2001: A Space Odyssey

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The term, “pure cinema”, popularised by Alfred Hitchcock is a technique of communicating plot as well as ideas to the audience using pictures.

Hitchcock memorably said,”If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.”

Perhaps one of the greatest example of pure cinema is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001.. has very few dialogues. In fact, the first dialogue occurs after 25 minutes. The entire movie is told through visuals, sound and editing. This technique would have been disastrous if Kubrick had not been a director on top of his game. Yet Kubrick brings to the table great nuance, economy and sophistication to the film.

Take the “Dawn of Man” sequence as an example.


If I had to vote for the greatest sequence in cinema, this 9 and half minute sequence would be on top of my list along with the famous Psycho shower scene and the tracking shot in Goodfellas.

The beauty of this sequence is how wonderfully and economically Kubrick lays down the very essence of the movie: the ingenuity and intrepidity of man.

The scene can be simply broken into 4 parts:

  • A group of monkeys cohabit peacefully with other species.
  • A leopard, a predator, comes and disturbs the peace. Two groups of monkeys quarrel within themselves.
  • The monkeys discover a “monolith” (a McGuffin that recurs at crucial junctures throughout the film) and thereby discover intelligence.
  • A monkey realises he can use a bone as a weapon and he fights back.

These 4 “parts” culminate in one of the most famous cuts in cinema. The monkey who discovers the use of a bone as a weapon threatens the opposing group of monkeys. As a part of his aggressive posturing, the monkey throws the bone in the air. As the bone rises and later descends to the ground, we cut to a similarly shaped spaceship.

A perfect segue from the past to the movie’s present. Man’s tools have gotten sophisticated, as has his intelligence. Indeed, the theme of the movie is evolution of man and how man progresses from discovering tools to perfecting them to finally discarding them.

Kubrick’s narrative technique is both traditional and modern. On one hand, he employs the Three Act structure, a narrative tool that is the very basis of screen-writing, while on the other hand, he does away with plot or story. Instead what we get is a constant flow of ideas and philosophy through a set of characters.

2001… was a film that was way ahead of its time. The film was released in 1968, a year before the first moon landing, and yet astronauts and scientists have lauded the authenticity of the film. The craft on display is to be marveled at. Be it the clean sterile interiors of the spaceship or the aforementioned Dawn of Man scene, which while set in a rugged lonely terrain was actually set on a sound stage. Kubrick uses music beautifully as well. The spaceship docking sequences set to classical waltzes are a highlight of the film. That coupled with the signature immaculate staging and framing of Kubrick and his cinematographer make this a (presumably) big screen extravaganza.

Yet Kubrick is simply not held back by his big canvas. In fact, the grandeur of his visuals compliment the grandiose ideas he puts forward. And like the best artists, he doesn’t spoon-feed them to his audience. The ideas and philosophy underlying 2001… are to be discovered by the audience themselves. Like an Impressionist masterpiece, this work of art is completed only once the viewer steps back and admires the work in its entirety. Admittedly, this makes 2001… a hard movie to watch (I finished the movie on my 3rd try). And yet the beauty of the film and the strength of its ideas is such that it leaves you awestruck for weeks after.

Here’s an example of Kubrick forcing the audiences to think and piece together information.

A bit of background before you see the following clip:

Humans have discovered a possible sign of intelligence on a moon close to Jupiter and have sent a spaceship to discover it. The spaceship carries 2 active astronauts (the remaining are in cryogenic sleep) and is manned by Hal 9000, a super-computer. Hal is a computer, yet there seem to be slivers of emotion in him. The astronauts have discovered that Hal may be suffering a system failure. They retreat to a pod in the spaceship to discuss the future course of action so that Hal can not overhear them. This is what ensues.

The simplicity of this scene is such that a 5 year old kid can understand it. Yet the cinematic value is astounding. This scene should be a staple lesson for all aspiring film-makers/film-lovers. We begin in the pod. Notice how the astronauts are placed on either side of the frame, creating a perfectly symmetrical image. At the centre of the image is Hal. In the foreground, we see the astronauts talking while in the background, we see Hal observing. Initially, we are in the pod, listening to the astronauts. We then cut to an extreme close-up of Hal’s “eye”. We then cut to a POV (point-of-view) shot that shows the astronauts talking. This is direction at its economical and technical best. In the first image, we see Hal observing the astronauts talking. Hal knows that something is not right. As Hal realises the astronauts’ plan of shutting him down, we cut to a close-up which shows Hal taking a decision. And finally we become Hal, observing the 2 astronauts talking. At once, a computer which seemed amicable and pleasant has turned into a malevolent and dangerous entity. Note how this shift of perception is conveyed only through images (while we do hear the astronauts talking, the conversation is immaterial. What is important is Hal deducing a threat to his existence). What this scene and the ensuing sequence conveys is how man’s tools have overpowered him.

The ending of the film is ambiguous, one of cinema’s greatest mysteries. A virtuoso sound and light show that leaves its ideas to multiple interpretations. It is a sequence that is impossible to describe in words. It HAS to be seen (preferably multiple times) to be understood.

2001… was a revolutionary movie, a watershed moment in cinematic history. Close to 50 years have passed since the movie’s release and yet the genius of the movie refuses to fade. This is one trip your brain deserves.

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The Netflix v/s Cinema debate

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Is Netflix the best new thing after sliced bread or a weapon of mass destruction that will cause the end of the world? This is the question that is being hotly debated by film-makers and cinephiles around the world. After the debate between shooting movies on digital or on film, this is another question which showcases the constant push and pull between the traditionalists and the modernists in the film world.

Let me first lay down the background. Content on Netflix is of two kinds – acquired content and original content. While Netflix does not have any say in the distribution of acquired content, it has full control on the distribution of its original content. Netflix’s aim is two-fold: maintain existing subscribers and add more subscribers. In order to facilitate this, it makes sense for Netflix to not release their movies in cinemas. If a Netflix original movie were to release in cinemas, movie-goers would have less incentive to see the movie on Netflix, hence reducing the traffic as well as the likelihood of adding new subscribers. With increasing numbers of movies in production by Netflix, this practice of not releasing movies has irked various sections of the movie-world;  for distributors and cinema hall owners, this is a direct threat to their livelihood, for film-makers, there is a lack of transparency (Netflix does not divulge streaming numbers to even the makers of their movies) as well as a loss of opportunity for the viewers to see their work on the big screen, and for traditional movie-goers, it is the end of movies the way they saw it.

Personally, I am strictly on the fence with this one. There is no denying that Netflix has enriched my movie-watching experience. I now have access to movies for which I had to rely either on illegal pirate sites or on a heavily-censored, limited screen theatrical release. Netflix has deep pockets and a fearless green-lighting strategy. Who else would give Alfonso Cuaron $15 million for a deeply personal story in Spanish and which is shot in black-and-white? Who else would green-light an anthology of Westerns by the Coen brothers? When Martin Scorsese was shopping his latest movie, The Irishman, to various studios, all the studios passed on it and its $140 million budget. Imagine a studio passing on a Scorsese gangster movie with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Who stepped in? Netflix! 3 of my favourite movies this year are Netflix originals.

And yet, it is not all rosy. Before 2018, Netflix had a middling record with its Netflix original movies – more misses than hits. As a streaming platform, Netflix has its shortcomings. Its acquired movies collection, especially in India, is limited and largely mediocre. It has an even smaller collection of old movies and foreign films. Further, like all industries, a single company having the power to influence the entire industry is harmful. And then there is the nostalgic argument. The experience of watching The Ballad of Buster Scruggs during MAMI in a 1,000-seater theatre on a huge screen was unforgettable and there was no way I could recreate even half of that experience sitting at home and watching on my computer. Similarly, while watching Cuaron’s masterpiece Roma on the big screen, I could truly appreciate the breathtaking cinematography, the absolutely wonderful sound design and the care with which the world was created. It also feels wrong for movies to be seen on a mobile screen.

So, is Netflix the best new thing after sliced bread or a weapon of mass destruction that will cause the end of the world? I guess only time will tell us the answer to that question. But there is no doubt that Netflix has truly changed the way movies are made and seen.

2014, A Year in Review and Oscar Predictions

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So it’s almost over. The Oscars are almost here and on February 22, we will be celebrating (and bidding adieu) to the films of 2014.

Yet, I don’t think the films of the past year are going to be forgotten quite easily. They are bound to stay in our memories and in our thoughts in times to come. It was a special year, 2014. From the fictional, wintry and sophisticated lands of Zubrowska (in The Grand Budapest Hotel) we went to the claustrophobic and insulated theatre district of New York (in Birdman). The range of emotions and themes in the movies this year was even more diverse. The lovely, aching nostalgia of Boyhood segued into the sheer joy of life in the brilliant Life Itself; the parasitic and symbiotic relationship that we call marriage was explored with brutal honesty in Gone Girl while Haider showed us the sheer futility and emptiness of revenge.

It is fitting, therefore, that the Oscars race this year is the closest race in a long time. Birdman and Boyhood are the two (deserving) front-runners and it really is hard to choose between either of the two films. The guild awards have all gone to Birdman putting it as the favourite but all the other awards have preferred Boyhood.

Here, I present to you my predictions and my personal favourites for the Oscar night, along with other films that should have been recognised in those categories. With that, a list of my top 10 films of 2014.

Here we go.

Best Picture

Will Win: Birdman (though Boyhood could very well upset)

Should Win: Boyhood

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl

It is almost impossible for a film to win all the three precursor awards and yet lose the big prize on Oscar night and so it seems Birdman will win the Best Picture Oscar. It is a terrific film and a tremendous achievement. Birdman is a study of the insecurities, the battle with our ego and the strong inner conflict that make up a large part of our life. It is about Riggan Thompson, an actor who played a famous superhero, who wants to reinvent himself and gain credibility by writing, directing and acting in a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. The film is visceral in its emotions and unforgiving in its intensity. Shot in what is made to look like a single shot, Birdman is an exhilarating cinematic experience that pushes the envelope and shows the power of cinema. It also is an exciting showcase of the acting prowess of a powerful ensemble.

But we had a better film this year.

If you have been anywhere near me this year, there is a great chance that I have recommended Boyhood to you. I have watched Boyhood around 7 times now and not one time have I been disappointed or unmoved by it. The charm just refuses to wear off. Boyhood is your story and mine; a simple but extraordinary tale of a young boy growing up. Shot over 12 years with the same set of actors, this film is frank, sweet, warm and so very emotional. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason Jr. our “hero”, growing up in Texas. It is shocking to see him, his sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater), his dad Mason Sr. (an excellent Ethan Hawke) and his mother Olivia (terrifically played by Patricia Arquette) grow old in front of our eyes. Richard Linklater, the director, doesn’t provide us with delineations of time. The years just flow by and the characters age and grow wiser. It is a mind-boggling and completely unique achievement and truly revolutionary piece of cinema. I feel intensely connected and engaged with this movie. It is MY movie. The only other movie (actually, movies) to did this to me is Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s Before trilogy. The Before movies are romantic and something of a fantasy; Boyhood is not. It is real. It breathes.

Best Film (in order of preference)

Boyhood

Birdman

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Gone Girl (had it been nominated)

Whiplash

The Theory of Everything (what the hell is it doing on this list?)

The Imitation Game (what the hell is it doing on this list?)

Selma and American Sniper (not seen)

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Best Director

Who Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Who Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman) and Richard Linklater (Boyhood) (tie)

Should Have Been Nominated: David Fincher (Gone Girl)

Both Birdman and Boyhood are stunning achievements. Birdman is supposed to look as if it has been shot in a single take while Boyhood was shot over 12 years. Both these films had the potential of being gimmicks; one-trick ponies. Yet it is the clarity and strength of their respective directors’ vision that elevates these films to great heights. While Innaritu succeeds in making Birdman a technical tour de force with strong and hard-hitting emotions and an operatic intensity, Linklater creates a slow-burning intimate portrait of daily life.

Innaritu has won the DGA, a reliable predictor of the Best Director Oscar, and it is a lot easier for me to make peace with this choice than with Boyhood losing the Best Picture.

A special mention here to Wes Anderson and his delightful (and possibly, his best) movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is a truly unique film from one of cinema’s most unique film-maker.

Best Director (in order of preference)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman) and Richard Linklater (Boyhood) (tie)

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

David Fincher (Gone Girl) (had he been nominated)

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Morten Tyldum (Imitation Game) (what the hell is he doing on this list?)

 

Best Actor

Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Who Should Win: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Should Have Been Nominated: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Tom Hardy (Locke)

Michael Keaton deserves to win this category. His is an unforgettable performance. He is simply superb as a man who is desperately trying to save himself and his play from breaking down. He is constantly on the edge. He is selfish and narcissist and yet very vulnerable. It is a full-bodied performance that is showy yet understated. Please let there be an upset.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Steven Hawking is in no way terrible. It is just a conventional performance that will be rewarded for its showiness. Redmayne shows that he is a terrific actor but this performance doesn’t quite justify an Oscar.

Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hardy deserve to be nominated. Fiennes plays Gustave H, the concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel and is charming, funny and vulnerable. He shows off his entire range as an actor and is one of the best things of an already excellent film. Tom Hardy is given a very demanding role in Locke. He is a man who is watching his carefully cultivated life collapse in front of his eyes. Hardy is in a car, talking to people for the entire duration of the film. His entire performance is therefore based on his face and his eyes. It is a brilliant and understated performance.

Best Actor (in order of preference)

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) (had he been nominated)

Tom Hardy (Locke) (had he been nominated)

Benedict Cumberbatch (Imitation Game) (what the hell is he doing on this list?)

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) (what the hell is he doing on this list?)

Best Actress

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Who Should Win: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

I really haven’t seen enough films to give an opinion on this category but Rosamund Pike’s chilling portrayal of Amy Dunne, a psychotic wife in Gone Girl deserves an Oscar. Pike is just brilliant and her voice-overs give me goose-bumps each time I hear them. Her face is a blank slate and yet her eyes reveal a constantly calculating smart woman always a step ahead of the world.

But Julianne Moore has been sweeping all the awards for her role in Still Alice as an Alzheimer’s patient slowly deteriorating. From what I have read, the Oscar will be more for her tremendous body of work that has not been appreciated (that will change Sunday night).

Best Actress (in order of preference)

Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) (not seen)

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: JK Simmons (Whiplash)

Who Should Win: Edward Norton (Birdman)

JK Simmons’ portrayal of an intense, sociopathic music teacher, perennially dissatisfied with his students and striving constantly for greatness, is sure to win the Oscar. It is a very good performance with Simmons giving in to the character completely. Yet, I felt it was showy and sometimes, over-the-top. I can think of two more performances in this category that I liked more than JK Simmons.

Ethan Hawke (always Jesse, to my mind) plays a dad who realises over time that parenting and life is more than just fun and games. It is a wonderfully written character that is realised perfectly by Hawke. Like everything in the film, Hawke’s character undergoes a transformation and yet you can not pin-point the moment at which such transformation occurs. Mason Sr. moves from being carefree to cynical and Hawke uses body language and that typical Hawke-&-Linklater-ian dialogue to show this transformation.

Edward Norton, on the other hand, plays a vain and pretentious actor who is as brilliant as he is difficult. Norton is absolutely riveting here. He is funny and unlikeable. Norton plays Mike Shiner as a person who seems to know everything and yet not know a thing. He has swagger yet oozes vulnerability. He deserves the Oscar.

JK Simmons is going to win the Oscar. But it is not quite my tempo.

Best Supporting Actor (in order of preference)

Edward Norton (Birdman)

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

JK Simmons (Whiplash)

Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

Robert Duvall (The Judge) (not seen)

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Should Have Been Nominated: Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)

Patricia Arquette has swept almost all the awards in this category. And she has swept hearts too. Playing a single mother trying to make life better for her and her kids, Arquette is devastatingly brilliant. Her character is given less screen-time than Ethan Hawke’s, even though Arquette has the residential rights for the children. Yet, the performance is so good, so profound that it is her character that stays with us much more than Hawke’s (even though he is very good as well). Her emotional blast-out as she sends her son off to college brings tears to my eyes (and it seems to everyone’s) each time I see it. It is the most powerful scene of the year because of Linklater’s honest yet brutal writing and Arquette’s devastating and emotionally raw acting. This is honest and candid acting.

Emma Stone is simply excellent in Birdman and Jessica Chastain’s fiery performance in A Most Violent Year deserved a nomination. But this is Arquette’s year. Make no mistake, mommy is the best.

Best Supporting Actress (in order of preference)

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Emma Stone (Birdman)

Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) (had she been nominated)

Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) (what the hell is she doing on this list?)

Meryl Streep (Into The Woods) (not seen)

Best Original Screenplay

Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It is a close two-way race between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman. Birdman is well-written and has some cracking lines. Yet, there are portions that are slightly stretched and contrived. And Michael Keaton’s showdown with the critic, though well-acted and having some great dialogue, seemed unnecessarily harsh.

On the other hand, the screenplay of The Grand Budapest Hotel is quirky, smart and completely original. It is a charming, fast-paced and sophisticated caper that has a lot of flair and creativity. It is also very funny. Yet this lightness masks a profound sense of gloom and melancholy. It is also innovative in its use of structure and voice-overs. It is a screenplay that is brave and daring, something that deserves to be recognised (as does the film).

Best Original Screenplay (in order of preference)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher (what the hell is it doing on this list?)

Nightcrawler (not seen)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Who Will Win: Whiplash

Who Should Win: Whiplash

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl

The Adapted Screenplay category this year is as barren and humdrum as the Original Screenplay category is exciting and fresh. For starters, arguably the best screenplay has not been nominated (Gone Girl). Yet, for all the smartness and unpredictability of the Gone Girl script, Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own novel suffers from poor structuring (the second act could have been leaner and the third act could have been handled better).

Moving to the actual nominees, I have not seen American Sniper but the screenplay and the film has been under massive controversy for changing important details. Due to poor audio quality, I could not finish Inherent Vice. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are bland and clunky films and there is nothing that is truly exciting in the screenplays (though I found The Theory of Everything slightly better than the yawn-fest that was The Imitation Game).

By the process of elimination, we are left with Whiplash. The Whiplash screenplay is in this category only because of a strange (and in this case, silly) technicality. The screenplay has a great first and third act but a large part of the second act feels contrived and confused. This is one category I am totally ambivalent about.

Best Cinematography

Who Will Win:  Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Who Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Should Have Been Nominated: Jeff Cronenweth (Gone Girl) & Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year)

This one is another clear race. Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning camera-work in Birdman deserves the Oscar more than any other DoP in this race. Just think of the logistical challenges. The film was made to look as if it was shot in just one take. This meant that there would be long takes and each take would have to end in such a way that another take could be merged seamlessly. The camera is kinetic, it is never at rest. This meant that Lubezki had to follow the actors in the narrow corridors that comprise the set of the play. But what really stands apart is how each image is perfectly framed and how effectively Innaritu and Lubezki use camera movements to tell the story. This is truly revolutionary film-making. Nothing comes even remotely close here. Sorry Roger Deakins, better luck next time!

Best Cinematography (in order of preference)

Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Jeff Cronenweth (Gone Girl) (had he been nominated)

Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year) (had he been nominated)

Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski (Ida), Dick Pope (Mr. Turner) & Roger Deakins (Unbroken) (not seen)

Best Editing

Who Will Win:  Sandra Adair (Boyhood)

Who Should Win: Tom Cross (Whiplash)

Should Have Been Nominated: Kirk Baxter (Gone Girl) & Stephen Mirrione & Douglas Crise (Birdman)

This is one category where two of the most deserving films have not been nominated. On the other hand, the fact that Birdman is not nominated here is the greatest validation for its editors because the entire film is not supposed to have any cuts (of course it has them, but they are very well-disguised). But the ruthless editing of Gone Girl is even better than the inconspicuous editing of Birdman. Kirk Baxter creates a relentlessly claustrophobic and depressing atmosphere. The highlight comes in the absolutely brilliant and cold murder scene of Desi Collings (played by Oscar host Neil Patrick-Harris). It is reminiscent of the iconic Psycho shower scene. There really is no higher compliment.

Sandra Adair will win the Oscar for whittling down 12 years of material into a 2 hours 45 minutes film. It was a daunting task and one that Adair pulls off competently but I did not really think the editing in Boyhood was special enough to warrant such recognition.

On the other hand, the editing in Whiplash is the best thing in that film. I have never been so tense in a movie that is actually a drama. And Tom Cross’ brilliant editing deserves to get awarded for this. The challenge here was to create a perfect blend of the visuals and music. And Cross achieves that to create a crisply edited. The climax in particular is a terrific piece of editing. Tom Cross neither rushes nor drags. Unfortunately, no one is going to say “Good job” to Whiplash.

Best Editing (in order of preference)

Kirk Baxter (Gone Girl) (had he been nominated)

Stephen Mirrione & Douglas Crise (Birdman) (had they been nominated)

Tom Cross (Whiplash)

Sandra Adair (Boyhood)

Barney Pilling (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

William Goldenberg (The Imitation Game) (what the hell is he doing on this list?)

American Sniper (not seen)

Best Score

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Who Should Win:  Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Should Have Been Nominated: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl)

Because of a silly technicality in the Academy’s rules, Antonio Sanchez’s drums-only soundtrack for Birdman was disqualified. It was a brilliant soundtrack that matched the relentless focus and intensity of the film with a temperamental drum-track.

But the soundtrack of the year belonged to Gone Girl. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ foreboding and chilling score complemented the cold visuals of the film to give one of the greatest technical masterpieces of the year.

But Alexandre Desplat will win the Oscar for his playful soundtrack that contains just the right amount of feeling. It will be a well-deserved victory for the perennial Oscars bridesmaid.

Best Score (in order of preference)

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl) (had they been nominated)

Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything)

Alexandra Desplat (The Imitation Game)

Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)

Gary Yershon (Mr. Turner) (not seen)

What Would Make Me the Happiest

  • Boyhood winning Best Picture
  • Patricia Arquette winning Best Supporting Actress
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel winning Best Original Screenplay
  • Whiplash winning Best Editing
  • The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything being ignored across the board.

What Would Make Me the Maddest

  • Any award for The Imitation Game
  • Boyhood getting neither Best Picture nor Best Director

Predictions for all 24 categories:

Categories Prediction Movie
Best Picture Boyhood Boyhood
Best Director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu Birdman
Best Actor Eddie Redmayne The Theory of Everything
Best Actress Julianne Moore Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor JK Simmons Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette Boyhood
Best Original Screenplay Wes Anderson The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Adapted Screenplay Damien Chazelle Whiplash
Best Animated Film How to Train Your Dragon 2 How to Train Your Dragon 2
Best Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki Birdman
Best Editing Sandra Adair Boyhood
Best Score Alexandre Desplat The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Song Glory Selma
Best Production Design Adam Stockhausen The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Visual Effects Interstellar Interstellar
Best Costume Designing The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Make Up and Hairstyling The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Foreign Film Ida Ida
Best Documentary Citizen Four Citizen Four
Best Documentary (Short) Crisis Hotline: Veterans press 1 Crisis Hotline: Veterans press 1
Best Animated Film(Short) The Dam Keeper The Dam Keeper
Best Live Action Film(Short) The Phone Call The Phone Call
Best Sound Mixing American Sniper American Sniper
Best Sound Editing Whiplash Whiplash

Top 10 films of the year

  1. Boyhood
  2. Birdman
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Life Itself
  5. Gone Girl
  6. Haider
  7. Whiplash
  8. A Most Violent Year
  9. The Lego Movie / 22 Jump Street
  10. Locke

Boyhood

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Let me say this right here: Boyhood is a brilliant movie. And Richard Linklater is one of the most exciting and intelligent directors currently working in America. So clear is Linklater’s vision of the film that no scene seems unnecessary or incoherent (though a few scenes go on for perhaps too long).

This is a major feat considering the movie took 12 long years, and many cultural changes, in the making and that there was no bound script in place. Indeed, the actors and producers need to be commended here for making such a long-term commitment based on just one man’s crazy vision.

This vision: to show a boy grow up. The movie is really just that, a dreamy young boy, Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), grows up in suburban towns of Texas. We see, through his eyes, his mother, Olivia (a terrific Patricia Arquette), his biological father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke at his best) and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) grow up as well. It is that simple a movie, yet so deliciously complex.

And as we see young Mason Jr. live his childhood, we relive ours.

Like Linklater’s best (and perhaps his more personal) films: the Before series, Dazed and Confused and Slacker, the focus here is not on traditional things like a plot or story, but on emotions, on ideas and the character. Indeed, there is no one definitive scene where we see Mason Jr. mature or turn old, it is a gradual process. Just like in real life.

Linklater benefits also from a terrific cast. Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr. sometimes struggles in dramatic scenes. Yet his face is a perfect canvas on which Linklater draws his themes. A young Mason has a perennially curious and vacant face. We observe what he observes and through his reactions deduce his thoughts. But as he grows old, and more sure of himself, his face gives away emotions of its own. Patricia Arquette is simply superb as Olivia, Mason and Samantha’s mother drawn to the wrong kinds of men(alcoholic and control freaks). And Ethan Hawke is pitch perfect as Mason’s dad who grows up himself, surrendering his carefree and nomadic life for a more structured one.

Richard Linklater is one of my favourite directors.His movies are usually verbose, a  series of conversations. And yet there is something very visually and thematically distinct about his films in his use of long, uncut takes, a great soundtrack and his focus on quiet contemplation as opposed to melodrama. His films explore themes like freedom and individuality. His films make you think, they make you ask questions to, and about, yourself.

Boyhood has all these elements in the perfect measure.

It could very well be my favourite film of the year.

 

Note: These three reviews are recommended reading for anyone who has watched and loved the film

  1. Matt Zoller Seitz: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/boyhood-2014
  2. Anthony Lane: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/balancing-acts
  3. Manohla Dargis: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/11/movies/movie-review-linklaters-boyhood-is-a-model-of-cinematic-realism.html?_r=0

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s approach to film-making can, perhaps, be best understood from a scene that takes place halfway through his latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. A prison guard, searching for dangerous objects hidden among food sent by outsiders cuts each item of food that is brought to him: a loaf of bread, sausage and the like, but he just can’t bring himself to cut a beautiful, perfectly constructed cake.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is, in my opinion, Wes Anderson’s strongest film to date. It is a merry, funny and boisterous romp that is punctuated with just the right amount of emotion and feeling.

Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), is the reason people come to The Grand Budapest Hotel, an opulent hotel that justifies the adjective in its name. He is a concierge who is exceptionally popular among the guests (especially the female ones). Zero (Tony Revolori) is a lobby boy and Gustave’s protégé who has run away from his (imaginary) Middle-Eastern native land after a war broke out there. When an elderly lady, Madame D, who was a regular patron at the hotel dies and bequeaths to Gustave a valuable painting, anger and jealousy breeds in her estranged family members. Madame D’s son, Dmitri, and the family hitman, Jopling, chase Gustave and Zero. Added to the mix is a police officer who has conflicted views on Gustave.

Anderson uses a Russian doll-like narrative device: a story within a story within a story. Each such story is characterised by different aspect ratios. Anderson creates a splendid world that is reminiscent of cartoons and illustrations in books we may have read as children. For many exterior shots, Anderson uses dainty hand-painted miniature sets rather than the traditional, generic CGI.

All familiar Anderson techniques find a way here: from the long tracking shots to linear camera movement and from perfectly choreographed action to novel-like dialogue. The story-telling is aided greatly by the quirky musical score of Alexandre Desplat.

In my opinion, in no other film till now has Wes Anderson had such a strong command over the medium. A prison break sequence is ambitiously staged and skilfully executed and is one of the highlights of the film. In fact, he directs the action scenes with the infectious energy and charm that made 2009’s Fantastic Mr.Fox such a delight.

Ralph Fiennes is absolutely pitch perfect as Gustave H, the charming, unemotional and narcissist concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel. A superbly choreographed tracking shot that introduces him tells us all there is to Gustave; he speaks in short precise sentences, he is pedantic and he is efficient. He is also a stickler for traditions. The lobby boy Zero is played adequately by Tony Revolori, a pleasant if somewhat simple chap. The film also stars Anderson regulars such as Edward Norton (excellent as a police officer torn between his duty and his appreciation for Gustave), Willem Dafoe (scene-stealing), Adrien Brody and Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman & Owen Wilson in cameos.

Like the aforementioned cake had digging tools hidden in them, The Grand Budapest Hotel has a great sense of grief and regret hidden inside itself; grief for the transience of time, for the breakdown of tradition.

Indeed, it is brilliant. Tuck in!

a

Life Itself

The movie I am going to write about is probably one you have never heard of before. It is also probably one you will never see. But, it is one that you absolutely MUST.

Life Itself is a documentary about Roger Ebert, a famous movie critic (the first critic to win a Pulitzer Prize) who also became known for his fight against cancer. Now, admittedly, he was not a household name but for anyone who loves films, he was an idol. He was a treasure chest of knowledge and his reviews and critiques combined technical nuances with emotional and philosophical interpretations.

But, this movie is not just about him. It is about you and me and everyone who has ever lived on this planet. In sharing with us Ebert’s victories and defeats, he reminds us what we love about our lives and why it is worth living. It chronicles how we fight daily for survival and WHY we live.

Adapted from Ebert’s memoir of the same name, Life Itself creates a complete portrait of the man, his genius and his flaws intact.

Steve James, one of the many filmmakers and film-bloggers who owe their careers to Ebert, directs the film beautifully and compassionately. There is a harrowing scene where Ebert’s throat is being ‘flushed’. It is difficult to watch but necessary to understand the pain he has to fight on a daily basis.

Here is a rare documentary that is as warm, funny, candid, frank and emotional as its subject.

I don’t usually cry at the movies. I cried during this one

                                                      . 

My Favourite Films of 2013

Aside

Let’s face it: this has been a rich year at the movies. The movies, this year, have taken us from the chilling loneliness of outer space in Gravity to the mind-numbing chaos of the trading floor in The Wolf of Wall Street; from the soft,colourful palette of Her to the beautiful black-and-white images of Nebraska and Frances Ha; from the quick,hurried editing of Captain Phillips to the long unobtrusive scenes of Before Midnight. Indeed, this year has been one of great contrasts.

Personally, having seen a larger number of movies than previous years, the range from which I could pick my top ten movies was much more diverse. Yet, I have missed many well-reviewed films this year which gives you further evidence of how good this year has been.

Before I list my top ten movies of the year, I would like to say that all the choices and the order in which they are put are entirely on the basis of personal opinion and not on the basis of critical opinion or technical soundness. Put simply, I have listed the movies in the way I perceived them and how they spoke to me and not by any other measure. Having gotten that out of the way, here are my favourite movies of the year:

10. Lootera (directed by Vikramaditya Motwane)

Confidently directed and gorgeously shot, this quiet and subtle old-fashioned romance was one of the most well-made Hindi films in a long time. A tale of a zamindar’s daughter in love with a mysterious young man, Lootera revelled in its simplicity, relying on well-framed beautiful images and an excellent soundtrack(by Amit Trivedi) to involve us completely to the events on-screen. Sonakshi Sinha and Ranveer Singh gave nuanced performances, using their expressive eyes to great effect.

9. Frances Ha (directed by Noah Baumbach)

The black-and-white images of a bustling New York, reminiscent of the old Woody Allen films and Greta Gerwig’sincredible performance as a struggling dancer trying to find her feet in the Big Apple gave us one of the best movie on friendship. The original, yet entirely relatable writing by Baumbach and Gerwig was yet another plus in a movie that got so many things right.

8.Blue Jasmine (directed by Woody Allen)

After the delightful Midnight in Paris and the mediocre From Rome with Love, Woody Allen was back with Blue Jasmine, a serious Woody film on a New York socialite’s fall from grace. The acting is excellent and the writing smart . A special mention to Cate Blanchett who gives the best performance of the year as a delusional, pill-popping socialite trying hard to rise back up and Sally Hawkins as her spunky lower-class adopted sister.Blanchett is quiet simply the best thing about Blue Jasmine, controlling the entire movie by her performance.

7.The Wolf of Wall Street (directed by Martin Scorcese)

Without any doubt the most controversial film of the year, The Wolf of Wall Street is a dazzling energetic portrayal of a life of excesses. 71 year old Scorcese directs the movie with the passion and energy of a 21 year old, using his trademark kinetic camera movements and loud soundtrack to propel along the almost 3 hour longmovie. He is also aided by Leonardo diCaprio’s committed performance as Jordan Belfort,a hedonistic stock broker. diCaprio thrusts himself into the character, selling us his story through his smart,wise-cracking voice-over and rousing speeches. He showcases his range, from dramatic to physical comedy and is well-supported by Jonah Hill as his partner-in-crime. Also, Matthew McConnaughey steals the 2-3 scenes he is in with his sheer charisma and comic timing.

6.The Lunchbox (directed by Ritesh Batra)

The Lunchbox is without any doubt my favourite Hindi film of the year. Beautifully written and well-directed, it is a tale of longing, melancholy and nostalgia. Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui give strong, heartfelt performances as a lonely, retiring widower, a neglected housewife and a happy-go-lucky fellow with a sad secret, respectively. The Lunchbox captures the sad loneliness of a person even in a large, crowded city like Mumbai.

5.Nebraska (directed by Alexander Payne)

Funny and sad in equal measure, Nebraska is about how the aged fight,unsuccessfully, the irrelevance and powerlessness of old age. Shooting the film in gorgeous black-and-white, Payne is on top of his game, never getting sentimental or using melodrama. Bruce Dern gives an absolutely stunning performance of a man fighting his age. Will Forte is also good as his loser son who accompanies him on a road trip to spend time with his dad and in a way escape from his own mundane life. But all the funny lines are given to June Squibb who plays Dern’s wife and Squibb delivers these lines with pitch perfect timing.

4.Gravity (directed by Alfonso Cuaron)

To put it quite simply, Gravity was the most engrossing movie viewing experience I’ve had this year. A meditative story of survival and courage in the face of adversity, Gravity is a dazzling achievement in film-making for the way in which it seamlessly blends visual effects with real performances. Shot in long takes, the camera floats along weightlessly in zero gravity. The highlight of the movie, which for me is the scene of the year, is the unedited single-shot opening sequence. I literally watched the movie with my mouth open.

3.Her (directed by Spike Jonze)

Her is a love story, set in the near future, between a man and his OS. Melancholy, lonely yet strangely uplifting, Her is aided by original beautiful writing and excellent performances by the lead pair. Scarlett Johanssonis endearing, funny, playful and smart…just through her voice, playing Samantha, an OS(She isn’t seen on-screen). It is Joaquin Phoenix, though, as a lonely miserable letter-writer, going through a divorce, who stands out. Phoenix sparkles in this role and effortlessly controls the screen(and movie) in the innumerable close-ups. A beautiful background score and clever production design create a believable yet alien portrait of the future.

2.Inside Llewyn Davis (directed by the Coen Brothers)

When I first saw Inside Llewyn Davis, I didn’t expect it to stay with me for such a long time. However, it did and continues to remain so. What is so striking about the movie is the way in which the loneliness, melancholy and insecurity of Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer in New York in the 1960s, stays in your head after you’ve seen the film. The Coen brothers have directed yet another masterpiece. Indeed, it excels in all areas, right from its cinematography and to acting. What is overlooked is the great writing on display here. Apparently, all we are doing is following Davis as he walks  wanders around looking for a breakthrough, yet what makes the movie so engrossing is its smart writing.

And WHAT A SOUNDTRACK!!! It has an absolutely cracking soundtrack curated by T Bone Burnett composed of folk songs apparently sung by the actors live, on set. It’s all I have been hearing ever since I’ve seen the movie. I highly recommend that you listen to the soundtrack and watch the movie ASAP.

1.Before Midnight (directed by Richard Linklater)

9 years on, they are back! The trio of Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were back this year with the third installment of their cult-favourite ‘Before’ series featuring Jesse and Celine. And what a way to be back!

Before Midnight had the best screenplay of the year. The screenplay, written by the aforementioned trio, didn’t just exist, it BREATHED! It is constructed delicately, bit by bit leading up to the fight scene at the hotel that forms the climax of the film. It is witty, poignant and very real.

It also brings the unobtrusive direction and realistic acting that is a core but often overlooked part of the earlier two films.

Put quite simply, an absolute triumph!

COMMON THEMES OBSERVED IN THE ABOVE MOVIES

Loneliness, Melancholy, Survival, Struggle

OTHER NOTABLE FILMS LIKED

Short Term 12, Spectacular Now, The World’s End, Bombay Talkies, Shuddh Desi Romance

NOTABLE FILMS NOT SEEN

12 Years A Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Past, The Great Beauty, Rush, Enough Said, August Osage County, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Upstream Color