January 15, 2016

Oscar 2016: The Regulars

This time there is no Meryl Streep. But Steven Spielberg has earned his sixteenth nomination for 'Bridge of Spies' and the Coen Brothers have earned their fourteenth for co-writing the same film. Spielberg's nomination is also ninth as a producer and that is a record. Brad Pitt is nominated as a producer for 'The Big Short' and Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett have both earned their seventh nomination.

These are all well-known names. But at the upcoming Oscar night there will be several stalwarts sitting in that auditorium, behind-the-scene crew members, we do not know much about. Like last year, I'm sharing with you the names of technicians and musicians who are nominated on a regular basis. It's the time to salute the unsung.

Emmanuel Lubezki: 'The Revenant' has earned this 51-year old cinematographer his eighth nomination, his first being for 'A Little Princess' (1996). His filmography includes 'Children of Men' (2006), 'The Tree of Life' (2011), 'Gravity' (2013) and 'Birdman' (2014). If he wins this year, it will be his third win in a row!

Diane Warren: 59-year old Warren is a Grammy-winning American songwriter whose first Oscar nomination came for the 1987 film 'Mannequin'.  Her latest nomination for 'The Hunting Ground' is her eighth, with which she will hope to win her first Oscar.

Alan Robert Murray: Murray won his second Oscar trophy last year, for the sound editing of 'American Sniper'. His first trophy was also a Clint Eastwood film - 'Letters from Iwo Jima' (2006). This year, he has earned his eighth nomination for 'Sicario' and will hope for his third win.

Frank A Montano: With a filmography that boasts of 'The Fugitive' (1993) as well as 'Birdman' (2014), re-recording mixer Montano has earned his eighth nomination for 'The Revenant' with which he will hope to finally win that elusive trophy.

Robert Richardson: 'Platoon' (1986), 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989) and 'Inglorious Basterds' (2009) are some of the movies shot by this 60-year old cinematographer who has earned his ninth nomination for 'The Hateful Eight'. He will hope to win his fourth trophy after winning it thrice before for 'JFK' (1991), 'The Aviator' (2004), and 'Hugo' (2011).

Jenny Beavan: Beavan won her first and only Oscar for the costume design of 'The Room with a View' (1985) when she was forty five. Her filmography includes 'Sense and Sensibility' (1995) and 'The King's Speech' (2010). 'Mad Max: Fury Road' has earned Beavan her tenth nomination.

Sandy Powell: 55-year old Powell has won three Oscars already, for the costume design of 'Shakespeare in Love' (1998), 'The Aviator' (2004) and 'The Young Victoria' (2009). This year she has been nominated for 'Cinderella' and 'Carol', her 11th and 12th nominations. Will she win her fourth trophy?

Roger Deakins: He is 66 and has been nominated thirteen times, without a win. The cinematographer of 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994), 'Kundun' (1997), 'The Reader' (2008), 'Skyfall' (2012) and most Coen Brothers films, he is a living legend. Of course, the world will talk about DiCaprio's chance at his maiden trophy. But for DOPs all over the world, Deakins will be the man to watch as he hopes to win for 'Sicario'.

Thomas Newman: 60-year old Newman provided the original score for 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994), 'American Beauty' (1999), 'Road to Perdition' (2002), 'WALL-E' (2008) and 'Skyfall' (2012). And he is yet to win an Oscar. 'Bridge of Spies' is his thirteenth nomination with which he will hope to walk on to the stage and bring the trophy home.

Randy Thom: A sound mixer who started his career with 'Apocalypse Now' (1979). 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980) and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981), Randy Thom won his first Oscar for 'The Right Stuff' (1983) and his second for 'The Incredibles' (2004). 'The Revenant' is his fifteenth nomination, preceded by 'Return of the Jedi' (1983), 'Forrest Gump' (1994), 'Cast Away' (2000), and 'Ratatouille' (2008), to name a few.

Gary Rydstrom: Just in case you have not been overwhelmed by the names mentioned above, here comes sound designer Gary Rydstorm. When he was 32, he won his first two Oscar trophies for 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991). By the time he turned 39, he had won seven, for 'Jurassic Park' (1993), 'Titanic' (1997), and 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Then, as if law of averages caught up with him, he did not win any despite earning eight more nominations. 'Bridge of Spies' is his eighteenth nomination and his hope to win his eighth trophy!

Andy Nelson: And there is more. The sound designer of 'Schindler's List' (1993), 'Braveheart' (1995), 'L.A. Confidential' (1997), 'The Thin Red Line' (1998), 'The Last Samurai' (2003) and 'Avatar' (2009), Andy Nelson has earned his 19th and 20th nominations for 'Bridge of Spies' and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. He has won the trophy twice already, for 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998) and 'Les Miserables' (2012).

John Williams: And finally, sharing with you the name that gave me the shock of my life a few hours ago. The 83-year old music composer, John Williams, is the man behind some of the most popular and recognisable musical scores of all time. Earning a nomination almost every year since 1968, and winning the trophy five times, for 'Fiddler on the Roof' (1971), 'Jaws' (1975), 'Star Wars' (1977), 'E.T.' (1982) and 'Schindler's List' (1993), Williams has earned his 50th nomination for the musical score of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. His last eighteen nominations have not converted to a win and that must be sad, right? I wonder if the Academy Awards would have any importance for this legend, who has also composed music for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981), 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989), 'Home Alone' (1990), 'JFK' (1991), 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998), 'AI' (2001), and 'Harry Potter'. The hall will erupt with standing ovation if he wins and I will root for him just to witness that.

January 14, 2016

Top 10 at Oscars 2016

The Oscar nominations were announced a little while ago. Like 2013, 2014, and 2015, I'm presenting my list of top ten movies you must watch to understand what is happening at the Oscar stage on 28th February (morning of 29th for India). The ten movies that featured in my 2013 list shared 68 nominations among themselves. The number has kept decreasing in the successive years to 64 and 62. This year, the top ten movies I list here account for only 59 nominations. This clearly shows there is a greater variety at the awards this year. None of the movies have managed the Big Five nomination again this year. So no repeat of the rare feat can be expected.

Following are the ten movies in alphabetic order:

'The Big Short' by Adam McKay (5 nominations, including Best Picture and Directing): I have not seen any film directed or written by 47-year old McKay who seems to be quite a name on TV. 'The Big Short' must be his shot to the major league with directing and adapted screenplay nominations. The film also earns Brad Pitt his third producing nomination after 'Moneyball' and '12 Years a Slave', and Christian Bale his second supporting-actor nomination after 'The Fighter'. There is no new yet on when 'The Big Short' is releasing in India.

'Bridge of Spies' by Steven Spielberg (6 nominations, including Best Picture): It is good to see this film in the list of the eight Best Picture nominees. I totally loved it. Although Spielberg has been left out from the Directors list, this his ninth nomination as a producer. The film also earns the Coen Brothers their sixth screenplay nomination. The film has already had its run in India.

'Brooklyn' by John Crowley (3 nominations, including Best Picture): I chose 'Brooklyn' over 'The Danish Girl', which has four nominations, because all its three nominations are big: Picture, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. Saoirse Ronan has won her second Oscar nomination after the Supporting Actress nomination for 'Atonement' (2007). John Crowley is again a new name for me and this is the film that brings him to the big league despite not earning a directing nomination. I wonder if it will be released in India.

'Carol' by Todd Haynes (6 nominations): Despite six nominations, including one for Cate Blanchett (her seventh, fourth in a Leading Role), 'Carol' could not make it to the Best Picture short-list. Rooney Mara has won her second nomination after 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011). It is the sixth film by director Todd Haynes and I have seen only one of his previous works - 'I'm Not There.' (2007). The PVR website says 'Carol' will be released in India on the 26th of February.

'Mad Max: Fury Road' by George Miller (10 nominations, including Best Picture): Despite loving the film when it came out last summer I had no idea that it will be such a favourite among the Academy voters. The second highest score among the nominees, the film should also win quite a handful. George Miller had won the Animated Feature award for 'Happy Feet' nine years ago. He would love to go back on the stage for this indulgent genre feast. If it is re-released in India, I'm going to watch it again. At Imax. For sure.

'The Martian' by Ridley Scott (7 nominations, including Best Picture): Scott not making it to the Directing shortlist must be one of the biggest surprises of today's announcement. He is yet to win an Oscar despite an illustrious career and he will hope to win it for this one as one of its producers. Matt Damon has won his fourth acting nomination, although he has won as a writer eighteen years ago for 'Good Will Hunting'. The film has played in India already.

'The Revenant' by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (12 nominations, including Best Picture): Inarritu won three Oscars last year for 'Birdman', as its producer, director, and writer. And over the last few days he has emerged as a front-runner for the second consecutive year. With most nominations this year, 'The Revenant' can also end Leonardo DiCaprio's dry run - this is his fifth acting nomination without a win yet. The film will probably release in India on the 26th of February. Eagerly waiting for it.

'Room' by Lenny Abrahamson (4 nominations, including Best Picture): When I missed watching this film at MAMI2015, I had no idea it would be so big at the Oscar stage. This is such a triumph for small films! Brie Larson is one of the biggest contenders for the Best Actress trophy and I hope this will make people discover 'Short Term 12', one of my favourite films of recent time. Lenny Abrahamson is another new name for me and his Directing nomination has come as a big surprise to a lot of people. They say this film will be released in India on 26th Feb.

'Spotlight' by Tom McCarthy (6 nominations, including Best Picture): Of McCarthy's works I have only seen 'Up' (2009) that was co-written by him. With 'Spotlight' he has earned a writing as well as a directing nomination. Mark Ruffalo has earned his third Supporting Actor nomination, although it will be tough to beat Stallone ('Creed') and Rylance ('Bridge of Spies'). Waiting for its India release.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' by JJ Abrams (5 nominations): Nominated for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing, original score and VFX, the latest Star Wars film, and my favourite in the series, should pick an award or two. It is playing in India since its Christmas release and I would recommend it to you. If you can, watch Star Wars IV, V, and VI before you go for it. The emotional connection will be ten times more.

I have to watch six of these ten movies in the next 45 days or so. I will soon write more posts on the Oscar race. Stay tuned.

P.S. 'The Danish Girl' (4), 'The Hateful Eight' (3), 'Sicario' (3) and 'Steve Jobs' (2) are four more movies you may want to watch apart from the top ten. The first two of these release in India tomorrow. 'Sicario' has already played and 'Steve Jobs' should be released on 5th Feb.

January 13, 2016

Cinema 2015: Top 10 Foreign-Language Classics

I watched close to 200 movies in 2015, out of which I have selected my favourite films for this four-part series. I have considered all movies released within the last five years as 'modern' and those released before 2011 as 'classics'. Following are my favourite foreign-language classics that I watched in 2015, listed in alphabetic order. It is good to see it dominated by movies from Asia:

  • The Circle (2000/ Iran) by Jafar Panahi: When this hard-hitting, inventive film premiered at Venice, it won six awards, including the Golden Lion, the highest honour. And then it got banned in its own country, Iran. One of the strongest feminist voices in cinema, the film is a supreme marriage of content and form.
  • Come and See (1985/ Soviet Union) by Elem Klimov: You need to watch this film just for its last few minutes - it is nothing short of iconic. A brutal, horrifying account of the Nazi atrocities in the villages of Byelorussia through the eyes of a teenager, this is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, especially because it tends to haunt you forever.
  • The Hole (aka as The Night Watch or Le trou) (1960/ France) by Jacques Becker. The oldest film on this list but one of the most involving you will see. All this film covers is the elaborate planing and execution, successful or not, of a prison-break. And you will love the detail it goes into, every stroke of hammer, every watchful gaze. 
  • Letter from Iwo Jima (2006/ USA-Japan) by Clint Eastwood: This film was one of the two films Clint Eastwood made simultaneously on the American invasion of the island of Iwo Jima. It won Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Directing and Original Screenplay and won it for Sound Editing. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign-language film. The newest film on the list and a must-watch if you love war films.
  • My Neighbor Totoro (1988/ Japan) by Hayao Miyazaki: This animated-feature is on IMDB Top 250, so chances are that a lot of you would know about it. I do not watch too many animation but this one simply blew me away with its originality of intent, imagination and execution. Looking forward to watching more of Miyazaki this year.
  • Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1979/ Soviet Union) by Vladimir Menshov: This Oscar-winner for Best Foreign-language Film is a moving personal story of love and hope spanning several years in the life of its beautiful protagonist. Go for it if you like relation-based dramas.
  • Not One Less (1999/ China) by Yimou Zhang: Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, this is an endearing film involving kids. With mostly non-actors playing the essential roles, it is sure to appeal to you, with its unassuming brilliance and innocence.
  • Toto the Hero (1991/ Belgium) by Jaco Van Dormael: The first film of my find of the year, Van Dormael, won the Best Debut, Camera d'Or, at Cannes. It was Belgium's Oscar entry, although it couldn't make it to top five. It did, however, earn a BAFTA nomination. Interestingly structured, this fable of a film contains within itself so much of pain and insight into human condition, but presented so playfully that it will be a unique, entertaining experience for you.
  • Unagi (aka The Eel) (1997/ Japan) by Shohei Imamura: This crime-drama from the legendary Japanese film-maker won the highest honour at Cannes, the Palme d'Or. With a story that will keep you guessing from the start until the very end, I found it to be extremely engrossing. Triumph of the narrative!
  • The White Balloon (1995/ Iran) by Jafar Panahi: This film that started the career of Panahi is his second on this list. It also won the Camera d'Or at Cannes and was Iran's official entry to the Oscars. But before the nominations were out, Iran requested the Academy to let them withdraw the film. They also did not allow Panahi to travel out of Iran to introduce the film to the American audience. That was how Panahi's struggle with his government started, and it continues until today - he is not allowed to make films at all. I had recommended this film as a must-watch last year. Simply adorable!
Honourable Mentions: The Barbarian Invasions (2003/ Canada/ Denys Arcand), Harakiri (1962/ Japan/ Masaki Kobayashi), and The Sea Inside (2004/ Spain/ Alejandro Amenabar)

Also see:
The list from 2014.
Top modern foreign-language films I watched in 2015
Top modern English-language films I watched in 2015
Top English-language classics I watched in 2015

January 09, 2016

Cinema 2015: Top 10 English-Language Classics

I watched close to 200 movies in 2015, out of which I have selected my favourite films for this four-part series. All movies released within the last five years were considered as 'modern' and those released before 2011 as 'classics'. Out of fifty English-language 'classics' I have selected the following ten, listed in alphabetic order:

  • Cabaret (1972/ USA/ Bob Fosse): A musical that had overshadowed the best picture win of 'The Godfather' with eight Oscars. I was amazed by the film's editing choices and, of course, the character played by Liza Minnelli. What a delight!
  • The Fly (1986/ USA/ David Cronenberg): A sci-fi body-horror film that you should watch only if you are fine with the disgusting, emetic visuals of flesh in all its distortion. I loved the film's mood, its clear, focussed narrative, and its indulgence to the genre. "Be afraid. Be very afraid!"
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994/ UK/ Mike Newell): It's so rare for me to choose a romantic-comedy as one of my favourites. But with its wonderful structure, characters, and dialogue, this film won over me. 1994 sure was a great year for films.
  • The Godfather - III (1990/ USA/ Francis Ford Coppola): Nominated for seven Oscars and winning none, this film is known as the infamous, much inferior sequel to two of the greatest films of all time. Perhaps it was the extreme low expectations, or perhaps it was my love fore the Corleone family, that I enjoyed it. Truly. 
  • The Insider (1999/ USA/ Michael Mann): Another film with seven Oscar nominations and zero wins, 'The Insider' was a truly moving experience for me. I remember how consumed I was by it. Of course, since it is based on true incidents, the impact was enormous. 
  • In the Name of the Father (1993/ Ireland-UK-USA/ Jim Sheridan): The third film in this list with seven Oscar nominations and no wins, 'In the Name of the Father' is perhaps the best of the lot. Universally relatable and featuring some great performances, this is one recommended to one and all.
  • Mr. Nobody (2009/ Belgium-Canada-France-Germany/ Jaco Van Dormael) The newest film on this list, it is also the most structural, vague, and daring. The only English-language film directed by the Belgian director, who is also my favourite discovery of the year, has a lot to offer, especially if you love a little abstraction, or if you dig cerebral stuff.
  • Papillon (1973/ USA/ Franklin J. Schaffner): A brilliant prison-break adventure that gained stature over the years after its release, 'Papillon' is again an easy recommendation. Watch it knowing it is based on true events.
  • Patton (1970/ USA/ Franklin J. Schaffner): Another Schaffner film on this list, and this too is based on true incidents. With ten Oscar nominations and seven wins, including Best Picture and a Screenplay Oscar for Coppola, this war epic might be the best English-language classic I watched this year.
  • Where the Truth Lies (2005/ UK-Canada/ Atom Egoyan): The critics may feel that this is the weakest film on this list and perhaps not even worthy of all my love. But this erotic-thriller completely seduced me. I found its structure to be truly exciting and the themes of male friendship and love very appealing. I have realised I have a thing for Atom Egoyan's films.
Honorable Mention: 'A Beautiful Mind' (2001/ USA/ Ron Howard), 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939/ USA/ Frank Capra), 'Serpico' (1973/ USA/ Sidney Lumet), and 'Slacker' (1991/ USA/ Richard Linklater).

Also see:
My list from 2014 which seems to be much better than the present list
Top 10 modern English-language films I saw in 2015
Top 10 modern foreign-language films I saw in 2015

January 05, 2016

Cinema 2015: Top 10 Modern English-Language Films

After sharing with you my Top 10 films not in English language, here is the list of my favourite English-language films that I watched in 2015. I have considered close to 40 films for this list, movies released in 2011 or later. Please click on the titles, listed below in alphabetic order, and watch their trailers. The diversity is wonderful and the future of cinema, I feel, is very, very hopeful!

  1. Birdman (2014/ USA) by Alejandro G. Inarritu: It is kind of sad that every time I think of this wonderful, remarkable film, I am reminded of the fact that 'Boyhood' lost to it at Oscars 2015. One year later, today I feel motivated to watch 'Birdman' again and applaud its brilliance. I also feel it is one of those movies which improve significantly on the second watch.
  2. Bridge of Spies (2015/ USA) by Steven Spielberg: There is something about masters. The pleasure of watching their films is beyond the story and the characters and the splendour. Every tracking shot, every meaningful cut, and the merit of sticking to the classical grammar of directing add to the pleasure, making you realise that the images on the screen are also a text book. In the case of 'Bridge of Spies' the knowledge that the Coen Brothers had written it added to the fan-boy joy in me.
  3. The Forbidden Room (2015/ Canada) by Guy Maddin: This film introduced me to Guy Maddin and I feel richer today, after discovering his unique expression. I must warn you that watching this film is not at all easy and you will certainly question my sanity and taste after sitting through ten minutes of it. But if you are a hard-core, omnivorous cinephile, and if you are open to trying new stuff, 'The Forbidden Room' is my pick for you.
  4. Foxcatcher (2014/ USA) by Bennett Miller: There are very few modern films that use suspense in a way Hitchcock did, a slow-building foreboding that you could feel all over your body, drawing you further and further inside the world of the characters. 'Foxcatcher' was such an experience for me. And what performances! 
  5. Inside Out (2015/ USA) by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen: This is perhaps the most accessible film on this list, and rightly so. An animation fantasy that looks like a children's film and appeals to all grown ups through its insight about the human condition that most films lack, 'Inside Out' is a brilliant accomplishment at every level - concept, screenplay, and finally the film. I do not watch too many animation films. And still I completely fell in love with this.
  6. The Lobster (2015/ Ireland-UK-Greece-France-Netherlands) by Yorgos Lanthimos: You have to expect the weird and the absurd if it is coming from this Greek filmmaker. A smart satire with a truly original premise, 'The Lobster' again may not be an easy film to recommend to everyone. But if you want to give it a try after watching the trailer, please go ahead. It will be a rewarding experience, even if it fails to turn you into an animal of your choice!
  7. Locke (2013/ UK) by Steven Knight: Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year! A taut drama that plays like a thriller, 'Locke' is unique, unforgettable, and fairly universal in its appeal, despite the limited design it operates in. When will we make a film like this in Hindi?
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015/ Australia-USA) by George Miller: Tom Hardy on the road, trying to set right the imbalance of his life. This is 'Locke' and this also is 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. Watching this film was like an extended roller-coster ride, with bullets, a fire-exhaling guitar and unbelievable madness and I'm excited by the idea that this unapologetic genre-film is one of the front-runners at the upcoming Oscars!
  9. Mr. Turner (2014/ UK) by Mike Leigh: Another example of the impact that classical cinema can create, 'Mr. Turner' was a beautiful experience for me. Every frame in this film looks like a painting and you know that this is the work of a master on the life of another master. Not everyone' cup of tea, may be. But definitely one of my favourites this year.
  10. Youth (2015/ Italy) by Paolo Sorrentino: It's good to see that this list of English-language films includes the works of film-makers not just from Hollywood, but UK, Canada and Australia, apart from those who started their career with foreign-language films. After Inarritu and Lanthimos, we have Sorrentino with his latest, a beautiful, moving film about old age, friendship, love and art. There are sequences in this film that only the best of cinema can boast of. Watch the trailer to see what I mean.
Honourable Mention: 'The Theory of Everything' (2014/ UK) by James Marsh, 'Sleeping Giant' (2015/ Canada) by Andrew Cividino and 'Whiplash' (2014/ USA) by Damien Chazelle.

P.S. Click here for the 2014 list.