January 22, 2019

Top 10 at Oscars 2019

The Oscars will be handed out on the 24th of February this year (25th morning for us in India). There are twenty categories for fiction feature films and as many as thirty-two films have earned a nomination or more. But the following ten movies have grabbed almost two-thirds of these nominations and hence watching these ten is essential to make some sense of the upcoming Oscar ceremony. Here you go:

  • Black Panther (seven nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score and Original Song.
  • BlacKkKlansman (six nominations, including Best Picture and Director): Also for Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Original Score. This is the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee's first directing nomination. He is also nominated as one of this film's producers and writers.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (five nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Lead Actor, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The film has already won Golden Globes for Best Picture (Drama) and Best Actor (Drama) for Rami Malek.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (three nominations): Also for Lead Actress, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay.
  • Cold War (three nominations, including Best Director): Also for Cinematography and Foreign-Language Film (from Poland). Cinematographer Lukasz Zal was nominated for 'Ida' as well.
  • The Favorite (ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director): Also for Lead Actress, two nominations for Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, and Film Editing. Olivia Colman has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy).
  • Green Book (five nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing. The film has already won Golden Globes for Best Picture (Comedy) and Best Supporting Actor. Viggo Mortensen earns his third nominations after 'Eastern Promises' and 'Captain Fantastic'. He hasn't won yet.
  • Roma (ten nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director): Also for Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Foreign-Language Film (from Mexico). The film has already won Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Foreign-Language Films. Alfonso Cuaron has won two Oscars for 'Gravity' (2013) - directing and editing. We expect more trophies will be added to his shelf this year.
  • A Star is Born (eight nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Original Song. Bradley Cooper has had three acting and a producing nominations before this film. Here he is nominated as the lead actor and one of the producers and writers. Will he win his first trophy?
  • Vice (eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director): Also for Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Make-Up. Christian Bale has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Comedy). Director Adam McKay has won an Oscar for the screenplay of 'The Big Short' (2015). Amy Adams earns her sixth nomination, still looking for a win.
Also watch 'First Man', 'Mary Poppins Returns', 'If Beale Street Could Talk', 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' and 'Isle of Dogs' and you have covered more than eighty percent of all nominations. I have watched ten of these movies and I have a little less than five weeks to watch the remaining five. Hope they get big screen release in India.

January 08, 2019

Cinema 2018: Top Modern English-Language Films

For this list I have considered all English-language films I watched for the first time in 2018 but not those which are more than five years old. About 70 movies were considered and this was a very difficult list to compile. Reason? Just consider movies not included in this list: 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri', 'The Florida Project', 'A Quiet Place', 'Hereditary', 'Call Me By Your Name', 'Moana', 'Incredibles 2', 'Searching', 'Isle of Dogs', 'Mandy', 'Thunder Road', 'Eighth Grade', 'The Death of Stalin', 'The Disaster Artist', 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs', 'Annihilation' and 'Cam'. Frankly, many of these can replace some of my top ten on any other day. What a year this has been for me as a film-buff!

Following are my top-ten, in alphabetical order:

'BlacKkKlansman' (2018) by Spike Lee: Super entertaining. Super fun. For all those who want to make a film with a strong message, especially political, this film can serve as a great example to follow. I wish I could write comedy like this. Definitely want to watch more of Spike Lee (have only watched 'Do the Right Thing'). '25th Hour', 'Malcolm X' and 'She's Gotta Have It' are top on my wishlist.

'Boy Erased' (2018) by Joel Edgerton: There are uncanny similarities between the plotline of this movie and that of 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post', and the biggest difference is the tone of both. But 'Boy Erased' for me worked like very few films do. It hit me emotionally. Joel Edgerton is another actor-turned-director who has done such a good job behind the camera. And 22-year old Lucas Hedges is already a powerhouse performer.

'Certain Women' (2016) by Kelly Reichardt: I had watched 'Old Joy' in 2017. But with 'Wendy and Lucy' and 'Certain Women' - both featuring in my top lists of the year - I now feel to have actually discovered Kelly Reichardt. Need to watch 'Meek's Cutoff' soon. Such a unique voice of realism. She is a creator of moments so true and turns their nothingness to something really moving and powerful.

'First Man' (2018) by Damien Chazelle: There is so much to talk about the craft, the cinematic language of this film when it could have easily been another Hollywood crowd-pleaser. Perhaps that is also the reason of its box-office failure. But this film really worked for me, especially because I saw it at a time when I was really low, the unpredictable nature of our industry having taken over my joys and sense of sanity. This film will also stand the test of time, I'm tempted to say.

'A Ghost Story' (2017) by David Lowery: A pure art-house film from America. It challenges you and amazes you in equal measure. I have only just discovered this director, and am aware of and excited about his upcoming film 'The Old Man & the Gun'. He seems like someone who keeps shifting genres. A definite filmmaker to follow.

'Green Book' (2018) by Peter Farrelly: Despite all the controversy around it, I really liked the film. Enjoyed it thoroughly. With the Golden Globe wins it has secured yesterday (Best Comedy Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay) and the top award at Toronto and at National Board of Review last year, the film has a very strong chance to score big at the Oscars.

'Leave No Trace' (2018) by Debra Granik: When I started watching this film, I had no idea how good it is going to be. A lot of independent films, from around the world, start the way it started and never end up rising from the clutter of its clones. You end up impressed, slightly, and moved, rarely. But 'Leave No Trace' is an exceptional film, perhaps the best on this list. If I can make a film like this in the next twenty years, when I reach Debra Granik's current age, I don't think I will have much left to desire.

'Logan' (2017) by James Mangold: 2018 was the year when I introduced myself to the X-Men and the Avengers universe and watched all those movies, close to thirty. I did this mainly to orient myself to this strong cultural phenomenon and several of these movies were, frankly, very painful to watch. And then came 'Logan'. Such a nice surprise from its narrative to its tone to its performances. Really made the entire slogging worth it.

'mother!' (2017) by Darren Aronofsky: I know it is bizarre and may not work for most. But I expected no less. There was a time I worshiped Aronofsky. But after 'Black Swan' in 2010, that I loved, he made only one film - 'Noah' that didn't work for me at all. Finally, 'mother!' happened, perfectly the way only Aronofsky can craft a story. Excitedly waiting for his next now.

'The Tale' (2018) by Jennifer Fox: This is a drama that I remember working on me like a horror film. Without much expectation I played it on a digital platform (Hotstar, I think) and was totally blown by it. Since it is based on the true story of the writer-director herself, the pain was so much more real, and the perspectives so original.

Special Mention: I have to mention 'Annihilation' (2018) by Alex Garland for its suspenseful storytelling, 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' (2018) by the Coen Brothers for giving us six different and diverse short stories so perfectly 'Coen' and 'Ready Player One' (2018) by Steven Spielberg for its audacious originality.

January 01, 2019

Cinema 2018: Top Modern Foreign-Language Films

For this list I have considered the films (not in English or Indian languages) I watched for the first time in 2018, but not those which are more than five years old. About 40 movies were considered and here are my top ten, in alphabetic order:

  • 'Border' (2018/ Sweden) by Ali Abbasi: Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes, this unique love-story is tender and disturbing in equal measures. Sweden's official entry to the Oscars (not shortlisted in top nine), the film is directed by an Iranian filmmaker and going by this and the description of his first film ('Shelley'/2016/Denmark), he looks like someone we must follow in the years to come.
  • 'Climax' (2018/ France-US) by Gaspar Noe: A musical-horror that you will never forget, like almost all of Noe's films, 'Climax' won that Art Cinema Award at Cannes. The film itself is a bad-trip, very difficult to watch, and not something you recommend to everyone. But if you can endure it, it is a delightful treat.
  • 'Faces Places' (2017/ France) by Agnes Varda and JR: Close to 90 years old Varda, one of the most reputed French filmmakers of all time, collaborates on this beautiful, funny and moving piece of non-fiction work with the mysterious French photographer and artist, JR. This is something I can recommend to everyone. Watch it and feel good about this world.
  • 'Grave (Raw)' (2016/ France-Belgium) by Julia Ducournau: This first feature by writer-director Ducournau had had a great festival run in 2016, starting with the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes but I could watch it only in 2018. Blending horror and coming-of-age genres, it is an engrossing and fun film, if you can sit through its graphic scenes.
  • 'The Guilty' (2018/ Denmark) by Gustav Moller: Another first-feature, the film is being remade in the US with Jake Gyllenhaal. Starting with audience awards at Rotterdam and Sundance, the film eventually became Denmark's official entry to the Oscars and has made it to the top nine. It will remind you of 'Locke', and is more thrilling than the British film.
  • 'The Insult' (2017/ Lebanon) by Ziad Doueiri: After working in the camera team of several movies in the US, including some of Tarantino's best works, Doueiri is now a screenwriter and director telling entertaining and powerful stories from the Arab world. 'The Insult' was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to 'A Fantastic Woman'. Actor Kamel El Basha won the Best Actor at Venice when it premiered there in 2017.
  • 'Nocturama' (2016/ France) by Bertrand Bonello: This crime drama is on Netflix and for several months I did not pay any attention to it. There is something wonderful at display here, despite the pace and structure that may frustrate some of us. If you can, do not read anything about the film, not even the description Netflix has on its link. Do not watch the trailer. And try to finish this in one sitting. It might surprise you.
  • 'One Cut of the Dead' (2017/ Japan) by Shinichiro Ueda: Talking of surprise! This zombie-comedy is the discovery of the year, and will always remain one of my most favorite films. I only wish you could watch it in a theater, with hundreds of others. Films like these keep big screen, community-viewing alive. Films like these remind us how special cinema is, or can be.
  • 'On Body and Soul' (2017/ Hungary) by Ildiko Enyedi: 63-year old Enyedi had won Camera d'Or at Cannes for her first film 'My Twentieth Century' in 1989. She went on to make four feature films in the 90s, with 'Simon, the Magician' (1999) receiving most acclaim. And then she took eighteen years to make her next feature - 'On Body and Soul'. It is the only film I watched twice this year, so impressed and moved I was with its craft. That it is made by a senior, female film-maker, with such an interesting filmography - I discovered only later. The winner of Golden Bear at Berlin, the film was also nominated for an Oscar. Her next is based on Hungarian author Milan Fust's novel, and stars the French actress Lea Seydoux and the Norwegian actor Anders Baasmo Christiansen.
  • 'Roma' (2018/ Mexico) by Alfonso Cuaron: The entire world is talking about this film, which for me might be the best film released in 2018. What more can I say? Don't be surprised if the film wins more than the Foreign-Language Oscar in February.
Honorable Mention: 'The Giant' (2016/ Sweden-Denmark) by Johannes Nyholm is a film I discovered thanks to my MUBI subscription. And I will never forget it. Part sports drama, part fable, the film elates and devastates you. This is the first feature by its director, whose next film 'Koko-di Koko-da' will be playing at Sundance this year. The wait has begun!

December 29, 2018

MAMI 2018

I have attended every edition of MAMI Film Festival from 2009 to 2016. And almost as a ritual, I kept a log of my daily experience during the MAMI week on this blog. This MAMI, I couldn't do that. I couldn't write blog posts every day. Possible reasons:
  • Not attending the festival in 2017 had already broken the chain. Although the reason for missing out that year was simple. I was directing my first feature. 
  • The first feature mentioned above was supposed to change my relation with MAMI. From a film buff, I was to be there as a film-maker. But, as most of you know, that didn't happen. And that, safe to assume, must have affected my enthusiasm of writing daily posts.
  • Thanks to the fiasco mentioned above, I made sure to keep writing every day (writing a screenplay), even during the MAMI week, despite watching more than three films daily. Writing blog posts over and above that must have been a little too demanding.
  • I have grown too old to write daily blog posts during the hectic MAMI week, it seems.
I must be honest to admit that I feel a little guilty, despite all these reasons. I should have made time. I do feel I have let myself down. Will I get back to may daily reporting from next year? Or will I detach further still? I have no clue. For now, let me briefly share my thoughts on the movies I watched this year at MAMI. They are arranged in the order of least to most favorite. 
  • Colette (2018/US-UK) by Wash Westmoreland: Easily the most disappointing film of the festival for me, although several in the audience really enjoyed it. I don't know why you have to shoot and score a period film in the most obvious way possible? A film on the life of such a radical, colorful character deserves more imagination. No?
  • Birds of Passage (2018/Colombia) by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra: Visually stunning and all. But emotionally this didn't work for me at all. I am sure a lot will disagree. The film has made it to top nine at the Oscars in the foreign-language category.
  • Hotel by the River (2018/ South Korea) by Sang-soo Hang: Atmospheric and quirky. Enjoyed some bits of it. But not something to must-watch. Not bad either.
  • Fugue (2018/ Poland) by Agnieszka Smoczynska: Extremely well-directed. But the screenplay disappointed me. I must repeat, the direction is so good that I would want to watch it again.
  • Diamantino (2018/ Portugal) by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt: Two and half months after the festival, I don't know if I would rate this film above 'Fugue'. But I have decided to stick by what I felt during the festival. The film is bizarre and funny, to say the least. 
  • In Fabric (2018/ UK) by Peter Strickland: Easily the director's weakest film, but still quite unforgettable. Very bold and expectedly original. My love for the director made sure I loved this film despite its flaws.
  • The Wild Pear Tree (2018/ Turkey) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Only if it were an hour shorter, it could have been quite powerful. But because of some moments in it that really moved me, I am rating it higher than what I probably should. The film is already out of the Oscar race.
  • Maya (2018/ France) by Mia Hansen-Love: Despite nothing really remarkable about this film, it had a tenderness that moved me in some way. Perhaps it was the director, her command of the craft, as well as her being a woman, that the love story in it, in a strange way, worked for me. It was also interesting to see India, where most of the film is set, from an outsider's perspective.
  • High Life (2018/ US-UK-and more) by Claire Denis: Traveled all the way from Andheri to Kurla at peak evening traffic to make this my closing film of the festival, for the director, obviously, and coz it is supposed be a sci-fi horror art-house film. Didn't like it or understand it much, but there was enough there for me to rate it so highly in this list. Back then, at least. Not sure how I feel about it today.
  • A Land Imagined (2018/ Singapore-France-Netherlands) by Siew Hua Yeo: Interesting. More from a structural and political point of view than anything else. 
  • Burning (2018/ South Korea) by Lee Chang-dong: A brilliant execution of (what I felt) an ordinary story. This film is gaining widespread acclaim and might be the first South Korean film to earn an Oscar nomination. Its merits are great. But perhaps it is lesser than the sum of its parts.
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018/ US-UK) by Desiree Akhavan: Its similarities with 'Boy Erased' are uncanny and I think the film didn't really build on its great premise. But with its limited ambition, it is really cool. The tone, especially, is sweet and nice.
  • Mandy (2018/ Canada-US) by Panos Cosmatos: I know many will find this to be just indulgent and senseless. But I loved the guts this film had. So important to have films like these to keep pushing the collective cinematic imagination. 
  • Champions (2018/ Spain) by Javier Fesser: Despite its problematic, exploitative and melodramatic bits, the film has enough to be an instant crowd-pleaser. The resemblance with 'Chak De India' is obvious, but that's how most genre films are. The film, however, is out of the Oscar race.
  • Three Identical Strangers (2018/ US-UK) by Tim Wardle: The only documentary I watched at MAMI this year, this is an unforgettable story. I know the storytelling is slightly convenient and manipulative, but still, for its great content, and for some moments that really worked for me, it is among my top choices.
  • Mug (2018/ Poland) by Malgorzata Szumowska: Truly entertaining, strongly political, and a case study of tone, this film completely won me over. In fact, I now wonder why I rated it below some of the following movies!
  • Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018/ Hungary) by Milorad Krstic: What imagination at play! Justifies the choice of animation, and surprises you at every level. With its numerous references and homages to movies of the past (some of which I could spot and recognize) and some famous art works (most of which I knew nothing about), this film should always hold a special place in the art world.
  • The Heiresses (2018/ Paraguay) by Marcelo Martinessi: Now out of the Oscar race, this film deserves universal praise. It builds slowly, but then engulfs you in its humane, subtle portrayal. Remarkable directing.
  • Cold War (2018/ Poland) by Pawel Pawlikowski: Frankly, I don't get the hype around this film. Sure it is stunning and has some great music. But I don't know why it is getting such acclaim, including featuring so high on this list! The film is already in the top nine at the Oscars and may even get into the top five.
  • Woman at War (2018/ Iceland) by Benedikt Erlingsson: An instant crowd-pleaser, and very original genre film. My only, and very slight, problem was with its slightly indulgent use of the omnipresent band of musicians. But that is just me being a little, unnecessarily, critical. The film is out of the Oscar race, though.
  • Border (2018/ Sweden) by Ali Abbasi: Unforgettable. Supremely original. Chillingly suspenseful and surprisingly tender. This is one of the best films of the year, without a doubt. It is out of the Oscar race, but I feel it deserved to be in the top five. Watch it and discover your love for the bizarre.
  • Climax (2018/ France-US) by Gaspar Noe: This film is a nightmare. Do not watch it if you get affected by dark content. This is dark and indulgent in every sense. And it is hypnotic, and spectacular. I also feel it is extremely well paced. Just when you can't bear it any more, it ends. Not sooner, nor later.
  • BlackKklansman (2018/ US) by Spike Lee: A winner in every sense. Thoroughly entertaining and uninhibitedly political, this is a film the world needs to watch, especially the big guys. Every performance is super, dialogue truly funny. Can and should be re-watched, easily and eagerly.
  • One Cut of the Dead (2017/ Japan): This has to be the discovery of the year. It is also a must-watch-before you die (#50). The love that this film has received is so rightly deserved. I really wish, for those who couldn't, you watch it in a theater, with 200-300 in the audience. Don't read about it. Don't watch the trailer. Raise your expectations as high as you want. And then see how the film supersedes all your, already high, expectations.
  • Roma (2018/ Mexico): The best film for me at the festival. Perhaps the best film I have seen this year. Beautiful beyond description, crafted with stunning mastery of the cinematic language, and deeply moving, 'Roma' should be one of the winners at the Oscars, apart from being a masterpiece that will stand all test of time.
Some high profile and acclaimed films I missed: 'Shoplifters', 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs', 'The House that Jack Built', 'A Twelve-Year Night', 'First Reformed', 'Sorry to Bother You', 'Leave No Trace', 'Widows', '3 Faces' and 'Madeline's Madeline'.

270 movies in nine editions of the festival. Simple arithmetic will tell you I should reach 300 next year. But life will tell you, especially after how dramatic it was for me this year, that we shouldn't make assumptions. Just keep faith. And keep that I shall.

April 02, 2018

Modern Masters: 2018 List

Sharing with you, like 2015, 2016 and 2017, the names of ten film-makers with the most impressive filmography during 2000 to 2017. This list has been created by going through the TSPDT list of 1000 greatest movies of the century and the ranking is calculated by considering the number of movies each director has in the top thousand and the respective rank of those movies in that list.

Two names from last year's list have failed to make it to top ten: American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Current Score: 4194 points) and Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien (4034 points). With no releases lined up for this year, the two may not make it to Top Ten next year as well. Steven Spielberg (3784 points), who was ranked 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2016, too has not made it to the list despite favorable reviews of his last film 'The Post'. With his latest release, 'Ready Player One' getting mixed reviews, it is unlikely that he will re-enter the list next year.

Apart from the three names mentioned above, and the ten below, no other film-maker has been mentioned on this list in these four years. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, for example, has 3221 points currently, almost 100 points behind the name at the tenth position.

With the top ten names that follow, I have also mentioned their past ranks, if they have made it to Top Ten anytime between 2015 to 2017. 

10. Claire Denis (71-year old French filmmaker; 2015-9th, 2016-10th, 2017-8th): The only woman film-maker on this list, Denis, with 4219 points, is ahead of Tarantino by only 25 points. So the American may replace her next year. But he does not have an upcoming release while Denis is making her first English language film, 'High Life', that stars Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche that comes out this year. Denis fell from last year's 8th position with her 2017 film 'Let the Sunshine In' not being listed in the Top 1000 of the Century. All other feature films she has made this century are currently in the list:  Trouble Every Day, Friday Night, The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum, White Material and Bastards.

9. Paul Thomas Anderson (47-year old American filmmaker): With only two points more than Denis, with 4221, PTA has made his debut on this list, thanks to his latest film 'Phantom Thread'. He has directed four other films this century, and all of them have met greater acclaim than his latest. 'There Will Be Blood' is ranked 4th, 'Punch-Drunk Love' 25th and 'The Master' 94th. 'Inherent Vice' is ranked 239 as well. However, since he is expected to take a couple of years to come up with his next film, he may not be here on this list next year.

8. Martin Scorsese (75-year old American film-maker; 2015-8th, 2016-9th, 2017-7th): Despite no release last year, Scorsese stays on this list. And his score, 4563, suggests that he may continue to be here although his next release, 'The Irishman', comes out in 2019. He has directed seven films since 2000, all of which feature in Top 1000: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street and Silence.

7. Christopher Nolan (47-year old British-American film-maker, youngest on this list; 2015-10th, did not feature in 2016 and 2017) With 4643 points, Nolan is back in Top Ten, arriving at rank 7th, thanks to his latest release 'Dunkirk'. He has directed eight other films since 2000, seven of which feature in Top 1000: Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. There is no news on his next feature, but he is likely to stay on this list next year as well.

6. Wes Anderson (48-year old American film-maker; 2015-5th, 2016-4th, 2017-5th): One rank further down from last year, and just one point ahead of Nolan, Anderson has directed six films since 2000, all of which feature in Top 1000: The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. His latest, 'Isle of Dogs', has premiered at Berlin this year, winning him the Best Director trophy. It is almost a certainty that it will make it to Top 1000 next year and Anderson may reclaim his position in Top 5.

5. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (47-year old Thai film-maker; 2015-6th, 2016-7th, 2017-6th): With 4717 points, Weerasethakul has entered the Top 5 for the first time. He has directed seven films since 2000, six of which feature in Top 1000, including 'Tropical Malady', 'Blissfully Yours', 'Syndromes and a Century', 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives', 'Cemetery of Splendour' and 'Mysterious Objects at Noon'. His next film will come out only in 2019, and he may lose his position to Wes Anderson next year.

4. Joel and Ethan Coen (American film-makers, respectively 63 and 60 years of age; 3rd position in 2015, 2016 and 2017): For the first time, the Coen brothers have left the Top 3, may be because two of their films 'Burn After Reading' and 'Hail, Caesar!' are now ranked 950 and 990 respectively. Next year, one of these may not make it Top 1000, further affecting their position, especially because they are only 13 points ahead of Weerasethakul. However, with their anthology series, 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' coming up, they may continue to maintain a high position. They have directed ten films since 2000, eight of which feature in Top 1000: No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, True Grit and The Man Who Wasn't There apart from the two mentioned above.

3. Jia Zhangke (47-year old Chinese film-maker; 2015-4th, 2016-5th, 2017-4th): One position higher from last year, Jia Zhngke breaks into Top 3 with 4788 points. He has made seven films since 2000, six of which feature in Top 1000: Platform, Still Life, The World, Unknown Pleasures, A Touch of Sin and 24 City. He does not have any release this year with his next, 'Ash is Purest White' , coming in 2019.

2. Michael Haneke (76-year old Austrian film-maker, ranked 1st in 2015, 2016 and 2017): Finally, after staying on the top for three years, Haneke is down by one rank. He is still, with 4920 points, fairly ahead of everyone else. His first film in five years, 'Happy End' generated mixed reviews and could not make it to Top 1000. He has directed seven more films since 2000, six of which are in the Top 1000: Cache, The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon, Code Unknown, Amour and Time of the Wolf. 

1. Richard Linklater (57-year old American film-maker, ranked 2nd in 2015, 2016 and 2017): Linklater reaches the top position this time despite his latest, 'Last Flag Flying' not making into Top 1000. He has directed thirteen films since 2000, eight of which feature in Top 1000: Before Sunset, Boyhood, Waking Life, Before Midnight, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Everybody Wants Some! and Bernie. In 2018, his next film 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' comes out, with Cate Blanchett playing the titular role. 

Very few film-makers in this list have an upcoming release, but I have a feeling that the list will throw more surprises next year. And may show a drastic change over the next five years. For now, I am happy that my favourite among working film-makers is on the top, and until March next year, I will celebrate this.

March 10, 2018

Oscars 2018: The Regulars

Unlike the last few years, I was unable to publish this post before the Oscars were handed out. But despite the delay, I think it was important to post it, to celebrate the unsung heroes (female and male technicians and artists), who have made it a habit to get nominated for the Academy Awards.

9 Nominations
  • Alexander Desplat (Music Composer): Nine nominations in the last twelve years, including two wins. That's some form! Won for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and 'The Shape of Water'. Other works include 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', 'The King's Speech', and 'Argo'.
  • Doug Hemphill (Sound Designer): Between Dick Tracy (1990) and Life of Pi (2012) and finally 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017), only one win. And that was in 1993 for 'The Last of the Mohicans'. So it has been 25 years without a win despite frequent nominations.
  • Gregg Landaker (Sound Designer): 'Dunkirk' resulted in Landaker's fourth win, but first in twenty-three years. The first three wins were for 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back', 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Speed'. 
  • David Parker (Sound Designer): Nominated for the first time thirty-four years ago for 'Never Cry Wolf'. Won for 'The English Patient' in 1996 and then for 'The Bourne Ultimatum' in 2008. 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' earned him his ninth nomination but it did not convert into a win.
  • Diane Warren (Songwriter): Nine nominations in thirty-one years. And not a single win. Well, she has won a Grammy, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. But an Oscar eludes her. This time she lost to 'Coco'.

10 Nominations
  • Joe Letteri (VFX Artist): In the last sixteen years, he has won ten nominations and four wins (for 'Lord of the Rings': Parts 2 and 3, 'King Kong' and 'Avatar'). Was nominated for 'War for the Planet of the Apes' this time, but 'Blade Runner 2049' prevented him from his fifth win. 

11 Nominations
  • Michael Semanick (Sound Designer): After winning for 'Lord of the Rings - Part 3' and 'King Kong', he has been nominated for 'Ratatouille', 'Wall-E' and 'The Social Network', among others. The latest Star Wars movie earned him his eleventh nomination, but could not win.
  • Hans Zimmer (Music Composer): 'Dunkirk' failed to give him his second Oscar, the first and the only win had come for 'The Lion King' in 1995, despite earning nominations for 'Inception', 'Gladiator' and 'The Thin Red Line', among others.

14 Nominations
  • Roger Deakins (Director of Photography): Nominated for the first time for 'The Shawshank Redemption' twenty-three years ago. It was followed by more nominations, for 'Fargo', 'Kundun', 'No Country for Old Men', 'Skyfall' and 'Sicario', among others. Finally, Deakins won his first Oscar for 'Blade Runner 2049'. More to follow, soon?

And then, of course:

51 Nominations
  • John Williams (Music Composer): The 85-year old genius who has composed numerous iconic tunes, including those for 'Star Wars', 'E.T.', 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Harry Potter' and has won five Oscars. Since 1968, he has earned a nomination almost every year. However, he won his last trophy twenty-four years ago for 'Schindler's List' and this time too he lost to the first name on this list.

January 27, 2018

Top 10 at Oscars 2018

The Oscar season is here. In about five weeks from now, the awards will be handed out. I know I'll be travelling on that Monday early morning (Sunday evening in LA) but will try my best to catch the live broadcast. Meanwhile, there is a lot of work to do. I have hardly watched movies in the last few months, and hence will be eager to binge on some.

So if you want to enjoy the Oscar ceremony, make predictions among your friends, root for some and crib about wrong decisions, I share with you here a list of ten movies you must watch. I have been doing this on this blog for five years now. 

These ten movies cover more than two-thirds of all nominations (not including non-feature film categories). Here we go:

  • Blade Runner 2049 (5 nominations): Cinematography. Production Design. Sound Editing. Sound Mixing. And VFX. Director Denis Villeneuve fails to secure a nomination for himself unlike last year's 'Arrival'. DOP Roger Deakins will hope for his first win after being nominated for the 14th time.
  • Call Me by Your Name (4 nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Original Song. This film has earned James Ivory his first nomination in 24 years, after being nominated thrice for directing 'A Room with a View', 'Howards End' and 'The Remains of the Day'.
  • Darkest Hour (6 nominations, including Best Picture): Also for Actor, Cinematography, Costume, Make-up and Hair-design, and Production Design. Gary Oldman has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Drama) for this movie and is a strong contender for his maiden Oscar trophy.
  • Dunkirk (8 nominations, including Best Picture and Director): Will Nolan win his first Oscar? Or will he have to wait like several great directors have done before him? The film is also nominated for Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score by Hans Zimmer, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. 
  • Get Out (4 nominations, including Best Picture and Director): Also for Actor and Original Screenplay. Actor Jordan Peele writes, directs and produces his first movie and secures three Oscar nominations! That's some debut. It is unlikely to win any, but the movie has had a great run in every sense. And is a fantastic movie anyway.
  • Lady Bird (5 nominations, including Best Picture and Director): The movie has won the Golden Globes for Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) and director Greta Gerwig, also nominated for Original Screenplay, is only the fifth director in history to secure an Oscar nomination. Saoirse Ronan also won the Golden Globe for her performance and is a strong contender for the award. Laurie Metcalf is also nominated for her Supporting Role.
  • Mudbound (4 nominations): Adapted Screenplay. Cinematography. Original Song. Supporting Actress. DOP Rachel Morrison becomes the first woman cinematographer in Oscar history to win a nomination.
  • Phantom Thread (6 nominations, including Best Picture and Director): Paul Thomas Anderson has eight nominations to his name, without a win. Daniel Day-Lewis is retiring from acting and all of us are sad. But will this result in his record 4th win? The film is also nominated for Costume, Original Score and Supporting Actress.
  • The Shape of Water (13 nominations, including Best Picture and Director): Guillermo del Toro has already won the Golden Globe for directing this movie, as has Alexandre Desplat for its Original Score. The film is also nominated for Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, being the only film to get all kinds of nominations: writing, acting, as well as most technical categories.
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (7 nominations, including Best Picture): The film has already won Best Actress for Frances McDormant, Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell and Screenplay for Martin McDonagh at Golden Globes, all of whom are nominated for Oscars as well, apart from Film Editing, Original Score and another Supporting Actor nomination, for Woody Harrelson.
More movies to watch: After finishing these ten, one should definitely go for 'The Post', 'Coco', 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi', 'Baby Driver'. 'I, Tonya' and 'Victoria & Abdul'. These 16 movies will make you a pro at Oscars this year. :) I have watched only 7 out of these so far.

January 03, 2018

Cinema 2017: Favourite Classics

I have been away from this blog for five months. And I could watch only 140 movies in the last one year. The reason behind this will be known to you soon. Meanwhile, as the year ends, let me share with you the list of the ten classics I loved most in 2017. For this, I have considered all movies released before 2013 but first watched by me in the last twelve months:

  1. Berberian Sound Studio (2012/ UK) by Peter Strickland
  2. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005/ Romania) by Cristi Puiu
  3. Far From Heaven (2002/ USA) by Todd Haynes
  4. Happiness (1998/ USA) by Todd Solondz
  5. Monsieur Lazhar (2011/ Canada) by Philippe Falardeau
  6. Mysterious Skin (2004/ USA-Netherlands) by Gregg Araki
  7. The Road Home (2000/ China) by Yimou Zhang
  8. Scarecrow (1973/ USA) by Jerry Schatzberg
  9. Summer Hours (2008/ France) by Olivier Assayas
  10. West Side Story (1961/ USA) by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Also loved: 'The Believer' (2001/ USA) by Henry Bean, 'Fitzcarraldo' (1982/ West Germany) by Werner Herzog, 'Funny Games' (1997/ Austria) by Michael Haneke, and 'Road to Perdition' (2002/ USA) by Sam Mendes 

And some unforgettable ones: 'The Cabin in the Woods' (2012/ USA) by Drew Goddard, 'District 9' (2009/ New Zealand-USA-South Africa) by Neill Blomkamp, 'Old Joy' (2006/ USA) by Kelly Reichardt, 'Post Tenebras Lux' (2012/ Mexico-France) by Carlos Reygadas, and 'Suspiria' (1977/ Italy) by Dario Argento

    Cinema 2017: Modern Favourites

    I have been away from this blog for five months. And I could watch only 140 movies in the last one year. The reason behind this will be known to you soon. Meanwhile, as the year ends, let me share with you the list of the ten modern movies I loved most in 2017. For this, I have considered all movies released in the last five years but first watched by me in the last twelve months:
    1. Dunkirk (2017/ UK-USA) by Christopher Nolan
    2. Get Out (2017/ USA) by Jordan Peele
    3. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016/ USA) by Travis Knight
    4. Lion (2016/ Australia-UK) by Garth Davis
    5. Manchester by the Sea (2016/ USA) by Kenneth Lonergan
    6. Rams (2015/ Iceland) by Grimur Hakonarson
    7. Taxi Tehran (2015/ Iran) by Jafar Panahi
    8. Toni Erdmann (2016/ Germany-Austria) by Maren Ade
    9. What We Do in the Shadows (2014/ New Zealand) by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
    10. Wonder Woman (2017/ USA) by Patty Jenkins
    Also loved: 'Hacksaw Ridge' (2016/ USA-Australia) by Mel Gibson, 'Moonlight' (2016/ USA) by Barry Jenkins, and 'The VVitch' (2015/ USA-Canada) by Robert Eggers

    And some unforgettable ones: 'The Lure' (2015/ Poland) by Agnieszka Smoczynska, 'The Tribe' (Plemya) (2014/ Ukrain) by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, and 'Hard to Be a God' (2013/ Russia) by Aleksei German

      August 05, 2017

      #11: Heartache. Heartbreak

      This post is a part of a series that chronicles my personal journey with the movies, the origin of the love affair when I was a kid and its growth into the obsession it is today. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

      "When we're in love we experience pleasure, and extreme pain." - Paul Thomas Anderson's 'The Master' (2012)

      The first favorite film of my life, 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun!', was released exactly 23 years ago. It went on to change a lot of things. Made by a 28-year old, it changed the perception of movie business by becoming the first film to gross 100 crores. With its songs and dance and games, it changed how the weddings in most of North India were conducted - with increased popularity of the ritual of groom's shoes being stolen by bride's sisters, to be returned only after extorting a good sum of money. And it changed the film-buff in me, as evident by this previous post on it.

      Five years later, Sooraj Barjatya returned with his next. I still remember seeing its first look one afternoon in a newspaper outside the library of my boarding school. During the Durga Puja holidays that followed, my Mom, my brother and I would spend hours listening to its songs and discussing its lyrics and finding clues in it about the story. I remember Kunal Kohli's very favorable review of its music in his show 'Chalo Cinema'. I remember reading its preview in the newspaper and wondering how it could be, as mentioned there, a modern-day adaptation of the Ramayana. Would it involve the kidnapping of Sita by Raavan and the war that follows? And I remember the deep sorrow I had felt on realizing that it won't be released in my home-town on the very first day, Diwali of 1999, and I'll have to wait for the Winter Vacation to watch it. 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' was the first film I had truly, madly, obsessively waited for. The movie-lover in me had now turned a fanatic.

      And as it happens with obsessive love, I was to soon receive immense pain when, back at my hostel, a friend who was a big fan of 'HAHK!' mentioned his disappointment with 'HSSH' to me. Others were even more critical of it, 14-15 year olds who, obviously, had started preferring more realistic movies, like 'Shool', released the same day, and loved openly lambasting the saccharine idealism of Barjatya.

      Like all heartbreaks, I went through all five stages of grief, while dealing with the underwhelming response to the film. But when, in the next vacation, I watched it in Lucknow, my brother and I laughed and cried and absolutely loved it. Like all fanatics we decided to keep our faith in the filmmaker we most revered. We watched it again, in Patna, and I memorized all its dialogues, hoping to narrate it to my friends when I meet them next and slowly spread the cult of this movie!

      Well, 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' did end up as the biggest grosser of the year, but its business was a let-down for the market. As Januray 2000 arrived, the phenomenon of Hrithik Roshan redefined the Hindi film hero, and the ideals of Sooraj Barjatya rapidly became a thing of the past. Today, I am aware of all the flaws of 'HSSH', and its very convenient plot-points embarrass me, but I still watch and love and get sentimental about it as often as I can, including humming its songs which have lost their magic on me.

      But then, there is something more to this story. Recently, my family and I made a trip to Dehradun to meet my to-be in laws and I got engaged. As I thanked God for making this happen, finding the right life-partner and seeing my parents happier than ever, I realized one more thing as we laughed and ate and traveled together. That joy we felt and the respect and warmth my parents received took me back to several moments from the cinema of Sooraj Barjatya. Weddings and family values continue to be such important parts of our society and the film-maker who led to its documentation is him. Life is not as saccharin sweet as his films, but these joys are as pure. Time and again, Sooraj Barjatya has brought me closer to my brother and my parents, and I hope he will continue to inspire me as I become a part of a new family. And for this reason alone, he continues to remain the most revered film-maker for me, despite all his bad movies and heartbreaks that followed 'Hum Saath Saath Hain!'

      June 25, 2017

      21st Century Film Festival

      After a very ordinary 2016, during which I watched very few great movies, I have been persistently trying to do better this year. And hence, this June I organized another film festival for my lone self. This time I selected ten movies from the 21st century, movies which are considered great but which I had not watched. 

      For this festival, I tried to have an interesting mix, from narrative features to animation and documentary films, and the list boasts of some of the greatest film-makers active today. I included some very popular titles as well, movies which most people around me have watched but I hadn't. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience and I may come up with a second edition of this festival very very soon.
      • Gladiator (2000/ UK-USA) by Ridley Scott: This epic historical action-drama was the opening film of my festival. It had won five Oscars, including Best Picture and it was one of the most popular American films I hadn't seen yet.
      • White Material (2009/ France) by Claire Denis: This drama set in the backdrop of an unnamed African nation torn by civil war is the fourth film I have watched of the very acclaimed French director, Claire Denis. To be honest, I still need to watch more of her work and more time to form an opinion of her.
      • The Gleaners & I (2000/ France) by Agnes Varda: Perhaps the most acclaimed documentary of this century, it was a playful watch that left with lots of images and thoughts in my head. I'm glad I selected this for the festival. 
      • District 9 (2009/ New Zealand-USA-South Africa) by Neill Blomkamp: This sci-fi mockumentary film was quite a revelation. I was aware of its name but I had no idea that this was going to be anywhere close to this. Such a refreshing take on aliens (OR such a refreshing take on civil unrest everywhere in the world with the metaphor of aliens!) The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture.
      • Grizzly Man (2005/ USA) by Werner Herzog: Again a very reputed documentary of this century, on the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, it was an unforgettable experience - those images of faith and horror, and the narration by Herzog. 
      • Erin Brockovich (2000/ USA) by Steven Soderbergh: Another popular movie that I had not watched yet, this drama film tells the story of the real-life Erin Brockovich who despite no formal education in the law was instrumental in building one of the biggest lawsuits in American history. Quite an entertaining film, I thought, for which Julia Roberts won an Oscar. But it is only the fifth Soderbergh movie I have watched. A lot remains.
      • L'Illusionniste (2010/ France-UK) by Sylvain Chomet: This Oscar nominated animation was an out-and-out art-house affair, and hence very refreshing for me. With hardly any dialogue, and lacking any remarkable drama, it quietly tells the story of a magician's unending struggles.
      • War Witch (2012/ Canada) by Kim Nguyen: This war drama, again set in a civil unrest in an African nation, premiered at Berlin, winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and Best Actress for the teenage actor. It was Canada's entry at the Oscars that year and eventually got nominated into the top five.
      • A Scanner Darkly (2006/ USA) by Richard Linklater: Out of the thirteen Linklater movies that I have watched, this might be among the two-three least favorite. But this was pending for years, and I had to do it. I was mostly unmoved by it, but the last ten minutes did something and I felt it was an exercise worth taking.
      • Summer Hours (2008/ France) by Olivier Assayas: What a movie to close the festival's first edition. This is a heartwarming drama about a family and its generations and how they deal with their ancestral house and inheritance while sorting out their own priorities. One of the best movies I have seen this year so far, this is also the 100th film I watched in 2017. Hoping for another 100, at least.

      May 31, 2017

      Cannes in Andheri Film Festival 2017

      As the world's most reputed film festival unfolded over the last couple of weeks in Cannes, I conducted my own personal film festival, like previous years. I curated films that have won awards at Cannes over the last few decades and watched nine movies as part of this one-man film festival:

      • Crimson Gold (2003/ Iran/ Jafar Panahi) Winner of Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. The film is a crime drama involving a pizza delivery man who increasingly gets attracted to the idea of quick money.
      • Songs from the Second Floor (2000/ Sweden/ Roy Andersson) Winner of Jury Prize in the Main Competition category. This film is the first of the 'Living Trilogy' of exceptionally original comedies, followed by 'You, the Living' and 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'.
      • Gate of Hell (1953/ Japan/ Teinosuke Kinugasa) Winner of the Grand Prix, the top prize at that year's festival. It went on to win an Oscar for Costume Design and another Honorary Foreign Language Oscar. A period samurai story of obsessive love, reminded me of our very own 'Darr'!
      • Scarecrow (1973/ USA/ Jerry Schatzberg) Winner of Palme d'Or and OCIC Award at Cannes. Discovering this movie was a big surprise. No one talks about this one, although it is so good at so many levels. It is a road-movie as a sailor and a con-man forge a beautiful friendship on their way back home.
      • Fitzcarraldo (1982/ West Germany/ Werner Herzog) Winner of Best Director. Inspired by the true story of an Irish adventurer and his endeavors in South America, this film has an imposing scale and an incredible tale to tell. 
      • If.... (1969/ UK/ Lindsay Anderson) Winner of Palme d'Or. This British comedy-drama shows us the ridiculous tradition at play while running an apparently prestigious boys boarding school. Frequently jumping from color to b&w, with several surrealistic sequences and an explosive climax, I could figure why this film must have garnered acclaim. However, it was kind of tough for me to watch it.
      • Post Tenebras Lux (2012/ Mexico-France/ Carlos Reygdas) Winner of Best Director. A film like this is essential to complete your movie experience. A slow-paced drama with some sequences so bizarre you don't even care if it had any meaning. But with brilliant cinematography, and natural effective performances, you know this is something special. For me, just the opening sequence was worth anything, and the shocker at the end that I won't tell you about made it really memorable.
      • The Sugarland Express (1974/ USA/ Steven Spielberg) Winner of Best Screenplay. One of the lesser know Spielberg movies, its screenplay was co-written by Matthew Robbins, who wrote 'Saat Khoon Maaf' and 'Rangoon' with Vishal Bhardwaj. The movie is on the lines of 'Bonnie and Clyde' but has more comedic elements involving a massive chase of a crime couple, based on true incidents. 
      • The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005/ Romania/ Cristi Puiu) Winner of Un Certain Regard Award. Perhaps the perfect movie to close the festival. A drama set over a few hours of a night, it works almost like a thriller in the closing half an hour. And it looks so real it is hard to believe it is a movie.