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Tim McGraw started having hits with his second album in 1994, but he didn’t really get interesting until he ditched the hokiness of songs like “Indian Outlaw” and the treacly “Don’t Take The Girl” and started addressing life’s larger themes on 1999’s “A Place In The Sun.”
With songs like the yearning “Please Remember Me” and the wistful “My Next Thirty Years,” he started getting stronger material. By the time 2001’s “Set This Circus Down” came out, with such tracks as “Angry All The Time,” and the next album’s “Red Ragtop,” he had completely re-energized his career and given it a gravitas it has been missing.
On “Two Lanes of Freedom,” out today, the lite McGraw is largely in charge. On songs like last summer’s throwaway “Truck Yeah” and the infinitely better and bouncier “Mexicoma,” the only goal is good time, whether it’s in an effort to escape a past love or just get some mud on the flaps.
Maybe he’s feeling lighter because he’s finally been unshackled from his onerous contract with Curb Records and is now on Big Machine.
To be sure, there are hints of deeper meaning, such as on the poignant “The Book of John.” The cleverly-titled song details going through a father/husband’s photo albums and effects following his death as they head to his funeral. “It’s almost like he’s not really gone/and I know one day I’ll be passing on,” McGraw sings. As he’s moved into middle age, McGraw does death well.
Without McGraw’s own backstory, a song like “Number 37405” would just be another singer-turned-convict tale, but the story of the entertainer who goes to jail for killing someone while driving drunk has an added weight given that McGraw gave up drinking more than five years ago after he found it had too strong a hold on him.
The album, which is sure to be his 12th album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, begins and ends with the open road and the word “shotgun” here is reserved solely for the passenger front seat. On album opener “Two Lanes of Freedom,” a sense of wide open spaces is bolstered by the big backing vocals, redolent of fun.’s “Some Nights.” Closing tune, midtempo “Highway Don’t Care” is a sure future No. 1 as McGraw duets with Taylor Swift, who sounds sweet and all grown up here, on the tale of a man who just wants his lover to stay closer to home no matter how much the road calls. Keith Urban turns some tasty guitar work on the tune. Unlike some superstar projects (like McGraw’s duet with Kenny Chesney, “Rock Star), this combined effort seems more organic than an idea conceived in the VP of marketing’s office.
With McGraw feeling like he’s back in the driver’s seat, good things are sure to come. “Two Lanes” is a strong start, but it feels like only the tip of the iceberg, especially when fans know McGraw is capable of so much more range.
The ever-adventurous Makeup and Hairstyling branch once again showed independence in its choice of nominees this year. While many people assumed transforming Daniel Day-Lewis into Abraham Lincoln would yield a nod for “Lincoln,” it was turning Anthony Hopkins into Alfred Hitchcock that tickled the branch’s fancy as Sacha Gervasi’s film managed to score its sole nomination in the category.
Howard Berger, Oscar winner for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” shares this nomination with co-special makeup effects artist Peter Montagna and hair stylist Martin Samuel. But a little over a year ago, in November 2011, he was getting ready to wrap up shooting of “Oz: The Great and Powerful” when Gervasi called him to say the project had been given the green light.
Convincing the audience that Anthony Hopkins was Alfred Hitchcock was always going to be a daunting task. “We had a very little amount of time and money but I wanted to take that time and money and use it towards testing,” Berger says. “We were able to get six different makeup tests to see what was and was not going to work on Tony.”
Determined as they are by a small jury of London print critics, the Evening Standard British Film Awards -- which are limited to British cinema, as well as British artists in international films -- tend to occupy the independent end of the spectrum. Recent winners of their Best Film award include such small-scale critical favorites as "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "Neds," "Fish Tank," "Hunger" and "Control."
So it represents a significant deviation from the norm that the winner of the top prize last night was a blockbuster franchise entry that has become the highest-grossing film in UK box office history. But "Skyfall" has itself been something of an anomaly in the way it has curried critical and audience favor to an extent that the James Bond series has never previously managed in 50 years of trying. I had thought that BAFTA would be keen to recognize the achievement of Sam Mendes's slick, savvy spy game, but they somehow resisted nominating it for Best Film; instead, it fell to a generally highbrow critics' award to give 007 the first Best Film win of his long career.
(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)
This year's race for Best Animated Feature Film was as competitive as it's ever been. There were a boatload of qualifying contenders (21) and many of them had an angle on a nomination. And after last year's one-two punch from GKIDS, many wondered whether the usual studio product would be laced with indie players, or whether an atypically quality slate of Hollywood toons would dominate the list.
As it turned out, it was the latter, as none of the four GKIDS hopefuls this year found room. But while studios were out in force in the category, one in particularly was tellingly left out of the conversation: DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians" failed to land a nod after turning out to be a critical and financial disappointment. It was instead replaced by a surprise nominee from a highly respected animation studio.
The nominees are…
The great Frank Rich has weighed in on the Oscar race with what is sure to remain one of the best pieces of the season, in which he celebrates what he sees as the Academy's return to relevance: "Whatever the explanation—and little in show business happens by design—the movie industry has reconnected with the country. It has produced no fewer than four movies that have provoked animated, often rancorous public debate: 'Zero Dark Thirty,' 'Argo,' 'Lincoln,' and 'Django Unchained,' a film that pushes so many hot buttons you can’t quite believe it was made." He goes on to make the case for why "Django" deserves the Best Picture award, and even if you disagree -- I certainly do -- it's an essential, exuberant read. [New York]
A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I'm subject to a 50-meter restraining order...
You know how last week "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" didn't have even a smidgen of fighting, and it was kind of like watching Wonder Woman without her magic lasso or John Travolta without his hairpiece? Well, never fear. Everything's back to normal, which means the women are screaming hysterically at one another, not everyone's making sense, and a very expensive dinner is completely ruined in the process. Yay.
Henry Selick is a ronin, a masterless samurai in a particularly difficult part of the filmmaking landscape, and any time he finds someone willing to pay for him to make one of his movies, I'm thrilled.
Being a career animator is not an easy life to choose, and I can't imagine anyone doing it for any reason other than a deep abiding love for the medium. Selick has conjured up some real magic in the films he's made and he certainly does great work with the various collaborators who have been part of his movies so far. Not every filmmaker can lay claim to one great movie, and I'd argue that Selick has made two so far. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is just gorgeous, as beautiful an example of stop motion animation as I've ever seen. "Coraline" is an eerie, sublime accomplishment, both technically and creatively, and is easily the finest example yet of Neil Gaiman's work brought to life.
I have a feeling you're going to see a lot of announcements about actors joining the cast of the upcoming sequel to "Anchorman," and when we see the final film, many of those people will end up playing one or two scenes at most. It's going to be a positively ridiculous cast, and that's because the original film has become a huge favorite for pretty much anyone working in film comedy right now. This is going to be a case where anyone Adam McKay wants, he's going to get.
Christina Applegate was the one who broke the news on Twitter, which is starting to become one of the most reliable sources of breaking casting information when people like Bryan Singer can't wait to share something. In this case, I can imagine Appelgate's got to be happy to be adding some funny female energy to what is already a very large roster of very funny dudes. Kristen Wiig will be onboard playing the wife of Brick Tamland, Steve Carrell's character from the first film. Carrell is just one of the returning characters, of course. Will Ferrell is back as Ron Burgundy, Paul Rudd will be Brian Fantana once more, David Koechner will return as Champ Kind, and Applegate is going to reprise her role as Veronica Corningstone. Just typing the character names again makes me happy. I was an early fan of the script, and I was thrilled when it was not only made, but when it turned out to be as consistently funny as it was. It seemed like it was such a gamble for the first film to get made that it's sort of amazing to be writing news stories about a sequel now.