughout their 35-plus-songs setlist (see the complete list here). As expected, Jay-Z’s performances were superior to Kanye, but the 34-year-old still did pretty good besides the 42-year-old veteran king of hip-hop.

Once again, I was amazed by the energy that the song U Don’t Know brought to the arena, just like the two previous times I heard Jay-Z perform it. It felt like if the Bell Centre was going to crumble under the loud screams of the crowd.

Hova was not interacting with the crowd as much as the previous times I’d seen him, but the chemistry between Jay-Z, probably the coolest person on the planet, and the mysterious and intense Kanye West, more than made up for it. When the screens showed KW as he looked at the crowd without smiling, his look was terrifying (in a good way of course).

Kanye brought a 10-minute-long emotional phase to the show, rising solo on one of the two lifting stages, dressed in all-red leather clothes, matching the lighting, and started playing the auto-tuned Runaway and Heartless.

The Throne teamed up again for the end of the show, and performed their new hit song N*iggas in Paris not once, not twice, but 5 times in a row, and finished this crazy evening with Jay-Z’s very-appropriate 2003 hit, Encore.

Jay-Z and Kanye proved that their not only watching, but holding the throne.

Fail by Prada

I’m all about creativity and originality. I’ve always encouraged people to do things differently and stepping out of the mold, but the line can be thin and blurry between extreme originality and complete ugliness. Well, the Prada marketing team chose the wrong side of that line for their latest Fall/Winter Lookbook.

This new video is just plain ridiculous. The image composition is disgusting, the compositing and “visual effects” are worse than what you would see in a 1982 Sci-Fi movie, and the animation is sub-par at every level. Honestly, if someone would send me his demo reel and it looked like that, I would ask myself if he was laughing at me. And even more, if I was to hand-in a project like this to a company with a stature like Prada, I would most likely quit video production forever and start my life over again in Bolivia.

There are ways and situations to simulate “cheap” animation to serve a purpose, but they are usually for humoristic projects, not to promote 1800$ handbags. Seriously, who are they trying to fool here ? Prada is an insanely-expensive haute-couture line, who do they think is buying their clothes ? Alternative-art-loving hipsters who usually shop at American Apparel ? Their market-study team should be fired and never be allowed to work in the fashion industry ever again. People who buy Prada are generally people with a shitload of money and who enjoy the Cover Girl ads that have been looking the same since 1996.

Sorry Prada, but this is one huge advertising failure.

Darren Aronofsky for the Meth Project

A while back, I posted some old advertisements from the Montana Meth Project for one of my Throwback Tuesday posts. Last week, the Meth Project released 4 new spots for their new campaign, directed by Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, who directed some of the previous spots for the anti-drug organism.

As were the previous commercials, the 4 new ads are completely horrifying. Aronofsky created a mysterious initial situation in each of the 4 spots, leading to a dramatic progression and climax, explicitly showing the effects that Meth can have on one’s mind or body. The campaign is raw and shocking, and clearly delivers the message it was meant to communicate.

Review : Drake’s Take Care

Drake is an artist with who I’ve always had a very complicated love/hate relationship, musically speaking of course. When the single Forever was released in late 2009, I thought he was going to be the next big thing (I wasn’t wrong, let’s be honest), holding his own against top players like Eminem, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. And then I heard the auditive disaster that was Best I Ever Had. Still to this day, I consider it to be the worst song to get radio airplay in the last 10 years.

Drake’s second album Take Care, which leaked online earlier today, but will officially be released on November 15th, is not going to help my problem with the former Degrassi star.

While it may have been unclear at the beginning of his young career, Drake has now completely assumed his choice of being both a R&B and Hip-Hop artist. Too bad for the people who enjoy just one of those two types of music, because either way, you’ll have to skip through half of the album. Take Care is virtually 50% of each genres, and had he focused on what he does best, which I consider is rapping, he would have landed the album of the year, hands down.

Drake clearly has some of the greatest hip-hop tracks to be released lately on his sophomore LP. When he starts rhyming over a Just Blaze production on Lord Knows with Rick Ross, you just know right away that this is a song that will be looping several times in your car with the windows rolled down. The grandiose choir singing accompanying the two superstars’ flows made me bounce my head automatically after the first few seconds of the track. Aubrey Graham also takes his rapping skills to high levels on tracks like Underground Kings, We’ll Be Fine and Make Me Proud, a single featuring Nicki Minaj, released earlier in October.

But even if the Young Money star is capable of the best, he’s also able to release more Best-I-Ever-Had-caliber failures, like the single Headlines. The song sounds like a bad mixture of a circus beat combined with an off-sync drum line that looks like it was produced by a drunken 14-year-old teenager in front of an 808. Some R&B songs are also very weak, and do not match at all the level of creativity that protégé The Weeknd released earlier this year. Speaking of The Weeknd, he saves the R&B genre on Take Care, with the song Crew Love, on which he sings, and Drake raps. The beat is something completely out of the classic R&B mold, and The Weeknd’s voice arrangement is epic. The rest of the R&B tracks are flavourless, dull, and totally lack personality. Marvin’s Room could be an exception here, because Drake shows honesty and vulnerability in his lyrics, but you quickly forget that when the following song starts off with “I got rich off a mixtape“…

I was also expecting an incredible song in Doing It Wrong which was listed as featuring the legendary Stevie Wonder. When the track finally hit my speakers, I noticed that the only thing Wonder does is an harmonica solo at the end of the track. If you’re going to have one of America’s greatest musicians of all time featured on your rap album when you’re 25, make it count! At least have him sing a verse or something…

I’m still unsure about what my answer will be when people ask me “Is the new Drake album good ?” Of course it’s good, but if someone else asks me “Is the new Drake album bad ?”, I will unfortunately have to answer yes also. The album has such epic moments, but such weak ones also that it would be very hard to give it a score on a scale of 1 to 10. Maybe I’m not open-minded enough towards R&B yet to understand the style that Drake is aiming for on half of his tracks on Take Care, but to me they sound like sub-par songs that would not have made the final cut on a Trey Songz or The-Dream album. I hope Graham will focus on what he does best in the future, because his rap skills are up there with the best of them. It just feels like he’s trying to do too much, a formula that may or may not work in the long run. But looking at his record sales up to now, I’d understand if he didn’t listen to my advise…

Good album, but it had the potential to be great, and it didn’t achieve that.

Make Me Proud

Canon’s doubtful move with the C300

Nobody can deny the fact that Canon has totally changed the game of digital filmmaking forever. Since the introduction of their 5D MKII in 2008 and the whole set of HDSLRs that followed, Canon has allowed anyone with 2 000$ in their pockets to have access to a quality of image highly comparable to cameras that were worth several tens of thousands of dollars not even 5 years ago. The 5D MKII became one of the best-selling cameras in the world and Canon have completely dominated the indie filmmaker market from this day.

3 years have passed since, and even if these cameras are great tools, they have flaws. Consumer feedback has been pouring all over the Internet since the arrival of the 5D, and while Canon have adressed some issues, they still have a lot of work to do to make its line of HDSLRs perfect. The rolling shutter is a pain in the ass for any fan of shooting handheld, the h264 compression drives editors nuts and the audio input options are horrible. And those are just a few of the problems filmmakers face everyday while working with these cameras.

Last Thursday, November 3rd, Canon and RED both held press conferences to announce their new camera models. Rumours were all over the place as to what Canon was releasing, while there was more certainty towards RED, who were announcing their much anticipated and budget-friendly RED Scarlet.

Canon presented its new camera, the C300, a digital S35 camera, priced at around 20 000$. Big mistake. I’m sure the C300 will be a good camera, but that’s not the point. The problem is that Canon just let down the consumer bracket that put them back on the map in the video domain. Since they released the GL2 in 2002 (I think), they had been out of the game for videographers. Sony and Panasonic dominated the market, and suddenly, the 5D changed all that. Now tell me why, Canon, would you leave the consumers that crafted your rebirth with flawed tools and try to create a camera for TV-size productions ? The price tag isn’t everything in business. Even if Gucci sells 700-dollar pants, GAP still has 3 times their revenues by selling good old 20-dollar jeans.

On top of that, on paper, the RED Scarlet will outperform the C300, for a lesser price (maybe equal once you buy all the required equipment). And in terms of consumer confidence, I guess people with 20k to spend on a camera are most likely to go towards RED, who have been the leader in high-end digital cinema since 2007, while Canon has pretty much never developed a Hollywood-level camera.

I’m looking forward to try both these cameras and see how they compare, but I’m also anxious to see the financial winner of this c300 vs. Scarlet battle.

I think Canon already lost.