March 17, 2017

Oscars Festival 2017

During the last few weeks I had my own Oscars Festival during which I watched movies competing at this Oscars along with some old winners in different categories. In the end, I watched seventeen movies during this festival of mine. I think I should do this every year.

OPENING FILM: The Awful Truth (1937): Director Leo McCarey won the award for his work on this film that was also nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay, Film Editing, Actress and Supporting Actress. It was a rare classic comedy that I enjoyed and it also made me realize that I had misunderstood the term 'Screwball Comedy' all along!

Braveheart (1995): Perhaps the biggest winner on this list, I did not really enjoy the movie. Well, it is one of those movies which a film-buff must have watched, so I checked that. But otherwise, its performance at the Oscars makes me feel that this entire list of mine is futile! It won five awards: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects Editing and Make-Up and was nominated in five other categories: Costume, Sound, Score, Film Editing and Original Screenplay.

Moonlight (2016): Watching the latest top-winner in an Indian movie theater completely ruined it for me. I need to watch it again, with all the scenes intact and subtitles to help me comprehend the dialogues better. The movie won three Oscars: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor and had five more nominations: Director, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing and Score.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016): The winner of Film Editing and Sound Mixing, it was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Sound Editing. I really loved the movie and was surprised that it was nominated for its writing.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): This was where my festival actually started going somewhere. What a beautiful film! It did not win any Oscars but was nominated for two, Best Animated Feature and Visual Effects. 

Hidden Figures (2016): I wish we could tell more true stories in India than we do. Quite a powerful, entertaining film, nominated for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress although it didn't win any.

Silence (2016): It remains a mystery to me why 'Silence' did not get nominated for Best Picture. It had only one nomination, for its stunning Cinematography, and ended up without any win. It was a difficult watch, yes, but what a brilliant movie!

Manchester by the Sea (2016): Watching this movie gave me a moment of epiphany where I was forced to consider the kind of stories I am telling or should be telling. If I work on it, this movie might be one of those which shaped my life. It won two very well-deserving Oscars for Best Actor and Original Screenplay while it was nominated for four more: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.

Lion (2016): I do not remember which other movie has made me cry so much in recent years. I pity the intellectuals and cynics who fail to be moved by this beautiful human story. It did not win any Oscar despite being nominated in six categories: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Score, but it was a highlight of my festival.

Jackie (2016): Nominated for Best Actress, Costume and Score, it was a Hollywood film only because of its casting and the spoken language. In every other sense, it was world cinema, difficult to watch but I am sure it will definitely improve in the second watch, and also if I do some reading about its characters.

Fences (2016): It won the award for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for Best Picture, Actor and Adapted Screenplay. To be honest it was too 'play-like' for my taste but it worked because of its universal subject matter, parenthood and love within a family, and the brilliant performances.

Arrival (2016): I re-watched it on big screen after my first watch last year. Winning the Oscar for Best Sound Editing, it was also nominated in seven other categories: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Production Design. It should also have won two more nominations - Best Actress and Original Score. 

Black Narcissus (1947): I never knew this film was set entirely in India. Was definitely a stunning watch and won the well-deserved Oscars for its Cinematography and Art Direction. However, I did not enjoy it too much. Will not revisit this film unless absolutely necessary.

The Quiet Man (1952): Easily the worst film on this list, although very acclaimed. I somehow endured it. Will never recommend this to anyone. And I really don't care that it won two Oscars - for Best Director and Cinematography (Color) and was nominated for five more: Best Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Sound Recording and Art Direction (Color).

Road to Perdition (2002): I loved this! It won the award for its stunning cinematography while it was nominated in five more categories: Art Direction, Sound, Sound Editing, Score and Supporting Actor for Paul Newman in his last movie appearance.

Misery (1990): A thriller-horror like this is essential to make a festival complete. But such movies hardly ever get nominated for the Academy Awards. This one was, in one category, and it won that - Best Actress for Kathy Bates. I'm glad I watched this movie and then realized there are so many acclaimed movies made on Stephen King's works.

CLOSING FILM: Toni Erdmann (2016) I really liked 'The Salesman' but in my opinion the Foreign-Language Oscar should have gone to this German film. How outrageous and unforgettable! It was nominated in only one category and obviously did not win any, but for its sheer originality, brilliant performances, and being so sad and so funny at the same time, I recommend it as a must-watch-before-you-die (#49). 

February 06, 2017

Sundance in Andheri Film Festival 2017

The latest edition of Sundance Film Festival concluded recently. I watched the following movies sitting at my home, movies which have won awards in some previous editions of the festival, to celebrate my own Sundance in Andheri Film Festival. It was an extremely rewarding experience because of the following reasons:
  • Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995/ USA) by Todd Solondz was the Opening Film of my festival. I've seen coming-of-age dramas or dramedies, but this one was a coming-of-age black comedy. It won the Grand Jury (Dramatic) Prize at Sundance and launched the career of writer-director Todd Solondz ('Happiness', 'Storytelling' and 'Life During Wartime') whose work appears to be really interesting.
  • Primer (2004/ USA) by Shane Carruth had won the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance. It is unlike any science-fiction movie I have seen and I hardly understood much of it. Shance Carruth wrote, directed, produced, edited and scored for the movie and also played the lead role. He made the film for only $7,000 and it eventually gained a cult status. I have seen Carruth's next film as well, 'Upstream Color' and do not remember much except it was interesting and unique and not too comprehensible as well. A perfect Sundance-kinda guy!
  • The Road Home (2000/ China) by Zhang Yimou is a beautiful romantic-drama that moved me deeply with its simplicity. Also stunningly picturized, the film won Audience Award (World Cinema) at Sundance and went on to win Jury Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Berlin. This was my ninth film by the Chinese master. I should soon watch 'The Story of Qiu Ju' (1992), his most acclaimed work I am yet to see and take that score to 10. 'The Road Home' also was the debut film of actress Zhang Ziyi ('Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', 'Hero' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha').
  • You Can Count on Me (2000/ USA) by Kenneth Lonergan won the Grand Jury and the Script award at Sundance. Featuring a young(er) Mark Ruffalo, as endearing as always, the film went on to earn two Oscar nominations - for actress Laura Linney and for Lonergan's original screenplay. It marked the directorial debut of Lonergan who since then has earned three more Oscar nominations - for co-writing 'Gangs of New York' and for writing-directing the recent 'Manchester by the Sea'.
  • The VVitch (2015/ USA-Canada) by Robert Eggers won him the Directing Award at Sundance and established him as the name to look out for after this powerful debut. It will be interesting to see him work in genres other than horror and pick themes that are not as bleak as this atmospheric supernatural film of his. However, I won't mind if he keeps telling the stories of the dark side if he is going to do it so well.
  • Frozen River (2008/ USA) by Courtney Hunt went on to win Oscar nominations for Hunt ("Original Screenplay") and actress Melissa Leo after winning the Grand Jury prize at Sundance. The director's second fim came eight years later. 'The Whole Truth' (2016) has not been received too well. Guess I'll wait for Hunt's next.
  • The Believer (2001/ USA) by Henry Bean won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and launched then 20-year old Ryan Gosling as a leading man. A powerful film about a Jewish neo-Nazi, it was the kind of drama I love to watch, introducing me to worlds I was not too aware of. This has been a common feature among these movies - showing me new stuff, about life and cinema, and 'The Believer' was the perfect Closing Film for my tiny festival.

January 26, 2017

Oscars 2017: The Regulars

The Academy Award nominations were out a couple of days ago. Meryl Streep has earned her 20th nomination and will be hoping for her fourth win. Jeff Bridges with his seventh and Denzel Washington with his eighth (and first as a producer) are other celebrities who appear to be regulars at the Oscars. Matt Damon has been nominated for producing this time. But there are several technicians and musicians who are regulars at Oscars and we do not know them because they work behind the camera. This post is dedicated to them, to recognize some unsung heroes who are Oscar regulars.
  • Scott Rudin: 58-year old Rudin, whose filmography as a Producer includes 'The Hours', 'The Social Network' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' has been nominated for the eighth time for 'Fences'. He'll be hoping for his second win after 'No Country for Old Men'.
  • Wylie Stateman: The Sound Editor of films like 'Born on the Fourth of July', 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and 'Inglourious Basterds' has won his eighth nomination with 'Deepwater Horizon'. Will he win his maiden Oscar?
  • David Parker: 65-year old Parker has been the Sound Mixer for 'The English Patient' and 'The Bourne Ultimatum', winning for both. 'Rogue One' has earned him his eighth nomination and may give him his third trophy.
  • Alan Robert Murray: He has already won two Oscars as a Sound Editor for 'Letters from Iwo Jima' and 'American Sniper'. 'Sully', another film by Clint Eastwood, has earned him his ninth nomination.
  • Gary Summers: After being nominated for 'Return of the Jedi' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', this Sound Mixer won four Oscars in eight years, for 'Terminator 2', 'Jurassic Park', 'Titanic' and 'Saving Private Ryan'. With his eleventh nomination, '13 Hours', Summers may end his sixteen-year long dry run!
  • Stuart Craig: 74-year old Craig won his first nomination as a Production Designer for 'The Elephant Man' (1980). He has won three times, for 'Gandhi', 'Dangerous Liaisons' and 'The English Patient'. 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' has earned him his eleventh nomination, fifth with the Harry Potter franchise. He will hope to win another trophy, since it has been twenty years when he won it last.
  • Colleen Atwood: 68-year old Atwood has won the award thrice for the Costume Design of 'Chicago', 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and 'Alice in Wonderland'. 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' gives her her twelfth nomination.
  • Thomas Newman: The musician who created the Original Score of 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'American Beauty', 'WALL.E', and 'Skyfall' has never won an Oscar! He is again in contention, for the fourteenth time, with 'Passengers'. The others in competition together have only half as many nominations as Newman. Will the veteran win this time?
  • Greg P. Russell: 16 nominations without a single win! That must hurt! As Sound Mixer, Russell has worked on films like 'Armageddon', 'Pearl Harbor', 'Spider-Man', and 'Skyfall'. Nominated for the seventeenth time for '13 Hours', he may win that elusive trophy for the first time.
  • Andy Nelson: This year's favorite, 'La La Land' gives Nelson his 21st nomination as a Sound Mixer, after 'Schindler's List', 'Braveheart', 'The Thin Red Line', 'Moulin Rouge!', 'Avatar' and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', to name a few. A win will give him his third trophy, after 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Les Miserables'.
  • Kevin O'Connell: This 59-year old Sound Mixer has won his 21st nomination with 'Hacksaw Ridge'. And he has never won an Oscar, despite working on films like 'Terms of Endearment', 'Top Gun', 'A Few Good Men', 'Apocalypto' and 'Transformers'. He will be competing with his long-term associate Greg P. Rusell, mentioned above, both for their maiden trophy.

Top 10 at Oscars 2017

Like 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, I'm sharing with you a list of ten movies watching which in the next few weeks will help you follow the Academy Awards well. The ceremony will be held on 26th February (the morning of 27th February for us in India) and hence we have about one month to watch these movies.

  • 'Arrival' by Denis Villeneuve (8 nominations, including Best Director): Despite missing out on Best Actress and Best Original Score, 'Arrival' has secured nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and five technical categories. The film has played in India but I hope to watch it again if it re-releases.
  • 'Fences' by Denzel Washington (4 nominations): With his third film as director, Washington earns his seventh acting and first producing nomination. Viola Davis has already won the Supporting Actress Golden Globes and is a strong contender here. And author August Wilson has won a Screenplay nomination, more than ten years after his death, for adapting his Pulitzer-winning novel.
  • 'Hacksaw Ridge' by Mel Gibson (6 nominations, including Best Director): Gibson's first film in ten years as a director has won him a directing nomination. It will also be competing for Picture, Actor, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
  • 'Hell or High Water' by David Mackenzie (4 nominations): With a Supporting Actor nomination for Jeff Bridges, this film will also be running for Picture, Screenplay and Film Editing. Although I have watched the film already, I wish it releases in India as I would absolutely love to watch it again. And I would love to watch the rest of the films directed by Mackenzie.
  • 'Hidden Figures' by Theodore Melfi (3 nominations): For his second film as a director, Melfi has won nominations for Picture and Screenplay. The film also has earned Octavia Spencer a Supporting Actress nomination. The PVR India website says this film will release in India on 24th Feb.
  • 'Jackie' by Pablo Larrain (3 nominations): The director of 'No' and 'Neruda' makes his English-language debut with this film that has earned Natalie Portman a Best Actress nomination. It is also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Costume Design.
  • 'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle (14 nominations, including Best Director): Only the third film in history to earn as many as fourteen nominations, it is also only the 8th film in last 35 years to bag the Big Five nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. If the Golden Globes it won are serious indicator, 'La La Land' may end up winning all five and become only the fourth film in history to achieve this rare feat, the first since 'Silence of the Lambs'. That it will be the most awarded movie this Oscar night is almost a certainty anyway.
  • 'Lion' by Garth Davis (6 nominations): The first film by director Davis, 'Lion' gives Nicole Kidman her fourth acting nomination. Also nominated for Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actor for Dev Patel, Cinematography and Original Score, the film is scheduled to release in India on 24th Feb.
  • 'Manchester by the Sea' by Kenneth Lonergan (6 nominations, including Best Director): Despite making his Sundance-winning debut in 2000, and co-writing the screenplay of 'Gangs of New York' (2002), Lonergan has written and directed only two films since. But by earning both writing and directing nominations for 'Manchester by the Sea', it appears it has worked well for him. The film is also nominated for Picture and three of its actors, with Casey Affleck being a strong contender for Best Actor trophy. I missed the film at Mumbai Film Festival last October and will now have to wait for its India release.
  • 'Moonlight' by Barry Jenkins (8 nominations, including Best Director): Only the second film by its 37-year old director, 'Moonlight' is being considered a contender for the top prize. It is also nominated for two acting awards, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Original Score.

January 14, 2017

Must Watch Before You Die #48: The Red Turtle (2016)

Watching 'The Red Turtle' on the big screen at Mumbai Film Festival last October was nothing short of a meditative experience. In only seventy-five minutes of its run-time and using not a single word of dialogue, this film did to me what very few films do: move emotionally, please aesthetically, say something simple and profound, and also calm my senses. Hope I was not alone.

Of course, the need to interpret its magical story and not being able to do it may frustrate one. I got lucky that I could figure out something while watching it, and that got kind of validated in the way the movie ended. I closed 2016 by watching it again, this time with my Mom. Several new details were added to my interpretation of it. You can read it below if you have already watched the movie.

But most importantly, I want to share this film as a must-watch. I read somewhere that it is hand-painted animation. Well, it is stunning nevertheless. And it goes beyond the need to interpret by telling a story that should resonate with any human, from any era, in any part of the world. Please watch this as soon as you get a chance. And if you get lucky to watch it on the big screen, do not miss that opportunity.


Who knows where we come from? And before we can figure it out, we are already here, in this world, in this life. There is no use trying to escape this, however harsh, cruel and confusing our existence is. Because we have to reach our end and try to do it with joy and peace, and by embracing our existence.

Of course it won't be easy. The lucky ones are blessed by some miracle - something that inspires them, that makes them better humans, that makes them fall in love with and respect their lives. That miracle can be a loved one, or the pursuit of an art, or doing some good, or even a spiritual quest. But that miracle is the most important thing we need.

Because then the same harsh, cruel, confusing existence will appear more joyful than we could ever imagine. 

There is however one catch. The world of ours, which we love and peacefully exist in, may not be fulfilling for our offspring. They need their own miracle or they will keep getting frustrated. They must follow their own calling or their confusion will never be over. As long as they are with us, they will hopefully fulfill their duties toward us. But then, they must set out to find their own truths.

And once they are gone, we should hope that they too will figure things out. When our moment of departure comes, hopefully we will have that miracle to soothe us and bid us farewell. Once we are gone, that miracle will move on to help someone else. Because such blessed miracles, like magical red turtles, are supposed to bring anyone out of their existential miseries, if only we had the heart, the courage and the clarity to embrace them.

Back to Basics #4: The Pleasure and Pains of Love

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

'The Kids Are All Right' is a film about marriage and its struggles, about family and the joys and challenges that come with it. That it deals with a lesbian marriage only adds to its very interesting relationship equations without robbing away anything from a perfectly universal story. Of course, the wonderful cast and the memorable characters they play is one of the biggest strengths of this film, that entertains you with its humor and moves you with its depth. After watching the movie, I read about its director. No wonder the film comes from a deeply personal space for her and that explains how and why it resonates with its audience.

I then watched 'High Art', the first film by the director. And although I had some issues with the writing during the latter half of the film, her work as the director really impressed me. It is a heartbreaking love-story that again deals with very interesting characters but particularly impressive is the director's use of time and sound to create a strongly impacting mood, something that was missing in 'The Kids...' which had a mainstream design. Thanks to this new resolve of discovering good movies, I got introduced to this film-maker I'll look forward to.

About the Director: Lisa Cholodenko is a 52-year old American film-maker. She has made four feature films so far, the two mentioned above seem to be her most acclaimed works. After winning an Oscar nomination for the writing of 'The Kids Are All Right', she has not made another film yet. But she has made a four-part miniseries for HBO starring Frances McDormand that I wish to watch soon. It's called 'Olive Kitteridge'.

January 10, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top 10 Discoveries

For me, 2016 will be the year when I discovered the power and potential of TV Shows. I watched all the six seasons of 'Breaking Bad' and the first season of 'Fargo' and 'The Office' and several episodes from 'Black Mirror', 'House', 'Friends' and 'Game of Thrones'. I definitely feel like a novice with respect to shows, the way I used to feel before 2006 about anything beyond contemporary Bollywood. But, I hope I will slowly bridge the gap.

Meanwhile, exploring cinema from new sources, both heard and unheard, continues. Following are the top reputed film-makers (listed in alphabetic order) I discovered only in 2016. I definitely feel richer than ever.

  1. J.J. Abrams (USA, 1966-) Since I have not watched 'Star Trek' or 'Super 8', it was 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' (2015) that introduced me to Abrams. I then realized, he is the creator of the TV series, 'Lost' and is touted as the 'next Spielberg'. Also watched this year 'Cloverfield' and '10 Cloverfield Lane' of which he is one of the producers. What next: There is no news on his next directorial venutre yet. So I think I should watch the titles mentioned above for the time being and then wait for what he comes up next.
  2. Tran Anh Hung (Vietnam-France, 1962-) With the incredibly beautiful 'The Scent of Green Papaya' (1993) I have discovered another Asia-born modern film-maker to follow. He won the Camera d'or with his aforementioned debut film and has directed only five more features in the next twenty-three years. What next: His second film, 'Cyclo' (1995) looks like the next film to watch from his filmography.
  3. Lav Diaz (Philippines, 1958-) I watched his latest, 'The Woman Who Left' and instantly knew he is another modern film-maker I must follow. What next: Looking at the run-time of his movies, I don't know if I'll be able to watch any soon. Perhaps I should start with the shortest of his most reputed works, 'Norte, the End of History' which is a little over four hours long. And eventually, may be, I'll manage to watch 'From What is Before' (almost 6 hours), 'Melancholia' (7 and half hours), 'Heremias' (9 hours) and 'Evolution of a Filipino Family' (9 hours). 
  4. Kinji Fukasaku (Japan, 1930-2003) Every time I discover a Japanese master, I realize how limited my understanding and knowledge of cinema is, because Kurosawa-Ozu-Mizoguchi were all I knew about Japanese cinema for a very long time. Watching 'Battle Royale', the superbly entertaining blood-bath, I thought of him as a successor of Kitano. I was wrong again. Fukasaku had been making movies since the 60s. I must watch more of him, hoping for more bloodshed. What next: The sequel to 'Battle Royale' is a must. His other famous movies are 'Under the Flag of the Rising Sun' (1972), 'Battles Without Honor and Humanity' (1973), 'Graveyard of Honor' (1975), 'Fall Guy' (1982), 'House on Fire' (1986), 'Crest of Betrayal' (1994) and 'The Geisha House' (1998).
  5. Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chile-France, 1929-) Of course I had heard of him and his famous surreal films, but it was his latest, 'Endless Poetry', that introduced me to his cinema. I really hope to watch all of his acclaimed films very soon. What next: I think I will watch this year four of his most reputed works: 'El Topo' (1970), 'The Holy Mountain' (1973), 'Holy Blood' (1989) and 'The Dance of Reality' (2013).
  6. Andrei Konchalovsky (Russia, 1937-) Another master filmmaker I had not even heard of. I discovered him through his latest, 'Paradise', that is among the top nine movies contending for the foreign-language Oscar this year. He has directed more than twenty films. What Next: His early work, 'The Story of Asya Klyachina' (1967), his four-part epic 'Siberiade' (1979) and his Hollywood films 'Runaway Train' (1985, based on a Kurosawa screenplay) and 'Tango & Cash' (1989) promise some great variety.
  7. Alexander Mackendrick (USA, 1912-1993) 'Sweet Smell of Success' was one of the few great classics I watched in 2016. And through this movie I discovered Mackendrick. Of course I had heard of him and his other famous works. I now realize he directed only nine feature films in his career. What Next: The Ladykillers (1955), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and Whisky Galore! (1949) appear to be his most reputed films.
  8. Delbert Mann (USA, 1920-2007) Primarily a TV director, Mann won the Best Director Oscar for 'Marty', the delightful film that made me discover him. What next: His most acclaimed movies are perhaps 'The Bachelor Party' (1957), 'Separate Tables' (1958), 'Lover Come Back' (1961) and 'That Touch of Mink' (1962). I'll try to watch some of these this year.
  9. Vilker Schlondorff (Germany, 1939-) 'The Tin Drum' was unforgettable and it introduced me to this Oscar-winning director. His latest film 'Return to Montauk' ccomes out this year and I'll look forward to it. What next: I should start with 'Young Torless' (1966) and 'The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum' (1975).
  10. Edward Yang (Taiwan, 1947-2007) is the fourth Asian filmmaker on this list. I discovered him through his last film 'Yi Yi' (2000), perhaps my favourite movie-experience of last year, and then watched his second, 'Taipei Story'. I was saddened to know that he is no more, Yang succubed to cancer at the age of 59 and I'm eager to watch the remaining five features directed by him. What next: 'A Brighter Summer Day' (1991) should be my top choice, followed by 'The Terrorizers' (1986), 'That Day on the Beach' (1983), and 'Mahjong' (1996).

January 07, 2017

Back to Basics #3: Oh, those cuts!

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

More than ten years after discovering the best of cinema, I discover 'Don't Look Now' (1973)! After all these years of studying and teaching cinema and trying to make films. Perhaps it is regretful. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps I wouldn't have understood the importance of this film's unique form if I had watched it sooner. 

Yes, it is a horror film. But it does not have the regular chills of one. It deals with grief and it deals with the potential as well as limitations of human perception. But the film supersedes its story, which may not satisfy a lot of viewers, with its use of color, image systems and brilliant, imaginative cutting. I wish I could watch it on a big screen one day.

About the Director: I had watched Nicolas Roeg's 'Walkabout' seven years ago and all I remember is that it was a unique film as well. Now of 88, Roeg is an independent British film-maker also known for 'Performance', 'Bad Timing' and 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. His journey in the film-making world started with serving tea on the sets to being the clapper boy, to working as a cinematographer with the likes of Truffaut and David Lean and eventually making these unique, path-breaking films. From Soderbergh to Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott, several film-makers acknowledge Roeg's influence on their works.

January 05, 2017

Back to Basics #2: Framing Disorientation

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

'The Headless Woman' (2008/ Argentina) is a big reassurance for me, that this exercise is going to be immensely fulfilling for me. It is the kind of movie I would have watched and forgotten, calling it regular world-cinema. At 85 minutes of run-time, it still feels long and nothing really happens in it after the shock of the opening sequence. 

But then I read about it and realized there is much hidden beneath its subtle layers and absent plot. Without really mentioning anything, the film raises racial and gender issues and is a loud commentary on the ease with which the rich get away with whatever they wish. Most importantly, and this is one thing I could appreciate even while watching, the director's use of shot, edit and sound brilliantly creates a sense of disorientation and emotional detachment. They say cinema is not a medium of thoughts and feelings but one of action. Well, with film-makers like these, cinema continues to find ways to express the unsaid. I will revisit the movie every time I have to shoot a scene involving altered senses sans the stylistic features of Aronofsky or Boyle.

Note about the Director: 50-year old Lucrecia Martel is a filmmaker from Argentina, best known for her debut feature 'La Cienaga' (2002). She is currently working on her fourth feature film which is an adaptation of the Spanish novel 'Zama'. The film will come out this year, nine years after her last.

January 04, 2017

Back to Basics #1: Filtered through Film Grammar

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched only 150 films and wrote only 32 blog-posts. But the sadder thing for me was how few great films I unearthed from cinema's rich and beautiful history. Hence, I have decided to start a new column on my blog this New Year. It is called 'Back to Basics'.

I have decided to go back to what I did way back in 2007-08, even until 2010. I will go through the lists of great movies, there are many on the internet, watch them regularly and then read about them. I will then try to write a short post on the respective movies on this space, especially the stand-out ones. I hope this endeavor bears fruit by the end of the year.

To have Todd Haynes' 'Far From Heaven' (USA/ 2002) as the first movie of this exercise was, in fact, poetic justice. I randomly picked it to watch on 2nd January, not realizing that it was the director's birthday! But also because, ranked as the 26th most acclaimed movie of this century on the website TSPDT, it is actually shaped up like a classic from 50s' Hollywood. Not only is the story set in that era and deals with the socio-political climate prevalent then, from the performances of its actors to its visual and sound design - it looks like a beautiful old movie. 

Melodramatic plot-twists. Dialogue mimicking the characters from back then. Costume. Make-up. Art-direction. Lighting. Shot and edit design, including the judiciously and meaningfully used Dutch tilt - everything is reminiscent of the bygone era, the period in mainstream film-making that taught us all that we know about cinema today. Regarded by many critics as a masterpiece, 'Far From Heaven' is just the right movie to kick-start my new innings as a film-buff, most importantly because every element the film, in the words of its own director, has been "drawn from and filtered through film grammar."

What's more? Let the feature presentation begin!

Note about the Director: 56-year old Todd Haynes is an American film-maker who started his feature film career with 'Poison' in 1991. Apart from 'Far from Heaven', his most famous works include 'Safe' (1995), 'Velvet Goldmine' (1998), 'I'm Not There' (2007) and 'Carol' (2015). His upcoming film, 'Wonderstruck' (2017), stars Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore.

January 03, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top Modern English-Language Films

Last year, I watched about forty English-language films that were released during the five year period of 2012-16. The following list (in alphabetic order) is of my favorites out of those.
  • 'The Duke of Burgundy' by Peter Strickland was a revelation. Using the traditional structure of a passionate but doomed love affair, it offers everything new. It plays with your mind and pleases your senses in every way. Yes, it is art-house and proudly so. Modern English-language films rarely get the kind of treatment this rare British gem has.
  • 'Ex Machina' by Alex Garland was just the right kind of sci-fi movie. Psychologically intense and thrilling, it was an extremely well-craft and suspenseful film with some really good performance. And yes, those VFX!
  • 'Hell or High Water' by David Mackenzie might just be my favorite of this entire list. Perhaps it is my weakness for the Westerns, or my compulsive need to back the underdog. But I also know that as a screenwriter I will study its screenplay as many times as I can. Brilliant in every department, this crime drama is actually a moving story about love and duty.
  • 'I, Daniel Blake' by Ken Loach has to feature in this list. It is a drama about a man's struggles with the system and we have seen so many great movies like this. But it still works, and works so well. It has tremendous emotional value and a deceptively simple design. Pure genius.
  • 'The Jungle Book' by Jon Favreau was a wonderful trip to the childhood memories of Mowgli. But it was also the best use of CGI I have seen on big screen. I can watch this movie again and again, not for its story or characters, but for the rich beauty of the jungle that it brings for us. May be in a hundred years, India will make a film visually as magnificent as this.
  • 'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle is the film everyone is talking about. I am so glad we got to watch it on big screen in India much before the Oscar nominations are out. Easily a film that improves with every re-watch, I wonder what more this film-maker has to offer. He is younger than me and look what he has achieved. Thanks for humbling and inspiring me, Damien.
  • 'The Revenant' by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, honestly, did not work for me too well. But then, perhaps I should blame it to the enormous hype that surrounded its release. I also believe that it will improve with the knowledge of its boundaries in my next watch. But yes, this too, like many in this list was a memorable visual treat.
  • 'Room' by Lenny Abrahamson now sounds old. Everyone has been talking about this movie since Toronto 2015, although I saw it very late. We can be confident that this drama-thriller will feature in every list of greatest modern movies. And it will be studied by every film-maker who wants to shoot a film in a cramped space. It will also be known as the film that brought the brilliant Brie Larson the fame and the glory she deserved.
  • 'Swiss Army Man' by the Daniels is audacious and adventurous and colorful and meaningful and utterly unforgettable. Films like these keep reminding us of the great medium we worship and give us the hope of new discoveries cinema will make. It is a fable that should reach more and more audience.
  • 'Zootopia' by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, perhaps the most accessible film in this list, has all the tropes of a studio animation movie. It also has the imagination of perhaps the most genius order and the detailing of the most painstaking type. And it also has a really funny tribute to Don Corleone!
Special Mention: 'Arrival' for its brilliant mood, 'It Follows' for such originality in horror, 'Spotlight' for being one truly complete film and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' for successfully and honorably reviving a legacy.

January 02, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top Modern Foreign-Language Films

I could only watch 150 movies in 2016, my lowest score since 2007. But I did watch about 40 foreign-language films that were released in the last five years. Considering this span of five years to be my criteria for defining a 'modern' film, like every year, I am back with the list of my favorites. And no, it does not include 'Son of Saul'.

Also, as on date I have watched the official entries of 19 countries for the upcoming Oscar Awards, five of which feature in this list. I would also like to mention 'Sairat' and 'Visaranai' - two Indian films that completely bowled me over and became worthy role-models for the struggling Hindi film industry with their critical and commercial success.
  • 'Death in Sarajevo' (Bosnia-Herzegovina) by Danis Tanovic: If you love history, if you love movies with multiple protagonists, if you love movies set over a few hours, this is for you. I was thoroughly engaged, impressed and entertained. It almost does everything that movies can do.
  • 'Desierto' (Mexico) by Jonas Cuaron: This movie appears in my list of top movies this year because of its remarkable direction and for its wonderful use of location. Stunning. Thrilling. A very well-done genre piece. Do not expect much and you will find it unforgettably entertaining.
  • 'Endless Poetry' (Chile-France) by Alejandro Jodorowsky: This is a tough watch. But if you are willing to indulge an artist, this can be the one of the best experience of brilliance for you. Was definitely a highlight of the year for me, this self-indulgent, autobiographical extravaganza.
  • 'The Handmaiden' (South Korea) by Park Chan-wook: Not many movies on this list can boast of a brilliant story-line. This erotic crime drama was stunning in every way, including its shocking plot-twists. I'd suggest you watch it without watching its trailer or reading about it. And, corny as it may seem, we can expect an unofficial Bollywood remake of the same by Abbas-Mastan!
  • 'My Life as a Courgette' (Switzerland) by Claude Barras: An extremely sweet animation film that most endearingly reminds you about the importance of friendship and love, it is among the top 9 movies fighting for the foreign-language Oscar this year. It might be nominated for the Best Animated Feature as well. What a delight!
  • 'Paradise' (Russia) by Andrei Konchalovsky: Another film on the Holocaust! In Black & White, 4:3 Aspect Ratio and with a lot of talking to the camera. I would have never watched it if I knew just all this. But thank God I watched it. What a heartbreaking film! And so, so beautiful. I strongly feel it will make it to the top five at Oscars.
  • 'The Red Turtle' (France-Belgium-Japan) by Michael Dudok de Wit: It is 75 minutes of meditative beauty. Not a word spoken and still says so much about life and beyond. I have watched this animation film twice, including deciding to end the year with a re-watch in my Mom's company. I wish I could have found time to write about it in detail, perhaps one must-watch-before-you-die of the year.
  • 'The Salesman' (Iran) by Asghar Farhadi: This will be one of the biggest bets at the Oscars, another well-crafted and universally appealing story by Farhadi. It is a deceptively simple drama concerning a married a couple and one incident that threatens to change everything for them. I am confident more layers will be revealed on subsequent re-watches.
  • 'The Untamed' (Mexico) by Amat Escalante: How do you describe this? A sci-fi drama on infidelity? It may not make too much sense. It may try your patience. But in the end, it is a rewarding experience on so many levels, including some guilty pleasures for those who love graphic sex and violence on screen. Escalante has become the director to watch out for.
  • 'The Wailing' (South Korea) by Na Hong-jin: This is what horror films should do - haunt you forever. I have said this before that to me this is World Cinema's answer to Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby'. To do something new in this overly abused genre is so tough and this dark and bleak fable not only does that, it teaches a thing or two about how to evolve the genre from here. Do not watch it if you have a weak heart. I am serious!

Special Mention: 'White God' (from Hungary by Kornel Mundruczo) for the most brilliant use of dogs in movie history, 'The Woman Who Left' (from Philippines by Lav Diaz) for challenging and rewarding me at the same time, and 'Jauja' (from Denmark-Argentina-France by Lisandro Alonso) for its every-frame-a-painting beauty.