Overrated/Underrated 2015: Adele, the Weeknd and our increasing inability to feel
There’s a lot of pop culture to sort through week after week. Times staff writer Chris Barton offers his take on what’s up and what’s down in music, movies, television and just about anything else out there that’s worth considering.
UNDERRATED: Physical media
With Apple Music devouring iTunes, and Netflix more concerned with its awards show honors than whether you can rent “Two-Lane Blacktop,” those bygone relics you can see, hear and touch are worth savoring because Silicon Valley has no time for dead tech. If possible, spend money at your local record shop, bookseller, video store and, sure, in the year of “Spotlight,” deserving news outlet. Because as culture accelerates into the hazy future of the cloud, these deals are going fast.
OVERRATED: The outrage industrial complex
The Internet Age and its constant churn of news and gossip feeds most ravenously on one thing, and that’s anger. Anger about a tweet, anger about a response to that tweet, anger that pledges for prayers have become routine, as has anger that a favorite character may or may not have died at the hands of multiple stabbings and/or zombies. Maybe as the year draws to a close we might resist the instant adrenaline hit of impotent fury and take a few deep breaths instead?
OVERRATED: Our encroaching digital numbness
It’s not just you. Our always-on, virtually present culture that affords instant access to stories and images of all manner of first-person ecstasy and agony isn’t making us more empathetic, it’s enabling the opposite. Is it any wonder two of the biggest acts of the year — the Weeknd and Adele — specialize in raw declarations of after-hours emptiness and histrionic heartbreak (respectively) that, even if only vicariously, make us feel something, anything that’s real?
UNDERRATED: Equality beyond celebrity
Years from now it’ll be difficult to explain the brief frenzy that surrounded Caitlyn Jenner, but for all that saga’s adherence to ideals of magazine-cover beauty and the tabloid news cycle, what will live on is the swift movement that has brought trans rights to the forefront in 2015. But before history gives Jenner too much credit, let’s acknowledge the sensitively rendered stories that elevated our culture on TV in “Orange Is the New Black” and the graceful “Transparent.”
OVERRATED: Fan expectations
And with that in mind, may those of us who grew up on “Star Wars” somehow relax in our theater seats and experience these movies on their own merits. Contrary to the current fan-service culture of blockbusters, loving and memorizing these stories grants you no ownership to them beyond, of course, what they’ve sold you. Though these films will continue the most obsessed-over franchise in all of pop culture, let’s hope we can allow them to stand more as entertainment than sacred artifact.
Credit “Star Wars” for its distinctive effects, its adherence to the myth-making tradition cited by Joseph Campbell or its indelible performances by James Earl Jones, Harrison Ford and a weirdly affecting rolling trash can, but nostalgia is the mystifying engine powering this franchise for people of a certain age and, odds are, their children. You almost have to pity J.J. Abrams — he has to deliver a satisfying movie for both his audience and their most idealized movie memories from childhood. (Good luck with that.)
OVERRATED: The subtle promo effort of Disney
From a fan convention disguised as a weekend-long ad for “The Force Awakens” to teasers and trailers released as if etched into stone tablets, the hype behind of the next “Star Wars” has been exhausting. And thanks to the marketing might of Disney we can look forward to years of enough spin-offs, branded merch and theme park attractions to test even the most dedicated fans. Remember the low-fi ‘70s appeal of “A New Hope” and its action figures? It’s a galaxy far, far away.
UNDERRATED: George Lucas
The paterfamilias of this intergalactic money-making machine, Lucas has been a forgotten man in the new “Star Wars” films. And while it’s partly an earned fate given how wildly disappointing those prequels were for fans — who, let’s remember, weren’t Lucas’ intended audience anyway — there’s something a bit tragic about his lingering outside the frame of the new films’ promotional campaign while defending his filmmaking choices. Can’t we give him an animated “THX-1138” prequel, just for old time’s sake?
One of the most maddening aspects of Internet culture is that for all its boundless space, there’s so little room for middle ground. Born Claire Elise Boucher, this twentysomething Canadian artist is somewhere between a next-big-thing synth-pop visionary and an intriguing cult act who deserves more time to follow her eccentric vision. She doesn’t need to be named the pop star of the future just yet, as some hailed the fall release of her album “Art Angels” — and inevitably the coming tide of year-end lists.
UNDERRATED: The outdoors
What began as a hilariously incongruous return of beards, suspenders and vintage outdoor equipment to our stages and coffee shops may be pointing toward a promising shift in the culture. First, REI put a marker down for closing on Black Friday instead of inviting the herd to shop post-holiday sales, and then California state parks offered free admission the same day. Whether successful or not, it’s encouraging that the West is advancing the idea that there are many treasures unavailable in catalogs.
OVERRATED: Dystopian YA franchises
With “The Hunger Games” finally over and Jennifer Lawrence free to seek a life of artistic fulfillment beyond a bow and arrow, can we place a moratorium on plundering grim young adult bestsellers for future blockbusters? Not that there’s anything wrong with reverse-engineering some reading habits after a trip to the multiplex, but surely there’s more source material available out there that can, however improbably, imagine something other than a ruined totalitarian future.
UNDERRATED: David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’
Released by one of pop music’s true shape-shifters, the 10-minute title track for an upcoming album indicates that if nothing else, Bowie isn’t playing it safe. Amid nightmarish visuals from Swedish director Johan Renck, Bowie sings with a quavering voice and black buttons for eyes as a band of jazz heavyweights that includes saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Mark Guiliana steers the song further into unsettled waters. It’s as haunting as it is promising
OVERRATED: American Music Awards
If you feel a chill in the air, it’s not just a coming winter but the icy presence of product promotion as the ever-expanding awards season is upon us. Out of the many reminders of the existence of various films and albums ramping up over the next few months, Sunday’s AMAs at least deserves a little credit for acknowledging they’re little more than a popularity contest with its fan-voting conceit, but that doesn’t make their existence any more justified than its promise of another chance to hear Macklemore.
UNDERRATED: Liev Schreiber in “Spotlight”
There are a lot of strong performances in this understated retelling of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic church’s sexual-abuse scandal, but amid the pit-bull-like glare of Michael Keaton, the twitchily mush-mouthed Mark Ruffalo and the tenacity of Rachel McAdams don’t lose sight of Schreiber, an actor who’s deserved better of late than the underwhelming “Ray Donovan” and random comic cameos. As the paper’s determined new editor, Marty Baron, Schreiber gives the story’s pursuit a soft-spoken gravity.
OVERRATED: Jesse Eisenberg
Adept at projecting a particularly wordy sort of anxiety onscreen, Eisenberg was fun to watch as a dryly awkward new face in “The Squid and the Whale,” “Zombieland” and “Adventureland.” However, since “The Social Network,” he seems to have fallen into a rut as a too-smart-for-his-own-good overthinker with questionable motives, most recently in “The End of the Tour” opposite Jason Segel, who far more effectively disappeared as David Foster Wallace. Will an upcoming role as Lex Luthor really help?
UNDERRATED: Ben Monder’s ‘Amorphae’
A record as shape-shifting as its name, this release by one of New York’s most in-demand jazz guitarists charts an introspective course that’s seemingly engineered for the longer, chillier nights of the season. Featuring some of the final recordings by the late drummer Paul Motian for what was initially conceived as a duo project in 2010, Monder’s lush recording is rife with haunting textures and beguiling mystery backed by percussionist Andrew Cyrille and the subtle synthesizer work of Pete Rende.
UNDERRATED: ”71’ (2014)
A tense and occasionally incomprehensible film — those accents can run a bit thick — that offers a grim reflection of an incomprehensible time, this debut from director Yann Demange focuses on the chaos of the Troubles that consumed the city of Belfast. Centered on a soldier overwhelmed and lost on the streets after a riot, “‘71” hinges on the all-too-human thirst for blood in the madness of war, leaving easy ideas of right and wrong as difficult to grasp as smoke.
OVERRATED: Guinness World Records
They used to mean something as a resource for essential ephemera, such as how many automobiles could be jumped by a man in a cape riding a motorcycle. Now, they feel more like an artifact from a bygone era, like a “Battle of the Network Stars” rerun. Especially considering the Internet has leveled the playing field for those looking to chase fame via all manner of lunacy, their usefulness seems in question. It’s not as if we need more encouragement.
UNDERRATED: ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’
Implausible plot leaps, drawn-out fantasy sequences, big production numbers dedicated to West Covina — and that’s just in the first episode of this bright newcomer that arrived at the CW this fall after initially being developed by Showtime. There’s a lot going on in star and creator Rachel Bloom’s madcap sitcom-musical, and while not every moment works, there’s enough of a try-anything mania here to celebrate for its oddball potential.
OVERRATED: Throwback formats
With the vinyl and cassette revivals still improbably going strong (relatively speaking), local garage rock hero Ty Segall upped the ante last week as his label mailed out promotional copies of his new album on VHS. While it’s hard not to grudgingly appreciate the perverse idea of promoting music on a form of media that’s tough to find outside of thrift stores, it’s hard not to worry if this fetishizing of the old has now become a slippery slope. Can wax cylinders be far behind?
Unceremoniously shuttered last week by ESPN, this sports and pop culture site was loaded with talented writers and editors behind its former founder and unapologetic Boston homer, Bill Simmons. The writing was on the wall once the chilly relationship between Simmons and his network bosses exploded into his dismissal (he’s since landed at HBO), but the website’s legacy of enabling writers and their readers to follow their obsessions down surprising yet smart paths will leave a bigger mark than who won the World Series last week.
OVERRATED: The Beatles’ “1/1+”
Just in case you weren’t among the many who powered the Beatles compilation “1” toward becoming the fastest-selling album ever in 2000, the same package has returned to satisfy the many who have somehow don’t have enough means to hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Yesterday” at their disposal over the multiple repackages and reissues since their original release. Sure, this set adds a few more songs and music videos for the completists (at more than $50, naturally), but any price seems steep for music that’s as inescapable as gravity at this point.
UNDERRATED: ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ (2015)
Maybe not the most inviting title, but if you can transcend the fear of confronting mortality that’s an inevitable part of human experience you’ll catch one of the most subtly affecting films of the year. Adopted from Jesse Andrews’ novel and screenplay, the film is packed with a quirky, low-key humor reminiscent of Michel Gondry that avoids cheap sentimentality with graceful performances from Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and Molly Shannon.
OVERRATED: “Back to the Future”
Are they gone? The many nostalgia-drunk devotees to the boomer fantasia of Hill Valley along with its many opportunities for futuristic product placement and jigawatt-powered time travel who flooded L.A. filming locations last month? Good, because it’s time to admit that for all the multilayered nostalgia filling these films, they haven’t gotten better just because 30 years have passed. But let’s reserve some empathy for the superfans — we’re only five years or so from an inevitable reboot that will burn down people’s childhoods in ways no suped-up DeLorean can undo.
OVERRATED: The Weeknd’s “The Hills”
The No. 1 song in the country for multiple weeks, this single from vaguely nihilistic pop star Abel Tesfaye has a remarkable way of making you feel worse as you sing along. With Tesfaye’s voice pitched between a blacked-out groan and a wince, “The Hills” is a maze of drugs, numb sex and regret carried by grim electronics and an indelible, crushingly sad melody. It’s well-crafted but what does it say about pop today that a track full of so much emptiness resonates so strongly?
UNDERRATED: “A Chef’s Life” on PBS
A sort of inadvertent companion piece to Sean Brock’s season of network sibling “The Mind of a Chef,” this humble, human documentary series revels in the rich culinary traditions of the Carolinas. Centered on chef Vivian Howard as she explores her roots through the restaurant she and her husband opened in their North Carolina hometown after years in New York, the series warmly explores the unexpected tastes of the American South while reliably leaving you hungry for more.
OVERRATED: Pushing “Star Wars”
Unless you were in a mountain cabin this last week, you heard what time a commercial for the new “Star Wars” sequel was going to air, followed by seeing it reposted across the Internet the next day along with some of the film’s stars posting their reactions to the trailer on social media. While reserving a remote getaway may be the only way to avoid the unfathomable echo-chamber of hype once the movie actually comes out, it’s worth wondering if this film even needed to bother with a marketing budget.
UNDERRATED: St. Germain
The meeting point between jazz and club music as explored by artists such as those from Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint may seem like a new phenomenon, but France’s Ludovic Navarre forged an intoxicating meeting point between house beats and soul jazz on the 2000 album “Tourist.” Fifteen years later, Navarre and company are back with a self-titled release that includes ample touches of West African guitar for a trancey mix that’s as dedicated to the groove as it is toward movement.
UNDERRATED: ‘Casual’ on Hulu
As relative newcomers such as “You’re the Worst” and “Catastrophe” have proved, the half-hour TV comedy isn’t dead, it’s being reinvented. Mining a similarly dark but humanely funny linage as “Transparent,” this series explores the perils of Internet dating and the unconventional family dynamic between single-parent Michaela Watkins, who shines in the lead role, and her brother, played with an oddball anarchic edge by “The Mindy Project’s” Tommy Dewey.
OVERRATED: Men’s magazines
In a move that reflects the Internet’s unparalleled efficiency as a red light district, Playboy says it will move away from its history of photos of nude women to better allow its subscribers to truly “read it for the articles.” While it’s an overdue shift toward the magazine’s legacy of strong writing, the still-active subgenre of publications offering swimsuit issues and “Sexiest Women Alive” titles seems like a cultural relic akin to the “Miss America” pageant.
UNDERRATED: Esmerine’s ‘Lost Voices’
Something akin to a chamber orchestra having a spirited argument with a rock band, this Montreal-based ensemble recently released this dynamic new album, which offers the perfect soundtrack to the night growing a little longer. Featuring members of the apocalypse-invoking ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor and its offshoot Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Esmerine beautifully shifts from the ominous churn of “19/14” to the slow-burning atmosphere of “My Mamma Pinned a Rose on Me.”
OVERRATED: Tarantino’s tirade
Never a person who could be described as reticent in interviews, Quentin Tarantino has taken time out from repurposing grindhouse cinema to discuss both the arduous persecution he’s recently endured as a white filmmaker and how little he thinks of Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” Tarantino may not be the best judge, considering his giddily profane idea of mining historical drama for popcorn cinema, and anyway, isn’t there another genre homage revenge movie he should be making?
Spawned in the musical hub of Minneapolis, this indie collective may not show up on tastemaking outlets like Drake’s OVO Sound Radio, but for hip-hop fans looking for the intricate balance of wordplay and rhythm that made the genre explode, Doomtree is not to be missed. Featuring dense lyrics framed by dark, industrial textures, the group that includes magnetic emcees Dessa and P.O.S. appears at the El Rey on Oct. 17 in support of the album “All Hands.”
OVERRATED: The return of Will Smith
Long ago, Smith wasn’t just a groundbreaking sitcom star and Oscar-nominated actor. He also helped bring rap into the mainstream with radio-friendly hits like “Summertime,” “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and, of course, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” While his supposed return to the stage after recently releasing a remix track won’t offer more than wan nostalgia, we can at least be grateful this might keep him away from an “After Earth” sequel for a while.
OVERRATED: Rebooting ABC Family
Proving that TV isn’t all that interested in your family (at least from a revenue standpoint), this network has been rebranded as the mysterious-sounding Freeform. Will there be a slate of improv-based or otherwise category-defying programming? Of course not — expect the same “Pretty Little Liars” and “Young and Hungry” episodes served with a commitment toward the precious buying power of youth but without all that baggage of appealing to all ages.
UNDERRATED: Derek Waters of ‘Drunk History’
Comedy Central’s celebration of history and the very human habit of mangling facts while inebriated may not offer the same surprises five seasons on. But Waters deserves credit for not only being the show’s creator and comforting enabler but as a rock-solid sketch performer too, offering a genial charm in just about every surreal reenactment while knowing when to include, say, the unplanned barking of an offscreen dog into his character as well.
OVERRATED: The multiples of “Walking Dead”
There is a virus infiltrating our screens, and while there is a Patient Zero (AMC’s gargantuan hit), there seems no way to contain the disease as it steadily, chillingly mutates into less tolerable forms. “Fear the Walking Dead” arrived this summer, and soon the spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462,” shifts the story online and onto a plane. If left unchecked, future infestations could inspire bloody ennui in all settings and time slots, leaving us all … zombies.
UNDERRATED: “Digging for Fire” (2015)
Maybe the most approachable of mumble-core veteran Joe Swanberg’s chatty, quasi-romantic comedies, this film cowritten by star Jake Johnson maintains an understated, breezily watchable quality courtesy of strong performances. Partially centered on the possibility of buried human remains amid a couple’s tense house-sitting getaway, the movie is bolstered by the always excellent Rosemarie DeWitt and an edgily odd Sam Rockwell.
OVERRATED: Nancy Meyers
All due respect to a filmmaker who is close to a sure bet from a box-office standpoint, but since when did Meyers become a brand? With her name as prominent as the stars of her latest, “The Intern,” the creator of polished if predictable comedies such as “Father of the Bride,” “It’s Complicated” and “What Women Want” has become a retrograde genre unto herself. On the bright side, the upper middle class can still feel represented on-screen.
One of the few bands to successfully transition from wall-of-sound shoegazing act to bona-fide Britpop hitmaker, this British quartet led by vocalist Miki Berenyi was never able to follow its breakthrough album, “Lovelife,” after the suicide of the band’s drummer in 1996. Finally, the rising tide of ‘90s nostalgia is lifting all boats, with Lush’s music scheduled for the usual reissues and retrospectives, along with a 2016 reunion show in London (and, with a little luck, Coachella).
UNDERRATED: “The Overnight” (2015)
Maybe best known for the prosthetics required for the film’s full-frontal nudity (it will make sense when you see it, err, so to speak), this indie sex comedy starring Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman and “Orange Is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling manages to set aside a story that initially seems like a tired repeat of a swinger couple preying upon a fish-out-of-water couple new to L.A. for something that’s far more nuanced, honest and yet still very funny.
OVERRATED: Ryan Adams’ “1989”
A revered Americana songwriter, Adams was the talk of the Internet for his album-length take on the latest megahit by perpetually trending topic Taylor Swift. While Adams’ version offers some earthy guitar-splaining for anyone still uncertain of the album’s airtight songwriting, the long shadow of Swift’s massive capacity for instant publicity is hard to ignore — just ask Apple. Where does this album end and its marketing begin? And is there a difference anymore?
UNDERRATED: Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack for “The Knick”
With Steven Soderbergh’s unsparing look at a turn-of-the-century hospital entering its second season next month, listen for the perfect, oddly anachronistic electronic score provided by this artist, who was once a drummer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A mix of haunting synth drones and throbbing industrial textures, Martinez’s chilly backdrops are the perfect counterpoint to a show that provides plenty of warm blood in its own right.
OVERRATED: Rebooting “Heroes”
A once-promising series that vanished with a whimper five years ago, “Heroes” hasn’t been gone long enough to merit the new spinoff, “Heroes Reborn.” While all TV and movies will eventually involve either superheroes or a show that already happened — making another “Heroes” twice as inevitable — there must be better ideas to mine than a series whose lone effect is the careers of former stars Zachary Quinto and Hayden Panettiere (you take the good with the bad).
You may not see proof on any given music awards show, but there are still viable rock bands out there that don’t involve Jack White or Dave Grohl. Building on the twitchy promise of its 2008 debut, this British outfit may have recently found your ear with such singles as “Inhaler” and the hip-swerving “My Number,” which sounds like a less affected Vampire Weekend. The new album “What Went Down” mines a similarly eclectic, propulsive vein with infectious results
UNDERRATED: Desmin Borges on ‘You’re the Worst’
Created by Stephen Falk, this gleefully jaded romantic comedy series has earned raves for the unfiltered narcissism of its oddly charming lead couple, played by Chris Geere and Aya Cash. As the show enters its second season, don’t underestimate Borges, who portrays Geere’s intense, PTSD-afflicted roommate with a warmhearted mania that combines an overcaffeinated David Schwimmer with “Punch-Drunk Love”-era Adam Sandler.
OVERRATED: Kanye West’s ‘rants’
Our national capacity to be offended or otherwise infuriated by West remains unparalleled after his most recent TV appearance — an overlong speech at the otherwise forgettable MTV Video Music Awards — being labeled insane or a “rant” or a mix of both. West, who has two L.A. shows this week, remains a unique artist without much of a filter who can sometimes fall under the influence of his own fame, but let’s keep the crazy talk where it belongs: next to Ted Nugent’s name.
This bookstore turned full-service behemoth suffered a hiccup of outrage after an article questioned its grueling workplace practices. But here we are in September, and it’s so convenient how those boxes of stuff show up so fast while we’re awaiting the new season of “Transparent.” What’s a fan of Emmy-nominated TV to do? Want less stuff, maybe — or perhaps cycle through email accounts to enjoy as many 30-day trials of Amazon Prime as needed?
OVERRATED: Remaking “Point Break”
One of many decades-old movies slated for a comeback, this film directed by Kathryn Bigelow was never really loved for its merits. Among its many over-the-top, unintentionally hilarious charms: Blank slate Keanu Reeves is so wooden he drifts into self-parody, Patrick Swayze plays a surfer/haircut named Bodhi and Anthony Kiedis briefly turns up because it was the ‘90s. Without these left-field pleasures, any reboot is just an expensive energy drink ad.
UNDERRATED: Jemaine Clement in “People Places Things”
Best known as the slightly more funny-looking one in “Flight of the Conchords,” Clement has been coming into his own of late, first with the genially absurd “What We Do in the Shadows” and this quasi-romantic comedy. Though the film hits a few predictably indie notes and leaves its female characters (including “The Daily Show’s” Jessica Williams) mostly underwritten, Clement delivers a goofy warmth as a heartsick graphic novelist.
OVERRATED: “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”
Seeing alt-comedy all-stars Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler and others back again was a joy, but how often did you laugh? Despite the best intentions and an array of cameos, that kind of bizarro magic can’t be conjured twice. Much like “Arrested Development,” the series at best could only generate nostalgia, both for the anarchic spirit of the original and who we were when we first saw it. It’s a comforting feeling, but it’s rarely funny.
UNDERRATED: Huntsville’s “Pond”
Existing on unsettled territory amid spaced-out jazz, improvised post-rock and minimalist classical music, this Norwegian trio isn’t easy to classify. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore as well as Wilco’s Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are among their recent collaborators, and you can hear hints of that sort of company with this album’s hazy blend of percussion, bent guitar and an insistent rhythmic pulse, particularly on the pedal steel-shaded mini-epic “(ER).”
OVERRATED: Being young in New York
There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and with “Girls,” “Broad City” and roughly every third indie film in recent years we’ve probably seen all of them. Not to say it’s time for all of our entertainment to go rural (least of all “Broad City”), but with the arrival of yet another movie set amid the magic of making it happen in New York (Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America”), maybe it’s time to consider how many other interesting cities are available.
UNDERRATED: “Residue” on Netflix
Described by its creator as an “extended pilot” for a full-length second season, this three-episode newcomer compares nicely with the dystopian sci-fi TV of “The X Files” and “Black Mirror.” Led by “Game of Thrones” stars in Natalia Tena and Iwan Rheon, the series begins with a mysterious explosion, a government cover-up and a black fog that kills people in dramatic fashion. In short, all the dark thrills the dog days of summer demand.
UNDERRATED: Nina Hoss in “Phoenix”
The German-born actress hasn’t been seen often on these shores, but she’s worth tracking down in this import. The movie’s central conceit requires a leap of faith, but Hoss is transfixing as a disfigured concentration camp survivor hoping to reunite with her husband. A shattered husk as the film begins, Hoss undergoes a gradual yet ultimately powerful transformation as she begins to reclaim her former life as a nightclub singer.
OVERRATED: American Authors’ “Go Big or Go Home”
Less of a song than a ski resort bumper sticker set to music, this would-be summer anthem has stubbornly refused to go away. Heard during the NBA playoffs, the first single from the band’s upcoming album mixes the glossily lunkheaded jock jams of Imagine Dragons with the shout-along choruses and inexplicable banjo of Mumford and Sons. With luck, it’s on track to earn the same longevity as Magic’s “Rude,”
UNDERRATED: Ben Mendelsohn
It has been a while since we’ve had quite such an immediately unsettling screen presence as this Australian. He’s a chronic scene-stealer as the (apparent) bad seed brother in Netflix’s flip-flop noir “Bloodline” and in the film “Slow West,” in which he plays a bounty hunter with a penchant for fur. With a piercing gaze and a palpable air of unpredictable menace, Mendelsohn will add a welcome edge to next year’s “Star Wars” spinoff.
OVERRATED: The Who at iHeartRadio
Proving that corporate radio can always spot a trend, the coming IHeartRadio Festival has dug deep with its annual lineup, calling on a roster of hitmakers that includes Kanye West, Sam Smith and … The Who? All due respect to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, but isn’t the whole point of having influential, impossibly lucrative careers such as theirs to not have to kiss the ring of pop radio with an abbreviated set? Guys, you won — you don’t need them anymore.
UNDERRATED: Great Lake Swimmers’ ‘A Forest of Arms’
Led by the breathy vocals of Tony Dekker, this Canadian band debuted in 2003 as spiritual siblings to the reverb-soaked My Morning Jacket. But where Jim James and Co. turned toward wide-screen rock, Dekker looked inward as well as outside (this album was partly inspired by his work with the World Wildlife Fund), crafting delicate yet propulsive chamber-folk that’s born for summer’s golden hours. Start with “Shaking All Over.”
OVERRATED: ‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’ (2015)
This indie drama starring Rinko Kikuchi has a pleasantly quirky structure in an urban legend about a depressed Japanese woman showing up in Minnesota supposedly obsessed with “Fargo” (Hint: She isn’t). Still, despite some beautifully desolate depictions of Tokyo office life and a frozen Midwest, watching the inevitable descent of mental illness is not a very good time. Maybe the Coen brothers could have directed?
OVERRATED: Musician feuds
Drake versus Meek Mill. Taylor Swift versus Katy Perry. Kanye West versus any artist who would prefer if hip-hop got off their lawn — who cares? Well, unfortunately, we do, which is why when Taylor tweets to Nicki Minaj it burns up the Internet as readers race to pick a side. If you want to argue about a band’s merits, go find another fan in a bar. But hearing the rare successful musician bicker in the streaming era is like watching first-class passengers fight over an eclair.
UNDERRATED: The Onion’s new ‘Edge’ series
The twisted minds of the Onion have taken on newspapers and a listicle-crazed Internet (the steadily subversive Clickhole), and now they’re targeting the new generation of journalist adventurers with this new Web series. Armed with an Atrocity Tip Line and a pledge to “throw acid in the face of ignorance” with its videos, “Edge” takes aim at the global horror tourism that often hangs over the ambitious but grandstanding reporting of Vice.
OVERRATED: What happened to Jon Snow
If it’s a day that ends with a y, someone is speculating about what comes next for one of the last remaining heroes on “Game of Thrones,” a show that has come to resemble the NFL in that there is no off-season. The other day it was an HBO exec confirming that yes, all was as it appeared, which as any conspiracy fan knows is exactly what he’s supposed to say. Take a breath. The show, if nothing else, will come back and let us know.
UNDERRATED: Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ album
Mired in an isolated, post-Beatles psychedelia loop since the growling Black Sabbath stomp of the single “Elephant,” Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala has set guitars mostly aside for its latest record, and it’s a brilliant shift. Feeding R&B, synth-disco and pop through an oddly despairing album that sometimes captures a meeting point between the Black Keys and Abba, “Currents” is the heartsick dance music of the future, and it sounds remarkable.
UNDERRATED: Lianne La Havas’ “Blood”
Led by the Bond-theme-in-the-making first single, “Unstoppable,” the sophomore album from this London-born singer-songwriter builds on her Mercury Prize-nominated debut with a rich, genre-skipping sound you’d expect from someone who can seamlessly guest on albums by funk demigod Prince and indie rock’s Alt-J. From the irresistible girl-group sass of “What You Don’t Do” to the guitar-shaded funk of “Tokyo,” La Havas sounds ready for liftoff.
OVERRATED: The second act of James Murphy
Over three terrific albums, Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem defined the late ‘00s by combining indie rock and dance music. However, since retiring in 2011, Murphy has become a near-parody of precious urban obsessions, helping craft an artisanal coffee roast, opening a Brooklyn wine bar and, most recently, campaigning to replace New York City’s subway tones with his own “bloops and bleeps.” Can someone get this guy back into a studio with a band, please?
UNDERRATED: Jordan Peele on “Key & Peele”
With the word that Comedy Central’s dynamic duo is in its final season, let us salute the half of the team who, inexplicably, did not receive an Emmy nod like his partner, Keegan-Michael Key. Whether as the jarringly high-pitched Meegan, our reticent president or one of two cinema-addicted valets in a body of work that redefined sketch comedy, Peele is one of comedy’s brightest stars, and there’s no doubt we’ll see him again — hopefully with Key as well.
OVERRATED: Actors’ physical “transformations”
With the release of “Southpaw,” much was made of Jake Gyllenhaal hitting the gym to look less like a creep who stops blinking to break into TV news (“Nightcrawler”) and more like someone who can take a punch. Setting aside whether any stories are really left to tell about underdog boxers, let’s hope the academy resists honoring another performance in which an actor fixates on his body for a role. Judging by any red carpet, that’s already part of the job.
UNDERRATED: Garrison Keillor
The creator and host of the public radio staple “A Prairie Home Companion,” Keillor has been easy to take for granted with his wobbly voice, intermittently amusing sketches and a sibilant “S” powerful enough to summon a German shepherd. But after his retirement next year (Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile will take over), weekends will sound a little less quaint and, in the case of Keillor’s open-hearted Midwestern monologues, a little less quietly subversive.
UNDERRATED: ‘Wild Tales’ (2015)
A six-part anthology of black-humored revenge, this Oscar-nominated import from Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifrón blends the dizzy visuals of Pedro Almodóvar (who also produces) with the giddy mayhem of Quentin Tarantino. Served with a welcome side of social satire, this film will be important to remember after Szifrón has gone through the wringer putting words in Mark Wahlberg’s mouth for an unfortunately inevitable “Six Billion Dollar Man” remake in the works.
OVERRATED: Future’s ‘DS2’
Future is the biggest star in the galaxy of spare, bass-heavy beats and electronics in the hip-hop hybrid known as Trap music, and his latest is a woozy valentine to going out and getting out of your mind, preferably with a mix of cough syrup and soda called lean (the album’s initials stand for “Dirty Sprite”). There’s no arguing with the theme, which is basically as old as pop itself, but maybe it’s the substance that makes such a supposedly rowdy record sound so sleepy.
OVERRATED: ‘It Follows’ (2015)
Hailed for its originality and mumblecore pacing, David Robert Mitchell’s film also deserves credit for underscoring the long-held relationship between teen sex and death in horror movies, but let’s hold off before anointing it a classic. Though it’s worth praising any film that doesn’t insult our intelligence in a genre where two shadow puppets under the “Insidious” banner could be a hit, other newcomers like “The Babadook” are scary while also making sense.
UNDERRATED: The return of ‘Bloom County’
Abandoned by creator Berke Breathed and relegated to hardbound compendiums and hazy ‘80s memories, the beautifully absurd “Bloom County” was a tentpole of a newspaper comics boom that included “Calvin & Hobbes” and “The Far Side.” After 25 years, Breathed relaunched the strip on his own Facebook page last week, and as long as Opus, Bill the Cat and the rest have grown no less goofy with age, the world’s a better place.
OVERRATED: Lana Del Rey’s ‘Honeymoon’
Only in our overstimulated 2010s could an artist like Lana Del Rey reach pop stardom. A glamorous funhouse mirror of detached emptiness who gains depth by reflecting our own emptiness (or something), Del Rey recently released a new single, which takes the gauzy soul of Dusty Springfield and feeds it through the narcotic haze of Mazzy Star under overripe strings. It’s almost interesting to hear so little energy expended to make you feel nothing.
UNDERRATED: ‘The Jim Gaffigan Show’
Once best known as a source for “Murphy Brown” reruns and original sitcoms that seemed birthed from a ‘90s television time capsule (“Hot in Cleveland”), TV Land has reached another level with this new series. Though built around the seemingly tired premise of a character loosely based on a stand-up comic, the show rises on a supporting cast that includes “The State” alum Michael Ian Black and Gaffigan’s dryly twisted take on raising a family.
OVERRATED: ‘Go Set a Watchman’
No book’s recent release has generated as much discussion as this one, which is being marketed as a sequel to the beloved classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” (in case you’ve been living on Pluto the last few weeks). The concerns about key characters behaving out of character are enough to view the novel with some hesitation, but its standing as a rough draft by author Harper Lee reveal its status as more of a lucrative curiosity than a continuation.
UNDERRATED: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
If you know Nina Simone’s music only from the occasional commercial soundtrack, you owe it to yourself to watch this new documentary. A musical powerhouse who could take on classical, jazz and gospel for a sound that was all her own, Simone and her tragic story gain renewed power in the hands of director Liz Garbus, further illuminating a legacy of moving music and furious activism that remains unparalleled.
This weekend San Diego has been overrun by an all-consuming force hellbent on perpetuating only itself and its future — and then there were the comic books. While the spirit of fan community is worth celebrating, Hollywood has transformed Comic-Con into a perpetual motion machine for hyping upcoming movies and TV franchises that fill most of the calendar year. Maybe we need an annual fan convention to honor what little that doesn’t fit under its umbrella.
UNDERRATED: Micachu & the Shapes’ “Oh Baby”
Led by Mica Levi, this British band operates with the precision of an experimental architect, using odd tunings and sound fragments in weirdly irresistible songs such as “Golden Phone” and “Lips” from its 2009 debut, “Jewellery.” After crafting the soundtrack for the equally unusual “Under the Skin,” Levi is back with a new single, and its mix of echoed percussion and distant vocals sounds like a love song winding through a plumbing system — in the best way.
OVERRATED: The new models
New media have been looking an awful lot like old media lately. Hulu seemed tethered to a dead model by including unskippable commercials with its subscription offerings, and now Netflix is tilting that way by including ads for its own shows before some of its programming. Apple Music, the streaming offering from a company that helped kick-start the MP3 era, includes a curated component that’s a lot like radio but ad-free (so far). The ‘90s really are back.
Second only to “Transparent” as justification for Amazon Prime, this new series proves there’s still life in romantic comedies involving full-grown, thinking adults. Co-created by amiably vulgar Twitter id Rob Delaney and Irish writer-actress Sharon Horgan, the show expands the familiar idea of a one-night-stand that develops into something more on the strength of an unpredictable honesty and a sharp wit that comes with a surprisingly warm heart.
OVERRATED: The Amy Schumer backlash
The brash stand-up comic behind the sexism-skewering Comedy Central series “Inside Amy Schumer” got caught in the contrarian media cycle last week as an essay questioning her track record on race was fed through the Internet’s click-driven hall of mirrors and spurred a mini-controversy. While there’s no doubt culture can do so much more to fight inequality, the sooner we let comics be comics and not always all things to all people, the funnier our world will get.
UNDERRATED: Mbongwana Star’s‘ ‘From Kinshasa’
Hailing from the Republic of Congo, this seven-piece group finds a groove-heavy mix of West African guitar music, psychedelia and fuzzy post-punk that’s as unfamiliar as it is magnetic. The distorted thumb-pianos of the Grammy-winning group Konono No. 1 make a guest appearance to underscore the group’s first single, “Malukayi,” but it’s the propulsive “Nganshé” that showcases this band’s otherworldly power.
OVERRATED: Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’
A narcotic-level dose of ‘80s nostalgia and gaming culture dressed up as a dystopian sci-fi thriller, this book earned wide acclaim, captured the eye of Steven Spielberg and is nearly unreadable once you get past a strong premise. Full of wooden dialogue and predictable characters, the book reflects the simple plots of the classic video games it admires. Hopefully Cline fares better in his next gaming-tilted offering, “Armada,” due next week.
OVERRATED: ‘Inside Out’
Pixar’s reputation for storytelling is unmatched among film studios, much less other animation houses. And while its ambition is intact, something still felt off as its latest film progressed, as if the audacity of building an abstract world around emotions and memories overshadowed a strangely tensionless story. Though the film’s core message resonates, maybe it says more about modern life that a film daring to consider sadness part of life is hailed as revolutionary.
UNDERRATED: Bully’s ‘Feels Like’
In case the planned reboot of roughly every film and TV franchise from the decade wasn’t enough proof, here’s more that the ‘90s are back. While the results of nostalgia are bound to be uneven, this Nashville quartet conjures the catchiest grunge-pop of the decade led by the raw energy of Alicia Bognanno. Singing with little to no regard for her future vocal health amid a storm of fuzzy guitars, Bognanno’s lyrics carry an unfiltered honesty that fits right in with the Tumblr era.
OVERRATED: Colin Farrell on ‘True Detective’
The jury may be out on the new season of HBO’s crime and excessive punishment bleak-a-thon as it leaves behind the surrealist camp of Matthew McConaughey, but it’s disappointing to see this actor so misused. Gruff and glowering behind a ‘70s mustache, Farrell shows none of the quick-witted charm of his best roles in “In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths” or even “Fright Night.” Just imagine this show’s heavy brooding cut with a trace of humor.
UNDERRATED: Getting Doug With High
Only “Super High Me” star Doug Benson could host this video podcast, a spiritual sibling to Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” that hinges on getting funny people together to smoke marijuana and talk. Sarah Silverman, chef Roy Choi and the stars of “Broad City” have been among the guests, and although the show couldn’t exist in some states it offers a safe, often silly reflection of an ongoing culture shift where the only thing damaged is linear conversation.
An electronic duo who charted a course for electronic dance music in the ‘90s with the massive hit “Born Slippy” (heard on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack), Underworld and its dynamic frontman, Karl Hyde, proves that dance music reaches its most transcendent heights with a human touch. Hyde and partner Rick Smith perform from a surprisingly timeless back catalog, including the reissued 1994 album “Dubnobasswithmyheadman,” at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday.
OVERRATED: James Taylor’s “Angels of Fenway”
A revered folk-pop singer-songwriter, James Taylor’s recent comeback album “Before This World” will surely make his fans happy. That said, its earnest tribute to his hometown Red Sox and their 2004 World Series win is a musical abomination. A bizarrely reggae-tinged yarn with the sort of ham-fisted chorus best suited to public July 4 celebrations, this attempt at a sports anthem may have cursed the team all over again.
UNDERRATED: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (2015)
The world has been a darker place without the guileless absurdity of “Flight of the Conchords,” and thankfully half of the duo, Jemaine Clement, is back with this amiably silly horror-comedy, which he wrote and directed with costar Taika Waititi. Perfectly structured in documentary style, the New Zealand import follows the oddly mundane lives of three vampire roommates who divvy up the chores and try not to stand out while satisfying their thirst for blood.
OVERRATED: Aziz Ansari
With a steady run of stand-up specials, this former “Parks and Recreation” star is probably the biggest comic in the world to get this far without actually being funny. With an energetic delivery and a surprising number of stories about a proximity to Kanye West, Ansari doesn’t have much to say, but he’s now written a book called “Modern Romance,” an examination of love and online dating from the perspective of a famous person who does not date online. Now that’s funny
UNDERRATED: The Women’s World Cup
Sure, it’s spawned by the same money-devouring hub of institutional corruption that is FIFA, but if you can set aside the source — and the inexplicable artificial turf — this marathon event will offer as many if not more skills and thrills than the Brazilian boondoggle that was last year’s men’s tournament. For extra intrigue, count just how many calls go against the powerful U.S. team as retribution for taking down the head of international soccer’s governing bod
OVERRATED: Your MP3s
: Remember when Apple’s ads made a computer choice feel like an artistic statement? The “Think Different” days seem long gone as the company enters the streaming music field with Apple Music, a service mostly distinctive for its impending unavoidability if you use iTunes. For years Apple sold digital music, but you have to wonder how much longer it will care about your purchases now that it courts truckloads of cash in monthly rental fees. Stock up on CDs now.
UNDERRATED: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s “Surf”
A rewarding thread running through pop music of late is the bold underscoring of the connection between hip-hop and jazz on albums by Robert Glasper, Kendrick Lamar and others. Among the latest is this free download from Chicago trumpet player Nico Segal and indie favorite Chance the Rapper, who call on guests such as Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe to craft a category-defying album rich with twisted funk and R&B.
OVERRATED: “Game of Thrones” going off-book
Given the realities of television, HBO’s epic series had to race ahead of George R.R. Martin’s still-gestating fantasy saga and into new directions. Still, as an uneven fifth season closes this week there are some red flags, including rushed character shifts, a tiresome repetition of cruelty to women and, last week, a dragon-assisted action sequence that came together with the CGI subtlety of “Clash of the Titans.” Hopefully the game can still change.
UNDERRATED: Algiers, ‘Algiers’
Of the many styles of music capable of decrying social injustice, gospel has the most storied legacy, and traces of its ecstatic fervor are all over this debut. A politically charged trio that at times recalls the barbed mix of soul and electro-punk in TV on the Radio, Algiers is fueled by the furious howl of Franklin James Fisher, whose flame-throwing vocals transform lines such as “when it falls down, you’ll know exactly who we are” into something like a promise.
OVERRATED: Actors’ opinions
Last week, Vince Vaughn inspired about 100 times more chatter than his last three comedies with his opinions on the country’s gun violence problem. While there’s nothing wrong with his plotting a potential career shift to libertarian punditry (hey, it worked for Dennis Miller), you have to wonder what spurred the curiosity about his thoughts, apart from his lawless turn in 1998’s “Clay Pigeons.” Shouldn’t he be starring in a joyless “True Detective” promo somewhere?
OVERRATED: Remaking ‘Big Trouble in Little China’
There will never be a shortage of skepticism when it comes to Hollywood’s appetite for reworking the familiar, but the recent news of plans to reboot this throwback from John Carpenter seems particularly bizarre. A bomb by today’s standards in its 1986 debut, the film became a cult favorite behind the self-aware ineptitude of Kurt Russell, but what are the odds that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can sell the film’s dated stereotypes to the Chinese market?
UNDERRATED: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Last seen navigating political intrigue as an ambitious reporter in Denmark’s celebrated TV drama “Borgen,” Sørensen has made inroads on these shores of late as Anna Kendrick’s character’s rival in “Pitch Perfect 2” and a steely wildling clan leader on “Game of Thrones.” Though her ax-wielding warrior showed promise, she (of course) couldn’t last in George R.R. Martin’s world, but her luck hopefully runs better in HBO’s coming Scorsese-produced ‘70s rock series.
UNDERRATED: Joe Pug
An earnest, straightforward folk artist who lacks the indie-rock vocal tics or rustic facial hair that could land him on tastemakers’ radar, this singer-songwriter just released another gracefully heartfelt album in “Windfall.” A descendant of the rootsy yet soulful storytelling of Steve Earle, John Hiatt and more spare moments of Wilco, the 30-year-old Pug only offers his craft as a talking point on standout tracks such as “Pair of Shadows,” and luckily that’s plenty.
OVERRATED: Jazz prodigies
Any fan knows that the semi-annual cries that “jazz is dead” have no merit (though another such story is surely due any minute now), but the odd habit of jazz labels to sign child talent doesn’t help. Two recent prodigies, teenagers Emily Bear and heavily buzzed Balinese pianist Joey Alexander, are gifted beyond their years, but promoting such efforts over works by full-grown artists also deserving notice feels off, like watching a rich tradition being reduced to a sideshow act.
UNDERRATED: ‘Scrotal Recall’ on Netflix
There aren’t many shows with the fortitude to try topping “The Slap” for worst series title, but this British import deserves better than its giggly middle-school gag of a name. The pun is at least justified given the series spins on a young man (Johnny Flynn) working back through his hapless dating history after an STD diagnosis, but the flashes of heart in a star-crossed romance with Antonia Thomas help lead the show above its laddish material.
OVERRATED: ‘Lip Sync Battle’
Best known as the network you accidentally found while looking for TNT, Spike stumbled upon a hit in this cloying, Internet-courting competition, which spun off from the cloying, Internet-courting universe of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.” Full of glossy production and basically risk-free because no one is actually singing, the show points to a brave future where celebrities can quasi-fulfill all our televised performance needs. There’s an election coming, is anyone free?
UNDERRATED: Torres’ ‘Sprinter’
Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott’s latest isn’t immediately approachable — at times, it sounds too familiar, like a pastiche of PJ Harvey’s thorny noise and the raw confessional narratives of Sharon Van Etten. Though those ingredients are unquestionably terrific jumping-off points, Torres reaches greater heights on the unsettlingly spare “Son, You Are No Island,” which is built on Scott’s haunted, quavering voice and a magnetic slow burn.
OVERRATED: Tyler, the Creator
If an Internet troll could be given a skateboard and an overhyped hip-hop crew, you would have this controversy-courting rapper. Once, Tyler was regarded as one of the top talents on the L.A. scene with his group Odd Future (ah, 2010), but his music has long since been eclipsed by that of bandmates Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt, and recent stunts, such as a rainbow-colored appropriation of a white power cross to prove he’s not homophobic, feel like tired shtick.
UNDERRATED: Steve Coogan in ‘Happyish’
Though stepping into a role intended for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, this underappreciated (on these shores, anyway) British actor owns and upgrades what’s otherwise a too-familiar story of a dissatisfied upper-middle-class white dude squaring off against a cruel modern world in a fabulous home. Still, Coogan’s barbed comedy steals the show, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with “Alan Partridge” or “24 Hour Party People.”
OVERRATED: Bill Simmons
When news broke that this sportswriter had been let go by ESPN, you’d have thought a state leader had been deposed. As influential as Simmons was in bringing a funny, everyman’s perspective to sportswriting, as well as the “30 for 30” documentary series and the pop culture-immersed Grantland site, ultimately, the dude-friendly one-liners and “Rounders” references of his columns were growing stale. May his next move be as surprising as his earliest ones.
OVERRATED: Looking back and to the East
Last weekend, a civic-minded segment of the Los Angeles-based Internet lashed out when a publication a few thousand miles away waved its stylish fairy wand and declared our city suitable for artistic New Yorkers. While we’re grateful (mostly), who has the time to rebut every point in such an inevitably ill-informed and myopic story? We’re just waiting for our thank-you gift baskets from Portland, Ore., now that we’re the ones stuck taking in Little Brooklyn.
OVERRATED: The durability of ‘Duck Dynasty’
While a fascination with watching this opinionated band of bearded reality TV stars continues, it’s oddly heartening to learn the appetite for the many adventures of the Louisiana-based Robertson family may be trending downward with news that an inexplicable Las Vegas production of “Duck Commander Musical” is closing early. Is there any chance a diminishing interest in their thoughts on social issues will be far behind? Please?
UNDERRATED: Leon Bridges
As success of Ray Lamontagne and St. Paul & the Broken Bones can attest, you can’t go wrong conjuring the sound of vintage soul. However, few sound as remarkable as this twenty-something Texas-born artist, who sounds like an unreal second coming of Sam Cooke on recent singles that have gone viral on Spotify. A full album is due this summer, and if it’s half as powerful as the swooning, sepia-toned “Lisa Sawyer” we’re going to love hearing more from him.
UNDERRATED: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (2014)
Forget the vampire stories ruined by campy teen angst and find this black-and-white reinvention on Netflix. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour and set in a bleak Iranian town called Bad City (filmed in scenic Taft, Calif.), the film introduces a chador-cloaked vampire vigilante played by a wide-eyed Sheila Vand, who patrols the city on skateboard in an artfully quiet mix of horror and romance that can recall the oddball best of Jim Jarmusch.
OVERRATED: Recap culture
Somewhere around “The Sopranos,” it became not enough to watch TV — we had to pore over it, week by week, hour by hour. With shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad,” these quick-fired accounts can be showcases for a perceptive writer to interpret the work of another. But so many are just echo chambers, a noisy churn that either adds overcooked meaning to an over-analyzed show (see: “Mad Men”) or merely confirms that someone else saw what you did.
OVERRATED: Miles Teller, action hero
Regarded as among the more promising young actors, Teller rose fast after turns in the “Say Anything”-light of “The Spectacular Now” and in “Whiplash,” where he convincingly flinched in the shadow of J.K. Simmons’ drill-sergeant drum orders. But as he moves into the ever-expanding superhero universe with the coming “Fantastic Four” franchise, it’s worth wondering whether this trip is really necessary. Isn’t being this generation’s John Cusack enough?
UNDERRATED: Gary Cole
A standout “that guy” character actor with a run that roughly began with the cultish ‘80s series “Midnight Caller” and continued through the “Brady Bunch” films and into his role as the indelible Bill Lumbergh in “Office Space,” Cole has recently graduated to a powerhouse of oddball comedy on “Bob’s Burgers,” “Archer” and “Veep,” where behind his “Gray Elvis” look lurks one of the most acidic voices in Armando Iannucci’s dark (and darkly hilarious) world.
UNDERRATED: Rez Abbasi’s “Intents and Purposes”
A steadily rising presence on jazz guitar, the Pakistan-born (and USC-educated) Abbasi has earned steady acclaim for albums that capture jazz through a global lens in appearances with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby and Vijay Iyer. This new recording with his ensemble RAAQ is just another standout, offering lush acoustic recasts of ‘70s fusion tracks such as Weather Report’s “Black Market” and Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Resolution.”
OVERRATED: Bruce Jenner
This former Olympian and patriarch of a reality show — perhaps you’ve heard of it — has been the subject of more speculation than most presidential campaigns. Transgender issues have been an overdue topic in the cultural conversation, but everything wrong about the circus surrounding this story can be summed up knowing a network news anchor has a much-hyped interview with Jenner coming up, and weeks ago a fake journalist, John Oliver, interviewed Edward Snowden. What’s wrong with this picture?
A relative newcomer in the streaming video wars with more than 80 films to choose from — some of them even came out in the last five years — this endeavor from Sony is following Netflix into original programming with a sports trivia show, a series with Dennis Quaid that may or may not feature him throwing a tantrum (look it up) and a sequel to “Joe Dirt,” a 2001 David Spade comedy no one saw the first time. The good news is it’s free; the bad is you get what you pay for.
UNDERRATED: ‘Singles’ (1992)
Many efforts were made to capture Generation X — starting with a book, followed by the films “Reality Bites,” “S.F.W.” and so on. And they were all so terrible except (with the proper dose of hazy nostalgia) this film, which was just released on Blu-ray and is such an earnest, goofy distillation of the early ‘90s that a flannel shirt may tie around your waist upon viewing. Still, Cameron Crowe’s love song to Seattle has a big heart and, of course, some pretty timeless music.
With Coachella’s two-weekend smorgasbord of music and questionable fashion choices nearly behind us, it’s worth acknowledging the return of this U.K. band, which stood as one of the few reunions that were once a signature of the festival’s 16-year run. Its 1990 album, “Nowhere,” stands as a classic, with tracks such as “Vapour Trail” and the stormy, guitar-drenched psychedelia of “Seagull” and “Decay” proving there were few so-called shoegaze bands on their level.
OVERRATED: Everything ‘Star Wars’
What have we done, Generation X? Apparently not content with moving on from the sci-fi franchise after enduring the terrible prequels, we proved ourselves all too ready to buy more from George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away — and Hollywood has answered. With enough sequels, spinoffs and related merchandise in the works to fill multiplexes a few times over, you have to wonder how long before all movies involve either an Avenger or a Skywalker.
OVERRATED: ‘90s TV
Industry watchers could be forgiven for thinking that some kind of psychedelic flashback had been at work of late as plans to relaunch or spin off shows from long-gone “Coach,” “The X Files” and, most perplexingly, “Full House” were revealed to be in some form of progress. Apart from the troubling feeling that some of these series are being pursued simply based on who’s available, wasn’t television once hailed as the new movies for its original and risk-taking programming
UNDERRATED: Ben Goldberg’s ‘Orphic Machine’
Inspired by “speculative poetry” on the act of writing by the late MacArthur fellow Allen Grossman, this album led by Berkeley-based clarinetist Goldberg is as intricate and immersive as the best of poetry itself. Backed by a nimble nine-piece band that includes guitarist Nels Cline, trumpeter Ron Miles and the airy voice of violinist Carla Kihlstedt, Goldberg taps jazz, blues and flashes of stormy noise-rock to generate something powerful.
UNDERRATED: ‘Life Itself’ (2014)
On the surface, a documentary about a film critic shouldn’t amount to strong viewing, but in the hands of the Oscar-nominated director of “Hoop Dreams,” Chicago’s Roger Ebert only grows in stature. A voice (and thumb) who helped expand the palette of criticism as half of TV’s contentious Siskel and Ebert, the prolific and generous writer is revealed as brilliant, flawed and ultimately full of a courageous humanity that rises beyond the page.
OVERRATED: The arrival of Tidal
Revealed to much fanfare last week, this service was heralded by its owner Jay Z as an artistic revolution led by pop stars that include Madonna, Kanye West, Jack White and Beyoncé. While upending the pittance-level royalties of streaming music is a worthy goal (particularly for the nonmillionaire musicians), you have to wonder if this service’s subscription model can sustain itself for a generation that has grown up thinking digital music should be free.
OVERRATED: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
On many levels it’s painful to write this, especially after chiding NBC for not picking up this oddball series, which was co-created by Tina Fey. But sadly, the show doesn’t live up to its potential. Over-the-top, overly goofy and too seldom lifted by the sharp asides that made “30 Rock” great, “Kimmy Schmidt” at times resembles its kidnapping survivor namesake, ultimately feeling like its creators haven’t seen enough new comedy in years either.
UNDERRATED: “Going Clear” on HBO
Living in L.A. we’ve grown used to the mysterious shadow of Scientology and its many real estate holdings, with little visual accompaniment for reported investigations (including in this paper) apart from sidewalk personality tests and puzzling appearances by Tom Cruise. This striking film by Oscar winner Alex Gibney reveals some of the odd and possibly even cruel behavior by some in the church, prompting the question of just how much can be justified by faith.
UNDERRATED: José James’ “Yesterday I Had the Blues”
José James’ “Yesterday I Had the Blues”: Best known for his earthy and soulful mix of jazz and post-D’Angelo R&B on his 2013 breakthrough “No Beginning No End,” this singer’s sound takes a rewardingly vintage turn with this deft tribute to Billie Holiday, which commemorates the late singer’s 100th birthday this week. James’ elegiac take on “Strange Fruit” is a thing of beauty, as is his band in pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland.
OVERRATED: ‘Mad Men’
Though not half as important or impeccably crafted as it often presents itself, this series led by the handsomely flawed Don Draper begins its final farewell April 5. Somewhat like the Velvet Underground, “Mad Men” will be remembered as the sort of work that not many people saw, but those who did probably wrote an essay about its impact, which if we’re being honest was most tangibly reflected by a spike in midcentury furniture prices and bourbon sales.
UNDERRATED: ‘Top Five’ (2014)
Released amid a storm of Oscar-courting films, the directorial debut from Chris Rock was a critical darling but a box office underachiever, earning about half of what the latest dystopian YA action franchise took home its first weekend. Powered by some sharp Hollywood satire and Rock’s barbed comic voice, the film is worth a look even if just to rank your own top five. (For what it’s worth: Rakim, Public Enemy, the Roots, Kanye and Digable Planets — with Kendrick close behind).
UNDERRATED: Myra Melford’s ‘Snowy Egret’
A pianist with a restless ear for inspiration that has included Rumi, Albert Camus and artist Don Reich, the Berkeley-based Melford looked to Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano and the colonization of the New World for her latest recording, which also features Liberty Ellman, Ron Miles and Tyshawn Sorey. Full of odd-angled rhythms and deft improvisations that echo with the sounds of Africa and the East, Melford’s uncompromising voice soars.
OVERRATED: Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’
Sounding like a lost Earth, Wind & Fire track fronted by Bruno Mars, Ronson’s hit has yielded a staggering 400 million-plus views on YouTube and continues to rack up sales despite being nearly everywhere for going on six months. All due respect to Mars and Ronson for delivering a successful product, but surely there’s a newer song with the same vintage funk guitar, horns and party-ready catch-phrases in hand that’s ready for a turn. Please?
UNDERRATED: James’ “Laid”
Receiving the multi-disc special-edition treatment this week, this 1993 album from a Manchester, England, band is best known for its novelty hit of the same name, but there’s an atmospheric and anthemic sweep to this moody record that rivals U2 at its peak. That’s no coincidence — much like U2’s strongest work, “Laid” was produced by Brian Eno, a pairing that also yielded the intriguing, improv-heavy companion album “Wah Wah,” which is also included here.
OVERRATED: Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband”
The singer who went viral with “All About That Bass,” Trainor released perhaps the most fitting use of a sample from 1961 with this ghastly and backward pop song, which uses a cloying doo-wop backdrop to set gender roles back a couple of decades. Is there any way we can redo last month’s Grammys and hand Trainor best new artist? At least then we might have better odds of never hearing from her again.
UNDERRATED: Terry Crews in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Much about this show remains hit and miss in its second season, particularly given its reliance on the uneven comic rewards of Andy Samberg. But the show rises on the strength of its supporting cast, and none is quite as strong as this ex-football player turned viral deodorant pitchman turned titanically muscular captain of the Nine-Nine, Terry Jeffords. Who knew that physical fitness also lends itself to equally fit comic timing?
OVERRATED: “Ghostbusters” for men
In news of as-yet unmade movies, Sony Pictures took all the goodwill it earned with a planned all-female “Ghostbusters,” which includes the superb Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, and burned it to the ground with word that an all-male version is being developed as well. Considering that the second, male-centric reboot was announced after a sexist Internet backlash to the first, Sony may not be afraid of ghosts, but it seems awfully scared of something else.
OVERRATED: Netflix’s conformist streak
To use the parlance of its Silicon Valley neighbors: Maybe “disrupting” an industry gets exhausting. After shutting down most competitors in the DVD rental business and setting a new standard for binge-watching with its streaming offerings, Netflix is backpedaling to the network TV model with its coming series “Between,” which will be available at a specific time every week instead of all at once. If this becomes a trend, are commercial breaks next?
UNDERRATED: Kristen Schaal on ‘The Last Man on Earth’
Much of the notice for this Fox newcomer goes to its creator and star, Will Forte, who is in peak deadpan form exploring the base impulses of humanity with no consequences. But not to be overlooked is Schaal, who matches Forte step by absurdist step. Time will tell whether the show’s odd premise (it’s right there in the name) can sustain itself, but with Schaal’s help, it’s at least assured that the series will keep finding twisted paths to explore.
OVERRATED: A firm ‘Fare Thee Well’
Once an object of derision in some circles, the Grateful Dead — well, most of the band, anyway — is back for a series of massive shows in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend to honor the group’s 50th anniversary. Joined by Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio under the banner of “Fare Thee Well,” will this really be the final curtain call for a legendary live band? Given that tickets (and many thousand-dollar VIP packages) sold out almost instantly, it’s highly doubtful.
UNDERRATED: DRKWAV’s ‘The Purge’
Pronounced “darkwave,” this trio’s name sounds like some goth-electronic act haunting a Coachella dance tent, but it’s more of a freak-jazz supergroup. The record, with drummer Adam Deitch, keyboardist John Medeski and saxophone wild card Skerik, churns with rambunctious, hard-hitting grooves and off-kilter melodies shadowed by hazy electronics, but its bent cover of Eric Dolphy’s “Gazzelloni” shows that its heart is in a bright place.
OVERRATED: ‘Begin Again’ (2014)
Written and directed by the creator of “Once,” this film shows flashes of that picture’s low-key charm, but its story of a down-on-his-luck record executive (the ever-mumbly Mark Ruffalo) producing an album for Keira Knightly’s jilted singer-songwriter remains as predictable and unaffecting as her whisper-thin coffeehouse folk. It’s telling that the film’s lone Oscar nod came not from its bland lead but for a song performed by the movie’s sellout cad, played by a yelpy Adam Levine.
UNDERRATED: Lauren Weedman on ‘Looking’
A standout on a patient, character-rich show, Weedman may look most familiar from her stint as a “Daily Show” correspondent or turns on “True Blood” and “Funny or Die.” But she’s a chronic scene stealer as the lone female voice on this HBO series, where as the sharp-witted Doris she forms a down-to-earth counter to the show’s typical earnestness, particularly with her rapid-fire rapport with Murray Bartlett’s would-be restaurateur Dom.
OVERRATED: The seriousness of ‘The Slap’
Everything about this NBC miniseries, adapted from the Australian book and series of the same (unfortunate) name, asks to be treated as a literary event. Right down to its over-the-top narration, which makes this drab story of conniving New Yorkers seem like an oddly smug wildlife documentary. With a cast that includes Zachary Quinto, Peter Sarsgaard and a manic Uma Thurman, the show maybe could have better hit its mark with some self-aware humor.
The cult U.K. band, which was lost in the shuffle in the ‘90s with a sound too heavy to be grouped with the shoegaze scene and too spaced out for the grunge boom, has just released its first album in 17 years, “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You.” While the new record can’t quite reach the heights of the band’s 1993 peak “Mezcal Head,” it captures Swervedriver’s hazy, guitar-driven spirit in a way that puts higher-profile ‘90s revival acts on notice to try harder.
OVERRATED: The Lady Gaga career makeover machine
Just who is Lady Gaga? The pop provocateur who once brought “meat couture” to the red carpet has become a vocalist more intent on genteel standards befitting her first name, including a blandly competent attempt at jazz with Tony Bennett and an appetite for classic show-tune bombast with the salute to “The Sound of Music” on last week’s Oscars telecast. Sure, the classic songbook is a proven path to career longevity (hi, Rod Stewart!), but for Gaga it’s a far less interesting one.
OVERRATED: Twitter’s outrage
There’s been a growing shift in our favorite 140-character megaphone, which has gone from an ever-churning news feed to the world’s biggest (and worst) open-mike night and its most common position as a blustery place where misspoken molehills quickly rise to mountains. News gaffes and random trolls rise to national prominence, and bad jokes or hastily conceived declarations spawn myriad think pieces. Is Twitter a better tool for amplifying information or emotion?
UNDERRATED: Fresh Cut Orchestra’s “From the Vine”
Descendants of a rich Philadelphia jazz lineage that reaches back from Christian McBride to John Coltrane, this energetic 10-piece ensemble updates the big band sound with this sprawling release from last month. Centered on an emotional seven-part suite written by bassist Jason Fraticelli, the album churns with a restless energy fueled by swerving rhythms and a dash of oddball electronic textures from guitarist Tim Conley.
UNDERRATED: The sound of “CitizenFour”
In terms of immediate impact on our daily lives, no documentary came close to this Oscar-winning look behind the scenes of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, but key to the stark, techno-thriller atmosphere was a haunting score by Trent Reznor. Selectively drawing from Reznor’s “Ghosts I-IV” instrumentals, the swelling, unrelenting drones recall the ominous latticework of digital noise, dial tones and data that frames — and follows — our every step.
OVERRATED: Everything but Julianne Moore in ‘Still Alice’
Moore is nearly a lock to win for lead actress, but she’s extra-deserving, given that the film around her is so stubbornly unaffecting despite being steeped in the horrors of Alzheimer’s. Numbed by colorless performances by Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth, the film telegraphs that it has little idea how to evoke emotion on its own by cribbing its lone raw and impactful scene from the far more poetic “Angels in America.”
OVERRATED: Awards shows
Now that the Oscars are here, take a deep breath and repeat this mantra: It just doesn’t matter. Set aside the cash-burning campaigns and bizarre eligibility rules and what’s left is still an inefficient, inaccurate machine for deciding the “best” in a subjective art form — no more definitive than the Grammys, Emmys or any other year-end infomercial disguised as a competition. The film academy has its favorite movies, you have yours. Go watch them instead.
OVERRATED: The growing buzz behind ‘Birdman’
If you’re one to handicap Oscar hopefuls, then you’re already aware that this kinetic, idiosyncratic film by Alejandro González Iñárritu has emerged as a best picture favorite behind the cunning strategy of being about actors and the entertainment business. Not to say that gazing longingly into the mirror is a favorite Hollywood pastime, but it’s no coincidence that two of the last three big winners were the film-infatuated “Argo” and “The Artist.”
UNDERRATED: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Nominated for original score for “The Theory of Everything,” this Icelandic composer was making lush, immersive albums years before the prestige film industry wisely came calling. The slow-burning “Fordlândia” from 2008 is a gorgeous electro-orchestral elegy to the Amazon rain forest town established by Henry Ford in the late 1920s, and “The Miners’ Hymns,” his 2010 collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison, strikes a similarly evocative chord.
Last week the Internet shook with word that this masked web-slinger is coming back — again! — but within “the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” which is sort of like a gated community for comic book stars. Whether the role goes to Tobey McGuire, Donald Glover or a set of abdominal muscles to be named, the industry’s dependence on building and rebooting these franchises has rendered such speculation beside the point. Much like sports, you’re just rooting for laundry.
OVERRATED: The Brian Williams scandal
Like any ecosystem in 2015, the media enjoy eating their own, and as difficult as it may be to excuse Williams’ fudging a late-night talk show story that started all this, the “think of the children”-level of outrage quickly slid out of proportion. Just so we’re clear, lies on the part of people who deliver news and entertainment are job-threatening character flaws, but lies from people in the news are passed over and called something else: politics.
Lost amid all the handwringing over Kanye’s respect for Beck and whether the Grammys are a true barometer of the year in music (why would they start now?) was a Grammy pairing that offered a reminder of the beauty of Electric Light Orchestra, led by the cultishly adored Jeff Lynne. Ed Sheeran’s presence last week aside, E.L.O. towers over ‘70s rock contemporaries with an odd, almost mystical ear for sound and melody. Listen to “Out of the Blue” and be convinced.
UNDERRATED: Hannibal Buress on “Broad City”
Co-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson deserve all the acclaim headed their way for leading this breakout Comedy Central hit, which is a little like a more twisted yet grounded vision of the New York of HBO’s “Girls.” One of the show’s subtle surprises is the dentist boyfriend portrayed by this comic, who may be best known for helping heat up the Bill Cosby scandal but here adds a genial warmth to the show’s deliriously madcap pace.
UNDERRATED: Aphex Twin’s ‘Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments PT 2’ EP
Maybe it’s a reflection of the few new ideas among the booming EDM artists dominating pop radio and festival stages of late, but the most fascinating new electronic music is coming from one of its early innovators. Richard D. James’ comeback album “Syro” was one of 2014’s best, and this collection is even more immediately immersive with transfixing melodies framed by clattering percussion and piano.
UNDERRATED: Don Hertzfeldt’s ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’
Known for the brilliantly twisted (and Oscar nominated) short “Rejected” — not to mention a brain-scrambling couch gag on “The Simpsons” last year — animator Don Hertzfeldt conjures more raw emotion in this hourlong newcomer to Netflix than most full-length films. Using surrealist DIY backgrounds, dark humor and a hand-drawn style centered on an oddly expressive stick figure longing for meaning, Hertzfeldt delivers a beauty in its own right.
OVERRATED: ‘The Imitation Game’
A movie so targeted for academy voters you can practically see Oscar’s stately reflection in every golden-tinged shot, this biopic of Alan Turing hits all the prestige-movie notes — a misunderstood genius, the threat of Nazis and a beloved star in Benedict Cumberbatch. Except as satisfying as it is to see “Sherlock Goes to War,” the movie glosses over details that could’ve yielded a more vivid picture instead of a by-the-numbers “important” one.
OVERRATED: Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’
The lone representative from the “guy with guitar” genre that typically marks a safe bet as a big winner in Sunday’s Grammy Awards, Beck is a beloved L.A. son, a thoughtful pastiche specialist and a decided longshot here. “Morning Phase” isn’t just a less interesting album compared to those of his category mates, it also pales against Beck’s track record, which includes the similarly toned (and more surprising) “Sea Change.”
UNDERRATED: Alex Juhasz’s vision of ‘The Babadook’
Last year saw the release of an instant horror classic in writer-director Jennifer Kent’s Australian import “The Babadook” (now available on demand). But key to the raw terrors in store here was the charcoal-shadowed pop-up book by this illustrator, which made the top-hatted title figure fairly leap off the page. A crowd-funded, real-life version of Juhasz’s chilling book quickly sold out online, proving you can in fact “get rid of the Babadook.”
OVERRATED: Jimmy Fallon
Maybe the first late-night star to value “going viral,” “The Tonight Show” host has risen from the guy who broke character on “Saturday Night Live” to a goofily fawning arm of show business known for a frequent proximity to other, funnier people. Now he’s moving into sitcom production with a workplace comedy due on NBC, and as bland as that sounds it’s worth wondering how Tina Fey couldn’t sell a new show to the network once home to “30 Rock” but Fallon could.
UNDERRATED: Dave King’s ‘Rational Funk’
Drum instruction videos are, to put it charitably, not usually intended for wide audiences. Fortunately this YouTube series from the fantastically talented drummer for the boundary-pushing jazz trio the Bad Plus isn’t really trying to teach anyone, except maybe in the finer points of gleefully absurd drum throne monologues on practice, the drum as primitive telephone and the merits of certain celery snacks delivered in an array of rhythms. Sheer twisted genius.
OVERRATED: Sia’s anonymity
There’s something respectable in this Australian pop star’s refusal to behave like, well, a pop star. Wearing masks in photographs, performing with her back to the audience, raising the profile of awful interpretive dance (thanks to her videos) — they’re all part of her rejection of celebrity. So why do interviews or perform live at all then? In a culture of oversharing, Sia’s approach is refreshing, but it’s hard to tell where privacy ends and a useful gimmick begins.
UNDERRATED: ‘Force Majeure’ (2014)
Snubbed by the Oscars as Sweden’s entry in the foreign language category, this gleefully twisted film by Ruben Östlund centers on a family’s luxurious (if eeriely deserted) ski vacation in the French Alps and a surprise avalanche that inflicts more domestic damage than physical. What follows walks a darkly funny line between over-the-top absurdity and raw relationship drama as a father and husband struggles to regain footing with his identity and his family.
OVERRATED: Roasting Justin Bieber
It’s hard not to celebrate the mockery of America’s favorite pop punching bag, but both Comedy Central and the fame-addled radio star should rethink this show. First, roasts traditionally come from a place of love and respect after a storied career. (Does anyone remember the awkwardness of Comedy Central’s 2002 roast of Chevy Chase?) Second, Bieber is all of 20 years old. Why do this now when there’s so much more comedy that lies ahead?
UNDERRATED: Red Garland Trio’s “Swingin’ on the Korner”
An underappreciated giant of jazz piano, the late Red Garland is probably best known for his time backing Miles Davis in the ‘50s, but this newly uncovered two-CD live recording should add to his influential legacy. Recorded at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in 1977, the album finds Garland in a trio with bassist Leroy Vinnegar and fellow ex-Davis bandmate Philly Joe Jones, and the results beautifully live up to the album’s name.
OVERRATED: Reese Witherspoon in ‘Wild’
Witherspoon deserves credit for bringing Cheryl Strayed’s heartfelt memoir to the screen, but maybe her film would’ve been better had she stayed behind the scenes. Earthy, selfish and an undeniable mess before finding catharsis on the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed is more alive on the page than in the hands of Witherspoon, who earned an Oscar nod for a performance that seldom carried more weight than the film’s gigantic hiking pack.
UNDERRATED: Steve Zissis in ‘Togetherness’ on HBO
Realistically, we needed another TV comedy about upper-middle-class white people in Los Angeles trying to be happy in their beautiful homes about as much as we needed another police procedural. But amid the various absurdist, indie-intimate charms delivered by co-creators Mark and Jay Duplass, it’s the third member of their writing partnership who is stealing the show portraying a failed actor with little left to lose.
OVERRATED: ‘Whiplash’ as a jazz movie
Oscar favorite J.K. Simmons deserves all his acclaim for portraying a ferocious music teacher in the latest from director Damien Chazelle, but “Whiplash” is as much about jazz as “The Great Santini” was about war. While there’s lots of riveting displays of music as athletic pursuit and head-screwing motivational plays, the film shows little of what makes the music appealing or how its performances can often be as much an act of unfettered joy as discipline.
Trafficking in a sound that Brian Eno called “discreet music,” this project from Canadian composer Scott Morgan uses percussive textures along with keyboard, guitar and the occasional electronic stutter to cast a spell that pairs beautifully with the season’s occasional gray skies. Last year’s “Sea Island” conjures a somber nautical scene, while “Endless Falls” is punctuated by a grim monologue about the creative process from Morgan’s sometime bandmate, Dan Bejar.
OVERRATED: Belle & Sebastian
Like a Wes Anderson movie in concert form, this long-running band has a new album, but if you’re not already a fan of its danceably delicate chamber-pop you’re better off not bothering. With their postcard-preciously named latest, “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” Stuart Murdoch and company’s music remains softly sunny and so carefully in tune with their twee, self-consciously literary aesthetic they’re a tidy answer for why punk rock will never die.
OVERRATED: Coachella lineup speculation
The lineup for the 2015 edition of the festival is set, and despite the baffling mental image of Steely Dan on the same stage as David Guetta it’s striking how little curiosity about the lineup was generated beforehand. Most tickets sold out long ago, and barring something really unexpected — like a sinkhole swallowing the festival grounds or a sudden, improbable scarcity of tiny shorts and resort-quality VIP amenities — the music is just a pleasant accessory.
UNDERRATED: Oscar Isaac in ‘A Most Violent Year’
It takes some doing to make a subtle drama about the heating oil industry in early ‘80s New York compelling, but along with director J.C. Chandor’s expert hand is Isaac’s riveting performance as the ambitious and conflicted Abel Morales. In an atmosphere that recalls the best of ‘70s cinema, Isaac moves past his breakout as the folk artist from “Inside Llewyn Davis” to channel something akin to Al Pacino’s slow burn in “The Godfather: Part II.”
OVERRATED: The Golden Globes
All due respect to this year’s field of contenders — you’re all winners! No, really! — the annual arrival of this allegedly important shindig hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press means the ever-elongating awards horse race is underway, and the Globes aren’t nearly as “outrageous” as advertised. More to the point, can’t we just give Tina Fey and Amy Poehler a new reason to put on a variety show for a couple of hours or so every year and be done with it?
UNDERRATED: ‘Black Mirror’
An anthology series that until recently existed as a sort of secret handshake among sci-fi fans, this brilliantly acerbic British import finally came to the U.S. via Netflix with an unsparing view of technology and culture in a way that recalls the most barbed end of “The Twilight Zone.” Most streaming TV thrives on binge-ability, but even at just six episodes, writer Charlie Brooker’s creations offer such dark reflections of ourselves they require a few days of recovery.
OVERRATED: Retroactive widescreen
We love our home theaters, but someone stop the George Lucas-like urges of networks to reformat series that predate the flatscreen era into a widescreen format. Selling new box sets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and HBO’s “The Wire” is the goal, but stretching the frame to fit our expanded visual appetites alters what went into a beloved show’s original vision and in some cases diminishes its results. Sometimes less really is more.
OVERRATED: The “McConaughe-ssance”
All right, all right, all right: It’s been a fun ride with the artist formerly known as Wooderson from “Dazed & Confused.” But after reaching the literal apex of how far Matthew McConaughey can go in the flawed “Interstellar,” it’s time to start fresh in 2015. McConaughey needs to surprise us soon or risk falling into self-parody, like a Nicolas Cage but with an accent and better film choices. Time may be a flat circle, but the time for a change is now.
UNDERRATED: Chris Potter Underground Orchestra’s “Imaginary Cities”
Long considered a musician’s musician, saxophonist Chris Potter has performed with the likes of Dave Holland, Pat Metheny and Steely Dan. His 2012 album, “The Sirens,” drew from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and his new record, “Imaginary Cities,” follows in the footsteps of Charlie Parker by deftly adding strings to an already potent mix. (Potter performs Saturday as part of the Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast series.)
UNDERRATED: “The One I Love” (2014)
A twisted love story centered on a vacation rental and unexpected guests, this film’s strange conceit begs not to be spoiled, but suffice to say it mixes some unconventional couples therapy with a heavy dose of “The Twilight Zone.” However, as surreal as the story gets, it stays grounded by the performances of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, who seems to shine only that much brighter the closer she gets to leaving “Mad Men” behind.
OVERRATED: The “Colbert” farewell
Stephen Colbert ended his unparalleled platform for comedy, improvisation and searing political satire by retiring “Stephen Colbert” and “The Colbert Report,” , but to be honest, it all fell short. Sure, the special guests were fine, as was a graceful, even poignant, final farewell, but if Colbert can hold Vince Gilligan hostage for more “Breaking Bad” episodes, we must do the same for him. The “Colbert” finales must continue — forever, ideally — until he gets it right.
UNDERRATED: Sturgill Simpson
Now that all of the year-end music lists have come and gone, let’s offer one more nod toward a rising star on what was once called the alt-country scene. Mixing up fuzzy electronic textures and decidedly non-Nashville lyrics about aliens and hallucinogens, Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” would be just a left-field oddity if it weren’t for his vivid writing and woodsy drawl, which recalls another country outlaw, Waylon Jennings.
UNDERRATED: “20,000 Days on Earth” (2014)
Like fellow world-building artists Tom Waits and PJ Harvey, Nick Cave has carved out an unmistakable niche as a songwriter. This oddly captivating documentary offers an intimate (if hazily factual) portrait of Cave and his past as he tirelessly chases his gothic-blues muse wherever it demands. In addition to revealing hints of Cave’s process, the film is colored by rewarding cameos from Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld and, of course, Kylie Minogue.
As 2014 draws to an end, let us bid farewell to this group, which became left-field chart favorites with a cappella covers of pop hits by Gotye, Fun. and Daft Punk that went viral online. The group won a singing competition in 2011, which is usually a pretty effective deterrent to success, but Pentatonix sealed its fate as a one-year phenomenon with the cloying “That’s Christmas to Me,” a hit album that, like most Internet-born oddities, won’t be remembered much longer.