August 05, 2017

#11: Heartache. Heartbreak

This post is a part of a series that chronicles my personal journey with the movies, the origin of the love affair when I was a kid and its growth into the obsession it is today. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

"When we're in love we experience pleasure, and extreme pain." - Paul Thomas Anderson's 'The Master' (2012)

The first favorite film of my life, 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun!', was released exactly 23 years ago. It went on to change a lot of things. Made by a 28-year old, it changed the perception of movie business by becoming the first film to gross 100 crores. With its songs and dance and games, it changed how the weddings in most of North India were conducted - with increased popularity of the ritual of groom's shoes being stolen by bride's sisters, to be returned only after extorting a good sum of money. And it changed the film-buff in me, as evident by this previous post on it.

Five years later, Sooraj Barjatya returned with his next. I still remember seeing its first look one afternoon in a newspaper outside the library of my boarding school. During the Durga Puja holidays that followed, my Mom, my brother and I would spend hours listening to its songs and discussing its lyrics and finding clues in it about the story. I remember Kunal Kohli's very favorable review of its music in his show 'Chalo Cinema'. I remember reading its preview in the newspaper and wondering how it could be, as mentioned there, a modern-day adaptation of the Ramayana. Would it involve the kidnapping of Sita by Raavan and the war that follows? And I remember the deep sorrow I had felt on realizing that it won't be released in my home-town on the very first day, Diwali of 1999, and I'll have to wait for the Winter Vacation to watch it. 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' was the first film I had truly, madly, obsessively waited for. The movie-lover in me had now turned a fanatic.

And as it happens with obsessive love, I was to soon receive immense pain when, back at my hostel, a friend who was a big fan of 'HAHK!' mentioned his disappointment with 'HSSH' to me. Others were even more critical of it, 14-15 year olds who, obviously, had started preferring more realistic movies, like 'Shool', released the same day, and loved openly lambasting the saccharine idealism of Barjatya.

Like all heartbreaks, I went through all five stages of grief, while dealing with the underwhelming response to the film. But when, in the next vacation, I watched it in Lucknow, my brother and I laughed and cried and absolutely loved it. Like all fanatics we decided to keep our faith in the filmmaker we most revered. We watched it again, in Patna, and I memorized all its dialogues, hoping to narrate it to my friends when I meet them next and slowly spread the cult of this movie!

Well, 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' did end up as the biggest grosser of the year, but its business was a let-down for the market. As Januray 2000 arrived, the phenomenon of Hrithik Roshan redefined the Hindi film hero, and the ideals of Sooraj Barjatya rapidly became a thing of the past. Today, I am aware of all the flaws of 'HSSH', and its very convenient plot-points embarrass me, but I still watch and love and get sentimental about it as often as I can, including humming its songs which have lost their magic on me.

But then, there is something more to this story. Recently, my family and I made a trip to Dehradun to meet my to-be in laws and I got engaged. As I thanked God for making this happen, finding the right life-partner and seeing my parents happier than ever, I realized one more thing as we laughed and ate and traveled together. That joy we felt and the respect and warmth my parents received took me back to several moments from the cinema of Sooraj Barjatya. Weddings and family values continue to be such important parts of our society and the film-maker who led to its documentation is him. Life is not as saccharin sweet as his films, but these joys are as pure. Time and again, Sooraj Barjatya has brought me closer to my brother and my parents, and I hope he will continue to inspire me as I become a part of a new family. And for this reason alone, he continues to remain the most revered film-maker for me, despite all his bad movies and heartbreaks that followed 'Hum Saath Saath Hain!'

June 25, 2017

21st Century Film Festival

After a very ordinary 2016, during which I watched very few great movies, I have been persistently trying to do better this year. And hence, this June I organized another film festival for my lone self. This time I selected ten movies from the 21st century, movies which are considered great but which I had not watched. 

For this festival, I tried to have an interesting mix, from narrative features to animation and documentary films, and the list boasts of some of the greatest film-makers active today. I included some very popular titles as well, movies which most people around me have watched but I hadn't. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience and I may come up with a second edition of this festival very very soon.
  • Gladiator (2000/ UK-USA) by Ridley Scott: This epic historical action-drama was the opening film of my festival. It had won five Oscars, including Best Picture and it was one of the most popular American films I hadn't seen yet.
  • White Material (2009/ France) by Claire Denis: This drama set in the backdrop of an unnamed African nation torn by civil war is the fourth film I have watched of the very acclaimed French director, Claire Denis. To be honest, I still need to watch more of her work and more time to form an opinion of her.
  • The Gleaners & I (2000/ France) by Agnes Varda: Perhaps the most acclaimed documentary of this century, it was a playful watch that left with lots of images and thoughts in my head. I'm glad I selected this for the festival. 
  • District 9 (2009/ New Zealand-USA-South Africa) by Neill Blomkamp: This sci-fi mockumentary film was quite a revelation. I was aware of its name but I had no idea that this was going to be anywhere close to this. Such a refreshing take on aliens (OR such a refreshing take on civil unrest everywhere in the world with the metaphor of aliens!) The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture.
  • Grizzly Man (2005/ USA) by Werner Herzog: Again a very reputed documentary of this century, on the life and death of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, it was an unforgettable experience - those images of faith and horror, and the narration by Herzog. 
  • Erin Brockovich (2000/ USA) by Steven Soderbergh: Another popular movie that I had not watched yet, this drama film tells the story of the real-life Erin Brockovich who despite no formal education in the law was instrumental in building one of the biggest lawsuits in American history. Quite an entertaining film, I thought, for which Julia Roberts won an Oscar. But it is only the fifth Soderbergh movie I have watched. A lot remains.
  • L'Illusionniste (2010/ France-UK) by Sylvain Chomet: This Oscar nominated animation was an out-and-out art-house affair, and hence very refreshing for me. With hardly any dialogue, and lacking any remarkable drama, it quietly tells the story of a magician's unending struggles.
  • War Witch (2012/ Canada) by Kim Nguyen: This war drama, again set in a civil unrest in an African nation, premiered at Berlin, winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and Best Actress for the teenage actor. It was Canada's entry at the Oscars that year and eventually got nominated into the top five.
  • A Scanner Darkly (2006/ USA) by Richard Linklater: Out of the thirteen Linklater movies that I have watched, this might be among the two-three least favorite. But this was pending for years, and I had to do it. I was mostly unmoved by it, but the last ten minutes did something and I felt it was an exercise worth taking.
  • Summer Hours (2008/ France) by Olivier Assayas: What a movie to close the festival's first edition. This is a heartwarming drama about a family and its generations and how they deal with their ancestral house and inheritance while sorting out their own priorities. One of the best movies I have seen this year so far, this is also the 100th film I watched in 2017. Hoping for another 100, at least.

May 31, 2017

Cannes in Andheri Film Festival 2017

As the world's most reputed film festival unfolded over the last couple of weeks in Cannes, I conducted my own personal film festival, like previous years. I curated films that have won awards at Cannes over the last few decades and watched nine movies as part of this one-man film festival:

  • Crimson Gold (2003/ Iran/ Jafar Panahi) Winner of Un Certain Regard Jury Prize. The film is a crime drama involving a pizza delivery man who increasingly gets attracted to the idea of quick money.
  • Songs from the Second Floor (2000/ Sweden/ Roy Andersson) Winner of Jury Prize in the Main Competition category. This film is the first of the 'Living Trilogy' of exceptionally original comedies, followed by 'You, the Living' and 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'.
  • Gate of Hell (1953/ Japan/ Teinosuke Kinugasa) Winner of the Grand Prix, the top prize at that year's festival. It went on to win an Oscar for Costume Design and another Honorary Foreign Language Oscar. A period samurai story of obsessive love, reminded me of our very own 'Darr'!
  • Scarecrow (1973/ USA/ Jerry Schatzberg) Winner of Palme d'Or and OCIC Award at Cannes. Discovering this movie was a big surprise. No one talks about this one, although it is so good at so many levels. It is a road-movie as a sailor and a con-man forge a beautiful friendship on their way back home.
  • Fitzcarraldo (1982/ West Germany/ Werner Herzog) Winner of Best Director. Inspired by the true story of an Irish adventurer and his endeavors in South America, this film has an imposing scale and an incredible tale to tell. 
  • If.... (1969/ UK/ Lindsay Anderson) Winner of Palme d'Or. This British comedy-drama shows us the ridiculous tradition at play while running an apparently prestigious boys boarding school. Frequently jumping from color to b&w, with several surrealistic sequences and an explosive climax, I could figure why this film must have garnered acclaim. However, it was kind of tough for me to watch it.
  • Post Tenebras Lux (2012/ Mexico-France/ Carlos Reygdas) Winner of Best Director. A film like this is essential to complete your movie experience. A slow-paced drama with some sequences so bizarre you don't even care if it had any meaning. But with brilliant cinematography, and natural effective performances, you know this is something special. For me, just the opening sequence was worth anything, and the shocker at the end that I won't tell you about made it really memorable.
  • The Sugarland Express (1974/ USA/ Steven Spielberg) Winner of Best Screenplay. One of the lesser know Spielberg movies, its screenplay was co-written by Matthew Robbins, who wrote 'Saat Khoon Maaf' and 'Rangoon' with Vishal Bhardwaj. The movie is on the lines of 'Bonnie and Clyde' but has more comedic elements involving a massive chase of a crime couple, based on true incidents. 
  • The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005/ Romania/ Cristi Puiu) Winner of Un Certain Regard Award. Perhaps the perfect movie to close the festival. A drama set over a few hours of a night, it works almost like a thriller in the closing half an hour. And it looks so real it is hard to believe it is a movie.

May 07, 2017

Horror Feast

Over the last few weeks I have watched horror films of all kinds. It is interesting how this genre is not limited to stories where a spirit attacks or possesses humans, and antagonists of different kinds can create similar emotional impact, a catharsis of sorts, as evident by the following movies I watched recently:
  • The Cabin in the Woods (2012/ USA) by Drew Goddard: An exaggerated celebration of the genre, this is one of the most audaciously original genre movies I have seen. Super fun. You should be extremely open-minded when you sit for this. I almost recommended it as a must-watch-before-you-die.
  • What We Do in the Shadows (2014/ New Zealand) by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi: This is a horror mockumentary. And is really, really funny. Anyone should watch and enjoy it, even those who don't like to be scared. It is again more a tribute to the genre than something that will scare you.
  • The Host (2006/ South Korea) by Bong Joon-ho: No supernatural here, but an animal, a monster created by man's apathy toward nature. It is a typical creature horror extravaganza and has nothing subtle or artistic about it. But can be fun for most.
  • Inside (2007/ France) by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo: This is a movie I'll certainly not recommend to anyone. Do not watch it. If you are a woman, definitely stay away. Here again, the threat does not come from a spirit, but a brutal home invasion. You think you've seen gore. See this. Or better, do not see this.
  • The Invitation (2015/ USA) by Karyn Kusama: This movie, set over a dinner at one location, is more of a mystery-thriller than horror. But the experience is horrifying for sure. It does not really answer all questions its plot raises, but does hint at ritualistic human sacrifice, kind-of-satan-worship and things like that, done in a modern urban context.
  • Suspiria (1977/ Italy) by Dario Argento: Everything about this movie is loud. Colors. Sound. Score. Performances. It may look like a B-grade witch-movie, but its aesthetic choices are impressive and impactful. No wonder it is considered an influential film of the genre.
  • Trouble Every Day (2001/ France) by Claire Denis: A bizarre and surrealistic take on the vampire sub-genre, this film again manages to put the blame on humans and humans alone. Do not look for plot here. There is one and in the end you will have a sense of a story. But most story-elements remain unexplained. It also has some really disturbing sequences you may want to stay away from. And it is directed by one of the most reputed female directors of our time.

May 01, 2017

Great Screenwriters #1: Ben Hecht (1894-1964)

Despite having watched thousands of great movies and discovering and reading about several film-makers from around the world, my knowledge of screenwriters and their respective filmographies remains non-existent. This series is an attempt to correct this.

BEN HECHT (1894-1964)

Six Oscar nominations. Two wins.

Ben Hecht contributed as a writer to several legendary American classics. His contribution ranged from working as a story-writer, screenplay-writer, and a contributing writer including several uncredited work.

Movies I have watched: Scarface (1932), Nothing Sacred (1937), Gunga Din (1939), Stagecoach (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939), Gone with the Wind (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951).

Notable movies I should watch: Underworld (1927), The Front Page (1931), Viva Villa! (1934), Twentieth Century (1934), The Scoundrel (1935), Angels Over Broadway (1940), Kiss of Death (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and Monkey Business (1952).

April 16, 2017

Cannes 2017: Nominees for Palme d'Or

  • Fatih Akin (43, Germany) with 'In the Fade' starring Diane Kruger. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'The Edge of Heaven'. Also known for 'Head-On' and 'Soul Kitchen'.
  • Noah Baumbach (48, USA) with 'The Meyerowitz Stories' starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Also known for 'The Squid and the Whale', 'Greenberg' and 'Frances Ha'.
  • Joon-ho Bong (48, South Korea) with 'Okja' starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'Tokyo!' and 'Madeo'. Also known for 'The Host' and 'Snowpiercer'.
  • Robin Campillo (54, France) with '120 Beats per Minute'. Known for 'Eastern Boys'. He also was one of the writers on Palm d'Or winning film 'The Class'.
  • Sofia Coppola (45, USA) with 'The Beguiled' starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'Marie Antoinette'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'The Bling Ring'. Also known for 'Lost in Translation' and 'Somewhere'.
  • Jacques Doillon (73, France) with 'Rodin'. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'Raja'. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'La drolesse' and 'La pirate'. Also known for 'Le petit criminal', 'Le jeune Werther' and 'Ponette'.
  • Michael Haneke (75, Austria) with 'Happy End' starring Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'The Piano Teacher', 'Cache', 'The White Ribbon' and 'Amour'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'Code Unknown' and 'Time of the Wolf'.
  • Todd Haynes (56, USA) with 'Wonderstruck' starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'Carol'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'Velvet Goldmine'. Also known for 'Far from Heaven' and 'I'm Not There'.
  • Michel Hazanavicius (50, France) with 'Redoubtable' starring Louis Garrel as Jean-Luc Godard. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'The Artist' and 'The Search'.
  • Sang-soo Hong (55, South Korea) with 'The Day After'. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'Hahaha'. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'Virgin Stripped by Her Bachelor', 'Woman is the Future of Man', 'Tale of Cinema', 'The Day He Arrives' and 'In Another Country'.
  • Naomi Kawase (47, Japan) with 'Radiance'. Previously awarded films at Cannes: 'Suzaku' and 'The Mourning Forest'. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'Shara', 'Hanezu', 'Still the Water' and 'Sweet Bean'.
  • Yorgos Lanthimos (43, Greece) with 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer' starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. Previously awarded films at Cannes: 'Dogtooth' and 'The Lobster'. Also known for 'Alps'.
  • Sergei Loznitsa (52, Ukraine) with 'A Gentle Creature'. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'In the Fog'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'My Joy'. 
  • Kornel Mundruczo (42, Hungary) with 'Jupiter's Moon'. Previously awarded films at Cannes: 'Delta' and 'White God'. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'Johanna' and 'Tender Son: the Frankenstein Project'.
  • Ruben Ostlund (43, Sweden) with 'The Square'. Previously awarded films at Cannes: 'Play' and 'Force Majeure'.
  • Francois Ozon (49, France) with 'L'Amant Double'. Previously nominated films at Cannes: 'Swimming Pool' and 'Jeune & jolie'. Also known for 'Water Drops on Burning Rocks', '8 Women' and 'Potiche'.
  • Lynne Ramsay (47, Scotland) with 'You Were Never Really Here' starring Joaquin Phoenix. Previously awarded film at Cannes: 'Morvern Callar'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'.
  • Joshua and Ben Safdie (30s, USA) with 'Good Time' starring Robert Pattinson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'The Pleasure of Being Robbed'. Also known for 'Heaven Knows What'.
  • Andrey Zvyagintsev (53, Russia) with 'Loveless'. Previously awarded films at Cannes: 'Elena' and 'Leviathan'. Previously nominated film at Cannes: 'The Banishment'. Also known for 'The Return'.

March 29, 2017

Modern Masters: 2017 List

Sharing with you, like 2015 and 2016, the names of ten film-makers with the most impressive filmography during 2000 to 2016. This list has been created by going through the TSPDT list of 1000 greatest movies of the century and the ranking is calculated by considering the number of movies each director has in the top thousand and the respective rank of those movies in that list.

So here is the list of the top ten filmmakers of the last seventeen years:

10. Hou Hsiao-Hsien (69-year old Taiwanese film-maker): A new entry into this list, Hou has directed five features in the last seventeen years, all of which feature within top 235 of TSPDT's Top-1000: Cafe Lumiere, Three Times, Flight of the Red Balloon, The Assassin and Millennium Mambo. However, he is only marginally ahead of Christopher Nolan who may return to the top ten with his latest release 'Dunkirk'. There is no news on Hou's next film yet. Note: Hou's entry has kicked Steven Spielberg out of the list who was ranked 6th last year, also because his latest film 'The BFG' could not make it to the Top 1000. But Spielberg may regain a spot in this list next year after his upcoming film 'The Post' (Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep) comes out.

9. Quentin Tarantino (53-year old American film-maker): One rank down from last year, Tarantino has made six films in the last sixteen years, all of which feature in Top 1000: Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. It will be interesting to see if he retains his position in this list of top directors without any releases scheduled this year.

8. Claire Denis (70-year old French film-maker): The only woman on the list, Denis is two spots higher from last year despite no feature release since 2013. She has directed six feature films since 2000, all of which feature in Top 1000: Trouble Every Day, Friday Night, The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum, White Material and Bastards. Her latest film 'Dark Glasses' releases this year and may guarantee her presence in this list next year as well.

7. Martin Scorsese (74-year old American film-maker): Thanks to his latest release 'Silence' Scorsese is two positions up from last year. He has directed six other films since 2000, all of which feature in Top 1000: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street. His next release is in 2018 but it is less likely that he will lose his pace in the top ten anytime soon.

6. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (46-year old Thai film-maker): With his 2015-film 'Cemetery of the Splendour' breaking into Top 1000, this Thai auteur is one place up from last year. He has directed seven films since 2000, six of which feature in Top 1000, including 'Tropical Malady', 'Blissfully Yours', 'Syndromes and a Century', 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives' and 'Mysterious Objects at Noon'. 

5. Wes Anderson (47-year old American film-maker): One rank down from last year, perhaps because of no releases in the last two years, Anderson has directed six films since 2000, all of which feature in Top 1000: The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. He will not have a release this year as well with his next 'Isle of Dogs' coming only in 2018.

4. Jia Zhangke (46-year old Chinese film-maker): One position higher from last year, Jia has made seven films since 2000, six of which feature in Top 1000: Platform, Still Life, The World, Unknown Pleasures, A Touch of Sin and 24 City. He does not have any release this year as well, as his next film, 'Journey to the West' releases in 2018.

3. Joel and Ethan Coen (American film-makers, respectively 62 and 59 years of age): Despite mixed reviews of their latest release, it made it to Top 1000 and the Coen Brothers have retained their third position. They have directed ten films since 2000, eight of which feature in Top 1000: No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, True Grit, The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading and Hail, Caesar! The film-making duo are now directing a TV mini-series and have not announced their next feature.

2. Richard Linklater (56-year old American film-maker): Holding on to the second spot, Linklater has directed twelve films since 2000, eight of which feature in Top 1000: Before Sunset, Boyhood, Waking Life, Before Midnight, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Everybody Wants Some! and Bernie. If his upcoming film 'Last Flag Flying' is received well by the critics, he may grab the top position next year.

1. Michael Haneke (75-year old Austrian film-maker): Despite having no releases in the last four years, Haneke stays at the top, thanks to five of his films ranked 101 or better in Top 1000. He has directed seven films since 2000, six of which have helped him earn and stay at this position: Cache, The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon, Code Unknown, Amour and Time of the Wolf. Whether he stays at the top next year or not depends on how well his upcoming film 'Happy End' is received. I expect some reshuffle in the top three when I compile the next list in March 2018. Until then, let us watch more of the above-mentioned movies.

March 17, 2017

Oscars Festival 2017

During the last few weeks I had my own Oscars Festival during which I watched movies competing at this Oscars along with some old winners in different categories. In the end, I watched seventeen movies during this festival of mine. I think I should do this every year.

OPENING FILM: The Awful Truth (1937): Director Leo McCarey won the award for his work on this film that was also nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay, Film Editing, Actress and Supporting Actress. It was a rare classic comedy that I enjoyed and it also made me realize that I had misunderstood the term 'Screwball Comedy' all along!

Braveheart (1995): Perhaps the biggest winner on this list, I did not really enjoy the movie. Well, it is one of those movies which a film-buff must have watched, so I checked that. But otherwise, its performance at the Oscars makes me feel that this entire list of mine is futile! It won five awards: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects Editing and Make-Up and was nominated in five other categories: Costume, Sound, Score, Film Editing and Original Screenplay.

Moonlight (2016): Watching the latest top-winner in an Indian movie theater completely ruined it for me. I need to watch it again, with all the scenes intact and subtitles to help me comprehend the dialogues better. The movie won three Oscars: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor and had five more nominations: Director, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Film Editing and Score.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016): The winner of Film Editing and Sound Mixing, it was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Sound Editing. I really loved the movie and was surprised that it was nominated for its writing.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): This was where my festival actually started going somewhere. What a beautiful film! It did not win any Oscars but was nominated for two, Best Animated Feature and Visual Effects. 

Hidden Figures (2016): I wish we could tell more true stories in India than we do. Quite a powerful, entertaining film, nominated for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress although it didn't win any.

Silence (2016): It remains a mystery to me why 'Silence' did not get nominated for Best Picture. It had only one nomination, for its stunning Cinematography, and ended up without any win. It was a difficult watch, yes, but what a brilliant movie!

Manchester by the Sea (2016): Watching this movie gave me a moment of epiphany where I was forced to consider the kind of stories I am telling or should be telling. If I work on it, this movie might be one of those which shaped my life. It won two very well-deserving Oscars for Best Actor and Original Screenplay while it was nominated for four more: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.

Lion (2016): I do not remember which other movie has made me cry so much in recent years. I pity the intellectuals and cynics who fail to be moved by this beautiful human story. It did not win any Oscar despite being nominated in six categories: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Score, but it was a highlight of my festival.

Jackie (2016): Nominated for Best Actress, Costume and Score, it was a Hollywood film only because of its casting and the spoken language. In every other sense, it was world cinema, difficult to watch but I am sure it will definitely improve in the second watch, and also if I do some reading about its characters.

Fences (2016): It won the award for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for Best Picture, Actor and Adapted Screenplay. To be honest it was too 'play-like' for my taste but it worked because of its universal subject matter, parenthood and love within a family, and the brilliant performances.

Arrival (2016): I re-watched it on big screen after my first watch last year. Winning the Oscar for Best Sound Editing, it was also nominated in seven other categories: Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Production Design. It should also have won two more nominations - Best Actress and Original Score. 

Black Narcissus (1947): I never knew this film was set entirely in India. Was definitely a stunning watch and won the well-deserved Oscars for its Cinematography and Art Direction. However, I did not enjoy it too much. Will not revisit this film unless absolutely necessary.

The Quiet Man (1952): Easily the worst film on this list, although very acclaimed. I somehow endured it. Will never recommend this to anyone. And I really don't care that it won two Oscars - for Best Director and Cinematography (Color) and was nominated for five more: Best Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Sound Recording and Art Direction (Color).

Road to Perdition (2002): I loved this! It won the award for its stunning cinematography while it was nominated in five more categories: Art Direction, Sound, Sound Editing, Score and Supporting Actor for Paul Newman in his last movie appearance.

Misery (1990): A thriller-horror like this is essential to make a festival complete. But such movies hardly ever get nominated for the Academy Awards. This one was, in one category, and it won that - Best Actress for Kathy Bates. I'm glad I watched this movie and then realized there are so many acclaimed movies made on Stephen King's works.

CLOSING FILM: Toni Erdmann (2016) I really liked 'The Salesman' but in my opinion the Foreign-Language Oscar should have gone to this German film. How outrageous and unforgettable! It was nominated in only one category and obviously did not win any, but for its sheer originality, brilliant performances, and being so sad and so funny at the same time, I recommend it as a must-watch-before-you-die (#49). 

February 06, 2017

Sundance in Andheri Film Festival 2017

The latest edition of Sundance Film Festival concluded recently. I watched the following movies sitting at my home, movies which have won awards in some previous editions of the festival, to celebrate my own Sundance in Andheri Film Festival. It was an extremely rewarding experience because of the following reasons:
  • Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995/ USA) by Todd Solondz was the Opening Film of my festival. I've seen coming-of-age dramas or dramedies, but this one was a coming-of-age black comedy. It won the Grand Jury (Dramatic) Prize at Sundance and launched the career of writer-director Todd Solondz ('Happiness', 'Storytelling' and 'Life During Wartime') whose work appears to be really interesting.
  • Primer (2004/ USA) by Shane Carruth had won the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance. It is unlike any science-fiction movie I have seen and I hardly understood much of it. Shance Carruth wrote, directed, produced, edited and scored for the movie and also played the lead role. He made the film for only $7,000 and it eventually gained a cult status. I have seen Carruth's next film as well, 'Upstream Color' and do not remember much except it was interesting and unique and not too comprehensible as well. A perfect Sundance-kinda guy!
  • The Road Home (2000/ China) by Zhang Yimou is a beautiful romantic-drama that moved me deeply with its simplicity. Also stunningly picturized, the film won Audience Award (World Cinema) at Sundance and went on to win Jury Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Berlin. This was my ninth film by the Chinese master. I should soon watch 'The Story of Qiu Ju' (1992), his most acclaimed work I am yet to see and take that score to 10. 'The Road Home' also was the debut film of actress Zhang Ziyi ('Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', 'Hero' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha').
  • You Can Count on Me (2000/ USA) by Kenneth Lonergan won the Grand Jury and the Script award at Sundance. Featuring a young(er) Mark Ruffalo, as endearing as always, the film went on to earn two Oscar nominations - for actress Laura Linney and for Lonergan's original screenplay. It marked the directorial debut of Lonergan who since then has earned three more Oscar nominations - for co-writing 'Gangs of New York' and for writing-directing the recent 'Manchester by the Sea'.
  • The VVitch (2015/ USA-Canada) by Robert Eggers won him the Directing Award at Sundance and established him as the name to look out for after this powerful debut. It will be interesting to see him work in genres other than horror and pick themes that are not as bleak as this atmospheric supernatural film of his. However, I won't mind if he keeps telling the stories of the dark side if he is going to do it so well.
  • Frozen River (2008/ USA) by Courtney Hunt went on to win Oscar nominations for Hunt ("Original Screenplay") and actress Melissa Leo after winning the Grand Jury prize at Sundance. The director's second fim came eight years later. 'The Whole Truth' (2016) has not been received too well. Guess I'll wait for Hunt's next.
  • The Believer (2001/ USA) by Henry Bean won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and launched then 20-year old Ryan Gosling as a leading man. A powerful film about a Jewish neo-Nazi, it was the kind of drama I love to watch, introducing me to worlds I was not too aware of. This has been a common feature among these movies - showing me new stuff, about life and cinema, and 'The Believer' was the perfect Closing Film for my tiny festival.

January 26, 2017

Oscars 2017: The Regulars

The Academy Award nominations were out a couple of days ago. Meryl Streep has earned her 20th nomination and will be hoping for her fourth win. Jeff Bridges with his seventh and Denzel Washington with his eighth (and first as a producer) are other celebrities who appear to be regulars at the Oscars. Matt Damon has been nominated for producing this time. But there are several technicians and musicians who are regulars at Oscars and we do not know them because they work behind the camera. This post is dedicated to them, to recognize some unsung heroes who are Oscar regulars.
  • Scott Rudin: 58-year old Rudin, whose filmography as a Producer includes 'The Hours', 'The Social Network' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' has been nominated for the eighth time for 'Fences'. He'll be hoping for his second win after 'No Country for Old Men'.
  • Wylie Stateman: The Sound Editor of films like 'Born on the Fourth of July', 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and 'Inglourious Basterds' has won his eighth nomination with 'Deepwater Horizon'. Will he win his maiden Oscar?
  • David Parker: 65-year old Parker has been the Sound Mixer for 'The English Patient' and 'The Bourne Ultimatum', winning for both. 'Rogue One' has earned him his eighth nomination and may give him his third trophy.
  • Alan Robert Murray: He has already won two Oscars as a Sound Editor for 'Letters from Iwo Jima' and 'American Sniper'. 'Sully', another film by Clint Eastwood, has earned him his ninth nomination.
  • Gary Summers: After being nominated for 'Return of the Jedi' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', this Sound Mixer won four Oscars in eight years, for 'Terminator 2', 'Jurassic Park', 'Titanic' and 'Saving Private Ryan'. With his eleventh nomination, '13 Hours', Summers may end his sixteen-year long dry run!
  • Stuart Craig: 74-year old Craig won his first nomination as a Production Designer for 'The Elephant Man' (1980). He has won three times, for 'Gandhi', 'Dangerous Liaisons' and 'The English Patient'. 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' has earned him his eleventh nomination, fifth with the Harry Potter franchise. He will hope to win another trophy, since it has been twenty years when he won it last.
  • Colleen Atwood: 68-year old Atwood has won the award thrice for the Costume Design of 'Chicago', 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and 'Alice in Wonderland'. 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' gives her her twelfth nomination.
  • Thomas Newman: The musician who created the Original Score of 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'American Beauty', 'WALL.E', and 'Skyfall' has never won an Oscar! He is again in contention, for the fourteenth time, with 'Passengers'. The others in competition together have only half as many nominations as Newman. Will the veteran win this time?
  • Greg P. Russell: 16 nominations without a single win! That must hurt! As Sound Mixer, Russell has worked on films like 'Armageddon', 'Pearl Harbor', 'Spider-Man', and 'Skyfall'. Nominated for the seventeenth time for '13 Hours', he may win that elusive trophy for the first time.
  • Andy Nelson: This year's favorite, 'La La Land' gives Nelson his 21st nomination as a Sound Mixer, after 'Schindler's List', 'Braveheart', 'The Thin Red Line', 'Moulin Rouge!', 'Avatar' and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', to name a few. A win will give him his third trophy, after 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Les Miserables'.
  • Kevin O'Connell: This 59-year old Sound Mixer has won his 21st nomination with 'Hacksaw Ridge'. And he has never won an Oscar, despite working on films like 'Terms of Endearment', 'Top Gun', 'A Few Good Men', 'Apocalypto' and 'Transformers'. He will be competing with his long-term associate Greg P. Rusell, mentioned above, both for their maiden trophy.

Top 10 at Oscars 2017

Like 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, I'm sharing with you a list of ten movies watching which in the next few weeks will help you follow the Academy Awards well. The ceremony will be held on 26th February (the morning of 27th February for us in India) and hence we have about one month to watch these movies.

  • 'Arrival' by Denis Villeneuve (8 nominations, including Best Director): Despite missing out on Best Actress and Best Original Score, 'Arrival' has secured nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and five technical categories. The film has played in India but I hope to watch it again if it re-releases.
  • 'Fences' by Denzel Washington (4 nominations): With his third film as director, Washington earns his seventh acting and first producing nomination. Viola Davis has already won the Supporting Actress Golden Globes and is a strong contender here. And author August Wilson has won a Screenplay nomination, more than ten years after his death, for adapting his Pulitzer-winning novel.
  • 'Hacksaw Ridge' by Mel Gibson (6 nominations, including Best Director): Gibson's first film in ten years as a director has won him a directing nomination. It will also be competing for Picture, Actor, Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
  • 'Hell or High Water' by David Mackenzie (4 nominations): With a Supporting Actor nomination for Jeff Bridges, this film will also be running for Picture, Screenplay and Film Editing. Although I have watched the film already, I wish it releases in India as I would absolutely love to watch it again. And I would love to watch the rest of the films directed by Mackenzie.
  • 'Hidden Figures' by Theodore Melfi (3 nominations): For his second film as a director, Melfi has won nominations for Picture and Screenplay. The film also has earned Octavia Spencer a Supporting Actress nomination. The PVR India website says this film will release in India on 24th Feb.
  • 'Jackie' by Pablo Larrain (3 nominations): The director of 'No' and 'Neruda' makes his English-language debut with this film that has earned Natalie Portman a Best Actress nomination. It is also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Costume Design.
  • 'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle (14 nominations, including Best Director): Only the third film in history to earn as many as fourteen nominations, it is also only the 8th film in last 35 years to bag the Big Five nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. If the Golden Globes it won are serious indicator, 'La La Land' may end up winning all five and become only the fourth film in history to achieve this rare feat, the first since 'Silence of the Lambs'. That it will be the most awarded movie this Oscar night is almost a certainty anyway.
  • 'Lion' by Garth Davis (6 nominations): The first film by director Davis, 'Lion' gives Nicole Kidman her fourth acting nomination. Also nominated for Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actor for Dev Patel, Cinematography and Original Score, the film is scheduled to release in India on 24th Feb.
  • 'Manchester by the Sea' by Kenneth Lonergan (6 nominations, including Best Director): Despite making his Sundance-winning debut in 2000, and co-writing the screenplay of 'Gangs of New York' (2002), Lonergan has written and directed only two films since. But by earning both writing and directing nominations for 'Manchester by the Sea', it appears it has worked well for him. The film is also nominated for Picture and three of its actors, with Casey Affleck being a strong contender for Best Actor trophy. I missed the film at Mumbai Film Festival last October and will now have to wait for its India release.
  • 'Moonlight' by Barry Jenkins (8 nominations, including Best Director): Only the second film by its 37-year old director, 'Moonlight' is being considered a contender for the top prize. It is also nominated for two acting awards, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Original Score.

January 14, 2017

Must Watch Before You Die #48: The Red Turtle (2016)

Watching 'The Red Turtle' on the big screen at Mumbai Film Festival last October was nothing short of a meditative experience. In only seventy-five minutes of its run-time and using not a single word of dialogue, this film did to me what very few films do: move emotionally, please aesthetically, say something simple and profound, and also calm my senses. Hope I was not alone.

Of course, the need to interpret its magical story and not being able to do it may frustrate one. I got lucky that I could figure out something while watching it, and that got kind of validated in the way the movie ended. I closed 2016 by watching it again, this time with my Mom. Several new details were added to my interpretation of it. You can read it below if you have already watched the movie.

But most importantly, I want to share this film as a must-watch. I read somewhere that it is hand-painted animation. Well, it is stunning nevertheless. And it goes beyond the need to interpret by telling a story that should resonate with any human, from any era, in any part of the world. Please watch this as soon as you get a chance. And if you get lucky to watch it on the big screen, do not miss that opportunity.


Who knows where we come from? And before we can figure it out, we are already here, in this world, in this life. There is no use trying to escape this, however harsh, cruel and confusing our existence is. Because we have to reach our end and try to do it with joy and peace, and by embracing our existence.

Of course it won't be easy. The lucky ones are blessed by some miracle - something that inspires them, that makes them better humans, that makes them fall in love with and respect their lives. That miracle can be a loved one, or the pursuit of an art, or doing some good, or even a spiritual quest. But that miracle is the most important thing we need.

Because then the same harsh, cruel, confusing existence will appear more joyful than we could ever imagine. 

There is however one catch. The world of ours, which we love and peacefully exist in, may not be fulfilling for our offspring. They need their own miracle or they will keep getting frustrated. They must follow their own calling or their confusion will never be over. As long as they are with us, they will hopefully fulfill their duties toward us. But then, they must set out to find their own truths.

And once they are gone, we should hope that they too will figure things out. When our moment of departure comes, hopefully we will have that miracle to soothe us and bid us farewell. Once we are gone, that miracle will move on to help someone else. Because such blessed miracles, like magical red turtles, are supposed to bring anyone out of their existential miseries, if only we had the heart, the courage and the clarity to embrace them.

Back to Basics #4: The Pleasure and Pains of Love

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

'The Kids Are All Right' is a film about marriage and its struggles, about family and the joys and challenges that come with it. That it deals with a lesbian marriage only adds to its very interesting relationship equations without robbing away anything from a perfectly universal story. Of course, the wonderful cast and the memorable characters they play is one of the biggest strengths of this film, that entertains you with its humor and moves you with its depth. After watching the movie, I read about its director. No wonder the film comes from a deeply personal space for her and that explains how and why it resonates with its audience.

I then watched 'High Art', the first film by the director. And although I had some issues with the writing during the latter half of the film, her work as the director really impressed me. It is a heartbreaking love-story that again deals with very interesting characters but particularly impressive is the director's use of time and sound to create a strongly impacting mood, something that was missing in 'The Kids...' which had a mainstream design. Thanks to this new resolve of discovering good movies, I got introduced to this film-maker I'll look forward to.

About the Director: Lisa Cholodenko is a 52-year old American film-maker. She has made four feature films so far, the two mentioned above seem to be her most acclaimed works. After winning an Oscar nomination for the writing of 'The Kids Are All Right', she has not made another film yet. But she has made a four-part miniseries for HBO starring Frances McDormand that I wish to watch soon. It's called 'Olive Kitteridge'.

January 10, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top 10 Discoveries

For me, 2016 will be the year when I discovered the power and potential of TV Shows. I watched all the six seasons of 'Breaking Bad' and the first season of 'Fargo' and 'The Office' and several episodes from 'Black Mirror', 'House', 'Friends' and 'Game of Thrones'. I definitely feel like a novice with respect to shows, the way I used to feel before 2006 about anything beyond contemporary Bollywood. But, I hope I will slowly bridge the gap.

Meanwhile, exploring cinema from new sources, both heard and unheard, continues. Following are the top reputed film-makers (listed in alphabetic order) I discovered only in 2016. I definitely feel richer than ever.

  1. J.J. Abrams (USA, 1966-) Since I have not watched 'Star Trek' or 'Super 8', it was 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' (2015) that introduced me to Abrams. I then realized, he is the creator of the TV series, 'Lost' and is touted as the 'next Spielberg'. Also watched this year 'Cloverfield' and '10 Cloverfield Lane' of which he is one of the producers. What next: There is no news on his next directorial venutre yet. So I think I should watch the titles mentioned above for the time being and then wait for what he comes up next.
  2. Tran Anh Hung (Vietnam-France, 1962-) With the incredibly beautiful 'The Scent of Green Papaya' (1993) I have discovered another Asia-born modern film-maker to follow. He won the Camera d'or with his aforementioned debut film and has directed only five more features in the next twenty-three years. What next: His second film, 'Cyclo' (1995) looks like the next film to watch from his filmography.
  3. Lav Diaz (Philippines, 1958-) I watched his latest, 'The Woman Who Left' and instantly knew he is another modern film-maker I must follow. What next: Looking at the run-time of his movies, I don't know if I'll be able to watch any soon. Perhaps I should start with the shortest of his most reputed works, 'Norte, the End of History' which is a little over four hours long. And eventually, may be, I'll manage to watch 'From What is Before' (almost 6 hours), 'Melancholia' (7 and half hours), 'Heremias' (9 hours) and 'Evolution of a Filipino Family' (9 hours). 
  4. Kinji Fukasaku (Japan, 1930-2003) Every time I discover a Japanese master, I realize how limited my understanding and knowledge of cinema is, because Kurosawa-Ozu-Mizoguchi were all I knew about Japanese cinema for a very long time. Watching 'Battle Royale', the superbly entertaining blood-bath, I thought of him as a successor of Kitano. I was wrong again. Fukasaku had been making movies since the 60s. I must watch more of him, hoping for more bloodshed. What next: The sequel to 'Battle Royale' is a must. His other famous movies are 'Under the Flag of the Rising Sun' (1972), 'Battles Without Honor and Humanity' (1973), 'Graveyard of Honor' (1975), 'Fall Guy' (1982), 'House on Fire' (1986), 'Crest of Betrayal' (1994) and 'The Geisha House' (1998).
  5. Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chile-France, 1929-) Of course I had heard of him and his famous surreal films, but it was his latest, 'Endless Poetry', that introduced me to his cinema. I really hope to watch all of his acclaimed films very soon. What next: I think I will watch this year four of his most reputed works: 'El Topo' (1970), 'The Holy Mountain' (1973), 'Holy Blood' (1989) and 'The Dance of Reality' (2013).
  6. Andrei Konchalovsky (Russia, 1937-) Another master filmmaker I had not even heard of. I discovered him through his latest, 'Paradise', that is among the top nine movies contending for the foreign-language Oscar this year. He has directed more than twenty films. What Next: His early work, 'The Story of Asya Klyachina' (1967), his four-part epic 'Siberiade' (1979) and his Hollywood films 'Runaway Train' (1985, based on a Kurosawa screenplay) and 'Tango & Cash' (1989) promise some great variety.
  7. Alexander Mackendrick (USA, 1912-1993) 'Sweet Smell of Success' was one of the few great classics I watched in 2016. And through this movie I discovered Mackendrick. Of course I had heard of him and his other famous works. I now realize he directed only nine feature films in his career. What Next: The Ladykillers (1955), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and Whisky Galore! (1949) appear to be his most reputed films.
  8. Delbert Mann (USA, 1920-2007) Primarily a TV director, Mann won the Best Director Oscar for 'Marty', the delightful film that made me discover him. What next: His most acclaimed movies are perhaps 'The Bachelor Party' (1957), 'Separate Tables' (1958), 'Lover Come Back' (1961) and 'That Touch of Mink' (1962). I'll try to watch some of these this year.
  9. Vilker Schlondorff (Germany, 1939-) 'The Tin Drum' was unforgettable and it introduced me to this Oscar-winning director. His latest film 'Return to Montauk' ccomes out this year and I'll look forward to it. What next: I should start with 'Young Torless' (1966) and 'The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum' (1975).
  10. Edward Yang (Taiwan, 1947-2007) is the fourth Asian filmmaker on this list. I discovered him through his last film 'Yi Yi' (2000), perhaps my favourite movie-experience of last year, and then watched his second, 'Taipei Story'. I was saddened to know that he is no more, Yang succubed to cancer at the age of 59 and I'm eager to watch the remaining five features directed by him. What next: 'A Brighter Summer Day' (1991) should be my top choice, followed by 'The Terrorizers' (1986), 'That Day on the Beach' (1983), and 'Mahjong' (1996).

January 07, 2017

Back to Basics #3: Oh, those cuts!

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

More than ten years after discovering the best of cinema, I discover 'Don't Look Now' (1973)! After all these years of studying and teaching cinema and trying to make films. Perhaps it is regretful. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps I wouldn't have understood the importance of this film's unique form if I had watched it sooner. 

Yes, it is a horror film. But it does not have the regular chills of one. It deals with grief and it deals with the potential as well as limitations of human perception. But the film supersedes its story, which may not satisfy a lot of viewers, with its use of color, image systems and brilliant, imaginative cutting. I wish I could watch it on a big screen one day.

About the Director: I had watched Nicolas Roeg's 'Walkabout' seven years ago and all I remember is that it was a unique film as well. Now of 88, Roeg is an independent British film-maker also known for 'Performance', 'Bad Timing' and 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. His journey in the film-making world started with serving tea on the sets to being the clapper boy, to working as a cinematographer with the likes of Truffaut and David Lean and eventually making these unique, path-breaking films. From Soderbergh to Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott, several film-makers acknowledge Roeg's influence on their works.

January 05, 2017

Back to Basics #2: Framing Disorientation

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched very few great films. To compensate for that, I am running this new column called 'Back to Basics'. I will now regularly watch great movies, read about them and try to write about them briefly. This is how I had discovered cinema's best several years ago, and it is time to do that again.

'The Headless Woman' (2008/ Argentina) is a big reassurance for me, that this exercise is going to be immensely fulfilling for me. It is the kind of movie I would have watched and forgotten, calling it regular world-cinema. At 85 minutes of run-time, it still feels long and nothing really happens in it after the shock of the opening sequence. 

But then I read about it and realized there is much hidden beneath its subtle layers and absent plot. Without really mentioning anything, the film raises racial and gender issues and is a loud commentary on the ease with which the rich get away with whatever they wish. Most importantly, and this is one thing I could appreciate even while watching, the director's use of shot, edit and sound brilliantly creates a sense of disorientation and emotional detachment. They say cinema is not a medium of thoughts and feelings but one of action. Well, with film-makers like these, cinema continues to find ways to express the unsaid. I will revisit the movie every time I have to shoot a scene involving altered senses sans the stylistic features of Aronofsky or Boyle.

Note about the Director: 50-year old Lucrecia Martel is a filmmaker from Argentina, best known for her debut feature 'La Cienaga' (2002). She is currently working on her fourth feature film which is an adaptation of the Spanish novel 'Zama'. The film will come out this year, nine years after her last.

January 04, 2017

Back to Basics #1: Filtered through Film Grammar

2016 was a poor year for the film-buff in me. I watched only 150 films and wrote only 32 blog-posts. But the sadder thing for me was how few great films I unearthed from cinema's rich and beautiful history. Hence, I have decided to start a new column on my blog this New Year. It is called 'Back to Basics'.

I have decided to go back to what I did way back in 2007-08, even until 2010. I will go through the lists of great movies, there are many on the internet, watch them regularly and then read about them. I will then try to write a short post on the respective movies on this space, especially the stand-out ones. I hope this endeavor bears fruit by the end of the year.

To have Todd Haynes' 'Far From Heaven' (USA/ 2002) as the first movie of this exercise was, in fact, poetic justice. I randomly picked it to watch on 2nd January, not realizing that it was the director's birthday! But also because, ranked as the 26th most acclaimed movie of this century on the website TSPDT, it is actually shaped up like a classic from 50s' Hollywood. Not only is the story set in that era and deals with the socio-political climate prevalent then, from the performances of its actors to its visual and sound design - it looks like a beautiful old movie. 

Melodramatic plot-twists. Dialogue mimicking the characters from back then. Costume. Make-up. Art-direction. Lighting. Shot and edit design, including the judiciously and meaningfully used Dutch tilt - everything is reminiscent of the bygone era, the period in mainstream film-making that taught us all that we know about cinema today. Regarded by many critics as a masterpiece, 'Far From Heaven' is just the right movie to kick-start my new innings as a film-buff, most importantly because every element the film, in the words of its own director, has been "drawn from and filtered through film grammar."

What's more? Let the feature presentation begin!

Note about the Director: 56-year old Todd Haynes is an American film-maker who started his feature film career with 'Poison' in 1991. Apart from 'Far from Heaven', his most famous works include 'Safe' (1995), 'Velvet Goldmine' (1998), 'I'm Not There' (2007) and 'Carol' (2015). His upcoming film, 'Wonderstruck' (2017), stars Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore.

January 03, 2017

Cinema 2016: Top Modern English-Language Films

Last year, I watched about forty English-language films that were released during the five year period of 2012-16. The following list (in alphabetic order) is of my favorites out of those.
  • 'The Duke of Burgundy' by Peter Strickland was a revelation. Using the traditional structure of a passionate but doomed love affair, it offers everything new. It plays with your mind and pleases your senses in every way. Yes, it is art-house and proudly so. Modern English-language films rarely get the kind of treatment this rare British gem has.
  • 'Ex Machina' by Alex Garland was just the right kind of sci-fi movie. Psychologically intense and thrilling, it was an extremely well-craft and suspenseful film with some really good performance. And yes, those VFX!
  • 'Hell or High Water' by David Mackenzie might just be my favorite of this entire list. Perhaps it is my weakness for the Westerns, or my compulsive need to back the underdog. But I also know that as a screenwriter I will study its screenplay as many times as I can. Brilliant in every department, this crime drama is actually a moving story about love and duty.
  • 'I, Daniel Blake' by Ken Loach has to feature in this list. It is a drama about a man's struggles with the system and we have seen so many great movies like this. But it still works, and works so well. It has tremendous emotional value and a deceptively simple design. Pure genius.
  • 'The Jungle Book' by Jon Favreau was a wonderful trip to the childhood memories of Mowgli. But it was also the best use of CGI I have seen on big screen. I can watch this movie again and again, not for its story or characters, but for the rich beauty of the jungle that it brings for us. May be in a hundred years, India will make a film visually as magnificent as this.
  • 'La La Land' by Damien Chazelle is the film everyone is talking about. I am so glad we got to watch it on big screen in India much before the Oscar nominations are out. Easily a film that improves with every re-watch, I wonder what more this film-maker has to offer. He is younger than me and look what he has achieved. Thanks for humbling and inspiring me, Damien.
  • 'The Revenant' by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, honestly, did not work for me too well. But then, perhaps I should blame it to the enormous hype that surrounded its release. I also believe that it will improve with the knowledge of its boundaries in my next watch. But yes, this too, like many in this list was a memorable visual treat.
  • 'Room' by Lenny Abrahamson now sounds old. Everyone has been talking about this movie since Toronto 2015, although I saw it very late. We can be confident that this drama-thriller will feature in every list of greatest modern movies. And it will be studied by every film-maker who wants to shoot a film in a cramped space. It will also be known as the film that brought the brilliant Brie Larson the fame and the glory she deserved.
  • 'Swiss Army Man' by the Daniels is audacious and adventurous and colorful and meaningful and utterly unforgettable. Films like these keep reminding us of the great medium we worship and give us the hope of new discoveries cinema will make. It is a fable that should reach more and more audience.
  • 'Zootopia' by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, perhaps the most accessible film in this list, has all the tropes of a studio animation movie. It also has the imagination of perhaps the most genius order and the detailing of the most painstaking type. And it also has a really funny tribute to Don Corleone!
Special Mention: 'Arrival' for its brilliant mood, 'It Follows' for such originality in horror, 'Spotlight' for being one truly complete film and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' for successfully and honorably reviving a legacy.