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!