james debate
james debate

Saturday, 22 April 2023

Directed by Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic 
Written by Matthew Fogel
Produced by Chris Meledandri, Shigeru Miyamoto
Starring Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen
Studio Illumination
Running time 92 minutes

super mario bros brothers 2023 film nintendo miyamoto yoshi luigi bowser peach chris pratt jack black

There are no good videogame movies, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Any time a celebrated videogame series is adapted to other media, this old chestnut invariably rears its head. Only, it's not really true and hasn't been for a while. Just this year we've had an adaptation of The Last of Us released to high critical acclaim, while the last few years have seen not one, but two Sonic the Hedgehog movies and Detective Pikachu, all certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. So it is perhaps not so unheard of as the wisdom would suggest. What is fair to say is that videogame adaptations have a low hit-rate. While there are plenty of good ones, most are not (the reason for why that is the case is a discussion for another time). 

So when Nintendo decided to try their hand at adapting Mario to the big screen this year, it predictably spawned the usual breathless headlines asking whether this would be the film to break the (mostly mythical) videogame movie curse. Lazy journalism aside, the point stands that there is a lot riding on the success of this film. Nintendo clearly has visions of an expansive cinematic universe, yet has historically been very protective of its IP - understandably so given their early misadventures into Hollywood in the 1990s. So the real question is simply, have they finally cracked the movie industry?

The Super Mario Bros Movie is an adaptation of Nintendo's beloved mascot. Fully animated by the people at Illumination, best known for Despicable Me and Minions. The decision to award such a flagship IP to a studio known for fairly forgettable kids movies certainly raised a few eyebrows, but in truth it's hard to imagine any of the top tier animation studios agreeing to adapt someone else's IP so it shouldn't have come as a surprise. 

It is fair to say that this is a cut above the typical Illumination movie in terms of quality. The animation is gorgeous and highly detailed, the writing is witty and there's a general sheen of quality throughout. The film is also jam-packed full of references and your favourite characters from the games. It's actually fairly impressive how much they've managed to cram into a short runtime without it falling apart completely. There's Mario Kart, Donkey Kong... they manage to sneak in a few obscure references to Jump Man and Kid Icarus. We even get the obligatory "your princess is in another castle" gag. The score also makes extensive use of the music from the games, to good effect. This is all very pleasing to a videogame nerd such as myself.

The characters themselves are fairly well translated to the big screen. Mario and Luigi are basically the Italian-American plumber stereotypes you expect them to be. Donkey Kong is a lovably arrogant jock. Toad is delightfully zany (a good call there). But the real star of the show has to be what these writers have done with Princess Peach. In the games, Peach is almost always just there as a squeaky-voiced damsel in distress, just waiting to be rescued by Mario. Here, she is reimagined as kind of a badass. Tough, independent and capable. A truly great character for young girls to be watching in a movie. I really hope Nintendo follow suit with this interpretation of the character in their future games. 

The cast is also mostly pretty good. Anya Taylor-Joy, of course, is great as Peach. Jack Black gobbles up every scene he's in as Bowser. Charlie Day turns out to be pitch perfect casting as Luigi. If there is one somewhat weak spot, it is, unfortunately, the main character. It's hard to see Chris Pratt's casting as Mario as anything other than betting on starpower. His performance here is mixed, and not just because of his inconsistent accent. 

Unfortunately, but for these strengths there's just not much there under the surface. This is quite a shallow movie. There's not much of a real story so to speak and the characters have only minimal depth to them. No one really has an actual character arc. There's no hero's journey, Mario doesn't learn and grow from his experience. He starts off as a plucky, if underappreciated, plumber who wants to save Brooklyn, and ends up basically the same guy. The same goes for Princess Peach, who starts off a badass, and remains so throughout the film. They could have at least added some tension in the form of Peach being initially skeptical or cold towards this mysterious newcomer, Mario, or have Mario start off as jaded and cynical before growing into the hero we know and love, but they don't. There's perhaps a slight hint of growth for Luigi, who starts off a bit of a coward before finding some bravery at the end, but it's all very perfunctory.

You might argue that this is the fault of the source material, after all the Mario games are more known for gameplay than story and have rarely attempted any kind of character development or consistent worldbuilding. But a good adaptation needs to consider the elements of the source material that do and don't work in a new medium and adapt accordingly. The Sonic movie is a good example of this. Paramount correctly decided that simply transposing a game onto the big screen wouldn't work and instead focused first and foremost on making a good film, using elements from the IP. At the time, that film was criticised by many from straying too far from the source material, but the Mario movie is a golden example of the opposite, what happens when you adhere too closely to the source material.

The film does also struggle a bit for trying to fit too much into its short runtime. As noted earlier, the film doesn't completely fall apart into a mess, but it does sometimes feel a bit slap-dash, like a sprint to see how many references and elements they can squeeze in, with little rhyme or reason to any of it. It's good that they introduced all these elements, it gives me hope that there is more to come when Nintendo grow this into their envisioned cinematic universe. It is my hope that this serves mainly as an introduction, and that the next projects flesh these elements out a bit more.

To be clear, this is definitely not a bad movie, but set your expectations appropriately. This is a fun little romp with a lot of bright colourful gags for kids, and nostalgia for adults. It's unfortunately a bit shallow and forgettable, but the real value may yet be realised in how it sets up the future Nintendo cinematic universe.

Sunday, 9 April 2023

Developed by Avalanche Software
Published by Warner Bros Games
Genre Action role-playing game
Platform PC, Playstation, Xbox, Switch

hogwarts legacy avalanche rowling harry potter best game 2023
For years, fans have been asking for a game like this. If you asked a group of people what their dream videogame would be, often you'd get a response along the lines of "an open-world Harry Potter RPG that lets you live and go to school at Hogwarts." It's become something of a meme to ask why this game doesn't exist. You can see why. Harry Potter and the Wizarding World is, after all, one of the biggest franchises in the entire entertainment industry, with a built-in fanbase conservatively estimated in the multi-millions strong. Not to mention a fanbase that is notable for its passion, to the point where brick and mortar Wizarding World merchandise shops exist all over the world, with people routinely buying their own wands and Hogwarts regalia. A game that allows those fans to live out their fantasies seems like an obvious money-maker.

Well, they finally listened to the memes and did in fact make that game. Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world action RPG set in the Wizarding World of the late 1800s. In this game, players will design their own unique character, attend classes at Hogwarts, explore both the castle as well as the surrounding countryside and villages, and embark on an original adventure alongside a colorful cast of characters and fellow students. On the surface, it's everything fans have been waiting for.

Unfortunately, before we can really dive into reviewing this game, we need to address the elephant in the room. The creator of the Wizarding World, J. K. Rowling, has taken a lot of heat in recent years for making transphobic comments that have offended many and sparked an outraged response, to the extent that many have called for a boycott of all things Potter-related, including this game. While I obviously do not condone hate speech, nor the specific comments in question, I also feel strongly that the actions of one person do not justify disregarding the world of hundreds of others. Game designers, writers, and everyone else who has devoted years of their lives to creating this game, potentially the biggest project of their careers to date. They deserve to have their work evaluated on its merits, and not have their livelihoods trashed for the bad fortune of being in close professional proximity to Rowling. That is all I will say on the subject.

On first impression, it is surprising and impressive just how much this game tries to do. This game has clearly been designed with the fans in mind and goes to great lengths to provide fans with as complete a Wizarding World experience as possible. The staples are all here. Players can customise their wand in both appearance and various components. Players get sorted by the Sorting Hat into their house (and can choose if they don't get the sorting they desire). Players make friends, attend classes. You can fly your broom as well as various mounts including Hippogriffs and Thestrals. There is a chunky main quest line as well as numerous side quests. You can even play a few games around campus: broom racing, Summoner's Court and duelling. 

This is all more or less what I was expecting. What I was not expecting was for the world to be quite as vast as it is. Hogwarts itself is spectacular to explore. A whimsical, twisting, Eschereque maze of a setting filled with secrets and puzzles. It is everything that Hogwarts should be. But there is also a wide world outside of Hogwarts. Huge amounts of countryside and smattering of villages and towns, all full of various quests and collectibles. Hogsmeade itself is present and full of activities, some substantial, others more for flavour. 

There is a "player housing" type experience in the form of the Room of Requirement, a remarkably customisable space that players can decorate and furnish with all manner of items they discover from exploring the world. Much of this is superficial and solely for the enjoyment of the player, although there is a practical component from the various crafting mechanics and items.

Most surprising is the deeper than expected beast-rearing mini-game. That's right, Hogwarts Legacy draws heavily on the Fantastic Beasts films as well, with players able to explore and "rescue" various beasts, which can then be kept in a vivarium. Beasts can be pet and fed in exchange for various crafting resources, they can be bred, with a surprisingly deep set of genetic traits.

This is all so "extra" that it's surprising the game isn't a sprawling, chaotic mess. There's a lot here, a lot that didn't need to be here, but it's all very well executed and holds together. It's even more impressive considering the developer. With the greatest of respect, Avalanche Software has historically been a purveyor of fairly minor ports and licensed products. They have never come even close to taking on a AAA project of this ambition and scope. For them to have taken this project, and delivered on it to such an extent is a remarkable accomplishment and a huge step up for this team. But there are moments where the seams start to tear, and Avalanche's inexperience with projects of this scale begin to show. 

There are glitches. I've seen everything from crashes, to duplicating inventory items, to randomly falling through the floor. Most of the time the bugs are fairly minor or can be corrected by reloading an earlier save file. Sometimes the bugs do prevent progress, such as one I encountered when exploring a treasure cave, but was unable to proceed because my character randomly floated into the ceiling and got stuck. I will say, however, that I never encountered such large bugs along the main story quest, only while exploring. Still though, this is a console game. The hardware is identical for everyone. There is really no excuse for such noticeable bugs remaining at launch.

There are also a few moments where the game design can't keep up with its ambition. The game is large, but there's only the same three types of enemies, wizards, goblins, and spiders. This might seem like a fairly minor complaint, but when you're playing a side quest that takes you into yet another spider cave for the 30th time, it starts to get a bit tedious.

It's also quite a lonely game. For a franchise which focuses so much on friendship and the adventures of a core cast of characters, there is surprisingly little emphasis on this in the game. Your character does have friends in this game and they are pretty good, but outside of a few specific quest instances, you can't really do anything with them. It would have been nice for there to be more ways to interact with these characters, be it in sports or mini-games, attending more classes together, or some form of companion system where they can join you on your adventuring. It is hard not to feel like something is missing from the experience without that.

The quality of writing is noticeably variable. The main quest is fine, if unremarkable. Some of the side quests are excellent, others highly forgettable. In general, the game is at its best when it keeps you in Hogwarts, doing quests with your classmates and professors, so it is disappointing that there isn't more of this (such as those additional character interactions, as noted above).

It is also worth noting what this game is not. This is not a life simulator. There is no relationship system with your classmates. You can not repeatedly attend classes or go through the student life (as you can in, for example, Rockstar's Bully). I don't want to criticise a game for what it is not, but I can imagine a lot of Potter fans disappointed that there aren't more of these types of things in the game, especially when they've gone to such lengths to add unnecessary immersion in other areas.

But while it can be a bit rough around the edges in places, it comes pretty damn close to delivering on that vast potential. While it isn't perfect, Hogwarts Legacy is an excellent adventure game that will delight fans of both the source material and the genre in general. If these developers can tighten up the weak aspects and flesh out its strengths, the sequel could be spectacular.

Sunday, 2 April 2023

On March 30, 2023, a grand jury convened by the Manhattan District Attorney, unanimously voted to criminally indict the former President of the United States, Donald Trump. While the exact charges remain under seal, they are believed to include more than 30 fraud-related charges, including at least one (perhaps several) that rise to the level of a felony. It is a historic moment in American history, but to call it a shock would be untrue. Frankly, if anything about this surprises you, you just haven't been paying attention.

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This has been coming for a long time. Donald Trump's criminal investigations are numerous and it has been pretty clear for a while now that he would face some form of indictment eventually. The only question has been which investigation would get to him first. There is some irony to the fact that a man currently under investigation for Espionage Act violationselection interference in Georgia as well as the attempted Jan 6 coup d'etat would first be brought down by sleeping with a porn star, but as we will soon see, there are very real and serious crimes here, the facts of which have long been established in law. It is no surprise to see these charges lead the way.

It is expected that when the charges are revealed, they will include various fraud charges. It has been widely anticipated that these would include charges in relation to hush money payments Trump made during his first Presidential campaign to cover up an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, but the most recent understanding is that the charges are broader than that and will cover additional dealings.

While the specific charges have not been officially detailed, there is a lot we can infer from publicly available information. Hush money payments are, themselves, not illegal. Misrepresenting their purpose in tax and business filings is illegal. This in itself would be a misdemeanor charge. What elevates this illegality to the level of felony is where the fraud has been perpetrated in the act of covering up another crime. In this case, the crime being covered up is believed to be some form of campaign finance violation, with these payments constituting a campaign contribution in kind that were either not properly disclosed or that exceeded the maximum contribution limits. Once the official charges are revealed, we will learn more.

From what we can tell, this investigation began with the Mueller Report (remember that guy?). Robert Mueller's report outlined ten instances in which Donald Trump may have criminally obstructed justice, but ultimately declined to indict on the basis that charges could not be brought against a sitting President. It was widely overlooked at the time amid this more dramatic headline, but Mueller also identified a number of other potential legal matters that were referred to other investigators. One of these matters related to potential wire fraud and FECA charges in relation to Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, which were then referred to New York investigators. These charges mark the culmination of this line of investigation.

How Serious are the Charges?
Very serious. Financial crime may not be as dramatic or easily understandable as some of the other things for which Trump is being investigated, but they are significant crimes for which people go to jail.

How Likely is Trump to be Convicted?
Of course, no one can make any reasonable prediction on this without knowing what the charges are and what evidence exists. That being said, from the information available now, our starting presumption should be that it is quite likely.

There are a few reasons for thinking this. Firstly, this is a grand jury charge. Grand jury charges usually result in a successful conviction. The main reason being that in order to even make the indictment to begin with you need to convince a jury that there is a prosecutable case. Different juries may come to different conclusions, and the burden of proof is different, but unless significant new facts come to light it stands to reason that if one jury is convinced, another could also be convinced.

More directly on this case, however, is that many of these facts have already been established in law. Cohen was ultimately charged in relation to these same crimes in 2018 and found guilty. Even more damning for Trump is that in that 2018 Cohen indictment, Trump himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. At the time, more than 1,000 Federal prosecutors formally issued a statement that Trump would have been indicted had he not been protected by presidential immunity.

So it is pretty clear that as far back as 2018 prosecutors felt there was a case against Trump here. I, for one, have been expecting an indictment on this since the day Trump left office and have been mystified as to why it has not materialised until now. Many speculated that it may have been shifted aside in favour of the larger ongoing investigations. It turns out this was not the case.

There have been suggestions that the case is weak, or that other investigators passed on filing charges. This is demonstrably untrue. Mueller didn't pass on the case, he referred it to New York because he felt it was outside the purview of his investigation. The Manhattan DA's predecessor didn't pass on it (in fact he explicitly came out saying that he felt there was a prosecutable case), the investigation simply wasn't complete until now.

There have been suggestions that there is political motivation behind these charges. This also appears unlikely. The investigation, of course, began under Trump's own administration, who clearly held no bias against him. This DA has, notably, passed on bringing charges in other Trump investigations (the asset valuation investigation), for which he was heavily criticised, making clear that he is being selective in his cases rather than simply grasping at whatever he can get. Most clearly, this indictment was voted on by a grand jury, not by the DA. So even if he was a partisan hack it wouldn't matter, the jury ultimately decided that there was a prosecutable case.

So ignore the spin, ignore the revisionist history. These charges are serious, and there is every indication that the case is strong, valid, and will end poorly for the former President.

What is Trump's Potential Legal Exposure?
This is difficult to say without further detail on the charges. But if, as believed, they include felony fraud charges, these could result in a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison each. If there are misdemeanour charges, these could each also result in a maximum sentence of a year, with fines or community service also a possibility. 

The problem Trump faces is that there are believed to be more than 30 such charges. These add up. If Trump is convicted on all charges, he will likely face many years in prison. At his age, that could potentially be the rest of his life.

How Will This Affect Trump Politically?
This is a legal matter. As far as I'm concerned, politics shouldn't come into it at all and so this part of the discussion should not be relevant. That said, Donald Trump is a political figure, one who is currently running for President, so such questions are inevitable.

I can't believe I need to say this, but being criminally indicted will not benefit Donald Trump politically. Anyone who suggests otherwise is speaking a load of nonsense or trying to drum up outrage and clicks. These are the same people who were convinced Americans didn't care about Jan 6 and that Republicans would accordingly romp to a MAGA-fuelled tsunami in 2022 that never materialised. It's not reality.

First, the obvious, Americans in general do not sympathise with Donald Trump on this matter. A wide majority of Americans believe that Trump did wrong and that the investigations against him are fair. Trump himself has extraordinarily low favorability ratings with Americans at just 34%. Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican party have fared poorly in recent elections, losing three election cycles in a row (2018, 2020 and 2022) as moderates flee in droves. His political influence only seems to be declining.

So even if his indictment does fire up support from the Trump base, his base alone does not appear to be enough to win a national election. The polling suggests that no one outside of his base is particularly sympathetic and it is difficult to imagine that changing. All the moderates who left Trump after Jan 6 aren't going to suddenly come back when he's been charged with mass fraud.

Then there is the practical impact of criminal indictment. If Trump is in the middle of a trial, or even in prison, that is going to reduce the amount of campaigning he can do. No more rallies, no live appearances. Anyone who thinks an effective modern Presidential campaign can be run from a prison cell clearly hasn't thought it through.

The Republican primary, however, will be interesting. Trump's wing still comprises a significant portion of the Republican voter base. So while their being fired up probably doesn't help Trump in a general election, I can see it potentially having an impact on the primary. Ultimately, though, I think this says more about the state of the Republican party than anything else. To be perfectly frank, if Trump's Republican rivals can't capitalise on such a gaping vulnerability, they're clearly in big trouble for 2024.

So despite what the right wing propagandists are telling you, despite what the media's outrage-mongers are saying to drive clicks, sometimes the obvious reality holds true. Being criminally indicted is bad for Donald Trump. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

What Happens Next?
The legal process can be long, this case is likely to drag out for a while yet, perhaps even beyond the 2024 election, but the future looks bleak for Donald Trump.

It looks even more bleak when you consider that this is just the first and, in the eyes of many, possibly the least substantial of Trump's legal exposures. It's entirely likely that Trump will be hit with further criminal charges in Georgia, or for Federal crimes, before this case is resolved.

For now, just appreciate what this moment represents. A man who has, for so long, evaded any manner of consequences for his actions, finally has gotten his comeuppance. Finally we have seen the proof that no one is above the law, no matter how powerful. I've seen a lot of sentiments reflecting on this as a dark, somber moment for the country. But I don't see it that way. This is an emphatic victory for America. This is a victory for democracy, the rule of law, and the fundamental values of fairness and equality on which the country is built.

Sunday, 12 March 2023


oscars 86th academy awards 2014
Welcome back to The Ephemeric. It is Oscar season again, and once again March is the month in which I know not the light of day. I could make the same joke as last year by copy pasting the intro blurb, but instead I'll just get straight to some predictions so we can all go on with our day.

This was actually a pretty tricky year to call. I am very torn between The Banshees of Inisherin and Everything Everywhere All at Once for the bulk of awards. Both are love it or hate it kind of movies that could really go either way depending on who's voting. Meanwhile many of the technical awards are being contested by an array of sumptuously produced but otherwise aggressively "just ok" films like Elvis, Avatar 2 and The Fabelans. I'm usually pretty accurate with these predictions, but who knows, this year could spring a few surprises!

Best Picture

  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Malte Grunert, producer
  • Avatar: The Way of Water – James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers
  • The Banshees of Inisherin – Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, and Martin McDonagh, producers
  • Elvis – Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, and Schuyler Weiss, producers
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, and Jonathan Wang, producers
  • The Fabelmans – Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg, and Tony Kushner, producers
  • Tár – Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan, and Scott Lambert, producers
  • Top Gun: Maverick – Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison, and Jerry Bruckheimer, producers
  • Triangle of Sadness – Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober, producers
  • Women Talking – Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Frances McDormand, producers
And the winner: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Who should really win: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Explanation: I am torn this year between EEAaO and Banshees of Inisherin. Banshees is a brilliantly made movie, one of McDonagh's best, but EEAaO is one of those once in a generation slices of insanity that will enthrall some and repulse others. My initial impression was that Banshees was the superior film, but EEAaO has grown on me since I saw it, for its ambition, its imagination. I think it will win the big prize today.

Best Director

  • Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin
  • Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans
  • Todd Field – Tár
  • Ruben Östlund – Triangle of Sadness
And the winner: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Who should really win: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert - Everything Everywhere All at Once
Explanation: As best picture goes, so also does best director often go. Hard to argue with a director who is able to make audiences weep over a scene of two rocks arguing.

Best Actor

  • Austin Butler – Elvis as Elvis Presley
  • Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin as Pádraic Súilleabháin
  • Brendan Fraser – The Whale as Charlie
  • Paul Mescal – Aftersun as Calum Paterson
  • Bill Nighy – Living as Mr. Rodney Williams
And the winner: Brendan Fraser – The Whale as Charlie
Who should really win: Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin as Pádraic Súilleabháin
Explanation: Another tricky one to call. Everyone is falling over themselves with praise for Brendan Fraser this year. But one suspects that a significant part of it is the story behind his career, his abuse and the shameful treatment he received. People like the story of the Brendan Fraser comeback. On the merits of performance, my pick goes to Colin Farrell for delivering a career best performance in Banshees.

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett – Tár as Lydia Tár
  • Ana de Armas – Blonde as Norma Jeane
  • Andrea Riseborough – To Leslie as Leslie Rowlands
  • Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans as Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman
  • Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
And the winner: Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
Who should really win: Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Evelyn Quan Wang
Explanation: No argument here, Michelle Yeoh is queen.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin as Colm Doherty
  • Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway as James Aucoin
  • Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans as Boris Schildkraut
  • Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin as Dominic Kearney
  • Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
And the winnerKe Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
Who should really win: Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Waymond Wang
Explanation: None here either, Ke Huy Quan's performance in EEAaO was astonishing, especially considering Quan has been out of acting for such a long time. That rare example of feel good hype that is actually justified by the work. What a story, what a performance.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Queen Ramonda
  • Hong Chau – The Whale as Liz
  • Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin as Siobhán Súilleabháin
  • Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Deirdre Beaubeirdre
  • Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki
And the winnerJamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Deirdre Beaubeirdre
Who should really win: Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once as Joy Wang / Jobu Tupaki
Explanation: I have a feeling the Academy will choose to recognise Curtis, as much for her performance as for her body of work over the years (as the Academy tends to do). I would actually have awarded this to her EEAaO co-star Stephanie Hsu, whose performance was simply spellbinding.

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  • The Fabelmans – Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
  • Tár – Todd Field
  • Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
And the winnerEverything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Who should really win: The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh
Explanation: Let me just say, EEAaO and Banshees would both deserve this prize should they emerge victorious, and with the way the hype train is going I expect they will go for the former. Banshee's masterful character study and wit makes for a marginally more deserving winner, in my opinion.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell; based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Rian Johnson; based on characters created by Johnson and the film Knives Out
  • Living – Kazuo Ishiguro; based on the original motion picture screenplay Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
  • Top Gun: Maverick – Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie; Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks; based on the film Top Gun written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
  • Women Talking – Sarah Polley; based on the novel by Miriam Toews
And the winner: Women Talking – Sarah Polley; based on the novel by Miriam Toews
Who should really win: Living – Kazuo Ishiguro; based on the original motion picture screenplay Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
Explanation: For my money, there is one standout film from this list, Kazuo Ishiguro's beautiful Living. A film that has flown surprisingly under the radars of the American awards bodies. Subtlety is a British trait, after all.

So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars tonight, and when the results go as predicted, remember that you heard it here first! 

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Created by Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann
Network HBO
Starring Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey
Genre Post-apocalyptic Drama
Running Time 45-80 minutes

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It is the TV series of 2023, so far, that everyone is talking about. But it's a smash hit that few saw coming. After all, The Last of Us is a videogame adaptation, one based on that most tired of genres, the zombie survival horror. By all accounts, it's not a concept that should have yielded anything of value. But HBO didn't see it that way and they were willing to invest the considerable talents of Craig Mazin, creator of the award winning Chernobyl into bringing this project to life. It's a gamble that seems to have paid off.

So how have HBO managed to pull this sleight of hand and succeed beyond all expectation? I think it is important to preface this discussion by stating that I have played the original game, although I was never a particularly big fan of it. I think The Last of Us, the videogame, is a perfectly decent title that has been hyped beyond all reason, lavished with praise for its storytelling which, in truth, is no more impressive that any number of other titles in gaming. I mention this in order to provide context when I say that, while I find the original source material to be slightly overrated, the TV series is absolutely brilliant.

Conceptually, The Last of Us sounds just like any number of post-apocalyptic zombie stories. A parasitic disease sweeps the world, turning people into zombies, resulting in the collapse of civilisation. The survivors struggle through a post-apocalyptic world where they must contend both with the overt horrors of the infected, as well as the hidden horrors of humanity's own greed and cruelty. Our free-spirited livewire of a main character Ellie makes a road trip across the post-apocalyptic United States with her gruff, emotionally repressed surrogate father figure, Joel, in the hopes of finding a cure and, well, saving the world.

There's a few things that elevate The Last of Us beyond the typical, beginning with the backstory and depiction of the crisis itself. There is nothing supernatural behind this zombie apocalypse, nor is it some lazy macguffin cooked up in a lab. Rather it is a cautionary tale based on a plausible, if highly unlikely extrapolation of real science, one that arises as a direct consequence of man-driven climate change. Second, and most important, is the focus on complex character-driven stories rather than gore and action. This world is full of deeply human stories. A young man who compromises his own integrity in order to protect his younger brother, an unlikely romance forged in the fire of apocalypse, a grieving father given a second chance to redeem himself for the child he was not able to save.

In many ways, the zombies themselves exist in the background of this story. The Last of Us is really about how we treat one another and how different people cope with extreme circumstances. It is these moments in particular, the attempts to find little pockets of humanity and hope in an utterly dystopian setting, that are most effective. In a genre where the character arcs are usually skin-deep contrivances to bridge the gap between zombie splatter and chainsaws, this is not really something we have seen before, at least not to this great an extent. These elements are all present in the games already, which is why they have been so well received, but the TV series takes it so much further, expanding and fleshing out nearly everything.

Then there is the execution. The Last of Us begins with a masterclass in world building, filling in hours' worth of detailed lore and alternative history through news headlines, talk show clips and flashbacks. It's an extremely elegant method for filling in the audience in a way that doesn't feel like soulless exposition and doesn't take too long to arrive at the dramatic story beats. These moments also do a fantastic job of fleshing out the world into something that feels lived in and real, showing us the societal and cultural impact of these moments, beyond just the action of the central narrative.

HBO also deserve great credit for taking such a bold and experimental format. This is a series so confident in its world building that it frequently has the bravery to break away from its main characters entirely to show alternate perspectives and stories set in this world. This is most notable in the third episode, essentially a self-contained film centred around two characters only briefly mentioned in the games. This is one of the finest episodes of television I have seen in years and has been widely acclaimed in particular. I would be stunned if it did not garner recognition come awards season.

I have already spoken about the depth of the characters, but crucially this is matched in the casting. If he wasn't already after The Mandalorian, Pedro Pascal is now a bona fide star, but in particular this series will surely serves as a launching point for the bright career of co-star Bella Ramsey. Even the smaller roles and guest parts are performed with aplomb, with that third episode's starring duo of Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett both being tipped for awards.

It goes without saying that The Last of Us stands as one of the best videogame adaptations of all time, admittedly not the highest of bars. But this an excellent series by any standard, one that stands out in a crowded genre and delivers a sublime example of to blend horror with character-driven storytelling.

Sunday, 5 March 2023

Hello and welcome back to 2023's final post from the Hot List. This week we will be looking at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2023 from March onwards, after the cutoff point for this year's awards season.

ephemeric hot list most best hottest anticipated new movies films 2023 exciting

2023 is so far shaping up to be a strange year for film. Usually, even at this early stage, you can get a pretty good idea of what films are coming out when, and which are likely to be the big contenders come awards season the following year. I don't know if it's from the disruption to film scheduling that has come about from all these online streaming production companies, but there seems to be a lot more ambiguity this year. A lot of films that are supposed to come out, but not set in stone, a lot of films supposedly close to completion, but without even a film trailer or poster to look at. It's odd this year. 

That said, there is still a lot of exciting stuff on offer, including a few tantalising debut filmmakers, as well as several of the old favourites like Fincher and Scorsese. If I have one observation from this year's selection, it's that there are a lot of biographical films and films based on real events. There's space there for something to come out of left field and really take the industry by surprise, much in the same way that Everything Everywhere All At Once did this year.

So without further delay, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. You Hurt My Feelings

you hurt my feelings julia louise dreyfus holofcener best most anticipated film movie 2023Julia Louis Dreyfus became a household name in the 1990s for Seinfeld, and more recently established herself as an awards calibre actress in Armando Iannucci's Veep. 2023 will see Dreyfus in her most significant starring role to date in a Hollywood film, with You Hurt My Feelings.

This is the latest film from writer/director Nicole Holfcener, herself a previous Academy Award nominee for Can You Ever Forgive Me?. This latest, which co-stars Tobias Menzies, sees Dreyfus play a struggling novelist, whose marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book.

You Hurt My Feelings had its world premiere at Sundance this past January to strong critical acclaim, and is expected to be a fixture when it releases later in 2023, perhaps even with a 2024 Oscar nod for Dreyfus?

Release Date: TBA 2023

14. Dune: Part Two

dune part two timothee chalamet best movies films 2023
The sprawling literary series of Dune has long held a reputation as unfilmable, at least over the duration of a film (a miniseries came pretty close). So when Legendary Studios committed the cash for a big budget, multi-part epic adaptation that may never have even seen completion had the first installment not been a success, it was one heck of a gamble.

Yet, against the odds and under the expert stewardship of Denis Villeneuve, Dune: Part One was a critical and commercial success. Its success means that we will get that second half to the story, with Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two will feature the same creative team and cast of the first film, following Timothée Chalamet's Atreides' thirst for revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family, and a greater focus on Zendaya's Chani, seen only briefly in the first film, as her group of Fremen collaborate with Atreides in this quest

The first film was an epic adventure that I can't wait to see concluded. Who knows where the series will go from there. There have been rumours of a third film and Legendary is said to be working on a TV spin off.

Release Date: November 2023

13. Asteroid City

asteroid city wes anderson best films movies 2023
Depending on your tastes, the occasion of a new Wes Anderson film may evoke excitement or tedium. Since striking gold with his award winning The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson's last few films have been met with decidedly more muted response. His next project, Asteroid City is said to hold loftier ambitions.

Co-written with Roman Coppola, Asteroid City is a period film set at a 1950s junior stargazing convention in the American midwest. The cast will, once again, feature a lengthy ensemble of big names, including many frequent Anderson collaborators such as Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, as well as big name newcomers Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Rupert Friend and many, many others.

Will Asteroid City break the Wes Anderson mould, or prove to be another exercise in cinematic excess? We will see when it releases this summer.

Release Date: June 2023

12. A Good Person

a good person zach braff best films movies 2023 scrubs garden state elizabeth pugh
Twenty years ago, then TV star Zach Braff released his directorial debut, Garden State. This was met with critical acclaim, with Braff being dubbed a filmmaker to watch, compared favourably by many with a young Woody Allen. It didn't quite pan out that way and his work since has been sporadic, but solid, if unable to evoke the same response.

His latest film, A Good Person, sees Braff step behind the camera completely. The rising Florence Pugh starts alongside Morgan Freeman in a tale about a young woman bonding with her would-be father in law, after a fatal accident. 

It's a drama rather than Braff's usual blend of dramedy, borne out of personal grief in the wake of the pandemic, but one which will strive to find optimism and meaning in strife. A Good Person releases in March.

Release Date: March 2023

11. The Holdovers

the holdovers paul giamatti best films movies 2023 alexander payne
The Holdovers marks a reunion for Sideways collaborators Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti. Payne has built an award winning career on satirical depictions of Americana, while Giamatti may well be one of the most celebrated actors not to have won an Oscar to date, although he was nominated in 2006 for Cinderella Man.

The Holdovers marks a return to smaller scale films after a few disappointing big budget turns from Payne. Giamatti plays a curmudgeonly teacher at an elite New England academy, forced to stay over the Christmas break to babysit the handful of troubled students with nowhere to go.

The film tested to enthusiastic review at the end of 2022, with a cinema release now slated for November of 2023 and potential 2024 Oscar nods in mind.

Release Date: November 2023

10. Dumb Money

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Based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, Dumb Money is a dramatization of the real life GameStop short squeeze of 2021, instigated by a ragtag band of Reddit trolls, that managed to stun Wall Street.

Hollywood does these absurd finance and current events stories well (see The Big Short, Too Big To Fail) and the man bringing this one to screen is Craig Gillespie, a man with a steadily growing body of fine work. Gillespie started in the indie scene with quirky films like Lars and the Real Girl, but has more recently moved into bigger projects, most notably the Academy Award winning duo of I, Tonya and Cruella

Dumb Money features an ensemble cast including Paul Dano, Sebastian Stan, Seth Rogen, Vincent D'Onofrio, America Ferrera and Anthony Ramos. Gillespie's reputation for stylish, high-flair, high-energy productions would seem a perfect fit for this story. This could well be the film that takes his career in another big step towards stardom.

Release Date: TBA 2023
An adaptation of the French graphic novel of the same name, The Killer follows the life of an initially unnamed assassin.

This adaptation comes from screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, best known for writing Seven, while directorial duties lie with the great David Fincher, with whom Walker collaborated on Seven. Fincher has a penchant for dark, heavily stylised filmmaking in the noir genre, The Killer would seem to be a perfect match for his style.

The title role will be filled by the always excellent Michael Fassbender, with a supporting cast that includes Charles Parnell and Tilda Swinton. The Killer will release on Netflix in November.

Release Date: November 2023

8. Rustin

bayard rustin obama george wolfe best films movies 2023
The first feature film to come out of Barack and Michelle Obama's production company, Rustin is a biopic about the life of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin. 

Fittingly penned by Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of Milk. Rustin is notable as a rare film credit for director George C. Wolfe, better known as the Tony Award winning theatre director of various productions, including Angels in America.

The title role goes to Colman Domingo, another highly decorated theatre and TV actor with Tony, Olivier and Emmy awards to his name. The supporting cast includes Jeffrey Wright, Chris Rock and the up and comer Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Rustin releases late in 2023 on Netflix.

Release Date: TBA 2023

7. Past Lives

past lives best films movies 2023
Past Lives marks the directorial debut of Korean-Canadian writer/director Celine Song, and may be one of the most exciting debuts in years.

A deeply personal character study of two friends reuniting after many years, told across three distinct periods of their lives. The cast is led by Greta Lee, an actress many will recognise from her TV work on Russian Doll and The Morning Show, and Teo Yoo, an actor well known in Korean cinema making his western debut.

Past Lives premiered at Sundance in January, receiving high acclaim as one of the best debut features in recent memory, as well as a likely contender for film of the year, even at this early stage. A wider release will come later in the year, but based on the buzz this could well be one of the surprise packages of 2023.

Release Date: TBA 2023

6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

spiderman spiderverse sequel 2 spidergwen across part one spider-verse spider-man best films movies 2023 miles moralesPixar have typically been considered the animation kings in recent years, and to a lesser extent Disney. So you can imagine the surprise when this unassuming Spider-Man animation from Sony managed to beat both (and Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs to boot) to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar back in 2019. It was deserved, Into the Spider-Verse was an outstanding film. 

In 2022 2023, we will see the sequel: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. The first in a planned duo of sequels, to be followed by Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse, along with an apparent Spider-Gwen spinoff that has been in development since the first film. 

This sequel will see Mile Morales traveling across the Spider-Verse, teaming up with an array of alternate Spider-Men to take on a new enemy. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller return as writers. The main cast of the original returns, Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, and Hailee Steinfeld. They will be joined by Oscar Isaac, who made a brief appearance in a post-credits scene in the first movie.

Spider-Verse 2 releases in June. 

Release Date: June 2023

5. Next Goal Wins

next goal wins taika waititi best films movies 2023 michael fassbender elisabeth mossThis one has been on my list for a few years now, but in 2023 it looks to be finally heading for a release, with a September premiere currently planned. 

Taika Waititi is having something of a moment, the New Zealand filmmaker and actor has come a long way from indie comedy hits like Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows to running the Thor franchise for Disney and, of course, his Oscar winning success with Jojo Rabbit.

His next film, Next Goal Wins, is based on the true story of Dutch football coach Thomas Rongen and his efforts to take the American-Samoa national team, then considered the worst in the world, to the 2014 World Cup.

Michael Fassbender stars as Rongen, and he will be joined by Elisabeth MossArmie Hammer, and long-time Waititi collaborator Rhys Darby.

Release Date: September 2023

4. Maestro

maestro leonard bernstein bradley cooper best films movies 2023Making the jump from actor to director is a challenge for anyone. But when Bradley Cooper made his debut as a director in 2018 with his remake of A Star is Born, it's fair to say he made a pretty good go of it. His follow up, Maestro, releases in 2023.

An interesting choice for a second film. Maestro is a biographical drama about the life of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, with a focus on his marriage to Felicia Montealegre.

Cooper will play Bernstein himself, with a strong supporting cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Jeremy Strong, and Maya Hawke. Maestro will release in late 2023.

Release Date: TBA 2023

3. Napoleon

napoleon ridley scott joaquin phoenix best film movie 2023
The idea of adapting the story of Napoleon into a historical epic has been bouncing around Hollywood for decades. Stanley Kubrick wanted to do it back in the day, then for years Spielberg was linking with adapting Kubrick's concept into a miniseries. But it was always just talk. Now, in 2023, Ridley Scott is finally bringing the story of Napoleon to the big screen.

The choice of casting is pretty much perfect. The diminutive demagogue himself will be played by Joaquin Phoenix, with Vanessa Kirby co-starring as Empress Joséphine.

Simply put, this is going to be one of the major players in 2023 cinema. Napoleon is expected to release through AppleTV+ by the end of the year.

Release Date: TBA 2023

2. Killers of the Flower Moon

killers of the flower moon scorsese dicaprio best films movies 2023
Martin Scorsese's long-gestating adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon will finally see release in 2023. 

Based on the non-fiction book of David Grann, this is the story of a series of murders in 1920s Oklahoma following the discovery of oil on local tribal lands. A core cast of Leonardo DiCaprioRobert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, with smaller roles for Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow

This film has been delayed time and time again, but the quality of the creative team behind it demands attention. It's an event whenever Scorsese releases a new film, and this will be no different.

Killers of the Flower Moon is targeting a summer release date through AppleTV+.

Release Date: TBA 2023

1. Oppenheimer

best films movies 2023 oppenheimer chris christopher nolanBut my number one pick for the year sees the return of the great Christopher Nolan with his latest project, Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer, as the name suggests, is a biographical film about scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, better known as the father of the atom bomb. Cillian Murphy stars in the title role, alongside an all star cast that includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman and many others.

Intriguingly (if you're a film geek like me) Nolan will be partnering again with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, one of the best in the business despite never having won an Academy Award. Perhaps this will be their year.

Oppenheimer releases in July and will be one of the year's biggest films.

Release Date: July 2023

So there you have it folks: The 2023 Hot List. I will be back with many more articles in due course, but for now let's make 2023 a great year together.

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2023 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting new music due for release in the coming year.

best anticipated new music 2023 albums hot list

If variety is the spice of life, then there has never been a finer time to be into music. Democratisation of music streaming and a departure from the traditional "album" has left us with an overabundance of new artists and releases each year. The sheer volume can be difficult to manage, which is why the act of curation is more vital than ever. With this year's Hot List, The Ephemeric aims to provide a concise and thorough list of the most exciting music coming from debut artists as well as returning favourites. Tastes may differ, but if you start your 2023 musical adventure off here, you won't go far wrong.

So without further ado, here is our list of the top albums to keep an eye on in 2023, starting with number 15:

15. MGMT

mgmt kids time to pretend new album 2023 best most anticipated music
MGMT are still best known for their trailblazing debut, Oracular Spectacular, released some 15 years ago. The singles from their first album, Time to Pretend, Kids, and Electric Feel, proved to be generational hits with longevity to this day.

It would not be accurate to say they have struggled since this strong beginning, so much as they have eschewed the familiar pop stylings that made them such an instant success. Their work since then has veered more into the experimental and genre-defying, to rather more divisive reception. 

This all seems to have changed with their most recent album, 2018's Little Dark Age, marking a return to the radio-friendly electronic pop that worked well on the debut. That album was a critical and commercial success, considered by many to be some of their best work to date. 

In 2023, the band is set to release a new, as yet untitled album. We have no idea what it will look or sound like; if it is to continue the formula of OS and LDA, or dive into something new entirely. Whatever comes of it, it's sure to be worth checking out.

Release Date: Summer 2023

14. "Bubblegum" by Biig Piig (New band)

bubblegum biig piig 2023 debut album best most anticipated new music
Next we have Irish performer Biig Piig, a consistent fixture on the music industry's one-to-watch lists for 2023. 

A series of EPs released over the last few years have generated considerable hype for the West London-based rapper and songwriter, including tracks such as Sunny and Feels Right. In 2023, her debut album Bubblegum will release and it has industry watchers very excited.

Biig Piig stands out for her unique, genre-hopping blend of pop and rap, with lead singles as disparate as the tender and delicate In the Dark and the more acerbic Kerosene (which I don't care for as much). There's considerable talent here and Biig Piig are likely to be a name we hear more going forward.

Release Date: January 2023

13. "Angels & Queens: Part II" by Gabriels

gabriels debut new album 2023 angels and queens part 2 ii best most anticipated musicLast year's winner of the Debbie for best debut album, along with a host of other lesser awards, 2023 will see an immediate follow up from Gabriels. 2022's debut album was intended to be released in two parts and in 2023 we will get Angels & Queens: Part II.

This soul-singing trio has been hotly tipped for success by many pundits in the industry and attracted glowing endorsements from heavy hitters like Elton John, who described last year's release as one of the most seminal releases of the past 10 years.

Gabriels' sound builds on the entire history of Black American music, with influences in gospel, soul and blues. Their debut release last year earned hype reviews and awards.  At the time of writing, no tracks have been released from the upcoming Part II, aside from the fact that it will feature the lead track from their 2021 EP, and still the best song they have written, Love and Hate in a Different Time.

Release Date: March 2023

12. "Continue as a Guest" by The New Pornographers

continue as guest new pornographers new album best most anticipated new music 2023While they may not be the flashiest name in the music industry, few things are as dependable as Vancouver rock band The New Pornographers putting out an album of catchy, crowd-pleasing tracks every couple of years.

Considered a supergroup, comprised of musicians who have succeeded either as solo artists or as part of other notable bands in the Canadian indie scene. I could spend all day listing out some of their memorable tracks, so here's just a sample: On the Table, Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile, and Challengers.

The band's latest album, Continue as a Guest is set to release in March and promises more of the same quality, with lead single Really Really Light boding well for what is to come.

Release Date: March 2023

11. Crawlers (New band)

crawlers best new most anticipated debut album 2023
While I am inherently skeptical of bands that go viral online, I will make an exception for Liverpudlian rock band Crawlers, who are set to cap two years of building hype with a full LP release in 2023.

The track that originally launched the group to fame, Come Over (Again) is just pure gold, but there is plenty else to admire with tracks like I Can't Drive released last year to similar praise.

This has all resulted in Crawlers being one of the more hyped bands of 2023, included in many of the industry's one-to-watch lists. That debut album should hit sometime later in 2023 and it is one to be excited for.

Release Date: TBD 2023

10. Tseba (New band)

tseba debut new album 2023 best most anticipated musicAnother new artist for 2023, Tseba have been making waves in the electronic music scene for their collaborations with genre artists such as JAM and Electric Fields.

Billed as a project to blend the old and new in electronic music, hearkening back to the roots of house with with a modern pop twist. Tseba's work manages to tap into nostalgia without sounding tired.

If tracks such as Must Be Love and Smile are anything to go by, then Tseba's reputation as one of the more exciting new songwriters in the dance genre appears to be well-founded. Their debut LP is going to be one ot keep an eye on.

Release Date: TBD 2023

9. Lemon Twigs

lemon twigs new album best new anticipated music 2023
Long Island art rock maestros Lemon Twigs have been going strong since their hype 2016 debut Do Hollywood

A smattering of EPs, tours with major acts like Arctic Monkeys, and experimentations in various nostalgia-tinted projects had been met with mixed success until their most recent album, 2020's Songs for the General Public nailed the formula. The result was some of their finest work to date, most notably hit single The One.

In 2023, Lemon Twigs are returning with a new, as yet untitled album that will build upon the band's niche in retro, harmony-rich rock and roll. Starting with recently released single Corner of My Eye.

Release Date: TBD 2023

8. Tommy Lefroy 
(New band)

tommy lefroy debut album best new anticipated music 2023
Next up, another exciting new artist in Tommy Lefroy, a London-based folk duo inspired by Jane Austen and musicians such as First Aid Kit and Phoebe Bridgers. 

Tommy Lefroy followed up their well received 2021 EP with a series of tours through Europe and America in 2022. Now they are hard at work at putting out their debut album, which is expected to release in 2023.

Folk duos are a dime a dozen, but Tommy Lefroy stand out for their lush instrumentals and impeccable production, with some superb tracks released with their EP, notably The Cause and Shoot. They have just put out the first track from their upcoming debut, Worst Case, and it is a gem of a track. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Release Date: TBD 2023

7. Jamie xx

jamie xx 2023 avalanches new album best most anticipated new music
The 2010s were a good time to be in the "xx" business. This was the decade where London rock band The xx took the world by storm with their trio of albums, and at the same time saw the launch of founding member Jamie xx's own highly successful solo career, in particular his platinum single Loud Places.

Now several years since either act has released a new album, both have been teasing an imminent release. Of the two, Jamie xx's as yet untitled third album appears to be the farthest along, allegedly in the final stages of editing before release. 

Little is known of this new album, other than that it will feature a collaboration with Melbourne's legendary plunderphonics duo The Avalanches, and is said to have been highly influenced by their sampling work with old records. We're expecting this to release sooner rather than later and when it does it will be one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year.

Release Date: Spring 2023

6. Fleet Foxes

fleet foxes new album 2023 best most anticipated music
Few bands evoke as much anticipation as Seattle's Fleet Foxes, one of the modern day masters of folk rock. 

Of their four albums to date, at least two have been bona fide masterpieces, including The Ephemeric's album of the decade, Helplessness Blues. Their most recent album, Shore marked a strong return to form and was one of the finest records of 2020, earning runner up position in the 2020 Debbies. 

In 2023, the band will release an as yet untitled fifth album. No tracks have yet been released, but the existence of the new record was confirmed during interviews following the recent release of new single A Sky Like I've Never Seen. This track itself is not expected to be part of the new record, written instead as the soundtrack to a new Amazon documentary, but if it is any indication Fleet Foxes are in fine form.

Release Date: Summer 2023

5. Braxe + Falcon (New band)

braxe falcon new debut album best most anticipated music 2023
One of the most exciting new projects in music. Braxe + Falcon is a new collaboration of legendary French producers Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon

2022 saw the release of the duo's first EP, Step By Step, a fantastic track featuring the unmistakable vocals of Panda Bear, lead vocalist of Animal Collective and highly successful solo artist in his own right.

The EP was well received, generating hype for what was to come next. A smattering of additional singles and remixes have followed to similar praise, but we're all really just waiting now for the inevitable full blown LP, confirmed recently to exist in a Reddit AMA. If, as expected, this sees the light of day in 2023, it will be one of the biggest releases in electronic music for the year.

Release Date: TBD 2023

4. "Urban Hermit" by Aloboi (New band)

aloboi urban hermit new debut album 2023 best new anticipated musicIt's finally here. A perennial item on The Ephemeric's Hot List, Aloboi has been building hype for years with a series of excellent EPs and singles. From the retro chill out vibes of A Pleasing Smile, to the more danceable electronic stylings of Want To Love, the classical remix of Night Train (Claire de Lune), or the dazzling genre mash up of Somebody Feel.

2023 will, at long last, see the release of a debut LP Urban Hermit. My first impression is that it is a shame for the LP not to include the hit singles that we have heard so far. While I am excited for entirely new music, I can't help but feel like they're leaving their star players on the bench. But make no mistake, this is still excellent music from one of the freshest composers in the industry today. Remember the name, because Aloboi looks set to become a mainstay in the electronic music scene.

Urban Hermit will release in February 2023.

Release Date: February 2023

3. "Cracker Island" by Gorillaz

cracker island gorillaz 2023 new album best new anticipated music
It feels like a long time since we have had a truly great release from Gorillaz. The Damon Albarn-led virtual band has been a core fixture in pop music for 20 years now, producing some of the world's biggest hits with tracks like Feel Good Inc19-2000, and On Melancholy Hill.

2010's Plastic Beach was a masterpiece and arguably the last great album from the group, with their more recent work, Humanz, The Now Now, and Song Machine: Season One, being met with more lukewarm reactions, despite the occasional nugget of gold. 

Their latest album, Cracker Island, looks like a return to the style of their older work, with excellent early singles Baby Queen and Skinny Ape boding very well indeed for what's to come. This could be a genuine return to form and is one of the most exciting albums to keep an eye on in 2023.

Release Date: February 2023

2. The Killers

the killers new album 2023 best new anticipated music
Next we have a band that requires absolutely no introduction. You all know their hits. The Killers are one of the world's biggest bands, now with decades of seminal work under their belt.

The band have been on something of a creative hot streak since the pandemic, with albums released in 2020 and 2021. 2023's as yet untitled album is set to make it three in four years, an impressive output in just a few years. Even more impressive is that these albums have represented some of their best work to date, with Imploding the Mirage, and Pressure Machine both releasing to immense critical acclaim.

So far just the one track has been released from the upcoming album, Boy, and it is a good one, with a danceable, electronic style that hints at a throwback to the pop stylings of Day & Age. I don't know how long the band can keep this up, but they are absolutely in the midst of a creative renaissance and long may it continue.

Release Date: Summer 2023

1. "Fantasy" by M83

fantasy m83 midnight city new album best most anticipated music 2023
But this year's number one most hotly anticipated album is Fantasy, the latest from French electronic music group M83.

This is not a group that releases music often. 2011's Hurry Up We're Dreaming was a masterpiece, ultimately finishing as runner up in The Ephemeric's top albums of the decade. But that was over a decade ago. The years since have seen a brief foray into 1990s kitsch and an experimental instrumental record released, but there has been no proper follow up.

That looks set to change with Fantasy, with the early singles indicating a return to the nostalgic 1980s pop with a modern twist that worked so brilliantly in HUWD and Saturdays = Youth. The tracks revealed so far are not just good, they're great. Oceans Niagra and Earth to Sea compare favourably with the band's best work and the rest of the tracks ooze quality. This could well be the successor to HUWD that we've been waiting on all these years, as well as an early album of the year contender when it releases in March.

Release Date: March 2023

So there you have it folks: 2023 in music. Tune in next week for this year's final Hot List, where we look at the most exciting new movies in 2023.

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