La La Land – A Review

Image result for la la land posterDamian Chazelle directs Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. The musical about Hollywood and all the dreamers and believers that inhabit this world. With the talent like Chazelle who took Hollywood by storm on the drummer biopic Whiplash in 2014 and America’s sweetheart Emma Stone and Canadian good guy Ryan Gosling this is deservedly one of the most hotly anticipated movies and darling of the awards circuit.

 

The story starts with a song and a dance as any musical worth its salt should but its not wham in your face but a very subdued number the loudness is only in the colourful outfits the various performers wear. It turns the most dreaded of gridlocks on the LA freeway into a thing of beauty and joy. We are introduced to our leads Mia played by Stone and Sebastian played by gosling as two characters stuck in the same jam where Mia is practicing for an upcoming audition while stuck in traffic when Seb honks at her rudely for not moving and they carry on with their individual story tracks. The way Chazelle masterfully overlays the two tracks which seemingly parallel still cross each other’s paths.

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Emma Stone really brings it as a struggling actress/barista and you can her craft in the various auditions she goes for, only to be met by disinterested casting directors who keep shoving rejections in her face. Ryan Gosling brings the slow burn with his passionate jazz musician act who has savings swindled by a conman who promises to help him buy the iconic Van Beek café. There is an almost Woody Allen like banter that goes for a good part of the character’s meeting and falling in love with one another but unlike Allen’s movies this isn’t self-indulgent or self-aware this is more in the moment with two people brimming with passion finding someone who understands them. This is where the movie really shines.

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Mia encourages Seb to focus on his passion and helps him conceptualise what his Jazz club would look like and the menu it would serve. Seb on the other hand encourages Mia to write and direct a one woman play which he is sure will be brilliant and will give Mia the break she is looking for. How things pan out from there is best viewed on screen than written down. We see dreams being crushed, passions forgotten in the light of fame and money and the dreamers drift apart. The final sequence where they replay the entire movie in the idealistic scenario is sublime. It is the perfect bitter-sweet end to the entire proceeding

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The camera work by Linus Sandgreen manages to capture the leads and the city of Los Angeles in the best possible light. While atmospheric and close up for most part the camerawork never once gets claustrophobic. The music by Justin Hurwitz and the original songs are all fantastic. The costume design by Mary Zophres with the retro realistic trappings of the cutest dresses and the perfect skinny tie elevate this from being an ordinary musical. The choreography reminds of the era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s just all around happiness and the canary yellow dress seems to be the perfect embodiment of the same.

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As a musical this may not be for everyone and the ending might seem a bit too sweet but I couldn’t fault it even if I tried. I found absolutely everything about this to be perfection. The actors themselves are perfectly cast in their individual roles. And as Mia says in the movie People love what other people are passionate about. And with Damien Chazelle’s passion for telling simple stories through an emphasis on music, what’s not to love! Do not miss it

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The Theory of Everything – A Review

James Marsh directs Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. The movie is an adaptation of the book by Hawking’s first wife Jane Hawking and looks at the remarkable life of the noted theoretical physicist, his staggering achievements in the face of a debilitating disease. But make no mistake this isn’t a movie about science and the black holes and gravitational singularities but it is a love story, an intimate look at the nearly 30 years of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s marriage and the ups and downs that they go through.

James Marsh is known more for his exhilarating documentary Man on Wire and the equally fascinating documentary on a chimpanzee that was snatched from his mother and raised in a human society. But his control on the subject matter at hand here is adept and he infuses warmth and genuine human emotions in the relationship dynamics between the lead pair. From the very first frame to the very last this is a celebratory picture of the love that undoubtedly saved Stephen Hawking from would the doctors in 1963 predicted to be a heavily crushing defeat in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The lead pair turns in phenomenal performances which carry the entire film. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is full of wit, charm and charisma first as the lanky geeky Cambridge PHD student and then as the wheelchair bound yet iconic theoretical physicist. It is almost impossible to separate the Redmayne Hawking from the public persona of Hawking himself. He comes off as someone who is not bound by the limitations of his disease and someone who is a source of inspiration for millions around the world as a person who overcame an impossible hurdle and contributed so greatly to the world of science. Even behind the prosthetics and the Equalizer program to relay his voice via a computerized program Redmayne never ceases to amaze. He is as fiercely independent and alive from the inside that one would expect a man like Stephen Hawking to be. Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking couldn’t be any more perfect. She is the sweet and loving as the Cambridge student who catches the fancy of Hawking and strong willed and formidable as the partner who refuses to walk away when Stephen breaks the news to her of his illness. She underplays the dotting wife who is herself struggling to keep pushing through the difficulties in such a believable manner that you do feel for her even when you know it is Stephen who is going through much worse. Her vulnerability around Jonathan played by Charlie Cox and the restraint with which she manages to push back the feelings she has for Jonathan are beautifully portrayed. The dynamics between Stephen, Jane and Jonathan are very telling in two scenes in particular the first one where they meet for the first time at dinner and the second when Stephen goes to Jonathan to ask him to continue helping Jane. It is a sensitive subject matter dealt with dignity and gravitas.

Visually the movie is plush in sepia tones and it lends itself beautifully to the love story being told. The music by Johann Johannsson is a beautiful companion to the story. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten who adapted Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity : My Life with Stephen Hawking” is rich with humorous undertones and the final scene where we see a flashback of the events of Stephen’s life in reverse order coming to an end at the first instance he laid eyes on Jane is a stroke of genius as it ties in with the theories of Hawking and how he believes that there should be one elegant equation which can tell us of the moment of the beginning of universe or the beginning of time itself.

To me this is beautiful movie which tells the story of a very real struggle and the thumping triumph that the love between two individuals enables them to overcome insurmountable odds. It features two of best performances of the year. Felicity jones is a revelation and Redmayne is an absolute joy to watch as Stephen Hawking. This is a small movie by a relatively small player in the politics of awards but if there is any justice it should be Redmayne who should walk away with the best actor award this year and not Cumberbatch or Keaton. Do not miss this movie.

The Imitation Game – A Review

Morten Tyldum directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in the Alan Turing Biopic The Imitation Game. Turing was a man of immense genius, one whom Winston Churchill credited with the “single greatest contribution to ending the second world war”. Turing along with other cryptologists at britain’s Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma machine’s code effectively ending the war by laying bare the german communication to the allied troops. Tyldum has based the movie on a script by Graham Moore who adapted the book by Adrew Hodges.

The movie opens in 1952 with Turing in prison for questioning on the suspicions of being a soviet spy.  Cumberbatch’s voice over asks us to pay attention and asks us the question “am I a national hero, a criminal or a spy”. As it turns out Turing wasn’t a spy and the events that led to his arrest had very little to do with espionage but more to do with his homosexuality which in the 50s was still a punishable offence in Britain. The movie keeps flitting between the periods of 1952 when Turing was arrested, the war time 1939-1942 and the formative years of Turning at a boys school where he was bullied and harassed for being different.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode plays John Hughes and Mark Strong plays Menzies.  I am as big a fan of Sherlock star Benedict as the next Cumberbitch (fans of Cumberbatch are known as cumberbitches) but to me he is the worst and the most obvious choice to play the irascible genius as he has played the same character in Sherlock and as Kahn in Star Trek. The performance does nothing unexpected or exciting. There are moments where Cumberbatch shines but they are far too few to warrant a Oscar win or even a nom as most punters are betting. Kiera Knightley as the only woman cryptographer has a role that is underdeveloped. She is chosen to join the team at Hut8 but her parents refuse and then Turing manages to deceitfully get them to agree and she is off to Bletchley but up until the point where they are engaged never once is Joan seen in Hut8 and instead seems to be whiling her time away with the other women at Bletchley intercepting the encoded messages. It is a befuddling tangent of storytelling at best.  Goode plays the cool, suave yet genius John Hughes in a performance that is reminiscent of his Ozymandias from Watchmen. The problem with these castings is that they are lazy and almost a stereotype of the kind of roles these otherwise brilliant actors are known to play. I would much rather have Goode or even Ben Wishaw play Turing but they aren’t big enough names to attract top billing unfortunately.

Graham and Tyldum do well to go into the most significant aspects of the story of Turing’s life, the arrival at Bletchley, the approval for building Christopher by going over the commanding officer and directly to Churchill, the eventual breakthrough, the debriefing, the arrest of Turing for public indecency, the chemical castration. But these events become mere checkpoints that the director and the cast tick off while hurtling towards the conclusion. There is no finesse when it comes to any of the above mentioned plot points, for instance the approval for Christopher is not only Turing’s effort but that of the entire team at Hut8 and the arrest and the interrogation that follows, which forms the opening scene of the movie is ended abruptly and Nock who is handling the investigation is handed a newspaper confirm that Turing is sentenced for Indecency a charge that he, Nock was fighting against. Also as with most biopics the closing scenes which list out what happened with the characters after the events in the movie this one does so as well. But rather than the half-hearted attempt of bullet-pointing how Turing was given a royal pardon if they had only ended it with the statement Gordon Brown made which was best summed up as “ we are sorry, you deserved much better”.

Gordon Brown’s ending remarks on the apology are how I felt about the movie myself. This is no doubt a honest and fine attempt at telling the life of perhaps the most influential figure in modern history. His pioneering work set the pace for the advent of computing in the right sense, his work at Bletchley saved 14million lives, his entire contribution was shrouded in secrecy and he was mistreated by the society because of his“different-ness” , it was his “different-ness” that saved the very society. But because of the towering nature of his contributions and the fantastic life that he lived which could serve as an inspiration to so many his story deserved to be told in a better fashion than a run of the mill biopic which is nothing but a Oscar-bait being distributed by the Weinstein brothers. Don’t miss this movie because even if mis-cast Benedict Cumberbatch is a treat to the eyes and ears both and Alan Turing’s story is the one that must be told over and over again till someone gets it right. And after you have seen the movie go read up on the life of this genius who changed the world for the better and still got nothing in return from it.

Oscar 2014 Predictions!

Roll out the red carpet and put on your best ball gown the little golden man is rolling into the nokia center this Sunday night.Another year rolls by and the 86th annual academy awards are upon us. While there is more mindless franchise trash than the previous year, there are also several leaps made in terms of meaningful cinema with artistic and technical prowess on full display. A casual glance at the best movie category validates this assessment where we have a futuristic love story competing against a love story and a story of human triumph set against the dark days of black slavery, we have a story of personal greed and depravity set to square off against a space adventure which tests the limits of human resilience. And plus when there is Ellen DeGeneres hosting it is bound to be a party. Plus P!nk is going to perform her aerial acrobatics so you cannot miss this Oscars night (early Monday morning YAWN!!!) .

This year’s Oscar race is a little more curious than most years – there is a clear cinematic landmark in the shape of 12 years a slave but it is a movie that most people are finding hard to watch and there is a possibility that this might hurt the film’s chances at a major win. The best actresses race which is usually the most fiercely competitive field seems to have the most talented actresses this year too with Blanchet, Dench, Adams, Bullock and Streep competing and with such stellar performances it should be a more closely fought race – but it seems to not be the case and the one with the lobbying power of the Weinstein’s will win. The best actor’s race which is generally a lone horse race seems to be the one that is too close to call with a 3 way fight between DiCaprio ( long overdue), McConaughey( on a comeback) and Ejiofor ( the most demanding role of them all).
Each year I try and come up with a list of who I think should win and will win and in most cases it matches but in some it doesn’t. This year too I will take you through the categories and draw up my list of winners and on the morning of 3rd March you will either hear me fist-pumping and cheering as my favorites win or hear me hurl abuses or laugh out loud (if the undeserved ones trip on their way up to the podium – I am looking at you Lawrence)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
June Squibb in “Nebraska”

This is one of my favorite category as usually in an ensemble cast the supporting actor’s role can easily be swapped with that of the leading actor’s and that is what makes this a very prestigious award indeed.
Who Should Win : Roberts for August: Osage County – any actor who can say “Eat Fish B*tch” to Meryl and lives to tell the tale should win the award. But jokes aside, she delivers a phenomenal performance the likes of which were only seen from her in Erin Brokovich.
Who Will Win: This is a tough one – Nyong’o or Lawrence . I don’t think Lawrence should firstly because she walked away with the leading trophy last year and also because her role in American Hustle isn’t that substantial. Nyong’o certainly was the reason why we felt as bad as we did for Solomon. Tough call indeed but I would be happy if it was either Roberts or Nyong’o

Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should/Will Win: Jared Leto if you physically transform yourself to a point where you are unrecognizable and you deliver a smashing performance you should start practicing your acceptance speech from the minute the production wraps up.

Animated Feature Film

“The Croods” Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

This is one category that almost always baffles me with the inclusion of a French animated movie – do the laws of foreign language film not apply to this category? anywho!

Who Should/Will Win : Frozen it has everything that is the hallmark of a Disney classic – a princess, a dashing prince, talking inanimate object and a brilliant song “Let It Be”.

Cinematography

“The Grandmaster” Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” Roger A. Deakins

This is one aspect of filmmaking that more often than not finds a mention in my reviews because to be this is one of the most important components that makes or breaks the movie. The director’s vision is only as good as the DoP being able to translate it to the big screen. I loved Deakin’s work in prisoners and am so glad he found a nomination here but…

Who Should/Will Win : Emmanuel Lubezki the man who took us to space and tossed us around like a lone sock in a tumble dry washing machine! Gravity is a visual phenomenon and makes perfect use of every inch of the IMAX screen space.

Visual Effects

“Gravity” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity to me the beauty of the visual effect is in it being so inseparable from the main visuals that it does not feel unnatural and jarring and that was achieved by the team behind Gravity who transformed a giant sink tank into the unending blackness of the space.

Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

Another fantastic genre in movie making that turns in some of the most amazing films – the Act of Killing is a disturbing look into the psyche of the khmer rogue leaders who perpetrated some of the most heinous crimes against humanity. 20 feet from stardom is a fantastic feature about the background singers which had me experiences many bouts of goosebumps with some of the most amazing voices ever heard but hardly recognized.

Who Should Win : Act of Killing
Who Will Win : 20 Feet from Stardom

Foreign Language Film

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” Belgium
“The Great Beauty” Italy
“The Hunt” Denmark
“The Missing Picture” Cambodia
“Omar” Palestine

The category that many a times reflects the political affiliations of the members of the academy more than the technical merit of the winner .

Who Should Win : The Hunt
Who Will Win : The Great Beauty

Sound Editing

“All Is Lost” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Brent Burge and Chris Ward
“Lone Survivor” Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing

“Captain Phillips” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

The two categories that make the least amount of sense to me but still turned out to be the biggest shocker last year with tie. I think the sound editing and mixing is probably going to go to the one that sweeps the most technical awards and in that case Gravity seems like a natural choice

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity

Music (Original Score)

“The Book Thief” John Williams
“Gravity” Steven Price
“Her” William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” Thomas Newman

The category that has me wondering always why the academy hates Hans Zimmer – he either gets shut out of the nominations entirely or gets nominated and doesn’t win even though he deserves it. Here too he got shut out of 12 Years a Slave. However with the wonderful music by Arcade Fire I am hopeful that I will not be too disappointed.

Who Should Win : Her
Who Will Win: Gravity

Music (Original Song)

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

Idna menzel performing at the Oscars – after Adele performed last year – it’s like my dreams are coming true! Her performance of Let It Go would have to win the gold! If only she can switch into the witches outfit with green makeup and do an encore of defying gravity – now that would be PERFECT!

Who Should/Will Win : Let It Go

Film Editing

“American Hustle” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” Joe Walker

This has got to be Gravity – a film so tightly cut that not one moment feels bloated or unnecessary

Who Should/Will Win: Gravity

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“Before Midnight” Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Screenplay by Terence Winter

Who Should Win : Before Midnight show some love to the troika of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke who have worked for 18 years to come up with a trilogy that is essentially a personal journey in the lives of two amazingly written characters.
Who Will Win : 12 Years A Slave

Writing (Original Screenplay)

“American Hustle” Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” Written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
“Her” Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” Written by Bob Nelson

This has got to be Her – it cannot be anything else – a story so original yet so beautifully written that it feels almost commonplace , the future does not feel completely alien and love gets a whole new meaning.
Who Should/Will Win : Her

Now come the big guns!

Directing

“American Hustle” David O. Russell
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón
“Nebraska” Alexander Payne
“12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese

It is a crying shame that Russell and Payne find a place here and Jonze is shut out of a nomination. In a perfect world Russell and Payne would get replaced by Frears and Jonze or even a Linklater for his phenomenal third movie in the Before/After series.
Who Should Win : McQueen/Cuarón
Who Will Win : Cuaron

Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
Judi Dench in “Philomena”
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”

A 5-time nominated actress, 2 previous winners, A Dame and a goddess with 18 nominations and 3 wins – this one heck of a category to choose from. With each of the actresses turning in a stellar performance it becomes a question of who wants it the most and who has the ability to campaign the most, And more importantly than not who has the weight of the Weinsteins behind her. If anyone has seen Meryl’s performance as Violet Weston and thinks she does not deserve to win this award then that person is delusional.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchet ( I love you Cate but watch out for the steps girl)

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Replace Dern with Robert Redford for “All is lost” and even though I love Bale but replace him with Joaquin Phoenix for “Her” we would have the most perfect leading man’s nominee club in a long long time. But be that as it may of the 5 nominated here it is a 2 horse race between McConaughey and Ejiofor with the possibility of DiCaprio pulling an upset ( seems unlikely )

Who Should Win : Chiwetel Ejiofor – Physical transformation may be hard but getting into the psyche of Solomon Northup would’ve been harder.
Who Will Win: I am going to stick my neck out on this one and say that Ejiofor takes home the gold.

Best Picture

“American Hustle” Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
“Captain Phillips” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
“Dallas Buyers Club” Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
“Her” Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
“Nebraska” Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
“Philomena” Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
“12 Years a Slave” Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

My top 5
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
The Wolf of Wall Street

There is an interesting article out in the blogosphere about how many academy members are unable to bring themselves to see 12 Years a Slave because of the unrelenting nature of McQueen’s portrayal of slavery and how this might ruin its chances of winning the best picture and how Gravity might take it home instead. While I loved Gravity I do not think it is worthy of a best picture win, it is a landmark for cinema no doubt but I find it hard to believe that it can take home the big prize but then its got Clooney so stranger things have happened.

Who Should Win : 12 Years A Slave
Who Will Win: like with Ejiofor I have faith that 12 Years A Slave will win the big prize and McQueen will be vindicated for Hunger and Shame.

So there you have it! My predictions for the 86th annual academy awards

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Director McQueen/Cuaron Cuaron
Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress Meryl Streep Cate Blanchet
Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress Julia Roberts Lupita Nyong’o
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Spike Jonze Spike Jonze
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Before Midnight -Delpy/Linklater/Hawke 12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
Best Animated Feature Film Frozen Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film The Hunt The Great Beauty
Best Documentary – Feature Act Of Killing 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Documentary – Short Subject (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) The Lady in Number 6
Best Live Action Short Film (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything).
Best Animated Short Film Get A Horse Mr Hublot
Best Original Score Arcade Fire – Her Steven Price Gravity
Best Original Song Let it Go – Frozen Let it Go – Frozen
Best Sound Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Sound Mixing Gravity Gravity
Best Production Design The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Cinematography Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design The Great Gatsby 12 Years a Slave
Best Film Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Visual Effects Gravity Gravity

I will be for the first time attempting to live tweet the event so come follow me on twitter and join in on the madness! Don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!

Her – A Review

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for HerSpike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and a disembodied Scarlett Johansson in the near-futuristic love story Her.

Her is the story of a talented and sensitive Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix set in the near futuristic LA where he works for a company that specializes in delivering hand written letters. Theodore is very talented at what he does, writing personalized letters from couples to each other on their 50th anniversary, from a boyfriend on a business trip who sent in a request for his girlfriend to let her know he misses her. The intimacy with which Theodore writes each letter leaves the audience with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and as Chris Pratt (the receptionist) says in one scene “you are part woman, I would be so happy to receive a letter like this from a girl but written by a sensitive dude like you” you cannot help but smile because that is exactly what you are thinking.

A man as sensitive and as talented as him would have no trouble maintaining a loving relationship with his wife – but Theo is separated from his wife and is still reluctant to sign the divorce papers as he “likes being married”. On his daily commute he comes across an advert for a new virtual reality artificial intelligence Operating System which can provide companionship to its users. Theo gives it a try and from the first moment Samantha says “Hi” the love story kicks off.

Samantha is voiced by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson who does an exceptional job bringing to life a character that is basically a computer generated voice simulation.  The affectations in her voice, the laughter, the doubts in her voice when she is unsure of certain things, the softness and the cooing of her voice when she is talking intimately with Theo make you believe that there has got to be a person on the other side and that it cannot just be a computer and a piece of software.  As Samantha “grows” you keep suspecting even more and this dichotomy is essential to the conflict that you feel as you are happy for Theo as he has found a loving relationship but still cannot wrap your head around the fact that it is not another person.

Spike Jonze has done an incredible job with the story and the direction, with so many plausible options of how to take each moment in the story forward the director makes the most unusual of choices which still feel the most natural in the course of the love story. The setting of the LA in future is such that it is infinitely believable because there only a few telling signs of technological advance, the clothing is almost normal if slightly retro (I remember a term Retro-Futuristic that came from a designer once describing how she was influenced by blade runner) the houses look normal the modes of commute look slightly advanced. But there are still tell-tale signs that we are in the future with the pieces of technology, the computers, the wearable computer devices, the virtual reality games  and also most of all by the subtle hints that a service like written letters is available to people for a price. There are many brilliant instances of storytelling where Jonze lets Samantha grow as a person where she at one point mentions “you have made me discover my ability to want” this is what is essential to the human nature – the ability to want, to want to get better, to want to know more, to want to love and be loved. Samantha is a living breathing incarnation with her own needs and wants and desires and this leads  to a few awkward conflicts between Theo and Samantha which are beautifully handled as well, however the masterstroke of storytelling for me was when Theo and Samantha take a vacation and Samantha has a surprise for Theo – that scene is goose-bump inducing and brought a tear to my eye with the sheer joy that Joaquin feels and how in love they really are. The climax is gut wrenching for the exact same reason – Jonze takes an almost unimaginable chance with the story and the effect is both believable and heart-breaking. I don’t remember feeling this melancholic about a movie since Michel Gondry’s brilliant but equally heart breaking “Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind”. With the individually nuanced characters Jonze has written this is a movie that will keep getting more intimate with repeat viewings.

The music by Arcade Fire is stunning and in my opinion one of the best sound tracks this year – it is distinctive and also the way it is used, the piano pieces to describe what it feels like to be Theo and Samantha on the beach, the music that plays when Theo takes Samantha out on an adventure, the Oscar nominated “Moon song” Theo and Sam compose together – it is pure joy.  Hoyte Van Hoytema’s Cinematography is the perfect companion to Jonze’s sensitive story telling – Hoytema uses sunlight in ways that is so beautiful and the effect so personal that it is like looking back on the memories of someone like how you would remember a sun-kissed afternoon spent with your lover. I was in love with Hoytema’s work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with how much of a moody atmosphere he created with his camera work and here too he creates a moody melancholic atmosphere that is in complete contrast to Tinker but just as effective and as essential to the story being told.

See this movie about an unusual love story told in the most unusual yet almost conventional way, see it for Joaquin Phoenix who pissed me off with his mockumentary but turns in one of most sensitive portrayals I have ever seen, see if for Scarlett Johansson who while not visible on screen creates an entirely realistic and perfect version of herself that is just as desirable as the star’s physical appearance itself. See it for Spike Jonze’s beautifully written, perfectly cast and superbly acted directorial triumph of a movie. This is bound to be in my top 3 at the end of the year – it is that good and it will only get better with repeat viewing.

One last note – there is some sort of a controversy brewing following a newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis who called the movie a “Sad Male Fetish Fantasy” – please trust me that is as far from the truth as possible – this description couldn’t be more wrong – infact in the one sequence where Samantha brings in a sex surrogate it is Theo who feels uncomfortable. As did I. It is not about a disembodied female voice doing his bidding it is a loving thriving relationship between Theo and Samantha.

 

August: Osage County – A Review

John Wells directs a director’s dream cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margot Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson in a script adapted by Tracey Letts based on his original material written as a play for the stage in August: Osage County.

The story unfolds as Beverley Weston played by Sam Shepard hires a house keeper to take care of his sick wife Violet Weston played by the magnificent Meryl Streep. Bev goes missing and then is found dead. This brings his and Violet’s three daughters together to come and support their mother in grief and attend the funeral.

Meryl Streep gets a nomination every time she descends on the silver screen and there are enough detractors out there who feel she is over rated or over-loved if there is such a thing. To them I say watch this movie and then come talk to me. She is in a form which very few actresses can ever hope to reach. This is the peak of her performance. As the cancer stricken, pill popping, dementia ridden Violet Weston, she is vicious with her insults and barbs and acidic comments on all those gathered at the lunch table. She is  rude and callous one moment and in need of our sympathies at the very next as you can see the years of hard living, a tough childhood a far-from-ideal marriage and the betrayal she feels at the hands of her daughters who have all moved away. Take it from an ardent Streep lover – this is Meryl at her absolute best. Having seen blue jasmine starring Cate Blanchett (who I love as well) is the betting favorite to take home the trophy but if there is any justice in the world then the battle of the psychotic breakdown should land in the favor of Meryl Streep.

A strong supporting cast carries the movie along onto a different level altogether once the pace has been sent by Streep. Roberts with her return to the screen with a meaty role really digs her heels in as the eldest daughter of the Weston household with a rebellious teenager for daughter a husband with whom she is going through a separation, a dead father and a mother who is quickly losing her wits about herself Roberts take upon herself to steady the ship. The lunch table brawl between Roberts and Streep is the stuff of cinematic legends it is raw, high adrenaline and heartbreaking at the same time. Margot Martindale as Violet’s sister with a deep secret is smashing in her turn as Mattie Fae. Martindale and Cooper’s outburst over their son is brilliant as well. This is a movie packed with so many moments that it is impossible to pick your favorite my top three would have to be the lunch time brawl, the midnight spade-attack and the lets all break things.

The screenplay is so cleverly written that it surprises you at every turn of the story. The story of the plains is anything but a plain story, it is a multi-layered multi-faceted tale of a dysfunctional family the likes of which have not been seen on the screen. It is a fantastically intertwined tale of such hopeless despair that there would seem like there is no way out yet the story lifts itself with such light moments as the one where the three girls share in their mother’s childhood story of her crush which while still ends up being heartbreaking gives you hope that the family will still pull it together and somehow survive. But bear in mind this is not one of your happy endings stories this is a fast unraveling of a messy family drama with top notch performances which leave you in awe of entire ensemble cast who put on a stellar show.

There is a minor misstep in direction which has generated a fairly interesting conversation on the internet. It is rumored that Roberts wanted to get the lead nom over Streep so she arm-twisted the Weinsteins who in turn put pressure on Wells to add a final scene focusing on Roberts instead of cutting to credit after Violet breaks down in the arms of her house keeper. And to be honest it would have been a more satisfying end if the movie ended as originally intended by the screen writer Tracy Letts with Violet broken down and leaving the audience to grapple with the questions of what will happen. And whether the daughters will return or whether Violet will survive on her own or will she not. Focusing on Roberts is a faulty move and could have been avoided.

The cinematography by Adriano Goldman beautifully captures the darkened out Weston household and in those long tracking shots of the Oklahoma plains does magic to capture the stark and unremarkable landscape to evoke a sense of helplessness that envelopes the central characters of the narrative. Stark yet beautiful.  The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is subtle and does not invade the dramatic space to tell us when to feel what – it is a competent partner to the most potent of storytelling and only really makes its presence felt in one moment when nothing is spoken and family is driving back from the doctors. The Kings of Leon song which plays at the credit scene “Last Mile Home” should have earned the rock band a nomination for original song but it curiously didn’t.

Watch this movie because this is Meryl Streep at her absolute best. This should be reason enough for anyone to want to watch the movie but it is not the only reason the movie provides. If you are not swayed yet watch it because it boasts a supporting cast the strengths of which are rarely on display. Watch it because it is a fantastically written and a brilliantly directed film. Did I mention already WATCH IT FOR MERYL STREEP!

Blue Jasmine – A Review

Woody Allen directs Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine a story of a rich socialite wife whose life quickly unravels after her husband is arrested by the feds for financial frauds and then kills himself.

Woody Allen for me is a dichotomy for me – he is one of the most prolific directors with over 70 movies in his 49 years of film making who writes apparently the most amazing women-centric roles that the who’s who of Hollywood vie for desperately.  While accepting the Cecil b demile award for woody Diane Keaton waxed eloquent about how great woody is and even the amazing Cate Blanchett apparently waited for the call from woody. Despite all of this I cannot stand his movies. I found midnight in Paris to be an atrocious self-indulgent mess of a movie. I have never been able to enjoy a woody Allen movie and it is not because I do not enjoy neurotic, wordy, witty screenplay – I enjoy that kind the most. Take Aaron Sorkin, Scorsese or even Tarantino for that matter I enjoy all their wordy banter immensely but Allen’s not so much.

Much like most of his other movies here too the screenplay seems to want to be a lot more than it really is. With the alternating timeline story telling Allen tries to give us a sneak peek into the like of Jasmine French then and now with a wealthy socialite wife who has fallen on hard times and is Xanax popping jazz referencing ticking time bomb of a psychiatric nutjob.  The movie is shot beautifully with a soft goldenish hue to every scene and it is only enhanced when the camera zooms in on the visage of Blanchett who is unraveling before our very eyes as she alternately pops vodka and pills.

Off the cast Blanchett is Fantastic as she is known to be and here in the challenging role of alternating between a vapid New York socialite and a down on her luck widow who loses everything and moves in with her sister in San Francisco. Blanchett really digs her heels in this role and it is one of her best performances. No one quite does a breakdown like Blanchett does and it takes me back to the days of the amazing “Notes on a scandal” where she facing a very public breakdown orchestrated by the equally brilliant Dame Judi Dench. Here too she is ably supported by Sally Hawkins who specializes in these sorts of roles where she plays the women without much but still making the most of her life. Alec Baldwin in a brief role as Jasmine’s husband leaves a lasting impression.

The problem I have with Allen’s stories is that they are simple tales that need to be told simply but he tends to drag out the stories a tad too long and with an unsatisfying end. However that being said Blue Jasmine is probably my favorite Woody Allen movie that I have seen and most of it is due to the beautiful and talented Miss Blanchett.  Also the background score with the jazz notes is a little more satisfying this time around than most of the other times that I have heard the familiar strands being played in Allen’s movies.  “Blue Moon was the song that was playing when Hal swept me off my feet…. “I love it every time Blanchett says that line with such conviction that you believe her neurosis.

Watch it for what is possibly the Oscar winning role for Cate Blanchett and what it because even with his faults Allen is still one of the most prolific director who if for nothing else is a gift to MAN-kind for continually casting beautiful women in starring roles with stories that are written around them.

 

King’s Speech