January 19, 2022

Modern Masters: 2021 List

Based on this list of the Greatest Films of the 21st Century, here is my annual list of Top 10 Directors with the most impressive filmography this century. This ranking considers the number of movies each director has in Top 1000 as well as the respective ranks of their movies.

Wes Anderson (#11) is out of top ten for the first time in seven years, since I have been making this annual list. However, he may return to the list next year as his latest release ('The French Dispatch') is likely to feature in the top 1000. Pedro Almodovar (#13) also has an outside chance as his latest release ('Parallel Mothers') has been received well. Steven Spielberg (#17) should also climb up with the help of 'West Side Story' but it is less likely that he will make it to top ten. The top ten directors as of now are:

10. Joel and Ethan Coen (American filmmakers, 4667 points): Down from #7, the Coen brothers have managed to stay in the top ten by edging out Wes Anderson. It is difficult to predict what will happen next year despite Joel Coen's latest 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' doing well.

9. Paul Thomas Anderson (American filmmaker, 4686 points): PTS manages to hold on to #9 and stays in the top ten for the fourth consecutive year. His latest 'Licorice Pizza' has been received very well and hence it looks like his position will only improve next year.

8. Michael Haneke (Austrian filmmaker, 4709 points): After staying in the top two positions for the first five years, Haneke had a steep fall last year, to #8. This year he holds on to the position. It will be interesting to see how the latest releases of all names mentioned above affect Haneke's position as he does not have anything coming up.

7. Christopher Nolan (British-American filmmaker, 4759 points): Thanks to 'Tenet', Nolan is up from #11 and back in the top ten. His next film will be out not before 2023 and hence chances are that his rank will fall again, especially with other filmmakers having their releases in 2021 and 2022.

6. Richard Linklater (American filmmaker, 4876 points): After staying in the top three positions for six years, Linklater is at his personal lowest rank of #6, because his movies, especially 'Bernie', have lost ranks. Since his next release ('Apollo 10 1/2') is in 2022, chances are that Linklater, my favorite filmmaker on this list, will keep losing ranks.

5. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thai filmmaker, 4920 points): Back in the top five, Weerasethakul is expected to climb ranks with his latest release ('Memoria') doing really well. He is the only filmmaker in the top eight who has had a release in 2021. It will be interesting to see what this does to the next list of top ten. Note that he is only 24 points behind Zhangke in this year's rankings.

4. Jia Zhangke (Chinese filmmaker, 4944 points): Despite his latest documentary ('Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue') not making it to top 1000, Zhangke continues to be in top five, the only filmmaker to stay there all seven years. But his next feature has not been announced yet. Will he lost his rank, finally?

3. Claire Denis (French filmmaker, 5041 points): One rank down from last year, Denis continues to be in top three, and the only female filmmaker on this list all these years. Her next release 'The Stars at Noon' comes out in 2022 and so her rank may go down in the next rankings.

2. Quentin Tarantino (American filmmaker, 5105 points): Tarantino is up from #5, thanks to the improvement in the rankings of his movies in the top 1000. Of course, there is no announcement of his next, and hence he may lose ranks next year.

1. Martin Scorsese (American filmmaker, 5276 points): Despite five of his movies losing their respective ranks in the top 1000, most of all 'Shutter Island' that now barely survives at #953, Scorsese remains at the top for the second consecutive year. His next, 'Killers of the Flower Moon', comes out in 2022. And so it is possible that Scorsese loses his top position. But to whom, since no other filmmaker in the top eight, except Weerasethakul, has had a release in 2021? Let us figure this out in a few months as TSPDT releases its updated list.

June 16, 2021

Screenwriting Lessons from 'Lagaan'

This article of mine was published on Film Companion on the twentieth anniversary of 'Lagaan'.

If films were textbooks, Lagaanreleased 20 years ago, would be my favourite textbook of all time. Here are ten lessons from the film which I believe can help us as we strive to write our own stories for the screen:

1. Solid Core, Unique Cover: What, in your story, evokes empathy in the audience? What makes the audience truly care for your characters? These are the most important questions we must ask while evaluating a story idea. Lagaan works so well because of what is at stake for its characters. Survival corresponds to the lowest layer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is basal, the most fundamental need in living beings, and hence, the most universal. My grandmother may not understand English, but she can watch Cast Away with rapt attention because someone’s survival is at stake. The only genre where I can sit through a bad movie is horror — for the same reason.

The villagers of Champaner will die if they lose the match. This powerful simplicity forms the core of the story, along with the themes of injustice and the common man’s fight against the atrocities of an unjust ruler. This core has a unique and supremely attractive covering — in the form of the setting of the film, the rich, colorful socio-cultural milieu of a 19th-century Indian village, flanked by the British cantonment and the king’s palace on its either sides, where a game of cricket has to be learned, played, and won. This covering is unlike anything we have seen, thus lending originality and excitement to the simple, universal core. Most poor stories, ironically, do the exact opposite — they have an ill-defined, uninteresting, or esoteric core in a simplistic, familiar, and even predictable covering.

2. Your Film is a Concert: And each character is a musical instrument. Apart from a grand piano, make sure you have a rich string section of violins and violas, but also cello and double bass. You must have drums and cymbals but also a tambourine and a triangle. And you must have flutes, clarinets, horns, and trumpets. Nothing makes Lagaan more rewatchable than its wonderful set of characters: Guran’s eccentricities, Gauri’s endearing innocence, Elizabeth’s self-assured grace, Captain Russell’s cruel megalomania, Lakha’s shape-shifting, Bagha’s quiet strength, and Deva Singh Sodhi’s drive for redemption. Essentially, your characters should have specific roles to play, but they should be as different from each other as possible. They are each playing their own tune, and yet the resulting music is not discordant but harmonic.

3. Character is Story: British officers from a cantonment and poor farmers from an Indian village play a game of cricket to solve a purely bureaucratic matter of land tax. Could anything be more ridiculous than this? And yet, when the film reaches its Act I Climax, and Bhuvan utters the now-famous affirmation — “Sarat manjoor hai”(“सरत मंजूर है”) (“I accept the bet”) — it looks like the most obvious thing to have happened in that universe.

The starting point of plotting should always be the character. What kind of a British officer would make a ridiculous challenge like that — someone who reduces everything, even human dignity, life, and death, to a game. The first time we see Captain Russell, he is hunting, driven by his belief that “Angrez shikaar ke khel mein duniya mein sabse aage hain” (“अंग्रेज़ शिकार के खेल में दुनिया में सबसे आगे हैं”) (“The British are the best when it comes to hunting”). In his second appearance, he agrees to Rajaji’s diplomatic request regarding the temple on the condition that he eats the meat. When we see him for the third time, he makes the offer to Bhuvan.

Now, what kind of a villager would accept an impossible challenge like this — someone who sees opportunity in crises and who has tremendous self-belief and courage. We see Bhuvan perform two decisive actions before accepting the challenge: one, his ingenious disruption of Russell’s hunting; and two, a confident public proclamation of a rebellion if Rajaji refuses to lower the tax. When these two men come face to face, they do exactly what the writer wants. What we expected to be ridiculous is now a believable, engrossing drama.

4. A Ride through Hell: Screenwriting guru Robert McKee states in his book Story that the satisfaction the audience gains from any film is directly proportional to the degree of antagonism the hero faces. We want our heroes to win, but only after they have gone through hell. This antagonism should not just be strong, but also complex and layered.

Captain Russell is the strongest force of antagonism for Bhuvan. But there are several other conflicts he has to face: the villagers who act like threshold guardians refusing to be a part of Bhuvan’s journey, their age-old prejudice that resists Kachra’s inclusion into the team, the imminent betrayal by Lakha, and the challenges of the game itself. Until the very end, there are rules Bhuvan is unaware of and the game unfolds like an adventure into a mysterious land. Even when the senior British officers reprimand Russell and issue an ultimatum to him, our villain’s suffering only increases his determination to win the game. Bhuvan and his teammates go through actual physical suffering too — bloodied ears, huffing lungs, body blows, and a fractured foot. All that could go wrong, goes wrong until the final delivery. When Bhuvan hits the winning six, it is that which satisfies us at a subconscious level — the fact that he suffered way more than we feared he would.

5. Little Tales in a Grand Epic: The heart-warming love triangle of Elizabeth, Gauri, and Bhuvan. The betrayal by Lakha and later, his redemption. The heroic victory of Kachra over his social handicap. The homecoming of Ram Singh who gives up his job with the British. The atonement of Deva Singh Sodhi, a former soldier in the British army. The humiliation and the fightback of Arjan. The harmless nagging rivalry of Goli and Bhura. The secret romance between Bagha and Jigni. Lagaan is a rich mesh of emotionally fulfilling subplots, simple enough to be told economically without hurting the main plot. In fact, each of the subplots feeds the main plot and nothing is extraneous. Identifying, constructing, and structuring subplots is a tricky business. But its rewards are many.

6. Trust Simplicity and Exaggeration: In more than a decade of teaching screenwriting and direction, I have found that most young, aspiring filmmakers do not value simplicity. I don’t blame them. When I was in my early twenties, I too was fascinated by complex stuff. I thought complex was cool and that it showed my intellectual superiority and refined taste.

The second problem I observe among many screenwriters, new or experienced, is their hesitation to exaggerate. Epistemologically speaking, it is impossible to know what is adequate, until you have gone beyond it. Only when water starts overflowing do we know for sure that the vessel is full and we should not pour anymore. Hence, we must exaggerate and only then tone things down to what we think is optimum. The storytelling of Lagaan is rooted in simplicity — it’s like a grandmother narrating a fable — but the drama is as exaggerated as it could be, until the last second of the cricket match. The underappreciated art of simplicity and exaggeration deserves more attention than any of us have been willing to give.

7. The First Action: What is the first thing we see Neo Anderson do in The Matrix? He wakes up. In the story, Neo eventually opens his eyes to reality. Rohan, in the opening scene of ‘Udaan,’ is escaping and defying authority with the help of his friends. Later, he will take his first flight, escaping the brutal authority of his father. Both of these opening actions foreshadow the journeys the protagonists will undertake in the respective films.

Lagaan does this even better. After a long build-up of “Bhuvan kahaan hai?” (“भुवन कहाँ है?”) (“Where is Bhuvan?”), we find him trying to save an innocent animal from the brutality of Captain Russell. Not only is Bhuvan fearless, determined, and innovative in his effort, this is a matter of life and death, reduced by the British to a game. Note that the game is theirs, but Bhuvan believes he can make those bullets go to waste using the ill-shaped stone pebbles in his hand. The scene foreshadows Bhuvan’s upcoming endeavor. With the help of indigenous cricketing equipment and self-belief, he will try to defeat the British in their own game, with the villagers’ lives at stake.

With some imagination, you can find just the right opening action for your protagonist, whatever be the story or its constraints. We tried to do exactly that with Chintu’s father, Madan, in our film Chintu Ka Birthday. His opening act is a prayer, reminding us that no bad comes to those who keep faith. As he does that, Madan watches his son repeat the prayer after him. The transfer of faith is complete, without any effort.

8. Hide the Design: The biggest achievement of the many great scenes in Lagaan is the number of functions they serve. The “Eat the Meat” scene has a strong narrative function — it leads to the idea of double-tax, but it also sets up Russell’s character for the main plot, seeds in Rajaji’s cold war with Russell, makes us hate him and yet be enamored by his quirks, and introduces Elizabeth and Lt. Smith to us. When you create scenes that are so dense in their function, your writing becomes economical. But more importantly, all your design of plot and character hides behind the richness of the scenes. The audience has so much to see from the world of the story that they stop seeing you — the writer, the craftsperson, the storyteller.

9.The Spoken Word: KP Saxena, who wrote the Hindi dialogue for the film, is perhaps the biggest unsung hero of Lagaan. The richness of language in Lagaan is, as it should be in screen stories, conversational, although it has enough proverbs, ear-tickles, rhymes, and alliteration to make it a work of literature. It uses a concoction of Awadhi, Brajbhasha, and Bhojpuri for its linguistic flavor, but flushes in enough Khadi Boli to make it work for the urban Indian audience. The British speak a healthy mix of English and Hindi to keep things realistic while also ensuring that Indians who do not understand English have no trouble following them.

An example is from the scene where Bhuvan is having a chat with his mother, on the night after accepting the challenge and realising that he is all alone in this venture:

“Maa tohri kasam, maine jo kiya theek kiya. Mann kat-ta hai mora jab hum raja ka lagaan bharat hain, aur wo firangiyon ki gandi hatheli pe dhar det hain. Tu bol maa, dharti ki chhaati cheer ke beej koun boye hai? Hum boye hain. Phir seeche koun hai? Hum hi! Phir lagaan unki gaanth kaahe baandh dein? Gora sahab ki baat, maa, teen saal ka lagaan maaf kare ki baat thi. Main ka goonga ho jaata, maa? Tu bol, goonga ho jaata main?”

“माँ तोहरी कसम, मैंने जो किया, ठीक किया. मन कटता है मोरा जब हम राजा का लगान भरत हैं, और वो फिरंगियों की गन्दी हथेली पे धर देत हैं. तू बोल माँ, धरती की छाती चीर के बीज कौन बोए है? हम बोए हैं. फिर सींचे कौन है? हम ही! फिर लगान उनकी गाँठ काहे बाँध दें? गोरा साहब की बात, माँ, तीन साल का लगान माफ़ करे की बात थी. मैं का गूँगा हो जाता, माँ? तू बोल, गूँगा हो जाता मैं?”

Another example is from the moment when Bhuvan has almost succeeded in convincing Goli to join the team. With tears in his eyes, Goli starts wondering aloud:

“Toh ka humra lagaan maaf hoga? Hum bhar pet khaayenge? Kaa humre sapne sach honge? Nahin, nahin Bhuvan, tu geeli chutki mein namak pakad rahaa hai!”

“तो का हमरा लगान माफ़ होगा? हम भर पेट खाएँगे? का हमरे सपने सच होंगे? नहीं, नहीं भुवन, तू गीली चुटकी में नमक पकड़ रहा है!”

I have always been affected by the simplicity of the lines leading up to the final doubt. What a beautiful way to convey that Bhuvan is trying to hold on to an impossible hope! Of course, Bhuvan’s reassuring reply that follows comes from Javed Akhtar’s beautiful verse:

“Bharosa kar, Goli. Sach aur saahas hai jiske mann mein, ant mein jeet usi ki rahe hai.”

“भरोसा कर, गोली. सच और साहस है जिसके मन में, अंत में जीत उसी की रहे है.”

10. Write for the Medium: If you are dying to tell a story, find the right medium for it. Otherwise, you are not doing justice to your story. On the other hand, if you want to write for the screen, find the story most suited to the medium. Lagaan is a visual story. Its battles, its drama, and some of its greatest moments rely on visual action — not on conversations, or internal monologue. Many of the aspiring filmmakers I meet try to tell stories where characters are either talking a lot or are engrossed in deep thought. It is very rare to find a young filmmaker who actually understands the dramatic power of visual action. Remember what our hero does after being ridiculed by the entire village? He does not try to convince them with words anymore. Rather, he carves a cricket bat, hoping to demonstrate — in a long sequence of swings and misses — how “easy” it is to play the game. And just when the curiosity and the stakes are really high, he manages to hit the ball that soars in the sky, and lands at the temple gate, not before ringing the temple bell in the process. The eyes of Bhuvan twinkle at the miracle. His efforts have resulted in a divine prophecy. He will win, as long as he keeps fighting with truth and courage in his heart. Bagga and Guran join him. The long and tough fight for survival begins.

🔴 Celebrating 20 Years Of LAGAAN

June 05, 2021


I watched less than 170 movies in the year 2020. But that should perhaps be the smallest complaint one may have with the year. Of course, if the MAMI Film Festival were held, my usual score of 200 would be reached. The year 2021 is almost half over. Unfortunately, my movie count remains low. I will hope to improve this by the time the year ends. For now, keeping a record of some of the most interesting movie experiences I had in 2020.

MODERN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE MOVIES THAT WORKED FOR ME: 'Jojo Rabbit' (2019), '1917' (2019), and 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' (2020) were the expected titles. I really enjoyed 'Uncut Gems' (2019), so much so that I wish I had time to study its screenplay. Personally, I also loved 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' (2019) and remember being moved deeply by it at the movie theatre. Another very interesting film I'd like to mention is 'Swallow' (2019). Very gripping and extremely well-made. 'Burn Burn Burn' (2015) was super fun too.

The best MODERN FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILMS I watched were the biggies 'Parasite' (2019) and 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' (2019) - both absolutely great. But there were some wonderful, lesser-known ones too: 'All of a Sudden' (2016), 'The Load' (2018), 'All is Well' (2018), 'Echo' (2019), 'The Fever' (2019), and the weird but entertaining 'The Children of the Dead' aka 'Die kinder der toten' (2019). The now famous 'The Invisible Guest' (2016) was quite entertaining too. However, the one that totally blew me over was 'The Platform' (2019) on Netflix. You need such original works once in a while to keep your movie experience unpredictable and exciting. Also, 'Gamak Ghar' (2019) was special.

Some NON-FICTION MOVIES that I'd like to mention are 'Fire in the Blood' (2013), '13th' (2016), 'Talking About Trees' (2019), 'One Child Nation' (2019), 'To Be and to Have' (2002), and 'For Sama' (2019). All of these were brilliant, easily among the very best movies I watched this year.

From WORLD CINEMA, I managed to watch some celebrated ones like 'Tartuffe' (1925, Germany), 'Kiki's Delivery Service' (1989, Japan), 'Babam ve Oglum' (2005, Turkey), and 'Body' aka 'Cialo' (2015, Poland). But certain titles were pure discoveries. 'Mr. Klein' (1976, France), 'Buffet froid' (1979, France), 'Sitcom' (1998, France), 'The Band's Visit' (2007, Israel), 'Oslo, August 31st' (2011, Norway), and the French-language animation 'Ernest & Celestine' (2012).

Similarly, some celebrated ENGLISH-LANGUAGE CLASSICS that I watched for the first time in 2020 and liked were 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' (1967), 'Night of the Living Dead' (1968), 'Midnight Express' (1978), 'The Blues Brothers' (1980), 'Tootsie' (1982), 'Wall Street' (1987), 'Atonement' (2007), and 'Super 8' (2011) - and 'Creep' (2014) and its 2017, and even better, sequel 'Creep II'. But the best surprises were reserved for these movies I hadn't heard of: 'He Walked by Night' (1948), 'The Small Black Room' (1949), 'The Lavender Hill Mob' (1951), 'Kansas City Confidential' (1952), 'Accident' (1967), 'Long Weekend' (1978), 'Hopscotch' (1980), 'The Hit' (1984), 'Light Sleeper' (1992), ' Bound' (1996), 'Buffalo '66' (1998), 'The Interview' (1998), 'Lantana' (2001), 'Baghead' (2008), and 'The Ruins' (2008). Possibly the greatest of all was 'The Servant' (1963). I don't even remember why it impressed me so much but it surely would invite a revisit. Some powerful filmmaking there.

Rewatches of 'Short Term 12', 'Lagaan', 'Inside Out', 'A Quiet Place', 'Kumbalangi Nights', 'The Green Mile', 'The Shawshank Redemption', and 'The Silence of the Lambs', and episodes from 'Silicon Valley', 'Mindhunter', 'Paatal Lok', 'Better Call Saul', 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Escape at Dannemora' (this last mini-series is brilliant) well completed my experience of the year.

Since I have mentioned dozens of movies already, the point of this post was getting lost. Hence, I chose to mark fifteen out of these (in bold) which stood out for some reason or the other.

April 28, 2021

Oscars 2021: The Regulars

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

8 Nominations:

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

9 Nominations:

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

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

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

11 Nominations:

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

12 Nominations

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

13 Nominations:

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

April 24, 2021

Top 10 at Oscars 2021

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

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

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

October 14, 2020

Modern Masters: 2020 List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 09, 2020

Top 10 at Oscars 2020

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

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

February 08, 2020

Cinema 2019: Top Modern Foreign-Language Films

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

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

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

Cinema 2019: Top Foreign-Language Classics

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

Cinema 2019: Top Modern English-Language Films

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

   American Honey (2016)

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

Cinema 2019: Top English-Language Classics

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