Friday, January 31, 2014

Wrapping it Up: January 2014

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings which will complete two full years of me doing these wrap up posts. I guess this is becoming a norm now.


12 Years a Slave(2013): I am purposely going to keep this vague because I am hoping to, if not a full post, at least write a mini-reviews of this one and two that follow. But I am guessing I have given you enough of what I think of them by including them in this bracket. I will just say one thing about it - it must have been a while since I just kept looking at the screen in amazement as the credit started to roll.

The Wolf of Wall Street(2013): When Django Unchained(2012) was released last year, everyone was happy that Di Caprio finally seemed to have some fun with his roles. But even then I am guessing nobody really expected him to one-up that and go on to win Best Comedic actor award just the following year, right?. After all, that it itself was a big departure from usual. Judging by his acceptance speech at Globes, even he didn't but that is exactly what he did in this role. Hit it out of the park!

Her(2013): So this is where 2013 starts to kick some ass. After it's over! Three movies that I saw on three consecutive days in the week before nominations were announced and every one of them swept me off my feet. Now I know why everyone keeps talking about 2013 being such a good year for movies. I am not a big expert or haven't been in the game for long but, from where I am standing, personally I think 2012 was better than 2011 and 2013 certainly looks better than last 2 years that I have been blogging. 

Blue Jasmine(2013): It took some time for me to get all the Streetcar similarities to me but now that I know, I am really surprised how I missed it. I guess it's because you don't expect something that dark, that humourless from someone like him. But even though I like his usual style, ones where he digresses from them have almost always been my favourites and ones where he doesn't show up as his own neurotic self. Maybe except Manhatten(1979). And Yes, Catt Blanchett is great in this but was she ever not?

Rush(2013): After hearing a lot of lukewarm reaction after its release, I was rather pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Maybe because I used to like watching these races that I was completely into this film from start. I mean, yes, it is no Senna(2011) but I don't think it is even trying to be. I even this comparison is rather unfair. I think two films were trying to achieve two completely different things and I think they both succeed at that. Bruhl was a definite standout but I think even Alexandria Maria Lara did a great job acting mostly through her eyes.

Inside Llewyn Davis(2013): I have no idea how did Llewyn took that turn to Acker and in next shot, woke up in NYC(did I miss something here?) but this is a Coen Brothers movie. I often don't get everything at a a first go. The thing with Llewyn is there aren't many straight out comedies that I have laughed as much as I did in this film. It's a typical Coen Brother's sort of absurd, dark humour but I was loving it. And Carrey Mulligan - I don't think she has done such a spiteful role before. I am glad she is varying them up.

Blue is the Warmest Colour(2013): After picking up its Palme d'Or, as expected, for the next few months all everyone talked about this film was Lesbian Sex scenes. Maybe it's just me going on just the right outlets but what actually surprises me is over the last few months, Adele's phenomenal acting has actually taken over most of the discourse surrounding this film. I mean, at least I don't expect that sort of rational reaction from media in general. She was amazing obviously and much more than I initially thought it would be.

Ed Wood(1994): First Blind Spot of the year and it was a really good start. I love how personal Tim Burton makes this film and uses this opportunity to actually put something substantial in front of us for Ed Wood as a person when he completely had an opportunity to make a complete caricature of every single character in this film. And as good as Johnny Depp is, special mention has to go out to Martin Landau, who completely vanishes into this character. More here.

Wadjda(2013): As much as I can, I like to keep the external factors out while rating a movie. Doing so for something like Wadjda would probably be a huge disservice, even though it means I have to break my own rules. I was sort of underwhelmed by this film. There were few things about it, mostly involving the production of this film, that I wasn't sold about. But the fact that Haifaa Al-Monsour was able to get this movie made in itself is its biggest achievement and making it as good as it is, makes it monumental. I am comfortable with leaving it at that.

You Can't Take it with You(1938): 66th of Best Picture Winners. I am slowly getting there. It was one of the surprises of this exercise of watching all winners. It's quite simple story but done very well. Frank Capra does that quite well. Think It Happened One Night(1934)! However what I find most interesting is how a film wins Best Film and Best Director and nothing else? And I spent most of this film thinking where have I heard Jean Arthur until I remembered Shane(1953). She has a very peculiar voice to forget.

The Family Stone(2005): I own this movie on DVD for almost three years now and this is the first time I am watching it. I don't even have any reason why I didn't see it before because I quite liked it when I finally saw it. It is one of those weird movies where its ending is sort of too neatly wrapped up and I would usually hate it for that but here, I was actually rooting for it to be that.I like how utterly predictable it is but still makes me care for each and every one of its characters.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey(2012)(Re-watch): Remember I said I am not going to as big fan of these movies as I am of LOTR and then I see this for third time inside a year. But after watching the second one, this one gets half a star improvement because some of the things here make little bit more sense now. I am still not sure if he really needed a lot of it but at least there is something happening for them. And Gollum! Gollum's story is my least favourite part of LOTR but given in moderation, I love him here.

Frozen(2013): Part one of my 'Double Feature Sunday' followed by The Wolf of Wall Street. Quite a double feature, eh? It was really beautiful and cute. Almost all the songs were good and couple of songs were stuck in my head for a very long time. Story wise it was very predictable and even execution wasn't very different or anything but it had enough charm in it to let me turn a blind eye towards it.

Mary Poppins(1964): I might be the last person on earth to see this one but what would really surprise me is I am the only one not to think world of it. I mean, it is all nice and sweet and has its moments but it's too much kiddie-fare. Anyone above 5 would probably think of it as too sweet. And every song and dance sequence is almost twice long than it has any right to be. Julie Andrews is obviously amazing but now I totally think that was a pity Oscar. If MFL casting didn't stir up everything, I don't know if she would've won for this.

Dallas Buyers Club(2013): As amazing as Matthew McConaghey and Jared Lato are(and they are truly amazing. I have other performances that I like more personally but I don't think I would have any problem with them winning their respective Oscars and it has become almost inevitable anyways), I don't get the love this one gets as a film. To me, there was nothing besides them. I appreciate the story and care with which it is presented it but ultimately, it was rather slow and even overlong.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug(2013): Peter Jackson is just trying to cash on his LOTR glory here. I think I read the book about 6 years ago. So lot of details are really sketchy but I am pretty sure majority of this film has nothing to do with actual story. It's him saying "So people loved Legolas and Bloom doesn't seem to be doing anything else. Let me insert him here for no reason". I had same problem with first one and I seem have warmed up a bit to it now but second one is one such sequence after another and even I was tired of it after a while. I expect to like it even less with time.

American Hustle(2013): As more I think about this film and as more time goes by, less I like this one and all this talk after getting so many nominations isn't helping it at all. I loved Amy Adams(duh!) and Christian Bale in their roles but they were all over. On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence was completely one-dimensional but personally, a character I couldn't care less about. If this film had even a hint of any screenplay somewhere, if Russell had put some effort in it, I might have liked it so much more.

Total Count: 17. 16 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 17. 16 First Time Watches and 1 Re-watches.

I started this year with Mary Poppins but next 15 days or so were about nothing other than 2013 films. I wanted to see as many Oscar contenders as possible before the nominations were announced. There are still a few left but I watched more Oscar nominated films in first 15 days of this month than I had seen for the whole year before it. It also included a double feature on one of the Sundays which was after... I don't even remember how many years. Hopefully, I will have time and resources to get to some others that I desperately want to in February before finally moving on to all the other films I have been stalling for past few months. Seriously - so many movies, so little time.

So, how was your month? Did you see anything interesting? What do you think of the movies I saw? Any favorites?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blindspots Continued...- January 2014

Welcome back to the Brand new Blind Spots Series for the year of 2014! After successfully finishing last year’s batch in December, I decided to kick this series off with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood(1994), something I’ve obviously been meaning to see for long time but it had to this series that finally made me get to it.

Tim Burton still remains to be probably my biggest pop cultural blind spot. This one marks sixth of his film I have seen and 3 of them are from his last four. Almost everyone, probably even those who love him, agree that lately his movies are only a sad reminder of how great he once was. Engrossed completely in their own world, they seem to have a very distinct look and feel to them but only seem to go down in quality and all I have seen are these films during his decline. Technically, I have seen Edward Scissorhands(1990) but it’s so long ago that practically all I remember are glimpses of two scenes. So that leaves us with Big Fish(2003) which I only got to earlier last year. So I had to start somewhere getting deeper into his filmography and I guessed Ed Wood would be as good a start as any. It turns out I was right.

For those who do not know, this film is about Edward D. Wood Jr., a legendary filmmaker in ‘50s, who has become a legend for all the wrong reasons. Apparently he was termed ‘Worst Director of all time’ in 80s but that only led to his resurgence many years later and his almost iconic, cult-like status which I am assuming this movie as well played some part in. But funny thing is, after watching this film, I can almost understand why. I am sure his films will be a great watch with a group where people can enjoy how bad they are. Film however, without hiding the fact that he was a terrible director, paints Wood in all his eccentric glory but in very personal way, in a very sympathetic light. Given the type of characters that surround him, it would have been very easy to make them caricatures of them rather than actual human beings. But Burton puts a lot of heart in all these characters to make them likable. They are flawed, extremely weird and even gothic but he finds a way to make them likable. I don’t know if Burton has any ties to Wood or if he had any inclination towards him but he handles this film with such genuine warmth, with such a personal touch that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in his shoes doing it any better.

Edward D. Wood Jr didn’t seem to care about the quality of his films as long as he gets to make them. It’s almost as if his only target audience was he himself. It’s obvious that any Tom, Dick and Harry would do a better job directing than this guy; even his support crew had better sense of directing than him. But what made him stand out was his passion, his unquenching desire for making movies however bad they may be and his optimism. I don’t think there will be many people saying “Well, My next one will be better” to a big studio executive when he tells you that your film was the worst movie he ever saw. Not that he never had his moments of doubts; on couple of occasions he does wonder what if he never can make it big?, what if this is the best he can do? But surprisingly none of it derailed him. Maybe ‘that’ is real passion.

Burton does a lot of things right in Ed Wood. First and probably the most important is making it such a personal film. Second, he shoots it in glorious black and white. What it does personally is it makes me instantly fall in love with its look. However more importantly, since it is suppose to take place in 50s and Ed Wood made his films in black and white, it takes it closer to their base material. I am not sure if color would have added anything to this film. Thirdly, his casting is just perfect! Today, Johnny Depp in Tim Burton film is a default choice but in ’94, it was just second collaboration and there was no Helena Bonham Carter yet. But everyone down to minor supporting roles in this film is so well casted and in return they repay their director with such amazing performances that that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in those roles.

Obviously, two main points of focus in acting department will have to be Johnny Depp in the titular role and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. It is a very typical role for Depp now but there is much more to his role than it is visible just on surface and he brings out those nuances beautifully. Credit for making Ed Wood such a personal story and likable character despite all his quirks and stupidities goes to Depp’s acting as much as it is to Burton’s direction. But the real star here is Martin Landau. Admittedly, I haven’t seen him in a whole lot of films but the two I remember him for are probably his biggest achievements and both are quite monumental – this one and Crimes and Misdemeanours(1989). Landau is so amazing as Bela Lugosi that anyone can be easily fooled to believe that it was actually Lugosi himself playing his own role. He is so convincing that it is almost creepy. I was always sort of disappointed by Samuel Jackson not winning an Oscar for his supporting role in Pulp Fiction(1994) but after seeing this, I can take comfort in a fact that he at least lost to another equally deserving performance. Any actor that can produce a look on his face such as look on Landau’s face in rehab while paparazzi are taking his pictures and utter desperation in his voice when he says “Let them” deserves every accolade he gets.

Ed Wood made bad films and he was extremely proud of it. I had not seen any of his films before but I understand that the way Burton filmed them in this movie is almost exactly same as they are in real films. And each and every one of them looks terrible but I was drawn to it like a train wreck. I simply could not believe someone would make movies like that. So I checked out Plan 9 from Outer Space(1959) just out of morbid curiosity and it’s an absolute sight to behold. I have seen a lot of bad films (and I am not sure how to term one film worst film made ever) but this one is so bad, it’s not just good, it’s legendary. I pulled out almost half my hair. I am not sure what I would’ve thought of Ed Wood if I had seen it before watching it. Now that I am watching it afterwards, I am almost more appreciative of Plan 9. I think that is indicative of Tim Burton being successful in achieving everything he would have wanted to by this film. I am glad I started this year’s series with such a personal film.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

And the Nominees are... 2014 Oscar Nominations.

So if some of you are living somewhere under the rock and still don’t know about it, Oscar nominations for this year were announced yesterday night. I have done similar posts for Oscar nominations for the past two years but this was the first time when I got to sit myself comfortably on the couch and watch them on my TV at normal human timings. Being in India has it perks, after all! I have mostly been absent from awards talk this season since I literally had not seen anything. But interesting thing is I have seen more movies nominated yesterday in last 16 days than the rest of awards season put together. So, that I am sort of up to the speed now, here is what I think of the nominations announced yesterday. As usual, I am not commenting on anything besides top 8(acting, directing, film and writing) and foreign film because, well because, I don’t know shit about them.

Best Picture:
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
So there will be 9 variable nominees every year. Right, Academy? Did I do the math right or am I missing something? No real surprises here but it officially makes Philomena and Nebraska two films at the top of my 2013 watch list. If I can catch them before ceremony, this will be the second year in row I would have seen all the nominees before Oscars. And I wasn’t lying about having seen more nominated films this year than the rest of year. Just in this category, there are 5 I have seen in last two weeks as opposed to 2 I had seen in 2013.

Best Director:
Steve McQueen for 12 years a Slave
David O. Russell for American Hustle
Alphonso Cuaron for Gravity
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
I haven’t yet seen Nebraska and going by Payne’s track record, I might easily love that film. But I am still sort of surprised to see Greengrass missing the cut. I won’t call it a snub just yet but that was unexpected. And this is really only one for Nebraska that wasn’t expected but with it, it suddenly seems very well represented. Great to see Scorsese being there!

Best Actor in Lead Role:
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street
Christian Bale for American Hustle
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave
Bruce Dern for Nebraska
You have no idea how much it hurt to take out Hanks' name out of this list. How can he not get nominated? As good as everyone in this category is, this category is just not complete without him. That has to be the biggest shock of this year. Great to see DiCaprio getting the nom. I Know lot of people must be very relieved to finally have him nominated.

Best Actress in Lead Role:
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench for Philomena
Sandra Bullock for Gravity
Amy Adams for American Hustle
Meryl Streep for August: Osage County
So while most of the rest of the world had their hands crossed for DiCaprio, I was anxious for Amy Adams. I really wanted her to be nominated and I am not even sure why? I mean, how is 5 time Oscar nominee any different than 4 time nominee? But still, I am so glad for her first leading nomination; did not expect Emma Thompson to make way for her though.

Best Actor in Supporting Role:
Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street
Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave
Bradley Cooper for American Hustle
Remember 2012, Guys? When “Jonah Hill, an Oscar nominee” was the biggest punch line of that year’s nominations? I know I am going to go a special version of hell just for reminding this but whatever happened to it? I am not his fan in general but I think he did a great job in both films he has been nominated for. Fassbender finally got nominated. How about that? And Barkhad Abdi – He is the Captain now!

Best Actress in Supporting Role:
Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine
Junn Squibb for Nebraska
Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle
Julia Roberts for August: Osage County
So next time a movie gets nominated for all the acting awards, I would be saying “meh, even Hustle did it”. Way to ruin something spectacular, Academy! I don’t hate that film(but I don’t like it either) but if Adams can’t win for it, no one else should! I am cursing them to lose in all four acting categories. And I will be really pissed if Lawrence wins here for the team, which looking at the nominations has a realistic chance.

Best Original Screenplay:
Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine
Bob Nelson for Nebraska
Spike Jonze for Her
David O. Russell and Eric Singer for American Hustle
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallace for Dallas Buyers Club
Again, I don’t hate American Hustle but all these nominations are making me do it! Worst is this one, even though it was completely expected. Screenplay was easily the worst thing about this movie that all the actors kept afloat. And didn’t O. Russell say something like “I don’t care about the fucking plot. I care about characters”? How do you get best original screenplay out of something that doesn’t care about the plot?

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Julie Depy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater for Before Midnight
Billy Ray for Captain Phillips
Terence Winter for The Wolf of Wall Street
John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for Philomena
This is probably one and only category in this year’s nominations that has no surprises but still gets everything right. 4 phenomenal screenplays that deserve every mention they get capped with one that I haven’t seen yet.

Best Foreign Film:
The Broken Circle Breakdown(Belgium)
The Missing Picture(Cambodia)
The Hunt(Denmark)
The Great Beauty(Italy)
Tell me why The Past didn’t make the cut again? I have only seen two here but if The Past would have been here, 3 of top 5 movies of the year so far would have been nominated in this category. Imagine that! And I am glad The Grandmasters didn’t make the cut since then bottom 10 movies of the year would have also had the representation here.

So what did you think of these nominations?  

Monday, January 13, 2014

10 movies I am looking forward to in 2014

2014 is off and kicking now and even though I still have a lot of back log to clear, which I intend to spend most of January and February on, it is time to look forward to what 2014 might have in store for us in terms of cinema. I was planning on posting this earlier last week but I was under the weather almost whole last week. Now that I am back to the normal world once again and people are still in Golden Globe mode, lets get this ball quickly rolling.

Magic in the Moonlight: I am sure everyone is saying only one thing about this movie - looking at Woody Allen's recent track record, this is going to be a dud. I even agree with it but you can always hope, right? ore for the sake of Emma Stone than Allen really. Not that she needs a hit desperately but she is someone I think has a good sense of both comedy and drama. So she should work. 

Veronica Mars: Everyone remembers the legendary kickstarter project that, well, kick-started this production, right? I have seen every episode of this series and I liked snappy, intelligent,  wise-cracking detective of Kristen Bell. But I had my doubts about the whole thing from start, especially regarding how are they going to cope for all the years that passed. The trailer that just dropped took care of that. So, yeah, I look forward to meeting Veronica again.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: If there is any other director with more distinct style than Wes Anderson, I do not know about it. In truth, he is not even close to being one of favourite directors and he probably never will be and his style doesn't always work for me. But look how pretty! I wish I could offer you more substantial argument in it's defense but that's all I got. I want to see it because his films look pretty. I can do that, right?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Because first one was so awesome. They have made a few changes but I think Matt Reeves doesn't look like a bad option to help this project and Gary Oldman is always a welcome addition. No James Franco though. We will just have to assume he didn't survive that plague I guess.

Into the Woods: Initially I wasn't stoked for it or anything but as I found out more and more, it got me interested. First it is to have Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt in it, secondly they'll be singing. Third was that crazy picture of Streep as witch. Last straw was when I went to the IMDb page and saw Anna Kendrick among the cast. Yup, her singing sold this movie to me. I know this could very well be disaster but I am willing to give it a chance for her .

Transcendence: I know it is directed by Wally Pfiser. I know it has amazing cast of Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Cilian Murphy, Paul Bettany and Kate Mara. I know the trailer looks good and definitely has me interested in what it brings to the table. But to tell you the truth, what I really want to see this film for is to see Johnny Depp playing a regular guy. I mean, I've almost forgotten that he is a normal human.

Gone Girl: Next four films on this list are there for one and only one reason - the Directors. Everything else is secondary. I have seen every film all these directors have directed so far and I have no intention of breaking that streak. I am not over the moon for it's casting but it has David Fincher who certainly knows what he is doing and an interesting storyline to look forward to. And it has New Batman!!(I probably shouldn't have mentioned that. Sorry!)

Noah: Reason here is Darren Arofonsky. Once again, it has an amazing ensemble capable of taking any story to another level. Arofonsky has the capability to handle the scale of this project and from the first looks of it, it certainly looks like something worth waiting for. And it has Jennifer Connelly in it. It feels like she fell off the grid after... Blood Diamond(2006)? So it's nice to see her getting back into the game.

Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson! I really won't need to know anything more but I have been doing some reading and this story looks really interesting. Obviously, knowing PTA, he will write his own screenplay which gets me even more excited to see how he puts it on paper. The whole setting of 1970s, California, Drugs, none of it is new to him but makes for prospects of interesting film I will be waiting eagerly for this year.

Interstellar: It's "Directed by Christopher Nolan" right? Whatever else would you need?

Of the 10 movies I chose last year, I have only seen two so far. One of which is in my top 5 while other one might end in bottom 5. 2 more have been shifted to 2014 and I could have chosen them again for this list but what's the point, right? 4 are generating major awards buzz and I intend to watch one of them tomorrow. I have no idea what happened to the rest 2. So did I choose wisely? Only time can tell.

What are you looking forward to in 2014 people?  
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