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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Oscar Predictions-Film Awards (i)-2014

  • Best Director
Most likely winner : Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. Without his directorial input, this film could be quite dull and just a person floating about waiting to try to not get hit by debris. It takes a concerted effort to create the tension of this film.

Backup Pick : Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave. A film that sticks in the memory and is very unsettling, as are all of McQueen's works so far. A necessary film and one that must have been very difficult to direct. An excellent reflectively meditative look at one of the most difficult topics.

Most deserving : Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. This is a film that is going to be mentioned as a changer in cinema. A vision of future cinema and another progression on what is possible using 3-D. To create a film that is both grandiose as well as subtle, is an immense achievement.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
Most likely winner : John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave. The script is very good and it has momentum going with it judging from the critics receptions even though it has been light on the awards. There can be no denying that some of the scenes created are masterpieces in screenplay as well as acting and direction. The one flaw is that the synergy of all aspects of the film is so good it may take away from recognition of the importance of the script.

Backup Pick : Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy and Richard Linklater for Before Midnight. The best screenplay perhaps because the film is all dialogue driven. Feels less like a film than a fly on the wall. Completely improvisational feel and one of the wittiest and most absorbing films of the year. Everything about this movie is one which speaks to the importance of a screenplay. The camerawork and acting is great but really anyone can tell the screenplay is the driver of this.

Most deserving :Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy and Richard Linklater for Before Midnight. They deserve this, as they have for all the films of the trilogy. It's one of the best series of our lifetime. To even make a sequel to Before Sunrise was exceedingly ambitious and to follow it up with two films that match up to the amazing quality of the first, is a testament to film making and screenwriting achievement.

  • Best Original Screenplay
Most likely winner : Spike Jonze for Her. As far as original goes, this screenplay defines that. Set in a possibly near future it manages to give a story of robot-human love (not so original) but make it beautiful and tragic and very much real, instead parody or silly.

Backup Pick : Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell for American Hustle . David O. Russell has over the past few years brought back the character driven film. This one is another excellent study into four characters trying to get ahead. And it's a comedy drama which is excellent when done by Russell with a crime backdrop, which is my favourite genre.

Most deserving: Spike Jonze for Her.  The originality of this story should be enough to win. Not outright original but the reworking of an idea as old as the Pygmalion myth set in modern times or future times, since the time frame is blurred. It's as much a study of current life and relationships as anything.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Best Films of 2013 (Part 5)

So, I've been watching lots more movies than usual lately (which, is quite an achievement cause I love movies) due to a combination of finishing postgrad, being unemployed and breaking my foot (which has me very immobile for the next 5 weeks). So I made a list, as I usually do. Other than the top 5 the rankings are quite fluid and all the films are quite good. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Nebraska  which is why it's not on the list.)

1. Before Midnight- USA- English/French/Greek. Directed by Richard Linklater. The first one taught us adventure, the second one hope (and perhaps fate). This one teaches us the inevitability of real life. As with the previous films, the dialogue is brilliantly scripted almost to the point of unrealistic perfection. For me the film was a difficult and depressing watch because seeing the changes of my favourite screen couple with family life is like watching your childhood sporting hero when they're past their prime. It is as honest and brilliant and insightful as the previous two, and considering I've watched the preceding films more than 20 times each, for this to live up to expectations was almost impossible. Yet it did.


 2. The Act of Killing - Norway/Denmark/UK-Indonesian. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. This film transcends documentaries, it's further than that where it's innovation and film-making bordering on elite art form. The very idea of letting mass murderers film their own versions of their remembrances is genius-level crazy. The entire film is eerie and very difficult to watch as killers (who were never jailed or tried) recreate their past Hollywood style. Just that alone, the documentation of the past and their recollection of the past is enough for a good film. But then the film shows the catharsis and the emotion felt by the murders forced to come up through the recollection. That vision of the men behind the monsters might be the best testament to the power of film-making to find answers.

  3.  Inside Llewyn Davis- USA/France-English. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.Soundtrack and folk performances alone are worth taking a look for.The film is rather brooding and dark but in a strangely comedic way (reminding me a lot of A Serious Man) . It's a look at a time I have a lot of love for musically (1960s) as well as a character who's a bit too familiar (to me) excellently played by Oscar Isaac. The film has a structure that's very loose and very cyclical. To try to explain why this film is excellent is difficult except that is is, as most good fiction is, character driven and the best characters are the flawed ones.

  4.American Hustle- US-English. Directed by David O. Russell. Another great film from David O. Russell and after Silver Linings Playbook he had a lot to match. An amazing acting performance from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner manages to get Oscar nominations in all acting categories for a second year running for a Russell film. The heist-comedic feel to the story works very well, as it usually does because comedy-drama is a Russell feature, as is character studies. That's what this film is really, a deep look at characters trying to get ahead.


 5. Her-US- English. Directed by Spike Jonze. Set in a not-too far off future it's a film that seems like it's telling a story that could be a prediction.The initial premise of a man falling in love with an Operating System has been done before and it seems comic, at best and sad, in most people's eyes. But this film is brilliantly written and manages (through brilliant acting by Joaquin Phoenix and voice-acting by Scarlett Johansson) to be one of the better romantic stories of the year.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Best Films of 2013 (part 4)

So, I've been watching lots more movies than usual lately (which, is quite an achievement cause I love movies) due to a combination of finishing postgrad, being unemployed and breaking my foot (which has me very immobile for the next 5 weeks). So I made a list, as I usually do. Other than the top 5 the rankings are quite fluid and all the films are quite good. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Nebraska  which is why it's not on the list.)

6. The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) -Italy/France - Italian.  Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. An insanely gorgeous film which at time feels as though it's almost a novel in it's scope (Proustian, even). Every Italian film that tries to capture the sense of the time risks being compared to Fellini. And the Fellinian feel is in this film as well, capturing the era of Berlusconi's Italy. And like Berlusconi's Italy the film has to be darker than earlier Italian films, and so becomes an inspection of hedonism and emptiness. Quite a bleak film for all it's gorgeousness and very memorable.


 7. Stories We Tell - Canada - English. Directed by Sarah Polley. It's been a good year for documentaries. Hard to say much about this without giving it away but it is a beautifully shot film with a masterful documentation of things not being what they seem to be. An autobiographical look at family stories and secrets, very subtly done as is everything from Polley, who might be one of the best young film-makers in the Western Hemishpere. An inspection of truth and perception.


 8. 12 Years a Slave-  UK/USA - English. Directed by Steve McQueen. Very difficult to watch,as should be expected from McQueen since both Shame and Hunger are films that if you never saw them again would remain in your head. This is the same, because it's very hard to stomach because of the seeming realness and rawness of emotion helped in no small part by wonderful performances by Ejiofor, Nyong'o and Fassbender. I think this film should be on the list of must-see films, not the 'must-see cause it's cinematic magic', though it is; but because it's essential, thought-provoking cinema.

9. Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d'Adele- Chapitres 1&2) -France/Belguim/Spain- French. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. One of the most talked about films of the year due to long and graphic sex scenes (prompting still ongoing debates on social media about visualization and representation of cunnilingus in cinema. In social media of people who watch good films anyway cause most people here aren't aware the film exists). A raw, rollercoaster of emotions of love during teenage years, wonderfully acted by Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. The director has a very minimalist approach so you get the feeling of actually seeing a brilliant story unfold its cache of anger, lust, love and sorrow.


10. Gravity - UK/US- English. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. A director with extremely wide range, he can probably make good movies about anything (Re: Y tu Mama Tambien; Children of Men; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). The director gets a lot of credit as does the acting of Sandra Bullock otherwise this film could have been less a worryingly tense thriller and an Atari-ish passage of floating around and dodging objects. I usually don't like 3D films but when they're done like this the effect is cinematic magic, with visuals unlike anything I've ever seen on screen before. This film is a redefining one like Terminator was for visual effects.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Best Films of 2013 (part 3)

So, I've been watching lots more movies than usual lately (which, is quite an achievement cause I love movies) due to a combination of finishing postgrad, being unemployed and breaking my foot (which has me very immobile for the next 5 weeks). So I made a list, as I usually do. Other than the top 5 the rankings are quite fluid and all the films are quite good. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Nebraska  which is why it's not on the list.)

11. Frances Ha - USA- English. Directed by Noah Baumbach. If you watch Girls  then this film will remind you a lot of that series. It'll also remind you of Manhattan from Woody Allen, but younger people and also 40 years later. But there's that same sense of drifting yet drifting energetically. I like films about nothing at all so I'm biased but really this film is impossible without Greta Gerwig being quite likeable as Francis. It's less of a plot that just vignettes of aimless life in New York and so, of course, is steeped in that privileged part of society. Really this should be a film that doesn't work. But it does.

 12. The Past (La Passe) - France/Italy- French/Persian (Farsi). Directed by Asgar FarhadiI considered A Separation to be one of the best films of last year and was eager for the next film from Farhadi. Completely lived up to expectations with Farhadi again showing the ability to carefully document the intricacies and emotional labyrinth of family life and the falsity of assuming any situation is a simple one. This film has the feel of an early Springsteen record  (Darkness on the Edge of Town perhaps) with both the sense of wanting to get away and having to deal with the sins of the past.

 13.  A Touch of Sin (天注定; Tian zhu ding) - China - Chinese (Mandarin). Directed by Jia Zhangke. The best director in China right now, undisputedly and one of the best in the world. This film is more direct than previous ones with far less slow realism and quiet view. I like action films and the violence in this film is wonderfully choreographed. It's worth a watch on action alone, but this is a Jia film, so there's an entire story of the changes and differences among the classes of modern China as well.

 14. Captain Phillips -USA - English/Somali. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Acting of the very highest quality from both Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi (in his first film). The plot is excellent too and very intense as Greengrass films tend to be. The fact that it's all a true story only adds to the excitement. This is one of the good thrillers based on real life events (hopefully it starts a trend for more) but it's really the acting that makes it all so watchable.

15. The World's End - UK- English. Directed by Edgar Wright. British comedies, on average, tend to be better than US ones. And the Cornetto trilogy has always been good but the wait for this, the finale, was well worth it. Apocalypse comedies are in vogue now and with good reason, cause they're hilarious (who knew?). The film is pretty silly (good silly) and it's comedy with a heart.While it retains the same core as the earlier films the changes in this one gives a fitting end to the series.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oscar Predictions -2014-Acting Awards

  • Best Actor
Most Likely Winner: Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. Starting to look pretty secure after wins at the SAG and Globes and to be honest he very much deserves it if he does get it. Quality serious acting from Matthew McConaughey, who could see that coming after all the romance-comedy stuff? But he is excellent and completely convincing in a difficult portrayal (as true stories always are). And the weight loss is dramatic as well. Large parts of the movie I can't believe he's so skinny.

Backup Pick: Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave. About half the film he doesn't speak at all and the acting is just conveyed by facial expressions. And it's done. With facial expressions alone Ejiofor gives us the look of a man in the trenches with a thousand yard stare occasionally broken by the reluctance to let despair take full control. This film is extremely difficult to watch and that's not least due to the excellent acting.

Most Deserving (My Pick) : Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle. Bald and fat, Christian Bale is unrecognizable from the man who was in Batman. One of more devoted method actors around when it comes to weight loss and gains (and probably other aspects too, but that's most noticeable). Rosenfeld's got confidence but nerves and is hostile but also respectful, depending on the company. He's a man of contradictions and is played that way to perfection by Bale.

  • Best Actress
Most Likely Winner: Cate Blanchett as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis in Blue Jasmine. The kind of performance that clearly deserves an Oscar. As Jasmine, Blanchett manages to perfectly portray the line of barely-likeable and "we understand you're going through a hard time" to show us a complex character in what could have easily been (and I thought would be) another portrayal of previous rich brought down to real hardship. But it's so much more than that.

Backup Pick: Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle. Loved Amy Adams as Sydney. Person in a film putting on an act, multiple accents; always good. Convincing as a manipulative and self serving character who does what is best for her but also, paradoxically, her relationship with Irving comes across as genuine. Has to be a great performance to pull that off. And her scene with Jennifer Lawrence is a perfect showing (and memorable one) of bad-mind catfight-ness.

Most Deserving (My Pick) :Cate Blanchett as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis in Blue Jasmine. Jasmine is should be easy to not like but you keep wanting to see more and more of her. That's what Blanchett brings, the performance with parts of humor and sadness to go with the snobbery. Jasmine herself is a bit of a creation, with all her stories and self-delusions and the movie goes into detail of why she is how she is, and Blanchett shows it all excellent. 

  • Best Supporting Actor
Most Likely Winner: Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club . We're a long way away from My So-Called Life now. I'd always thought of him more as a musician than an actor because 30 Seconds to Mars is excellent. Won at every major awards show already and seems a lock to win. With good reason too. Doesn't appear in the film till almost 40 minutes but a scene stealer every time he's in the movie.

Backup Pick: Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. There's been a trend of villains winning this one and he's the villain in this group. Thing is that doesn't work for him, since the nature of the villainous role in this sort of film isn't going to get a lot of votes. With that being said, this couldn't have been and easy role to play and really takes a lot of dedication to pull this off.

Most Deserving (My Pick): Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse in Captain Phillips. I'm surprised Tom Hanks wasn't nominated for Best Actor for this film. I loved Abdi as Muse in this and he managed to combine badass with self doubt about what he's doing. It is a convincing performance and really notable for the intense psychological war the character is visibly going through with himself and with Hanks. I like cerebral films. And I like action films. This is both. Leto's performance as Rayon might be better in terms of difficulty of playing the role but I'd pick the intensity of Abdi.

  • Best Supporting Actress
Most Likely Winner: Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Doesn't say a word until almost 80 minutes in and for the whole movie barely speaks at all and when she does it's only to say some of the lines that stick with you most from the film (perhaps because she says so little they stick?). Her role seems like it could be the backup act but instead her story is enough to completely steal the focus off the main story. Add in that it's her first film and the odds look good.

Backup Pick: Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle. Completely enthralling performance as a woman who thinks she always has the right move and right advice (we all know one. And some men too). Completely needy and the definition of passive-aggressive, it's this character more than any other that real pushes the movie forward and sets up the drama. Is there any role Jennifer Lawrence can't do? Action, romance, drama, crime. She's got it all. 

Most Deserving (My Pick): Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle. I know Nyong'o is winning everything at the earlier shows and really she's excellent and deserves to, but I'm going to be biased to Jennifer Lawrence because this role is in a crime film with comedy elements and I love those genres. And also because I really like Jennifer Lawrence and think the diversity she has calls for lots of awards.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Best Films of 2013 (part 2)

So, I've been watching lots more movies than usual lately (which, is quite an achievement cause I love movies) due to a combination of finishing postgrad, being unemployed and breaking my foot (which has me very immobile for the next 5 weeks). So I made a list, as I usually do. Other than the top 5 the rankings are quite fluid and all the films are quite good. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Nebraska  which is why it's not on the list.)

 20. The Square (Al-Midan) -Egypt/USA- Arabic/English. Directed by Jehane Noujaim.  I love documentaries as ways to learn more (it's how I passed my Financial History exams) and the Arab Spring was one of the biggest events of my recent life and I sadly don't know much about it. This film, given the topic, is surprisingly not depressing. It is vibrant and really illuminates the events with energy and showcases the motivation, hope and perseverance of the people.Of course, with a film of this honesty there is much that is difficult to watch when capturing an event which was so filled with turmoil. But the best recommendation is the film manages to give clarity to a situation that seemed very confusing and leaves us with a hopeful feeling for Egypt.

19. The Lunchbox - India- Hindi/English. Directed by Ritesh Batra . So usually when you say Indian film and love story it generally is silly and not usually quality. There are exceptions, of course (Bombay, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) but they're usually the exception. That's why it's great to find a good one. This film really shows the transformational power of love, the kind of love really the movies have us chasing our whole life after. I heard once in a workshop that your short story is "give the character a goal, then an obstacle. It's good when the reader wants them to overcome the obstacle". This is that in film. You want the characters to come together. And, of course, the reason I watch Hindi films a lot is because I like seeing India and Mumbai as a setting could almost get a supporting actor credit, offering up its reality of a place of hopes, dreams and loneliness.

18. Like Someone in Love ( ライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ /Raiku Samuwan In Rabu)  - France/Japan - Japanese. Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Kiarostami, in this like in Certified Copy  is playing with identity and perception. Dropping us into a story and then changing the story. You spend as much time enjoyably confused and you do being taken in. An excellent combination in a film and one that I'd never really experienced much. The film is more like a nature documentary observation than a character study but the character interplay is still the basis of the film, just doesn't feel scripted. And the climatic end is really fitting.

17. The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu/ 風立ちぬ)- Japan - Japanese. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The last Miyazaki film (he's retiring) and that's quite depressing because his films have been probably the best of animated for my entire life (Princess Mononoke & Kiki's Delivery Service were the first anime films I ever saw). He ended off on a high making us want more too. It is beautifully complex, as it has to be depicting pre-war Japan and the topic of designing weapons. The movie is both a classic story (smart kid comes good, has his ideas corrupted/misused by others. Also tragic love story) as well as a sumptuously crafted fantasy.

16. The Wolf of Wall Street - USA- English .Directed by Martin Scorsese. Still not out in the cinemas last time I checked but I was lucky to see it abroad. Been looking forward to it all year and it did not disappoint. Hilarious and the breaking of the fourth wall is always appreciated when it's done well (by me) and it's done well. The film is a huge portrayal of vice and excess but in no way glorified which is uncommon (and probably needed). All the more amazing is that it's based on a true story. DiCaprio is spot on and just as good in comedy as any drama role, maybe even better.