April 28, 2021

Oscars 2021: The Regulars

Here is my annual post on some of the nominees (and winners) of this year's Oscar Awards who have made it a habit to get nominated. Often, the big winners and stars get all the limelight and many talented individuals, especially those working behind the camera, do not get the attention they deserve. This post is an attempt to correct that.

8 Nominations:

74-year old actor Glenn Close has been nominated eight times so far, without any win. She has earned leading role nominations for 'Fatal Attraction' (1987), 'Dangerous Liaisons' (1988), 'Albert Nobbs' (2011), and 'The Wife' (2017), and supporting actress nominations for 'The World According to Garp' (1982), 'The Big Chill' (1983), 'The Natural' (1984), and this year's 'Hillbilly Elegy' (2020)

9 Nominations:

52-year old filmmaker Pete Doctor has won three Oscars so far, for animated features 'Up' (2009), 'Inside Out' (2015), and 'Soul' (2020). He has been nominated for animated feature 'Monsters, Inc.' (2001), animation short 'Mike's New Car' (2002), and for original screenplays of 'Toy Story' (1995), 'WALL.E' (2008), 'Up' (2009), and 'Inside Out' (2015).

Sound designer Ren Klyce has been nominated nine times so far: for 'Fight Club' (1999), 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2008), 'The Social Network' (2010), 'Soul' (2020), and 'Mank' (2020), apart from two nominations each for 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011) and 'Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi' (2017). He is yet to win one.

69-year old composer James Newton Howard too has had nine nominations so far: for the original score of 'The Prince of Tides' (1991), 'The Fugitive' (1993), 'My Best Friend's Wedding' (1997), 'The Village' (2004), 'Michael Clayton' (2007), 'Defiance' (2008), and 'News of the World' (2020), and for original song in 'Junior' (1994) and 'One Fine Day' (1996). And he too is yet to win an Oscar.

11 Nominations:

70-year old sound designer David Parker has won two Oscars so far, for 'The English Patient' (1996) and 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (2007). Apart from these, he has been nominated for 'Never Cry Wolf' (1983), 'Pirates of the Caribbean' (2003), 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2008), 'The Social Network' (2010), 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011), 'Rogue One' (2016), 'Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi' (2017), 'Soul' (2020), and 'Mank' (2020).

12 Nominations

Grammy? Yes. Emmy? Yes. Golden Globe? Yes. But despite twelve nominations in 34 years, 65-year old singer-songwriter Diane Warren is yet to win an Oscar. Her filmography includes films like 'Ghostbusters' (1984), 'While You Were Sleeping' (1995), 'Patch Adams' (1998), 'Notting Hill' (1999), 'Stuart Little' (1999), 'Moulin Rouge!' (2001), 'Silver Linings Playbook' (2012), 'Sing Street' (2016), 'A Star is Born' (2016), and this year's 'The Life Ahead' (2020).

13 Nominations:

68-year old sound designer Michael Minkler has won three Oscars, for 'Black Hawk Down' (2002), 'Chicago' (2002), and 'Dreamgirls' (2006). His remaining ten nominations have been for films like 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989), 'JFK' (1991), 'Inglourious Basterds' (2009), 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood' (2019), and this year's 'Greyhound' (2020), among others.

April 24, 2021

Top 10 at Oscars 2021

With less than 36 hours to go for the Oscar Awards ceremony to begin, here is my annual post on the ten movies which have earned most nominations this year.

If you have watched these ten movies, the ceremony will make more sense to you than otherwise. I have watched only six of these which were available on different online platforms.

  • Mank (10 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score, Sound, Production Design, Cinematography, Makeup & Hairstyling, and Costume Design) Despite leading the nomination chart, it is unlikely that 'Mank' will win any award outside of Cinematography and Production Design.
  • The Father (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, and Film Editing) The film can win for Best Actor and Adapted Screenplay.
  • Judas and the Black Messiah (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Original Song, Cinematography, and two nominations for Supporting Actor) It is almost certain that the film will win the Supporting Actor trophy. Anything else looks less likely.
  • Minari (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Original Score) There is a good chance for the film to win the Supporting Actress trophy. The chance of an Original Screenplay win also cannot be ruled out.
  • Nomadland (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing) The film has won the top awards at Venice, Toronto, BAFTA, and Golden Globes. It will be surprising if it does not win Best Picture Oscar as well. There is a good chance for it to also win Best Director, Actress, Cinematography, and Adapted Screenplay.
  • Sound of Metal (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Sound, and Film Editing) Film Editing and Sound wins are most probable bets for this film. But it is also a strong contender for Best Actor and Supporting Actor.
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Original Song, Cinematography, and Film Editing) Winning for Original Screenplay looks like the only possibility for this film.
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (5 nominations, for Best Actor, Actress, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, and Costume Design) Winning for Costume Design and Makeup & Hair looks very likely for the film. But there is a possibility for it to win Best Actor and Actress too.
  • Promising Young Woman (5 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing) Winning for Original Screenplay looks like the strongest bet for this film. But Best Actress and Costume Design cannot be ruled out.
  • News of the World (4 nominations, for Original Score, Sound, Production Design, and Cinematography) Despite four nominations, it is unlikely the film will win any.

October 14, 2020

Modern Masters: 2020 List

I should have published this in March, when this amazing list of the Greatest Films of the 21st Century was updated. Anyway, here is my annual list of Top 10 Directors with the most impressive filmography this century. This ranking considers the number of movies each director has in Top 1000 as well as the respective ranks of their movies. 

There are three names who have been a part of the top ten in one or more of the previous years. Christopher Nolan is currently at #11. With this year's 'Tenet' he may regain his position in the top ten next year, as he is only six points behind Wes Anderson. 
Hou Hsiao-Hsien is at #14. He hasn't had a release since 2015's 'The Assassin' and there is no word on his next, 'Shulan River', that was supposed to be out this year. Steven Spielberg has come down to #19. So it is unlikely for Spielberg to find a spot in the top ten anytime soon. At #12 we have Alfonso Cuaron. His next is a series/show and we do not when it will be out.

Let us check out this year's rank-holders now:

10. Wes Anderson (51-year old American filmmaker): Down to #10 from #5, Wes Anderson is only 117 points behind his last year's score. This means the ranking of his films has not changed significantly. Only other filmmakers have surged ahead. His next film 'The French Dispatch' is likely to debut at Cannes 2021.

9. Paul Thomas Anderson (50-year old American filmmaker): He is down by one position. His next, yet untitled film that stars Bradley Cooper is expected to be out in 2021. Also, he is only 68 points behind Haneke and 71 points behind the Coen Brothers. Hence, we can expect him to climb up in the next year's rankings with very few changes in the overall list of top 1000.

8. Michael Haneke (78-year old Austrian filmmaker): Losing six ranks, and out of the top two for the first time since I started publishing these rankings, this looks like a big fall, although the rankings of his movies are intact. His last film 'Happy End' (2017) has failed to make it to the top 1000 and it looks Haneke's presence in the top ten will be over sooner than we expected.

7. The Coen Brothers (65 and 63-year old American filmmakers): Down four ranks, the Coen Brothers are only 74 points behind their last year's score. This means the rankings of their films have hardly changed. 'Macbeth' directed by Joel Coen will be out in 2021. There is no news of Ethan's next.

6. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (50-year old Thai filmmaker): After the decade's best lists were published, 'Cemetery of Splendour' moved up more than 300 ranks on the Top 1000 list. This has single-handedly caused Weerasethakul's increase in points, although his rank is static. His next is 'Memoria' starring Tilda Swinton and comes out in 2021.

5. Quentin Tarantino (57-year old American filmmaker): With the entry of 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' (2019) at #132, Tarantino has scored close to 670 points more than last year, thus leaping from #11 to #5 this year. Although there is no announcement of his next, it looks like Tarantino will stay in the top ten for some time now.

4. Jia Zhangke (50-year old Chinese filmmaker): The entry of 'Ash is Purest White' has caused a 300-point increase in Zhangke's score and has ensured that he holds on to his rank. His latest work is a documentary, 'Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue', that screened at Berlin this year. Whether it makes it to the Top 1000 next March or not may cause a change in Zhangke's score and rank.

3. Richard Linklater (60-year old American filmmaker): After staying at the top for two years, Linklater is down to rank #3. But the rankings of his movies has hardly changed. This only means that the top two names this year have surged ahead with the help of their latest releases. His next, 'Apollo 10 1/2', comes out in 2021. There are three other projects that have been announced with him at the helm.

2. Claire Denis (74-year old French filmmaker): The entry of 'High Life' and the improved ranking of 'Let the Sunshine In' has resulted in an 841-point increase in Denis' score. So far she stayed among #8 to #10. But now she is at #2. This, and the topper of this year's list, proves how dynamic this list is. Her next is 'The Stars at Noon' starring Robert Pattinson and it comes out next year.

1. Martin Scorsese (77-year old American filmmaker): 'The Irishman' entered the list at #125 and gained 989 points in the total score. This is what a massively acclaimed film can do to a director's filmography. This also ensures Scorsese's position in the top ten for the next few years. His next, 'Killers of the Flower Moon', starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, comes out in 2021.

With the Coronavirus pandemic massively impacting shoots and releases this year, we do not expect many new movies to enter the Top 1000 ranking next year. But that does not mean the rankings will stay mostly static. The difference in scores for various filmmakers is negligible and just a few changes in the Top 1000 may greatly change the rankings. What we can be sure of is that the list I publish in 2022 will be very interesting. Two years can be a long time and greatly affect a list as dynamic as this. For that, and for more great movies to arrive, we will have to wait.

February 09, 2020

Top 10 at Oscars 2020

With less than 24 hours to go before the Oscar Awards ceremony to begin, here is my annual post on the ten movies which have earned most nominations this year. 

If you have watched these ten movies, the ceremony will make more sense to you than otherwise. I have watched all of these except one, which I plan to catch today.
  • 1917 by Sam Mendes (10 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Production Design, Makeup and Hair, VFX).  I strongly feel that '1917' will win more awards than any other film. And I'm fine with that, as long as it does not win Best Picture. Chances are high for it to win Best Director, Sound awards, Cinematography, and Production Design.
  • Ford V Ferrari by James Mangold (4 nominations, Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing). It has a good chance of walking away with 1-2 awards, despite only four nominations.
  • The Irishman by Martin Scorsese (10 nominations, Best Picture, Director, two Supporting Actors, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, VFX). Despite ten nominations, it is entirely possible that the film does not win any awards on the final day. Joe Pesci has an outside chance. Also, editing, may be. But that's it.
  • Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Editing, Production Design, Costume). Do not be surprised if 'Jojo Rabbit' wins for Adapted Screenplay. But anything more than that will be difficult.
  • Joker by Todd Phillips (11 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Editing, Costume, Makeup and Hair) With 11 nominations, 'Joker' leads this list. Winning for Actor and Score is somewhat easy to predict now. But it is unlikely that it will win more.
  • Little Women by Greta Gerwig (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume, Score) The film has collected awards in many categories at different award functions. I'm not sure if that will translate at the Oscars. But the possibility of winning for Costume Design is the highest. And Adapted Screenplay, perhaps.
  • Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Score) It looks like Laura Dern will win her first Oscar for this movie. But apart from that, it is unlikely that 'Marriage Story' will win any. I'd be very pleased if it does. It is one of my favourite movies on this list.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino (10 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume) Brad Pitt is almost certain to win the trophy. But the film may also win for Production Design, Screenplay and even Best Picture.
  • Parasite by Bong Joon-ho (6 nominations, for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Editing, International Feature Film) It is almost certain to win in the last category. But it has strong chances in other categories as well, going by its BAFTA and WGA win for Best Original Screenplay, the ACE award for Editing, the Art Directors Guild Award for Production Design (Contemporary), and several critics association award for Best Picture and Director. If it wins best picture, which I think it should, 'Parasite' will be the first foreign-language film to do it. 
  • The Two Popes by Fernando Meirelles (3 nominations, for Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay). The film is on Netflix. It is unlikely it will win in any of these categories, but the performances are really good.

February 08, 2020

Cinema 2019: Top Modern Foreign-Language Films

These are the top ten foreign-language movies from the last five years that I saw in 2019:

Bacurau (2019/ Brazil/ Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles)
Capernaum (2018/ Lebanon/ Nadine Labaki)
Deerskin (2019/ France/ Quentin Dupieux)
Honeyland (2019/ North Macedonia/ Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov)
It Must Be Heaven (2019/ Palestine/ Elia Suleiman)
I Lost My Body (2019/ France/ Jeremy Clapin)
Keep an Eye Out (2018/ France/ Quentin Dupieux)
Midnight Traveller (2019/ Qatar-UK-Canada-USA/ Hassan Fazili)
Les miserables (2019/ France/ Ladj Ly)
Pain & Glory (2019/ Spain/ Pedro Almodovar)

Discovering the cinema of Quentin Dupieux has been a highlight of the year. Two of his movies feature in this list and I have not watched more. I definitely want to watch 'Rubber' (2010), 'Wrong' (2012), 'Wrong Cops' (2013) and 'Reality' (2014).

Cinema 2019: Top Foreign-Language Classics

These are the top ten foreign-language classics I watched in 2019. All of these were made available to me by MUBI. I wasn't aware of these titles before I watched and loved them. This shows how important MUBI is for a film-buff.
  • Cabaret Balkan (1998/ Serbia/ Goran Paskaljevic). This filmmaker is still making films. I must look more into his filmography.
  • Europa Europa (1990/ Germany-France-Poland/ Agnieszka Holland). Need to watch 'In Darkness' (2011) and 'Spoor' (2017) by the same director.
  • Fantastic Planet (1973/ France/ Rene Laloux)
  • Home (2008/ Switzerland/ Ursula Meier). 'Strong Shoulders' (2003) and Sister (2012) are some of the movies I look forward to watching.
  • A Hundred and One Nights (1994/ France/ Agnes Varda)
  • Jacquot de Nantes (1991/ France/ Agnes Varda)
  • King of Devil's Island (2010/ France-Norway/ Marius Holst). How will I find these films by the same filmmaker? 'Cross My Heart and Hope to Die' (1994), Dragonflies (2001), and Mirush (2007).
  • Natural Sciences (2004/ Argentina/ Mattias Lucchesi)
  • Philanthropy (2002/ Romania/ Nae Caranfil)
  • Quai des Orfevres (1947/ France/ Henri-Georges Clouzot)

Cinema 2019: Top Modern English-Language Films

These are the top ten English-language films from the last five years which I watched in 2019:

   American Honey (2016)

   The Favourite (2018)
   Ford V Ferrari (2019)
   Free Solo (2018)
   The Irishman (2019)
   Joker (2019)
   Marriage Story (2019)
   Sorry to Bother You (2018)
   Toy Story 4 (2019)
   Us (2019)

Cinema 2019: Top English-Language Classics

These are the top ten English-language classics I watched in 2019.
  • (500) Days of Summer (2009)
  • 8 Mile (2002)
  • Away from Her (2006)
  • Buried (2010)
  • The Driver (1978)
  • Election (1999)
  • Hot Fuzz (2007)
  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940): Must Watch Before You Die #51
  • Toy Story 1, 2, 3 (1995-2010)
  • Vera Drake (2004)

January 25, 2020

MAMI 2019

This was my tenth year at MAMI 2019. I've attended every edition of the festival since 2009, except in 2017 when I was busy prepping for 'Chintu Ka Birthday'. With 28 movies this time, I have completed 298 features in all these editions of the festival.

These are the films I watched at MAMI 2019, in alphabetical order, with my favourite ten marked in bold.

  • Aamis (2019)
  • Ad Astra (2019)
  • Alien (Rewatch) (1979)
  • Bacurau (2019)
  • The Beach Bum (2019)
  • Bitter Chestnut (2019)
  • Buoyancy (2019)
  • The Cremator (1969)
  • The Dead Don't Die (2019)
  • Deerskin (2019)
  • A Dog and His Man (2019)
  • Greener Grass (2019)
  • Honeyland (2019)
  • Les miserables (2019)
  • It Must Be Paradise (2019)
  • Land of Ashes (2019)
  • The Lighthouse (2019)
  • The Lodge (2019)
  • Midnight Family (2019)
  • Midnight Traveller (2019)
  • Pain and Glory (2019)
  • Sole (2019)
  • System Crasher (2019)
  • Varda by Agnes (2019)
  • Vitalina Varela (2019)
  • The Whistlers (2019)
  • The Wild Goose Lake (2019)
  • You Will Die At 20 (2019)

September 26, 2019

Modern Masters: 2019 List

I should have published this in March, when this amazing list of the Greatest Films of the 21st Century was updated. Anyway, here is my list of Top 10 Directors with the most impressive filmography in this century, for the fifth year. This ranking considers the number of movies each director has in Top 1000 as well as the respective ranks of their movies. 

There are three names who have been a part of the top ten in one or more of the previous years. Quentin Tarantino is currently at #11. With 'Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood' he may regain his position in the top ten next year. Hou Hsiao-Hsien is at #13. He hasn't had a release since 2015's 'The Assassin' and his next, 'Shulan River', will be out earliest in 2020. Steven Spielberg has come down to #16. His remake of 'West Side Story' will be released in December 2020. So it is unlikely for Spielberg to find a spot in the top ten before the 2021 list is out. At #12 we have Alfonso Cuaron, some 247 points behind currently ranked tenth, Claire Denis. If next March's update improves the ranks of Cuaron's films, he may find a place in the top ten as well.

Let us check out this year's rank-holders now:

10. Claire Denis (73-year old French filmmaker): Except 'High Life', all seven films directed by Denis in this century feature in Top 1000. I have watched 'Bastards', 'White Material', 'Trouble Every Day', and '35 Shots of Rum'. Hoping to watch 'Let the Sunshine In', 'The Intruder', and 'Friday Night' soon. If 'High Life' makes it to the list next March, Denis may get to improve her rank. Otherwise, it may be tough, with her next coming not before 2021 and Tarantino breathing down her neck.

9. Christopher Nolan (49-year old British-American filmmaker): Down two positions from last year, and only 11 points ahead of Denis, Nolan is also precariously placed at #9 this year. Last year he was at #7, and I had assumed that he will stay in top ten for some time. In fact, five of his films - 'Memento', 'The Dark Knight', 'Inception', 'Dunkirk', and 'The Prestige' - have maintained or improved their rankings. But the fall of 'Interstellar', 'Batman Begins', and 'The Dark Knight Rises' have cost him more than 300 points. Don't be surprised if 'The Dark Knight Rises' fails to find a place in the Top 1000 next year. His next, 'Tenet', will be out next July.

8. Paul Thomas Anderson (49-year old American filmmaker): Gaining one rank from last year, thanks to the improved position of 'Phantom Thread', Paul Thomas Anderson has no feature release coming up anytime soon. Four of his other features from this century find a place in top 1000. They are 'Punch-Drunk Love', 'There Will Be Blood', 'The Master', and 'Inherent Vice'. 

7. Martin Scorsese (76-year old American filmmaker): Although Scorsese is back at #7, his best rank in five years, he is only 330 points ahead of eleventh ranked Tarantino. Depending on how well Tarantino's latest ranks next March, the positions of Scorsese, PTA, Nolan, and Denis are at stake. But unlike others, Scorsese has an imminent release in 'The Irishman'. The performance of this film may greatly affect the bottom five ranks of my list next year. 'The Departed', 'Hugo', 'Shutter Island', 'Silence', 'The Aviator', 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Gangs of New York' are Scorsese's films in top 1000.

6. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (49-year old Thai filmmaker): As predicted last year, Weerasethakul has lost his #5 position to Wes Anderson, although by merely 48 points. Out of his six films in top 1000, I have watched 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives', 'Tropical Malady' and 'Syndromes and a Century' and am yet to watch 'Blissfully Yours', 'Cemetery of Splendour' and 'Mysterious Object at Noon'. His next, 'Memoria', features Tilda Swinton and will be out in 2020. 

5. Wes Anderson (50-year old American filmmaker): All seven films that Wes Anderson has directed in this century features in Top 1000, including a lowly ranked 'Isle of Dogs'. If this film can improve its ranking next March, Anderson's position may improve as he is only 32 points behind Jia Zhangke. His other six films on the list are 'Moonrise Kingdom', 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', 'Fantastic Mr. Fox', 'The Darjeeling Limited', 'The Royal Tenenbaums' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'. His next, 'The French Dispatch', comes out in 2020.

4. Jia Zhangke (49-year old Chinese filmmaker): Maintaining his position as the leading Asian filmmaker of 21st century, Jia Zhangke has directed eight films since 2000, six of which feature in top 1000. I have watched '24 City', 'Still Life', 'Unknown Pleasures', 'Platform' and 'A Touch of Sin' and am yet to watch 'The World'. His last two films, 'Mountains May Depart' and 'Ash is Purest White' have failed to make it to top 1000 yet.

3. The Coen Brothers (64 and 62 year old American filmmakers): The latest film by the Coen Brothers, 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' failed to make it to the list. 'Hail, Caesar!' is out of the list. 'Burn After Reading' is at #905. And 'The Ladykillers' and 'Intolerable Cruelty' are not in top 1000. But still, they have reclaimed their #3 position, edging Jia Zhangke by just 47 points, thanks to 'No Country for Old Men', 'Inside Llewyn Davis', 'A Serious Man', 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?', 'True Grit' and 'The Man Who Wasn't There'. Joel Coen is directing 'Macbeth' without Ethan but there is no clarity on when it will come out.

2. Michael Haneke (77-year old Austrian filmmaker): Despite making only one film in the last seven years, 'Happy End', that failed to feature in the top 1000, Haneke maintains his #2 position. Out of his six films on the list, I have watched 'Amour', 'The White Ribbon', 'Cache', 'The Piano Teacher', and 'Code Unknown' and am yet to watch 'Time of the Wolf'. Over the years, Haneke will fall in the rankings, as younger and more prolific filmmakers replace him, but I don't see him going out of top ten anytime soon.

1. Richard Linklater (59-year old American filmmaker): My favorite modern filmmaker maintains his top position the second year in a row and with 5152 points he has a solid lead over others. Linklater has directed fourteen films since 2000. 'Tape', 'Bad News Bears', 'Fast Food Nation', 'Me and Orson Welles', and 'Last Flag Flying' do not find a place in top 1000. His latest, 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette', hasn't been received very well. But in 'Waking Life', 'School of Rock', 'Before Sunset', 'A Scanner Darkly', 'Bernie', 'Before Midnight', 'Boyhood', and 'Everybody Wants Some!!', Linklater has created a body of work that is exciting, unpredictable, and extremely unique. By the way, did you know that Linklater is directing an adaptation of the musical 'Merrily We Roll Along' that will be shot over 20 years!?

Although only 13 names have featured on this list over the last five editions, and many of them seem to be juggling positions among themselves, the rankings actually have less stability than it appears. With 'The Irishman' and 'Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood', which may break into top 1000 next March, it seems the list may not undergo any serious change. But then this is a list created out of the performance of 1000 movies, and that list is very dynamic. Every year dozens of new movies replace others. Rankings undergo massive changes. We shouldn't be surprised if next March when I publish the updated top ten of 'Modern Masters', things have moved quite a bit. 

March 11, 2019

'Manchester by the Sea' by Kenneth Lonergan

My two co-writers and I decided to read a screenplay and have a discussion on it. One of them selected 'Manchester by the Sea' and we had a very fulfilling three-hour discussion last week. 

It is impossible to cover the entire discussion in a blog post, but I decided to write about the best points that were made and debated upon. There is so much to learn here, from this Oscar-winning script but the following will make more sense to you if you have recently watched the film or read the screenplay. And, of course, there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Protagonist

Lee, the protagonist, is extremely relatable because of the pain he has gone through. Suffering from guilt of the worst kind, he is mostly quiet and may come across as a passive character who has given up. However, in our discussion we realized that the writer has used him as a very active, decisive, motivated character in almost every scene. He is working hard, answering back to people, picking up fights, constantly driving the car with some short-term agenda, taking important decisions, and so on. What this does is wonderful. Every scene is dramatically rich and well-structured while overall we have a feeling that ours is a passive protagonist. This is a big lesson for me. The next not-so-motivated character I create can remain active at the smallest level, throughout the film, without appearing heroic. 

Also, it is important to note that in the flashbacks, before the tragedy, Lee is often seen casually defending himself - that he knows how to take care of his children. The theme of being or appearing (ir)responsible and taking responsibility runs throughout the film.


We could summarize the film as follows: The death of his elder brother forces Lee to take up responsibilities he had run away from and giving him the opportunity to start healing the wounds of his past. The writer has decided to have a very realistic, life-like structure for the film, purposefully staying away from a well-defined and easy-to-figure plot. There are eight pages of character-building and zero plot before the inciting incident kicks in. There are three acts, but the act breaks have been very effectively hidden (refer to Billy Wilder's 10 tips of screenwriting). There is a climax and a resolution, but it is not built like one. 


The location plays a very important role in the film. This story has to be set in a small town, the gossip-rich and unambitious life of its people giving the perfect socio-cultural milieu to the story. Plus it is 'by the sea' and the boat of our characters and the activity of fishing has emotional and narrative importance. The location also gives a visual uniqueness to the film that could have been otherwise set in any small town.


The generous use of flashbacks does not hurt because they don't look like a lazy and easy tool for exposition in this film. Rather, they are brought in for emotional reasons alone and end up improving the emotional impact of the film. In fact, each flashback sevres more than the function of exposition: it throws light on the present, it increases our curiosity in Lee, and it often breaks our heart.

Also, every time you feel nothing is happening in the story, something dramatic happens. Or we simply cut to a point ahead in time, with a sense of momentum. This makes sure that despite a relaxed, life-like pacing, the script remains engaging.


The unsentimental tone of the script, despite dealing with such intense crises in the characters' lives, is beautiful. There is enough humor there as well, in the way some of the characters speak, but that only enhances the life-like tone. Nothing is done for the laughs, or for the tears. And still, it is such a powerful script, emotionally speaking.


Characters speak in a way only they can. For example, very early in the film, Lee is fixing pipes in a woman's bathroom. 

"Well, we could turn on the shower and see if it drips downstairs..." Lee says. 

The woman replies. "You want me to take a shower while you stand there watching, to see if the water drips down into Friedrich's apartment?" 

Now, only this woman knows that the apartment below hers belongs to some Friedrich. She is talking in a way only she can. Not Lee. 

The most remarkable thing about the script, though, is its use of dual dialogue. Characters' lines overlap throughout, and their overlapping has been meticulously designed and timed. It is as if the director is editing the film while writing. This is something no writer should do while writing for someone else. If you are writing to direct, I would still not advise this on the script level because then you are micro-managing your actors and leaving very small room for error. But the final realism that this film has, thanks to its overlapping dialogue, is something all of us may strive to achieve.


In the end, it is not a play. Nor a novel. And not life. It is a screenplay. And hence economy is extremely important. Economy of pages, scenes, even events, lines, and what we see from the rich backstory and what we don't. In the now famous apology scene that comes toward the end, for example, Randi says something to Lee that very succinctly explains all that must have happened between them since the terrible accident until today. Instead of showing various events or stages that must have pulled them apart, we only have Randi say this: 

"I said a lotta terrible things to you." 

And just a second later she says: "I said things that I should -- I should fuckin' burn in hell for what I said." 

In that moment we fill in the gaps in our head, without losing our emotional involvement with the characters. It's super smart.

Opening Scene

Lee and a young Patrick are having fun on their boat in the sea, being steered by Lee's elder brother, Joe. We all know how important the opening image of a film can be. Here, we not only introduce the three most important characters of the film, the boat that connects them and represents Joe after his death and causes conflict between Lee and Patrick, we also see the sea and the activity of fishing that introduces the setting to us. But most importantly, we see Sam steering the ship, just as he will steer the story, even after his death, while his brother and his son will engage and find support in each other.

The First Ten Pages

After the short scene mentioned above, we have eight pages of Lee's life in Boston. We see him working at different households as a janitor. Each scene has interesting characters, and the scenes get increasingly more and more conflicted. Since the story is not moving forward at all (and rightly so, to establish the monotony of Lee's life), it is important that these pages are written very well. And since some big news is about to reach Lee, forming the Inciting Incident of the film, this wait is justified even more.

Some Specific Observations

It has never been stated explicitly, but Lee is an alcoholic. In one of the flashbacks, he tells his wife that they didn't run out of beer and that they were 'temperate'. There are very evident signs suggesting that he needs to cut down. He gets into drunken brawls. He keeps sipping on beer whenever we see him alone. And, of course, the biggest tragedy of his life is caused by his craving for more alcohol when he had had enough. 

Throughout the film, we see Lee trying to shrug off the responsibility of Patrick. We first thought it is because he doesn't want to shift to Manchester. But during our discussion we wondered if this is because subconsciously he thinks of himself as a poor guardian, after what happened to his kids. And the way he opposes Patrick's choice of his mom as his guardian, and note that she too is an alcoholic, not a druggie or something, perhaps Lee blames his alcoholism for everything. And still cannot give it up.

There is one scene toward the end when a secondary character, we have never seen him before in the story, is telling Lee the story of his father's death. 

"My father passed away in 1959. A young man. Worked on a tuna boat. Went out one morning, little bit of weather, nothing dramatic... And he never returned. No signal. No Mayday. No one ever knew what happened." 

I feel the story of this man's father suggests a suicide. Look at the portions I have underlined above. And perhaps with this scene, the writer is teasing us. Will Lee, after suffering from grief for so long, finally take his own life? Of course, he doesn't. I don't remember how this scene has been treated in the film. But that, perhaps, can explain its need two pages before the end.

February 05, 2019

Cinema 2018: Top Foreign-Language Classics

Out of about 40 foreign-language classics (movies at least five years old) I watched for the first time in 2018, these are my top ten (in alphabetic order):

  • 'City of Life and Death' (2009/China) by Lu Chuan: Stunning black and white cinematography and war sequences choreographed with such detail, precision, and ambition that it will leave you awestruck. Looking forward to watch more movies by the director, especially 'The Missing Gun' (2002) and 'Mountain Patrol' (2004).
  • 'The Four Times' (2010/ Italy) by Michelangelo Frammartino: Strictly for art-house lovers, the film had an award-winning premiere at Cannes. The director's 'The Gift' (2003) is now on my wishlist.  
  • 'Goodbye, Dragon Inn' (2003/ Taiwan) by Tsai Ming-liang: Another art-house piece that celebrates cinema in the most unique way, this is the fourth film that I have watched of its director. Unforgettable, to say the least.
  • 'Kung Fu Hustle' (2004/ Hong Kong) by Stephen Chow: Nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe award, this is the perfect movie to watch with friends. A hilarious action-comedy, this is as good as martial art movies get. Need to watch 'Shaolin Soccer' soon.
  • 'Landscape in the Mist' (1988/ Greece) by Theo Angelopoulos: Perhaps my most favorite film on this list, and definitely most heart-breaking, I watched it thanks to the subscription of mubi.com I took last year. Definitely need to watch the director's 'The Travelling Players' next - his most acclaimed film, they say.
  • 'The Misfortunates' (2009/ Belgium) by Felix van Groeningen: Watched this film as part of my research on alcoholism, and loved it. The director is more commonly known for his Oscar-nominated 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' and last year's 'Beautiful Boy'.
  • 'Neighboring Sounds' (2012/ Brazil) by Kleber Mendonca Filho: The director is better known for his later more controversial 'Aquarius' (2016), but I loved 'Neighboring Sounds' way more. I could watch it thanks to mubi. Looking forward to his third feature - 'Nighthawk' that will come out this year.
  • 'The Piano Teacher' (2001/France-Austria) by Michael Haneke: A big winner at Cannes, this is perhaps the most acclaimed film on this list and my sixth Haneke film. I hope to watch 'The Seventh Continent' and 'Time of the Wolf' this year to finish watching most of his acclaimed works.
  • 'A Room in Town' (1982/ France) by Jacques Demy: My fourth Demy film, this one was a delight. Every line of the film is sung, and it works so, so well. Need to watch 'Bay of the Angels' soon.
  • 'This is Not a Film' (2011/ Iran) by Jafar Panahi: The political context of this film cannot be separated from it, and without the context the film may not appeal to many people. But this film is special for exactly the same reason. For its use of the medium, and the story behind it, this, and many films by Panahi, will never be forgotten. I need to watch 'The Mirror' (1997) and '3 Faces' (2018) to finish his entire filmography, so far.