Moonlight – A Review

Image result for moonlightBarry Jenkins directs Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, and Naomi Harris in Moonlight, an autobiographical story based on a short play by Tarell Alvin McCarney. Moonlight has been garnering impressive Oscar buzz with a golden globes win already for Mahershala Ali as best supporting actor.

 

The story is told in three parts, based on the different stages in the life of Chiron, a young black boy growing up in the crime ridden neighbourhood of Miami. The juxtaposing of the hyper-masculine black subculture with that of a fatherless young boy coming to grips with his own sexuality offers a fertile ground for compelling story telling. This coming of age story certainly has a lot going for it, an absentee father, a drug-addict mother, a kind drug dealer, a physically weak youngster, school bullies. But the same tropes that would have made for an engaging narrative are used in the most clichéd of ways rendering the end result absolutely boring.

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The first chapter titled Little focuses on the little boy Chiron as he escapes his tormentors into an abandoned house and locks himself him, only to then be discovered by Juan played by Mahershala Ali. Ali is a phenomenal actor capable of conveying a lot without too many lines as evidenced in House of Cards. Here too he certainly has a presence but the child actor playing ‘Little’ Chiron is so awkward an underprepared that it becomes nearly impossible to take this movie seriously. There is one scene of particular note when Little asks Juan and Teresa played by the lovely Janelle Monáe “what does a F**got mean” the response by Juan and the tenderness with which the entire scene is crafted is perhaps the films finest moment. We are also introduced to Little’s best friend Kevin who is kind and caring with him.

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Chapter 2 is titled Chiron as the little boy becomes a teenager and begins being sexually awakened. Whether it is in class where he is unable to focus or it is in his sleep. We also see his relationship with his mother deteriorate as she falls deeper and deeper into her addiction. Juan is gone and Chiron only has Teresa to rush to when things get a little too desperate at home. We see Chiron and Kevin’s relationship evolve, this aspect is deftly handled without overt assertions but then again the scenes cut quickly and too abruptly for them to make any lasting impact.

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Chiron is all grown up and comfortable with his sexuality in the third chapter Black. He is physically imposing – no longer the lanky teenager, he has left his poverty ridden days behind. He gets a call out of nowhere from his childhood friend Kevin and it stirs uncomfortable memories of his childhood in him. This perhaps is the most annoying part of the movie for me. It seems to be trying too hard to establish a sexual tension between Kevin and Black where honestly none exists.

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Contrived neon-lit scenes, the overdone operatic music and a complete lack of empathy-inducing screenplay makes this almost unwatchable for me. Of the actors, Janelle Monáe is effective in the little time she spends on screen. Naomi Harris is a revelation as the drug addled mother. Mahershala Ali in my opinion does not deserve the supporting acting nomination not only because of the length of time he spends on screen but also because how ineffective that time spent is. Alex Hibbert as Little is under-prepared and unimpressive.

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I really wanted to be blown away by Moonlight, especially after reading the effusive reviews almost everywhere – but sadly I was bored stiff. Moonlight falls in the category of overrated Oscar baits for me.

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Florence Foster Jenkins – A Review

Stephen Frears directs Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg in the biopic Florence Foster Jenkins. Florence was a New York socialite, the founder of The Verdi Club and a patron of the music scene in the city. Florence’s record The Glory of the Human Voice was chosen by David Bowie as one of his top 25 vinyl possessions and Florence was also laughed at by many who dubbed her the women with the worst singing voice. Frears having previously tackled aging divas with Helen Mirren in The Queen and Judi Dench in Philomena is the perfect choice to bring to the big screen the life of this enigmatic artist and who better than Meryl Streep to play her.

 

We all know the basic premise – Florence Foster Jenkins had an unusual singing voice and in comparison to traditional classically trained musicians she sounded terrible. The trailers have masterfully built up the anticipation of just how terrible did Florence sound especially how will Meryl, who has a better than average singing voice as witnessed in Mama Mia! and Into the Woods, take on the bad singing. From the opening sequence you are waiting for her to dive into her singing and it does happen, the anticipation builds. You see Florence play the angel of inspiration with a  golden harp and the Viking Valkyrie in stage productions and you still waiting on bated breath to hear her sing the first note. It it not until Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon ( Howard from The Big Bang Theory) is selected as the pianist to assist Florence that you are rewarded to the truly atrocious singing. It is so bad that with every progressing note you are overtaken by a fit of giggles, as the notes get more off key so do the guffaws – you are no longer politely sniggering into your palm, I was howling both with laughter and the stitch in my side from trying to stifle the laughing. Meryl is masterful! You see her earnestly try to sing and the looks of surprise from Cosme as sounds that cannot possibly be human come out of Florence’s mouth. For Florence it might have been natural but it must take an exceptional amount of talent to be this bad on purpose and no one but Meryl could have taken this on. She makes you feel bad for Florence – about her delusions of grandeur but also about her naivety and innocence about the whole thing.

Meryl is very ably supported by her doting husband, a failed Shakespearean actor St Clair Bayfield played by Hugh Grant. Grant was lured out of retirement by Frears by the script and he is marvellous in this role. There are more layers to Bayfield than meets the eye at the outset. His devotion to Florence is complete but he is not without his flaws and towards the end you are left questioning if they really are flaws at all. Simon Helberg is unrecognizable as the soft spoken and delicate Cosme McMoon who is a stark contradiction to how he plays Howard Wolowitz on the hugely popular The Big Bang Theory. Here Helberg makes no eye contact, talks in dulcet tones and is constantly in a fit of giggles. Being the 1940s there are mere hints at McMoon’s sexuality and it is dealt with deftly. Alexandre Desplat is the other supporting character who does well to lift the story with his skilful background score. Where I found the movie lacking was in the character actors who played the bit parts but were curcial to the proceedings. Nina Arianda as the showgirl Mrs Agnes Stark and Rebecca Fergusson as the mistress Kathleen are beautiful to look at and while not particularly bad they are less than believable in their roles. Perhaps a little more time devoted to their character would have helped.

That minor misstep aside what really shines is the story and how Frears slowly unravels it. You find out a little bit about each of the characters slowly as the story progresses. You are given an insight into Florence’s backstory, her idiosyncrasies, her penchant for dressing in outfits laden with feathers and sequins, and her delusions of youth and grandeur as she dresses up and dances awkwardly while performing at Carnegie Hall.

There is no way this is not going to be Nomination number 20 for Meryl Streep because she is incredible as Florence Foster Jenkins and she manages to make you fall in love with the New York socialite with the worst singing voice every. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments and sweet tender moments that tug at your heart strings. A beautiful devoted romance between Streep and Grant and a stellar turn by Simon Helberg. Try not to scour the internet for Meryl’s singing as Florence Foster Jenkins – let yourself be surprised in the theatre and trust me you will be doubling over with laughter when you first hear the sounds!

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Oscars 2016 Predictions

I couldn’t be less enthused about Oscars this year. What with an insipid bunch of nominees, the raging racism controversy and the fact that Chris Rock is hosting this year. Bring back Seth McFarland!!! But then the realisation that it is the 3rd anniversary of the blog hit me and a friend asking where my predictions were, I guess I will give this a shot with the hope that next year there are more daring movies and nominees feature a diverse group of performers, age and race notwithstanding. So here we go ladies and gentlemen get your Oscar Fever On!!

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Best Actress in a supporting role:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

 

This is a tough one to choose from. I loved the return of Rachel McAdams to meaningful cinema and what an understated and respectful performance she delivered in Spotlight. Rooney Mara was the only bright light for me in all the pretentiousness that enveloped Carol. But the clear battle is between Vikander and Winslet.

Who should win: Alicia Vikander, her portrayal as Gerda is stellar. Her vulnerability and poise as her husband undergoes a transformation is heart-breaking. But this is not a showy performance that Oscar seems to prefer and with the results of all the previous awards going against her, chances are she won’t win but then again Winslet is a previous winner.

Who will win: Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman is the perfect foil to Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. Winslet really makes this role her own by infusing an emotional anchor to story. Regardless of what people accuse Sorkin of I think he writes some of the best female characters around – CJ, Makenzie and Sloane and now Joanna Hoffman. I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if she wins.

 

Best Actor in a supporting role:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

 

Bale, Hardy and Ruffalo deliver very strong performances two of which could easily have been leading had it not been an ensemble drama with equally strong performances from other actors. I loved Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald and was cheering on Glass to finish off the despicable character that Fitzgerald was – that is how good Hardy is. But this is Bale’s to lose.

Who Should/Will Win: Christian Bale is brilliant as the eccentric genius who discovers the impending housing market crash and the subsequent meltdown of the global economy in The Big Short. Christian Bale is one of the best method actors working today and the range he displays in picking the roles and the physical and physiological transformation he undergoes to become the said character is second to none. It would be a crying shame if he doesn’t win this. And it goes to Sylvester Stallone as some sort of a consolation prize.

 

Best Animated Feature:

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

 

AKA the Pixar award. And with Inside Out, Pixar has equalled the heights of technical ingenuity coupled with a strong emotional core that it did with the likes of Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up!

Who should/will win: Inside Out

 

Best Cinematography:

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

 

It could be a Hat-trick for Emmanuel Lubezki this year with The Revenant following Gravity and Bridman. Lubezki is reaching Roger Deakins (who is also nominated for a record 13th time without a win) level of awesomeness when it comes to framing the most gorgeous shots that create the most immersive experience for an audience. Even if they simply put his name on the top of the playbill I would queue up to watch the movie first day first show regardless of the actor or director of the story and his work in The Revenant is better than Birdman and almost as good and in many aspects better than Gravity. But what John Seale has achieved in Mad Max Fury Road is simply superior to anything else in this category. His visuals match the madness of George Miller’s beat for beat and in fact sometimes the visuals are the ones that set the pace for this insane adrenaline fuelled caper. I get a head rush just thinking of the visuals in Mad Max and I will lose my voice swearing if they don’t give this to Seale who came out of retirement to shot this thing of beauty!

Who should win: John Seale

Who may Win: Deakins because he is always good and he is long overdue? Lubezki because he is good and a three-peat would be interesting trivia? Who knows! I want Seale to win.

 

Visual Effects:

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Ex Machina was excellent as was The Martian in making us believe we were seeing a real-life AI and the Martian landscape. But this one has Mad Max written all over it. The most spectacular use of Visual effects which kept the Computer generated effects to minimum by having practical stunts.

Who should/will win: Mad Max Fury Road

 

Documentary Feature:

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

 

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch any of the documentary features this year. I wanted to watch Amy very badly because I loved Amy Winehouse. If I was picking based on what I wanted to watch then it would be Amy but based on the fact that Joshua Oppenheimer was nominated and didn’t win for The Act of Killing which was the companion piece to The look of Silence based on the killings in Indonesia in the 1950s and the current political mood in the western hemisphere towards Putin’s aggression, Winter on Fire could sneak in a surprise.

Who should win: Amy

Who will win: Winter on Fire

 

Foreign Language Film:

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Son of Saul

Theeb

A War

 

A harrowing tale set in the holocaust concentration camp of Auschwitz telling the tale of a SonderKommando who believes that the body he was supposed to cremate is allegedly that of his son and tries everything in his power to get a proper Jewish burial for him which includes a prison riot and escape from Auschwitz seems impossible to beat. Son of Saul is my pick for the best Foreign Language Film

Who should/will win: Son of Saul

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

This category continues to confuse me! When you already have a category for Best Original Score what exactly is the point of this. But taking from the analogy from last year where good sound ingredients comprise Sound Editing and the proper cooking method being Sound Mixing let’s look at this.

Who should win Sound Mixing/Editing: Mad Max : Fury Road

Who will win Sound Mixing/Editing: The Revenant

 

Original Score:

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

I would love for Jóhann Jóhannsson to win because he deserved to win last year for the Theory of Everything and the music for Sicario is stunning. But with stalwarts like John Williams and Ennio Morricone this one is up in the air.

Who should win: Sicario Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Who will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Williams./Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight

 

Original Song:

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

After the performances like Skyfall by Adele, Let it go by Idna Menzel and Glory by John Legend and Common from previous years I am pretty sure this is Lady Gaga’s to take home. Until I went over the nominations I wasn’t even aware that the video that Gaga released was part of a documentary. I hope Gaga has a stellar performance in an otherwise drab Oscar ceremony. Also given the circumstances around Cosby this song is Hollywood’s way of apologising.

Who should/will win: Lady Gaga “’Til It Happens To You”

 

Film Editing:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

With the exception of Star Wars I have seen all 4 and loved each one with a varying degree with respect to its pacing and overall coherence of storytelling. I found The Revenant a bit too long and unnecessary in places other than to see Lubezki’s beautiful frames. Spotlight lacked a sense of urgency that a story like this needed. Mad Max and The Big Short were the most perfectly paced movies. I really cannot pick and winner between the two

Who should win: Mad Max Fury Road

Who will win: The Big Short

 

Original Screenplay:

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

 

This category was the butt of many #YoOscarsSoWhite jokes because the only movie representative of the African American culture that got nominated for anything was Straight Outta Compton for Best Original Screenplay and here too the people who were nominated were white folks. I am torn between Ex Machina and Inside Out but given that this is the Oscars I am pretty sure it is going to be Spotlight.

Who should win: Ex Machina/Inside Out

Who will win: Spotlight.

 

Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

 

I would love nothing more than for The Big Short to win every award it is nominated for. But The Martian was pretty special too and more than anything else it was the humorous source material which many told me it was impossible to adapt.

Who should win: The Martian

Who will win: The Big Short.

 

Director:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

 

Now this is a seriously good group of nominations and it would have been only better had Ridley Scott been included for The Martian. I really really hope that Iñárritu doesn’t win for The Revenant which while a beautiful movie is poorly edited and is more akin to Babel than Birdman. A lot of pretentious cerebral imagery and not enough story. For me it is between George Miller and Adam McKay and I would be happy if either of them won

Who should win: Adam McKay

Who will win: George Miller

 

Actress in Leading role:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 

Cate Blanchett should not have been nominated for Carol. I love my some Queen Cate but Carol wasn’t a strong enough movie that needed to be nominated – not dismissing the importance of the story and era in which it is set but it is not a strong enough movie. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress but she seems to be nominated for everything she does no matter how bad the movie is. And I still hold her winning for Silver Linings Playbook over Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark thirty against her. Brie Larson has quietly been carving out a niche for herself with a stellar performance in Short Term 12 and with Room her performance supported superbly by little Jacob Tremblay is surprisingly uplifting in a story that is anything but that. I cannot imagine anyone being able to deny Larson this win.

Who should/will win: Brie Larson

 

Actor in Leading role:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

 

Loved Eddie Redmayne and Matt Damon but they are not going to win this year. Michael Fassbender was spectacular as Steve jobs with a performance that cannot be bettered. There are going to be to future biopics on the Apple founder because Fassbender gave the defining performance that cannot be bettered. I have loved and championed Leonardo Dicaprio for a number of years and been upset when he didn’t win and with The Revenant he is almost assured the little golden man that has eluded him for so long. Does he deserve it? Definitely but I would rather that he have won for The Aviator, The Departed and Blood Diamond instead.

Who should/will win: Leonardo Dicaprio

 

Best Film

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

To me this is what the final shortlist of best movies looks like

The Big Short: A Satirical look at the inner mechanics of what happened with the 2008 sub-prime and banking crisis with an amazing turn by the very talented ensemble. This is a very important story not only because it tells us what happened but also because it is only a precursor of things to come because no real corrective actions were taken.

Mad Max: Fury Road: An intense, adrenaline fuelled adventure caper which masterfully married feudalism and freedom struggle without getting preachy. It has the best visuals with practical stunts which cannot be beat.

The Martian: A funny take on the sci-fi genre that makes it accessible to a larger audience. A nuanced performance by Matt Damon and one hell of a story of the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds.

Spotlight: A reminder of what power and responsibility the 4th estate wields and how important it is for them to take on the system and stand up for the little guy. A sensitive portrayal of a story that could have been forgiven a certain amount of histrionics if it tried but it stays clear of it and the end result is a thought provoking movie that does not demonize a religion but questions the power it wields.

Who should win: The big short or Mad Max: Fury Road

Who will win: Spotlight

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture The Big Short/Mad Max : Fury Road Spotlight
Best Director Adam McKay George Miller
Best Actor Leonardo Dicaprio Leonardo Dicaprio
Best Actress Brie Larson Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander Kate Winslet
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Inside Out/Ex-Machina Spotlight
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay The Martian The Big Short
Best Animated Feature Film Inside Out Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Son of Saul
Best Documentary – Feature Amy Winter on fire
Best Documentary – Short Subject Body Team 12
Best Live Action Short Film Shok
Best Animated Short Film Sanjay’s Super Team
Best Original Score Sicario Star Wars/The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you
Best Sound Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Sound Mixing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Production Design Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Cinematography John Seale Mad Max: Fury Road Emmanuel Lubezki The Revenant/Roger Deakins Sicario
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Costume Design Cinderella Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Film Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Big Short
Best Visual Effects Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road

So there you have it all my predictions for Oscars 2016. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my picks. Let me know your thoughts on Oscars in general and who you would have rather seen nominated. You can follow me on Twitter where I will be live-tweeting during the Oscar ceremony!

Spotlight – A Review

Todd McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight a story based on true events that led to the 2002 Boston Globe expose on systematic child abuse in church that caused a global uproar and eventually a decade later got Pope Francis to publicly apologize on behalf of the catholic church.

Spotlight is the special team of investigative journalists who work in isolation from the rest of the paper following up and priming a story before it is ready for an editorial publication. Here the team consists of Ruffalo’s Mike, McAdams’ Sasha and D’Arcy’s Matt who all report to Keaton’s Robbie. While working on a story on PD numbers they are asked by Live Schreiber’s Marty Baron the new editor of Boston Globe to follow up on a story that another reporter from Boston Globe wrote a small column on about a Boston priest who molested boys across 6 parishes over 20 years and a lawyer Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci claims he can prove that the Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese knew about it and turned a blind eye.

From here on it opens a veritable Pandora’s Box as more victims and more abusive clergy come to the notice of the spotlight team. Through one of the victims they are put in contact with a former priest who used to work at a treatment facility where these abusive priests were sent when they were accused of such wrong doings. By his estimate he thinks that as many as 8% of all priests exhibit such abusive behavior and when cross referencing records of priests sent on sick leave of other similar euphemistic terms they uncover 87 priests who may have abused children while the Cardinal looked the other way.

For a story so important they couldn’t have chosen better actors. Ruffalo, D’Arcy and Keaton are great. Rachel McAdams makes a brilliant comeback and shows what she is capable of. Liev Schreiber underplays the editor role with a nuanced performance, there are no histrionics or loud outburst but a methodical dedication to the job at hand. The only complaint I have is with Ruffalo – while in most part earnest and believable the thing he does with his mouth when he talks in a manner that is supposed to seem like a Bostonian accent is weird. He sounds like that annoying person at the table who always speaks with his mouth full.

The editing and pacing of the movie is where this goes a bit haywire. There are no crescendos, no high points in the movie – it mostly maintains the same pace throughout and feels overlong. The story keeps shifting focus from the spotlight team writing the story, Tucci fighting the case, other auxiliary characters who appear to be shady but aren’t really bad eventually and this whole plot about Keaton pondering over why the Boston globe didn’t cover the news 20 years ago seems to allude to some complicity on the part of John Slattery which doesn’t go anywhere. There are many amazing support characters like Phil Saviano the leader of the victims organization, Patrick the junkie father of one who is garabedian’s client who agrees to be interviewed by Ruffalo, Billy Cudrup as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience Eric Macleish but they unfortunately are not the focus of the story and the procedural investigation is what takes up more of the story’s time and it is eventually what hurts the narrative.

Spotlight is a very important story that needed to be told. The acting is not bad and neither is the direction but there is something missing that makes me question whether this is really the best film of the year. Certainly one of the most important stories of our time and within a confused narrative and directionless acting there are little gems of insight like when the former priest who studied this phenomenon in abusive priests says that the vow of celibacy is one of the primary reasons for this behavior. Or when Matt played by D’Arcy goes and drops a stack of newspapers when the story breaks on the front porch of another abusive priest who lives in his neighborhood. Or how McAdam’s devout catholic grandmother asks for water half way into reading the story. Or when on the sunday when the story breaks and Robbie and Mike come to the newspaper office and there are no picketer or how the usual newspaper phone lines are not ringing but the Spotlight lines for the victims is ringing off-the-hook. It is moments like these that lift the story and make it worthwhile.

The Big Short – A Review

Adam McKay directs Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and a whole host of talent in the 2008 sub-prime crisis based The Big Short based on Michael Lewis’ book.  It is taking every ounce of strength in my body to not type the entire review in ALL CAPS.  Because honestly that is the reaction I had to this movie

Sure we all know the talking points of the 2008 sub-prime crisis and there have been a few very good documentaries made on the subject as well – take the Inside Job for instance. Brilliant, factual and effective. But pass the story through the evil comedic genius mind of Adam McKay and you get that Saturday Night Live flavor to The Inside Job. So you have Margot Robbie in bath-tub sipping champagne explaining what is sub-prime, Anthony Bordain explaining CDO by means of using the bad fish in a fish stew, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack explain what a Synthetic CDO is.  It might sound patronizing but it is not. It is the opposite – it is to counter balance just how stupid the whole system is by easily breaking it down to layman terms.

The whole story starts from the point of view of Dr. Michael Burry played by Christian Bale. Burry is a glass-eyed socially awkward genius fund manager who spots a pattern in the way the mortgages are being sold and uses his fund’s 1.3 billion dollars to bet against the Housing Markets. Jared Vennett a sleazy Wall Street stereotype played by Ryan Gosling who tries to go against the grain and pitches these non—existent instruments to potential fund managers.  Step in angry at the world Steve Carell who runs a fund under Morgan Stanley. Also while Vennett is trying to sell his Swaps and meeting potential funds, one in particular turns him away from lobby where he leaves his promotional material behind which fall into the hands of garage-band fund managers Charlie and Jamie who consult with ex-Wall-Streeter Ben Rickert who is so disillusioned with the whole system that he has taken to growing his own fruits and vegetables using his piss as the fertilizer.  So you see what a crazy story McKay has woven? And know what’s crazier? Most of it is true (well except the part about Charlie and Jamie just finding a discarded promotion brochure).  Acting wise Carell and Bale are exceptional, Bale makes you uncomfortable to look at him and Carell is not the funny man he is known to be in Apatow movies. But it is easy to like them and to see how brilliant their performances are. But Ryan Gosling is perfection. His Jared Vennett is so sleazy, so wall-streety so perfectly greedy that at one point as he caresses his 47 million dollar bonus cheque he says into the camera “I never said I was the good guy”. The story could not have a better narrator than him.

The movie is interspersed with music you wouldn’t associate with what has turned out to be a serious Oscar contender. It has Gnarles Barkley’s Crazy, Kelis’ Milkshake, Metallica’s Master of Puppet, and Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine amongst many other iconic tracks. They are woven so seamlessly into the narrative that it all just works.

There are so many high points in this movie but the final one which comes when Steve Carell’s Mark Baum goes BOOM while debating Bruce Miller and the auditorium just evacuates as the figurative bomb drops on the Bear Stearns stock prices that Miller is recommending to buy. It feels cathartic.

 

This is an absurdist comedy, a dark twisted take on what was arguably one of biggest events in financial history, possibly comparable to the great depression of the 1920s but what is even more absurd is that after the great depression America went back to the basics. It didn’t cut government spending, got reforms in place and focused on job creation and built the infrastructure that lifted them out of the great depression. But here after the 2008 no arrests were made, no regulations and instead government handed over billions more of tax payers’ money to “ailing banks and institutions” which had basically self-inflicted these wounds upon themselves and didn’t even use the bailout for the intended purposes but instead gave their Managers a Golden Parachute in which to jump of a burning building while there are still countless’ other trapped inside. The movie ends on an ominous note of how in 2015 banks have started reissuing “Bespoke Tranche Opportunity” which as Baum put it sounds a lot like Dog Shit dressed as Cat Shit.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008 AND THE ENSUING AFTERMATH, EVEN IF YOU THINK ALL THESE MOVIES ARE DOOMSDAY PROPHECIES THAT NEVER EVER COME TRUE AND ARE BASICALLY BUZZKILLS YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE FOR IT IS A BRILLIANT PIECE OF CINEMA.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system, see this movie because Christian Bale is Brilliant.  He can do no wrong. He is one of the finest actors we have today. Steve Carell makes his transition from funny man to a serious actor with this movie; a move I was hoping would be achieved by the underwhelming Foxcatcher of last year.  Ryan Gosling as Oily and slimy as he appears to be he is a force of nature here.  Michael Lewis no holds barred book, Charles Randolph’s explosive screenplay and Adam McKay’s brilliant direction give the amazing actors a fertile ground to riff off of one another in what would be akin to a modern day Glengarry Glen Ross. BOOM!

 

The Revenant – A Review

Alejandro G Iñárritu directs Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy in the gruesome survival tale The Revenant based partly on Michael Punke’s novel by the same name. Set in the 1820s in Montana and South Dakota’s harsh winter wilderness it is the story of Dicaprio’s Hugh Glass as he leads an expedition of Fur trappers which is attacked by the Arikara tribe of Native Americans who are out to avenge a kidnapped tribeswoman.

 

Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass an experienced hunter with knowledge of the terrain, Tom Hardy plays hot-headed hunter John Fitzgerald, Domhall Gleeson plays captain Andrew Henry and Will Poulter plays Bridger one of the two young boys on the expedition the other being Glass’s Native American son Hawk.

When the hunting party is attacked by Arikara tribesman they make a hasty retreat back to their boat with their fur pelts and escape downriver. This drives a wedge between Glass and Fitzgerald who both have different ideas on how to get to safety. The crew trust Glass especially since Captain Henry seems to trust Glass implicitly. Fitzgerald is a poisoned presence from the very beginning and his nagging and antagonising of Glass only increases after the crew abandon the boat and hide the fur pelts to travel light and come back with armed reinforcements. Fitzgerald however agrees to stay back with Bridger and Hawk to care for Glass after he is mauled by a Grizzly Bear. What follows after is a harrowing tale of how Fitzgerald’s greed compels him to kill Hawk, leave Glass for the dead and lie to Bridger about approaching Arikara tribe and beat a hasty retreat to the barrack outpost to collect the money promised to him by Captain Henry if they stayed and gave Glass a proper funeral. What follows is Glass’s incredible journey from being left for dead to returning to avenge his son’s death. Along the way he encounters obstacles that are impossible to even imagine and seeing how this is partly based on true events it just makes it even more astonishing.

Emanuel Lubezki is gunning for a hat-trick after winning in 2013 for Gravity and in 2014 for Birdman and this year with Revenant his claim couldn’t be stronger. Gravity had that 7 ½ minute opening shot where not a word was uttered and you were given the full extent of the vastness of the space, Birdman had that continuous shot winding down the different nooks and crannies of a New York theatre and The Revenant has this stunning opening sequence of Glass and company being attacked by Arikara tribesmen it is as beautiful as it is brutal and unlike Gravity and Birdman there is fast and furious action here which while adrenaline charged still does not feel fuzzy or rushed, you can almost hear the whoosh of an arrow shooting past you. Lubezki has lit the entire movie with ambient light sources like campfire and candles and using natural lighting and the effect is eerie and haunting. He has shot the unforgiving landscape in a beautiful way, the breaking of the dawn has the full spectrum of colours as your eyes traverse the screen from left to right.  Ryuichi Sakamoto who did the music for Iñárritu’s confounding Babel does the music for The Revenant along with Carsten Nicolai and they underscore Lubezki’s beautiful images with a poignant and restrained original score. At times angry and at times quiet and subtle. The only problem for me is the seemingly choppy editing at the outset where the movie stutters to a start but then the editing becomes more seamless as the story progresses. Iñárritu tries to reach for something more than what the story should be about. At its heart The Revenant is a western revenge epic but by tying in Native American elements Iñárritu tries to elevate the story and in some places he manages to by showing how the native inhabitants of North America were brutalised by British and French who tried to “civilise” them, but then at other places it just becomes a babbling mess with floating dead wives and a pyramid of cattle skulls.

Leonardo and his epic journey towards an Oscar win is perhaps the stuff of urban legends and with this one he has landed another nomination and with a relatively weak field Leo might take one home finally and it is not undeserved. With most of the movie without the ability to speak Leo’s eyes and face do most of the work. He is brilliant here but somehow not as engaging as Tom Hardy is as John Fitzgerald. There are no two ways about it Fitzgerald is a man you hate from the very beginning to the very bitter end but what Tom Hardy brings to this character is so nuanced and almost nauseating is his ability to be the worst person in every scene he is in. if Hardy doesn’t win for Best supporting actor then it will be a bigger crime than Dicaprio being denied another one (in my books Dicaprio should have won for both Blood Diamond and The Departed.)

This is a movie that requires a certain amount of patience to sit through all the harrowing experiences Glass goes through and that is primarily a fault of the editing but there are plenty of rewards to be reaped as Lubezki reaches Deakins’ level of greatness with being able to capture the American wilderness and Dicaprio and Hardy put in terrific performances. Best of the year? Probably not I would take the other Hardy pic of one man’s epic survival against all odds in Mad Max Fury Road but this is still an incredible and important cinematic experience.

 

Steve Jobs – A Review

 Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in and as Steve Jobs.  Supported by an ensemble cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlberg in a script by Aaron Sorkin this is the definitive Steve Jobs movie that we have been waiting for. By no means is this a flattering biopic at one of the 21st century’s most fascinating figures from the world of Technology. Equal parts genius and tyrant Jobs was an enigmatic figure who many credit to having revolutionalised the personal computing world.

Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given.  The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny.  Besides the physical similarities his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scene, you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ work wife does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. She plays the understanding yet exasperated partner to Jobs.  Winslet is assured a nomination as supporting actor and at this stage I am willing to bet that she takes home the gold. She is that good.   Jeff Daniels as John Scully the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power packed performance as well.

But the real star of the movie is Script writer Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work this movie is jam packed with Sorkinisms. To the uninitiated Sorkinisms is when a bunch of characters talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects yet everything seems to sound so profound. Yes many have disliked this very aspect of Sorkin’s writing but I couldn’t care less about them. I love it. It makes for an edge of seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom. Sorkin has written this movie in 3 acts. The first one at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of times magazine and how he fights the paternity law suit and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2 a machine he deems unworthy of his time and something that was a thing of the past. His relationship with Scully though has shades of a father-son dynamic where Jobs looks up to Scully.  Act 2 is after jobs has been fired from apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronizes Woz while still there is that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully though has changed and we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from apple.  This is 1988.  Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to reign in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about t. Finally we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again and this time Woz has the last word it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the story telling that is usually missing from a biopic.  Trying to capture the eccentricities of Steve Jobs they masterfully weave the fact that he was vegan into the narrative when Jobs and Scully are meeting for the first time when Jobs wants Scully to come on board as CEO. The story behind the apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing is dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. And the final scene where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her how he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn’t have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player aka the genesis of the IPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.

Daniel Pemberton’s understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never once seem to overpower the scenery. Alwin H Kuchler as the DOP brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna. It feels hurried and frenetic at the same time as it a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Birdman where the camera follows jobs through the various corridors and rooms as Jobs meets with and talks to the different characters.I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does not live up to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah but rather paints a picture of a brilliant yet arrogant and a mostly flawed individual. I think that is the best way to portray a man who was exactly that. Unless of course it was Steve Jobs who was making a movie about himself then he would present that in a slick packaging with millions would be foaming at the mouth to get a piece of. This is exceptional film making and a story telling that is second to none.

Sorkin Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time. I cannot wait to go back and watch this again.

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Scoff all you want at the irrelevance of the Oscars or any number of award ceremonies the fact remains that the Oscars are a big deal – studios spend millions of their hard earned money on “for your consideration” adverts in trade magazine in hopes that one of theirs will win the coveted golden man and they will get to use “academy award winner actor/director” in their playbill for all eternity. An “academy award winner/nominee” tag breeds instant credibility and lends weight to how interested a casual viewer would be in deciding on which movie to spend their money on.

Oscars often is an incredible platform for the culmination of a long career being honoured with a standing ovation or the start of a great one when an ingénue stumbles her way up the stairs to collect the gold piping the veterans to the finishing line. It is also one big party with plenty of pageantry and for all these reasons and more I for one always eagerly anticipate the Oscars each year even in the year that was less than spectacular movie-wise.

Last year I had an incredible 21/22 prediction of the Oscar race which would have made me a rich man if I was the betting sorts. But this year I am not so sure of putting my money because the list of nominees is a strange one and I have a feeling that a number of the deserving winners are going to be passed up I favour of those that are more closely aligned with the overall taste of the general academy members demographic  Old-White-Male.

Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

Laura Dern in “Wild”

Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Who should/Will win: This one is a vice-like lock – it is Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. It takes an incredible amount of commitment to be associated to a project for 12 years with no real payoff in sight. Patricia Arquette as the mother in this family drama about growing up is incredible in her strength, her vulnerability and her normalness. She is every mother everywhere going through everyday struggles. It takes special talent to portray a real everyday woman on screen and she does it better than anyone else. Her not winning would be a real shame because dedicated as I am to worshiping Meryl Streep (and she was incredible in Into the Woods) I want Arquette to win over Streep.

Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Who should/Will win: J.K. Simmons as the jazz teacher from hell in the incredibly taut Whiplash is a clear winner here. You will shudder at the thought of the atrocities he makes the young Milles Teller go through. The only possible upset could be in the form of Robert Duvall who the academy might want to pay their dues to before it is too late. But my money is on Simmons.

Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

This is a strange one – generally there is a strong Pixar presence and despite the presence of Big Hero 6 I find it hard to believe it could realistically win the award. I loved HTTYD the first one and that was robbed of an award that went to Toy Story 3 the second one while solid didn’t have the heart that the first one did. And when Pixar and DreamWorks cannot be picked a clear winner it is usually one of the foreign studios who sneaks a win. I would still like to see HTTYD2 win as a consolation for the first feature snub.

Cinematography

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman

“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope

“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

It is a crying shame that Hoyte Van Hoytema who manned the camera for Nolan’s Interstellar does not find a mention here. For all its faults Interstellar was visually the most incredible movie this year and he deserved not only a nomination but also a win for the incredible visuals.

Who should win: Robert Yeoman – for the incredible whimsy and energy he infused on screen to complement the story by Wes Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He has shot each of the Anderson movie with the exception of Fantastic Mr Fox and their partnership has been incredible.

Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman for those beautifully crafted shots that intertwined the different spaces back and front of the stage in the claustrophobic space of the theatre. Lubezki managed to fill the screen with dynamic visuals without ever crowding the space. And with the love that the academy seems to be having for Birdman I am pretty sure Lubezki will be going for Gold number 2 a year after he won for Gravity.

 

 

Visual Effects

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Who Should/Will Win: Interstellar – there shouldn’t even be any discussion about this. To take what is essentially a life’s work in theoretical physics based on the concepts of worm hole, time travel and singularity among other scientific concepts and to turn it into petabytes of data based on 4-whiteboard-long equations and to turn that into stunning visuals is an incredible achievement that cannot be ignored.

Documentary Feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Who Should/Will Win: I loved Finding Vivian Maier and found it to be incredibly moving but in CitizenFour we have something incredible – one man’s courageous/traitorous action to expose a nation’s overreach in the name of national security and the an incredible tale showing the importance of the fourth estate of democracy – that of Journalism. CitizenFour should in all likelihood but who knows if the bureaucracy can strong arm a notoriously spineless academy.

Foreign Language Film

“Ida” Poland

“Leviathan” Russia

“Tangerines” Estonia

“Timbuktu” Mauritania

“Wild Tales” Argentina

With many acts of anti-Semitism happening around the world and the fact that it also got nominated for best cinematography bodes really well for Ida – a story of a young nun about to take her vows who discovers a terrible family secret. But I have also heard fantastic things about Leviathan as well. But seeing as how America feels politically about Russia I am willing to bet that Ida from Poland will take home the gold.

 

 

Sound Editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

“Interstellar” Richard King

“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing

“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Now up until this year these categories used to baffle me – what the hell is the difference – then upon doing some basic research I found an apt analogy sound editing is analogous to picking the right ingredients for the dish while sound mixing is the actual cooking bit. It is particularly important with most movies being released in multiple formats including IMAX where the immersive sound requirement need the cooking to be done at a different pressure. So with that being clarified what we are looking for is the movie that had the best sonic ingredients and the one that presented the best dish.

Sound Editing: Interstellar should but American Sniper most like will.

Sound Mixing: Whiplash should but Birdman most likely will.

 Original Score

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat

“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat

“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer

“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon

“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Of all the times that Zimmer should have won he wasn’t even nominated and to think that he got nominated for Interstellar is some sort of an internal academy joke. His background score for the inter-galactic adventure was the second worst thing about the movie only to be topped by Matthew McConaughey.

Who Should Win: Johann Johannsson for Theory of everything.

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat probably for The Imitation Game.

Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”

Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

“Glory” from “Selma”

Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”

Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

After Happy and Let it go from last year this year is an abysmal showing of songs that are not necessarily that memorable. Academy might want to pay homage to a fading music legend in the form Glen Campbell or probably recognize the civil rights drama Selma which has been shut out from so many other major categories.

Film Editing

“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

“Boyhood” Sandra Adair

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling

“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg

“Whiplash” Tom Cross

I would be happy for either Whiplash or Boyhood to win this – one for a tautly edited movie that does not relent the pace until the very last minute and delivers one hell of story and the other for seamlessly editing 12 years’ worth of footage without the need for subtitling which year we are in. my money though is on Boyhood.

Adapted Screenplay

“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall

“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore

“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

After being shut out the best director category it is only justified that Damien Chazelle should win for Whiplash. Or even Anthony McCarten for the brilliantly uplifting The Theory of Everything.  But I have a Feeling Graham Moore’s sub-par adaptation will take home the little shiny man.

Original Screenplay

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

With the exception of Foxcatcher we have 4 exceptionally original and entertaining screenplays 2 of which are my absolute favourites. It would be a true crowning for Richard Linklater who has given us such modern masterpieces as The Before Trilogy and the most recent Boyhood. To take everyday existence and to elevate to the level of art is what cinematic excellence should be about. Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is also absolutely brilliant in its intensity and the honesty with which the characters are written. There is no redeeming quality to be found in Gilroy’s Lou Bloom and I would love an upset win for Nightcrawler but it is unlikely to happen. More likely that Iñárritu and his team will pip Linklater to the post.

Now the playbill-worthy awards

Director

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson

“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

I love Miller’s previous works but swap him out for Theory of Everything’s Marsh or Whiplash’s Chazelle and I would be a happier man. But life isn’t fair and Linklater will probably not win but Iñárritu will. Linklater’s achievement cannot find any parallels – for a director to invest 12 years of his life and to get the same commitment from his actors to tell a simple tale of a boy coming of age is courageous to say the least. In comparison Inarritu’s masterful telling of a struggle of an actor trying to silence the demons in his head and master his craft while not entirely original is still a glorious triumph. I would like Linklater to win for all the times that he wasn’t even nominated for his Before series but I wouldn’t be too upset if Iñárritu won. But I do miss Fincher not being nominated for Gone Girl.

Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

For me it is a two-horse race between the Academy favourite Michael Keaton who fits the bill of Old-White-Male perfectly but what Eddie Redmayne achieves in Theory of Everything is incredible. Portraying living legend Stephen Hawking Redmayne manages to infuse the humour that is trademark Hawking – he does not just act like hawking he becomes hawking , gait, humour and the shrinking body and everything.

Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

In what is possibly the weakest assemblage of performances by a lead this category inspires very little confidence. Felicity Jones was brilliant as Hawking’s long-suffering wife but in a way her performance isn’t showy enough – it is subtle and it is perfect but Academy generally does not go for that sort of thing. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl was brilliant but I don’t think it is meaty enough for her to score a win. I think this one will go to Julianne Moore as she plays an academician going through Alzheimer’s. Moore is always brilliant in everything she does and here backed with an emotional story it is a sure fire lock for the best actress nod.

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan,Producers

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers

“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers

“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers

“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

It is again a two horse race for me – both quality pictures just different in their scope. Inarritu’s birdman is the more Academy friendly of the two subjects as it deals with the world of blockbuster movies, actors, theatre and the pursuit of honing their craft and with a tight screenplay and cracking performances it is a worthy contender. Then there is the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater which is the critics and fan darling and the one everyone wants to win but who knows how the academy decides. There are reports that there are voices within the academy that fails to see art in what boyhood achieves as it is very realistic and very normal – the fact that it took 12 years to make and it flips the concept of epic and generational film on its head it art enough. It would be a very brave move from the academy and a validation of its relevance if Boyhood does indeed win. There is an outside chance that Harvey Weinstein sneaks in surprise with The Imitation Games which is not a bad movie by any regards but not worthy of a win. Come 22nd February and we will see.

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture Boyhood Birdman
Best Director Richard Linklater Alejandro Iñárritu
Best Actor Eddie Redmayne Michael Keaton
Best Actress Felicity Jones Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor J K Simmons J K Simmons
Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette Patricia Arquette
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Iñárritu – Birdman
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Damian Chazelle -Whiplash Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature Film How to train your dragon – 2 How to train your dragon – 2
Best Foreign Language Film Leviathan Ida
Best Documentary – Feature CitizenFour CitizenFour
Best Documentary – Short Subject Joanna Joanna
Best Live Action Short Film Parvaneh Parvaneh
Best Animated Short Film The Feast The Feast
Best Original Score Johann Johansson Johann Johansson
Best Original Song Glory – Selma Glory – Selma
Best Sound Editing Interstellar American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing Whiplash Birdman
Best Production Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Cinematography Hoyte Van Hoytema ( not nominated)
Robert Yeoman
Emanuel Lubezki
Best Makeup and Hairstyling The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing Sandra Adair – Boyhood Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Best Visual Effects Interstellar Interstellar

Let me know what you think about my picks and if you agree or disagree and what are your predictions for Film industries big night! Bring on the Oscars 2015!!!

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

The Lunchbox – A Review

First time director Ritesh Batra directs Irrfan Khan and new comer Nimrat Kaur in The Lunchbox. Lunchbox has been garnering rave reviews all around the festival circuits and flooring the critics across the board. It also created quite a furor when Lunchbox which was considered a frontrunner in the race to be India’s official entry to the Oscar was denied the chance and it was handed over to a little known Gujarati movie. Having seen the trailer and how impressed I was with the trailer I was about ready to join the voices of righteous indignation even before the movie began expecting to see a gem.

The Lunchbox is the story of Saajan Fernandez (such an interesting name which is not explored in the movie) played by the multi-faceted Irrfan Khan who is nearing the end of his 35-year long service at a government office. It is the story of the ever suffering Ila played by new comer Nimrat Kaur who shuttles between getting her daughter ready to getting the dabba ready for the courier to pick it up to be delivered to her husband. The story is about how these two ordinary individuals through curious circumstances come to establish a relationship established over hand written notes exchanged via the titular Lunchbox.

The story is also that of Shaikh played by the irrepressible Nawazuddin Siddiqui brought in to replace the retiring Fernandez and that of Mrs. Deshpande as voiced by the immediately recognizable Bharati Achrekar (Mrs. Radhika Wagle) the friendly neighborhood aunty who is always at hand to provide advice or a bottle of masala to spice up Ila’s marriage.

There are a lot of good intentions and a well-meaning story and a lot of subtle nuances that Batra tries to infuse in this slow moving romance story but they were lost on me and my viewing company because of the insistence on staying away from the clichés that they ended up being indie-movie clichés of the worst sorts. Take for instance the communication between Ila and Mrs. Deshpande which happens without the audience even once seeing Mrs. Deshpande. It is in improbable that with the husband in the living room Ila would shout on top of her voice to communicate to MRs Deshpande who lives on a floor above hers and trying to muffle the sound by a running tap so that the husband doesn’t over hear the conversation. A more realistic and naturalistic portrayal would’ve been to have Mrs. Deshpande’s kitchen window be a few feet away from that of Ila’s so that the ladies could gossip and still be able to pass the jars of Masala across – a reality in the claustrophobic metropolis that is the financial capital of the country.

The actors are all very competent and no one gives any single reason to complain about. The intensity is in Irrfan’s eyes and so is the vulnerability. Nimrat Kaur puts in a believable  performance with understated presence that never once seems out of place in any scenario. Nawazuddin is a man with the midas touch – every role that he takes on has his distinguishable stamp, even here as the earnest Shaikh he does a wonderful job of being equal parts endearing and equal part annoying. I wish he was given a meatier role to flesh out his interactions with Irrfan.

Problems I had with the movie have to do with the camera work and how the finished product appears. The trailer had a very clean fresh and crisp vibe, the visuals had a young energy to it even though they were filmed in government offices with cabinets burdened under thousands of files and tracking shots of the dabbawalas through Mumbai locals. The scenes in the movie look tired and washed out as if they are lacking in energy of any type. The colors of the city are washed out to be a monochromatic beige palette. The pacing of the movie is far too slow to allow for the audience to feel a sense of urgency of the relationship based on notes exchanged via a incorrectly addressed tiffin.  And when the climax comes about it is so anti-climactic with the will they won’t they end that I wish I was watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Mili where the fate of Jaya Bachchan is left to the audience to decide.

Having seen this movie I don’t think I can justifiably be indignant or angry about it not being sent in as India’s official selection to the Oscars for foreign Language feature film category. I am angrier that this movie is getting so much more mileage than Ship of Theseus which was a far better movie than this one and the one movie which I’d be proud to have represent India at the Academy Awards.

If you want to watch what the hype is about, go give this movie a watch – there is nothing particularly bad about this movie and it could even be mildly entertaining if you are luckier than I was when it came to a juvenile audience.