Monday, March 31, 2014

Wrapping it Up: March

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. I spent most of March trying to wrap 2013. It involved multiple lists like my Favourite Performances - Male and Female and most importantly, Favourite Films of 2013. Take a look, if you haven't already and then we can head on to month at hand.


Inception(2010)(Re-watch): So I was watching Bull Durham the other day(more about it little down the line) and in it there is a scene where Tim Robbins tells Susan Sarandon to open the door, that he knows she is in there as he can hear 'that weird Mexican lady' singing. And she is listening to is 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'. Generally I wouldn't know shit about stuff like this but in this case, I instantly went "That's Edith Piaf and she is French! Everyone knows that!" That's enough of a reason to watch your all-time favourite, right?

The Social Network(2010)(Re-watch): Another personal favourite I had not watched in over a year, almost two. I was almost beginning to forget lot of its dialogues. After Inception, I had to watch this as well. There are handful of others that contribute as well but these two films are principal reason that I think you can make a strong case for 2010 being one of the best years of decade so far for cinema. It is certainly not better than 2007 but it can certainly be close behind. 

Diabolique(1955): Blind Spot of this month which turned out to be one of the Best films I have seen for this series so far and I have seen a few notable films. Best thing about this film was the way Clouzot keeps on building the tension till the end. Come to think of it, the way this film ends should not be as surprising as it was. There are only a couple of ways it could and it does go that way. But there is something going on constantly that is so interesting that it never gives you time to stop and think about it. And then ending drops!   

30 For 30: Survive and Advance(2013): ESPN probably should stop calling it 30 for 30 because I am pretty sure I have seen about 35 of them by now. I am not complaining because they always fascinate me but it's rather odd that there are 35+ 30 for 30 docs, right? Like all other documentaries, Survive and Advance is an incredible story of one team achieving the impossible. As fascinating as they are, I only fear falling down this pit again, watching as many as I can on binge. I saw a dozen first time I did that.

M(1931): Did anyone else confuse it with Touch of Evil(1958) or was it just me? I don't know why, mostly because I saw Peter Lorre in the poster looking behind and thought he was Orsen Welles. To make matters a little more confusing, M had the dubious honour of being the highest ranked film on IMDb Top 250 I had not seen. Now baton has been passed to Touch of Evil. It is probably to be expected of a 1931 film but it was little jarring technically but I love how well it captures mentality of the whole society and how little hasn't it changed over the years.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939): I feel like I have watched what could be, or rather should be, Aaron Sorkin's favourite film. This sort of overly idealistic political world we see in his series is probably something we all would love to live in but know for certain will not be possible in million years. I know something like The West Wing(1999) is just a right wing patriot's political fantasy and I still like it. Mr. Smith also treads on similar waters and I like it too but mainly because Claude Rains, Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart's usual earnestness.

In a Better World(2010): With Marty this month, now I have seen 69 Best Picture winners. You know how many Best Foreign Film winners I have seen? 23. Including this. I am going to go after remaining Best Picture winners for now but after that, I will have another goal. As for the film, all I knew about it was it beat Incendies(2010), my favourite film of 2010, for that Oscar. Did I think it was better than Incendies? No way! But I can't hold that against it either as it was quite good. Depressing as hell but good film.

Laura(1944): Probably not one of the most well-known noirs but I certainly had heard a lot about this film before. Almost halfway into the film and I wasn't really feeling it but then it put a spin on it. And even though I saw the end coming before, it only got better from there. It is probably one of the early noirs where not all the tropes were stone etched but I like the way it plays with genre itself. You get murder, shady characters, low key lighting but key ingredient is femme fatale and Laura isn't your typical femme fatale, is she?

The Wild Bunch(1969): So after Marty, I had an impromptu Ernest Borgnine double feature one day with this one. Though it isn't as much Borgnine vehicle as Marty is, watching him play these two so different roles in a day was so worth it. It's a typical Western! Everything and anything you think of when someone says the word 'Western', you will find it here. But it's one of those who just get it right. It's long, it's slow, it's stylish and it's beautiful, intriguing and interesting. Plus, any movie that can pull off that ending wins in my book!

Lust, Caution(2007): What I am going to say next is going to sound stupid but I am going to say it anyways. I know Ang Lee is Chinese, Taiwanese to be more precise, and this is not his first Chinese production I saw but I am always surprised to see how authentically Chinese movies are. Ideally I should be surprised at how authentically American his films appear but since that is how I was introduced to him as a director, it doesn't. Lust, Caution has good story, great leads but what I was more impressed with is everything that gives it authentic Chinese feel.

Bull Durham(1988): I don't like Baseball. I now basics of it but it gets boring to sit and watch. I always thought that would be a problem when I'd watch baseball movies. Surprisingly, I have seen quite a few and have enjoyed them to varying degrees. This would probably count as one of the bests. They rarely make us sit through 9 innings of game, up and down and human stories of it is what attracts us viewers more anyway. Better those human stories are, better the film. And it also helps when actors bring their A-Game like Susan Sanrandon does here. She was on Fire!

To Die For(1995): I did not know much about this film apart from Nicole Kidman is in it and for whom I have heard a lot of praises. She certainly was every bit worth it but to me, Gus Van Sant was as much hero of this film for me as Kidman was. Off course, it's Kidman's show and she never drops the ball for even a second but Van Sant's presentation of this film - everyone is talking straight to us as if they are being interviewed by someone - was certainly intriguing and made it a further more interesting.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade(1989): Funny thing about it is I had two almost polorising experiences watching this film. Initially, I was taking it too seriously. It involved a lot of rolling my eyes and shaking my head. But just about when Sean Connery enters, I realized film itself isn't. Why should I? It almost instantly became better. It was a fun, action film and when I looked at it as just that, I really enjoyed it. I might even go back to Raiders and watch it again because, wait for it..., I didn't really care for it the first time. Now that I know how to enjoy them, I just might like it better.

Notes on a Scandal(2006): A forewarning, this will venture into spoilers territories. I am not sure why but I was sort of underwhelmed by this film. If it wasn't for Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, who BTW looks radiant in this film, I probably would have liked it much less. I guess, I was irked by the dynamics of story - Blanchett, cheating on her husband with her student, a 15 year old boy, and Dench, constantly seeking companionship of a woman much younger than her. And I never got over it.

Julia(1977): There were many female-oriented films I saw this month. Julia was one I saw on Women's Day and I wish I had more positive things to say about it but I don't. I didn't 'not' like it but it was told in such a way that I never really found it interesting. Actual story certainly was; storytelling of it wasn't. Even contrast between Jane Fonda's character and Redgrave's, something Zinnemann must be going for, came off as little off putting. I guess he was going for bleak since original story is so grim but it came to me as little too cold.

Marty(1955): As I said earlier, this is my 69th Best Picture Winner. As a film, it was very charming and easy-going film and Ernest Borgnine was really good in his simple, straight forward everyday man role. As a Best Picture winner, it feels too lightweight, like The Artist(2011). There is no such rule that it has to be heavy, meaningful film to be the best of the year but it is hard to imagine that there was no other film that would represent 1955 better than Marty. Another one that suffers just being an Oscar winner, I guess!

The Mist(2007): This one goes into 'The shit you see on TV' category though it wasn't all that shitty for a couple of reasons. Probably the most important reason was Marcia Gay Harden. She played a character I absolutely loathed and I love that she played it so beautifully to get that reaction out of me. Second is its ending. I knew where it was going but I still like the way it took to get there. It is not some sort of ground breaking, trend setting horror film or anything but it certainly is a generic but above par thriller.

Noah(2014): The month I close books on 2013, I open new log for 2014 with Noah. My first 2014 released film. I know we are already three month into the year but, hey, we are still getting the Oscar releases here. I am actually not sure what do I think about this as a whole. There are parts of it I liked but there are parts, as good as they were, which I felt were completely unnecessary. Aronofsky's films usually are cold and brutal but they usually leave us with some strong emotion. Noah didn't.

Total Count: 18. 16 First Time Watches and 2 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 53. 48 First Time Watches and 5 Re-watches.

It is certainly not the most productive month I have had, only 18 films. But I think it could be my best month in terms of quality of films I have seen. I usually have most number of films in 3 and 3 and 1/2 bucket. This month it's predominantly 3 and 1/2; almost 50% movies have come from that. And there are couple of movies each in 4 stars and even 4 and 1/2 stars range which is becoming more and more rare. And even those with 3 stars aren't much inferior at all. I feel like saying something like Tarantino. If The Mist is the worst film I have seen all month, I think I will take that month over any other.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Blind Spot: Diabolique

When I selected my movies for this year’s Blind Spot back in December, one movie I got most enthusiastic response about was Diabolique(1955). Even though I was anticipating this one as well; enough to put it on this year's list, I have a small history with this film. I knew next to nothing about it up until last year and for some reason, I always thought of this as some sort of horror film; probably because that title gave me such vibes. I don't remember exactly where but I had it in one of my queues somewhere. Though I have always tried to get more acquainted with it, I am not the biggest fan of horror movies. So I took it off that list without having seen it. I have been regretting that decision for last year, even more so today after having seen it now.

This film comes with a disclaimer at the end - "Don't be Devils. Don't ruin the interest you friend could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank You for them!" Now that could be a terrible translation but you get the idea, right? And considering how little I knew about this film a year ago, there could easily be many more like me. So, I intend to take this seriously even though it is now almost 60 year old film. I will try to give away as little as possible but if you haven't seen this film and intend to keep yourself in blind, turn away now and find yourself a copy of this film. Let me assure you, you are missing something worthy!

Michel Delassalle runs a boarding school where he works as a headmaster along with 4 other teachers including his wife and former mistress that everyone knows about; even his wife. But more surprising thing is, they are actually very good friends. Probably because they both have been manhandled by brutish Monsieur Delassalle, in case of his wife - she still is. Delassalle is not just a strict headmaster, he is an outright cruel person. And not just to the students in his school, to his fellow teachers which as I just mentioned include his former estranged lover and especially to his wife, who in reality is providing all the dough to run that place. He himself wouldn't get paid if it wasn't for his wife's money. That doesn't deter him much though as he knows his wife too well. She is submissive, demure and religious; death sentence of a combination for her, blank check for him.

A day before one of the weekends when school is going to be closed for few days due to holidays, Nicole, Delassalle's mistress, plants an idea into Christina's, Delassalle's wife, mind. She intends to get rid of him for their own good. This is only a final resort but by then we have seen enough evidence that this person deserves it more than anyone else. And it will only be poetic justice if it comes at hand of two women he has treated worst. Christina, being what she is, wrestles with that idea. As terrible a person her husband is, because of the kind of upbringing she has had, initially she can not even think of something like this, let alone actually cary it out. But every time she decides to turn away from this, as if on queue, her husband does something to push her towards it; like humiliating her on dinner table in front of everyone. That turns out to be a final straw as Christine leaves with Nicole next morning to her house where they plan their perfect murder and even execute it to almost perfection. But, as you would expect, something goes wrong at the last step and they spend rest of the film cleaning their trail.

As I promised above, I won't give away any more details than this. I have given you about 45 minutes worth content and as intriguing as they may sound, all they actually do is set us up for thrilling 80 minutes that follow. It takes its time to set everything up but that doesn't mean it gets boring, not even for a second. And what follows for rest of it more than makes up for it anyways. Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret, in their contrasting characters of Christina and Nicole respectively make sure of it. Differences in their personality is what makes dynamics of this partnership even more crooked than it already is based on their relation to Delassalle. Christina seems utterly terrified of her husband and that makes her fickle at every stage of their plan. Nicole, though regularly overpowered by Delassalle; when we see her first, she is wearing sunglasses to hide her black eye given by Michel the night earlier, is much more composed, stern. She has thought out every little detail of their plan earlier and once it's is set in motion, she doesn't even flinch an eye. But when walls start to close up on them, Christina is the one that can handle that pressure more capably than Nicole.

In many ways, it reminded me of another film that has lot of similarities(slow start, elaborate setup of story, building tension, role reversals and those last couple of minutes) and even has similar look and feel to it, The Wages of Fear(1953). Though there are few traditional twists, unlike most other thrillers, there aren't couple of key scenes that drive whole film. On the other hand, its biggest asset is the way it keeps on building tension in every scene. It utilizes every scene it has at its disposal to add on to tension until everything changes in last couple of minutes. This connection I made was completely unprovoked. Imagine my surprise when I realized Clouzot actually directed both.

This is my second year of doing Blind Spots and 15th entry into the series. During its run last year, I have seen likes of Tokyo Story(1953) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948) which I am quite sure will make their way into my top 100 when I decide to update that list. I would probably be able to say this with much more conviction after little more time has passed but even after watching such revered movies, Diabolique can go down as not only 'one of the best' but probably even 'the' best. I only wish it was as much respected or well-known as the other two. I don't even know how many years will it take - maybe 15 to 20 years, depending on the judge!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

End of 2013: 15 Favourite films of the Year

I know it is too late but I am back with my final list for 2013 and it is big one - Favourite films of the year. I won’t do any honourable mentions here but if you are interested, here is a list of all the films from 2013 I saw ranked. Not much to add, let's get to movies!

15. Blancanieves: You can guess that I love Black and White films because there are going to be three on this list. But I don't think anybody, including me, would've guessed that I would have a black and white silent film putting its own spin on Snow white fairy tale, set in 1920's Spain that revolves around female bullfighter. Especially when I saw it on those small, crappy screens on flights. But it did!

14. Her: I had my doubts on whether Her would work based on its premise. But I was so engrossed in this film that for whole length of movie, I didn't even think about it once. It would have been ranked higher if I can figure out what exactly I thought of its ending but it wins on so many other levels to leave it out of this list completely - beautiful story, Phoenix's unexpected and charming portrayal, Adams, Johansson's voice work, just to name a few.

13. Frances Ha: I have said this before that this film came as a genuine pleasant surprise for me. Based on whatever little history I have with both Gerwig and Baumbach, I was fully prepared to be annoyed, irritated by it but it was lovely, heartfelt. Frances does a lot of crazy things in film but she was just charming or self deprecating enough for me to never feel like going off the rails, even when she goes to Paris for couple of days on whim.

12. 12 Years a Slave: Even since I've seen this, I've been trying to figure out how I really feel about it. If I am being very honest, as much as I liked it, it didn't hit me that hard like it did many others and I frankly think that's because I've never been there. But then I think of something like Mother India(1957), which is a kind of movie that is hard to sell to anyone if you don't get it and that makes me respect it more because I like Mother India(1957). I guess all I am saying is I may not love it but I really respect it for what it is.

11. Blue is the Warmest Colour: Blue has been in news since winning its Palme d'Or for various reasons. I am not really interested in how many of those things were true and how many were not but one thing is for sure - it is a damn fine film spearheaded by two amazing performances, especially by Adele Exarcholpoulis. It's incredible how natural she is in this role and actually it's not just her. Everything about this film falls exactly in place.

10. Captain Phillips: I have not seen a whole lot of Greengrass' work but he seems to know how to hold viewer's attention very well. He puts us right in the middle of things with the opening scene of film itself and it only builds from there till that final scene where Tom Hanks just kills it. This film is greatly assisted by two phenomenal performances that certainly elevate it to another level but Greengrass' stern direction also deserves credit for keeping tight control of this ship. It was always clear that he was the real captain of this ship.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street: I have said this before and I will say this again - if you think this films is trying to glorify Jordan Belford, his lifestyle or his unscrupulous ways, it is you who needs to check your own moralities than anyone else. Scorsese made this film as a passive observer and left it to us to make whatever we want to from it. Personally, it never felt like him glorifying Belford's hedonistic lifestyle because I was repulsed by its overabundance. If you feel attracted to them, who is to blame? Think again! 

8. Nebraska: Highest ranked film of the 9 Best Picture nominated films this year and last of the three B&W film on my list. Payne did not write this movie for a change but he is master of taking flawed, sometimes pathetic, sometimes irritable, unlikable characters and redeem them by the end by giving them real pathos. Woody Grant is perfect example of such a character and Nebraska is perfect example of how he makes them work. I know it never had any chance but if I had a ballot, this would be my choice.

7. Mud: I saw Mud on my way back from US to India. 30,000 feet above ground, pressure controlled cabin and small screens with no idea of what quality of print you get is certainly not the most conducive environment for movie watching, especially for someone like me who often gets airsick and to make matters worse I was flying 14 hours straight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. I guess it speaks highly of this films quality that it not only has stuck with me for past 7 months, it remained in my top 5 till start of February.

6. Before Midnight: Even though I had my doubts about this film, as I have for any sequel and even more if it is of a film I like, it was also one of my most anticipated movies of this year. This third installment also has everything that makes first two so great - long cuts, great conversations, beautiful locations and yet, like first two films, it ventures into places not many movies have before. As unromantic as it might be, it gives us what I think is most realistic stage in the relationship of Jessie and Celine and I love that they went there. And any scene that has anything like that dining table conversation scene is a win in my books. 

5: The Broken Circle Breakdown: Last two years I've been doing these lists, I've always had a foreign film topping them. If you scroll down a little, you will see that streak continuing but it's not just that. This year, none of my top 5 films is an English feature film. That in no way is a knock against mainstream Hollywood cinema; I've never had 3 BP nominees in my top 10 either so 2013 was a great year for them as well. But I think that makes this feat even more remarkable. As for the film, even though it has 'Breakdown' in the title, I never expected it to go as far as it did and it blew me away when it did.

4. The Lunchbox: I don't know what will it take for them to do it or if they ever will do it but I really wish Bollywood made more movies like this. It will probably take another Cate Blanchett to tell them - "The Earth is round, people!". As much as I like what makes it so different from everyone else and I am usually a proponent of most of it, it wouldn't harm them to start putting out more meaningful films that don't revolve around a love story. It is a very simple but elegant story told in a very straight forward but effective way. And it gets elevated to whole another level by extremely natural and charming performances by all three of its main characters.

3. Stories We Tell: I have loved Polley since I saw her first in The Sweet Hereafter(1997) and have always been interested in what she does. But I never expected anyone, even as talented as her, would do something like this. It has been months since I have seen this documentary but I still can not believe what Polley did with this documentary. Not only did she bring something buried deep into the family closet, she handles it with great poise. I am still in awe of frankness she brings into this and maturity with which she handles this whole thing looking at it from every possible angle and giving a voice to anyone and everyone related to that event. 

2. The Hunt: Obviously I loved this film, it would not have been at no.2 otherwise but what's more impressive for me is, even though this movie infuriated me like anything else, it doesn't incriminate anyone. Everyone is to be blamed and at the same time no one can be. You can't blame little girl, she doesn't know consequences of her action. You can't really blame her parents, teachers or even others in town because, frankly, I am not sure if I would've behaved any differently if put into anyone's shoes. And even then we feel so sorry that Lucas has to go through such an ordeal for no mistake of his own.

1. The Past: As I noted before, streak that started with Incendies(2011) and continued with Amour(2012) last year has continued this year with The Past. They are all foreign, they are all tragedies and they are all hard to watch and maybe even like but I not only like them; I love them. I have never seen either Incendies or Amour again after seeing them once and I have no intention of doing that anytime soon but they have firmly secured their place in my top 100 and it will be a while before they will be displaced, if at all they will be.

Farhadi seems to revel in bringing out dynamics of people going through divorce. He did that beautifully in A Separation(2011)(which, BTW, has become my second favourite movie of that year behind Incendies), he does that equally potently here though there is whole different dynamic of their kids here. But what made The Past special for me was the way everything just gets worse and worse as we get deeper into the story. And like The Hunt, I have no idea whom to blame. Maybe everyone or maybe no one!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

End of 2013: Favourite Performances of 2013 - Men will Follow!

I feel like this was a better year for actors than actresses. I had more choices for female roles but there were few that I felt I had to have on my list. With this list, I had fewer choices but I had much tougher time bringing down the list to 10. There are few in my honourable mentions that at any other day, I could easily swap with those in my list. But that's the bittersweet challenge of making such lists, I guess. So here are 10 that I finally settled on. 

But first, Honourable Mentions: James Gandolfini for Enough Said, Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave and Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox.

Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips: Even though Hanks has been around for more than three decades now, this role was reminiscence of old Hanks that all of loved, admired and revered but was missing somewhere for quite a while. This role required him to bounce back to his A-game and boy, did he rise up to the occasion? He is excellent from the word go here but, I said this after watching this movie for the first time and I still stick to it, any actor who can do even 10% of acting he does in last 10 minutes of Captain Phillips deserves every accolade he can get. Him not even getting nominated is easily the biggest oversight of this year's Oscars.

Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street: A LOT has been said about DiCaprio and this role and I am sure lot will be said about him in future. You may like this film or you may not; you may think his performance is one of his best ever or you may think of him as just too over the top but you can not deny the fact that, for better or for worse, The Wolf of Wall Street will remain in public discussion and in public conscience more than any other film of 2013. And as much as Martin Scorsese is responsible for that, DiCaprio’s fearless, shameless, and completely out there performance is equally responsible.

Mads Mikkelsen for The Hunt: One of the reasons I don't rank these performances is I seriously do not want to choose between Hanks and Mikkelsen as my favourite of the year. Mads Mikkelsen is one of the actors who has made quite a name of himself in the past few years. His Lucas is confused, he is angry but more than anything else, he is dejected that his childhood friends actually believe rumors to be true. Throughout this performance Mikkelsen wonderfully underplays him to show all these emotions but it also gives you such a contrast when he finally bursts. Just watching his face in any of these moments is witnessing a phenomenal performance.

Daniel Bruhl for Rush: Rush won't go down as one of my favourites of the year is one but I really liked it and I think those who didn’t went in with wrong expectations. They wanted another Senna and what they got was Hollywood version of it. It is certainly not as good as latter but I never thought it was aspiring to be. It was being a pure racing film and it succeeds in being quite a good one. What I am absolutely certain about is Bruhl being best part of it. His intense, no-nonsense portrayal of Nicki Lauda elevated whole film to another level and as movie goes through ups and downs of Lauda’s personal and professional career, he doesn't miss a beat.

Tye Sheridan for Mud: If I have to choose, this guy will have to be my 'find of the year'. I haven't seen him in anything else before or since Mud but if his work in it is any indication, he deserves great things to come his way in future. His character initially is someone who almost blindly believes in true love, in finding someone that is made for you. But then he witnesses dire consequences of being at the wrong end of such relationships and not on just one or two but on three different occasions. Each encounter changes him forever for better or for worse and he portrays everything about this journey in glorious yet heartbreaking fashion.

Matthew McConaughey for Mud/Dallas Buyers Club: Everyone knows that we are in the middle of McConaissance. This guy has been churning out one amazing performance after another for past few years and he even got his official seal with this year’s Oscar. To tell you the truth, as much as I like him in Dallas Buyers Club and I certainly do like him in it, I think he was better in Mud. And I still want to recognize both films here because I think his Oscar was for his phenomenal run in the past few years and I want to recognize that as well. As good as he is in either of these two films, or even in True Detective for that matter, his 'McConaissance' as we have been calling it is far more impressive and worthy than any singular performance.

Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips: With his fairytale type story, this man has already become a legend in his first ever screen appearance. Like Adele in my previous list, there are moments of this performance that seem like he is not acting at all, just being himself but as you see more of him, you realize he is being so much more. There is a moment in the film where he realizes that he has crossed a point of no return and there is a combination of viciousness, vulnerability, determination, fear on his face that I am not sure even many seasoned actors will be able to produce to such perfection. I just hope he doesn't become a one-time wonder. This guy seems to have a great potential and it will be damn shame to let it go wasted.

Bruce Dern for Nebraska: Unless you count Django Unchained(2012), I have never seen a film with Bruce Dern in it until this one. Woody Grant is a old man who as far as we can tell hasn't been a best of father or husband and he is not really sorry for that either. He has certain type on entitlement - he has served his country, paid his taxes, so he has right to live his life the way he wants. Based on just this, it is vet easy to dismiss him as a 'bitter old guy'. Even though he is a son-of-a-bitch, like any typical Payne character, there is a pathos to him and that is his redeeming quality. What Dern does best is conveying all this mostly through his body language and face. He doesn't really need words all that much.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui for The Lunchbox/Bombay Talkies: Remember that obligatory Bollywood spot I was talking about earlier? Yup. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been a revelation these past few years. The way he is churning out one great performance after another has certainly made him one of the most saught after artists in Bollywood. This year was no exception with him being part of two amazing movies as well. His story in Bombay Talkies was best of four short stories in film by sizable margin and he was best thing about it. In The Lunchbox, he is surrounded by other equally great performances but he certainly stands his own ground.

Joaquin Phoenix for Her: What makes me appreciate him more is this is not a kind of role I would imagine Phoenix in easily. I like it when an actor surprises you like that. Spike Jonze got lot of acclaim for his futuristic love story. All of it was certainly deserved but Joanquin Phoenix also deserves a lot of credit for making thing work. Phoenix portrays a loner we meet first to perfection. It is easy to believe that while he is not a bad person why his wife would want to be away from him. But more impressive is his charming performance when he starts falling for his OS, Samantha. Charming! Imagine Freddie Quell being charming!

And next one will be the big one - my favourite films! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

End of 2013: Favourite Performances of 2013 - Ladies First!

I feel like I always say this at the end of the year but 2013 was a great year for films. Even though it took me two more months to catch up with it, with 70 films watched and Oscars done, I am finally going to call it done! Like last year, that comes up with End of the year lists but unlike last year, I am going to do them in reverse order starting with this list of my favourite female performances of last year. Probably not as rich as last year but this year offered many good ones to us to choose from. Theses are 10 that I liked the most, that I noticed more and have stuck with me more.

First, Honourable mentions: Amy Adams for American Hustle, Amy Acker for Much Ado about Nothing, June Squibb for Nebraska and special mention for Deshpande Aunty in The Lunchbox who we don't even see but she is such a quintessential character in our society that I loved her presence.

Berenice Bejo for The Past: I will have much more to say on this film a bit later but this films works as much as it does for me because of host of amazing performances from everyone involved. Reason Bejo stands out for me is because her character is at the center of everything. She is the reason previous wife of the guy she wants to marry is in the hospital which is why her teenager daughter and his son throw fits at her. You see that burden weighing on her in every scene, you see that guilt in her eyes all the time and that makes this film so much better(or worse!).

Adele Exarchopoulos for Blue is the Warmest Colour: I saw Blue much later than many of my peers. By then, there were many singing praises of her acting but my first impression wasn't in line with them. To me, her performance felt like no performance at all. Then, I always felt like she is just being there and people feel she is so natural. When I finally saw it, I realized she does so much more than just being there. And her being so natural in those moments is probably her biggest strength, especially when cameramen is so close to you all the time that you could slap him hard on the face and he won't be able to do anything.

Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha: The fact that not only I actually really liked this movie but how much I adored Gerwig's performance in it has got to be the biggest surprise for me this year. Frances is a small kid in grown-ups body. She is oblivious to any social norms or responsibilities any person her age is usually bogged down under. Just this one thing could easily have made Frances an obnoxious, insufferable brat who thinks she is too good for all this nonsense. But Gerwig does an excellent job of making her endearing, personable and even relatable despite all her flaws. To me, she is leaving that life which most of us really want to but can't.

Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine: I think Natalie Portman must be the last actress to dominate awards season the way Blanchett did this season. She must have won every single award that is humanely possible for an actress to win for this role and all for a very good reason. Blanchett is one of those actresses who has always been good in any role she is given but she is absolutely on fire in every scene of Blue Jasmine. Not only her character has similarities to Blanche DuBois, she manages to stand toe-to-toe with one of the best performances of all time.

Veerle Baetens for The Broken Circle Breakdown: Even though there is word breakdown in title of this film, I am not sure I was ready for what I saw. Both lead characters of this film go through a lot but it's Baeten's Elise that goes through biggest transformation starting from a firecracker of tattoo artists to someone who is devoid of any hope or desires. I certainly did not expect it to go where it did till last minute but, as surprising as it was, it was her performance that took me there. It was first time I ever saw her and don't even know how to pronounce her name but she certainly has my attention now.

Julia Roberts for August: Osage County: August: Osage County is one of the films I liked way more than I expected to this year and majority of its credit goes to its script and performances. If it wasn't so hateful that all I wanted was to run as far away from it as possible, it might have made into my favourite films of this year. There is a whole bunch of performances I could have picked from this film including Meryl Streep and I really like Julianne Nicholson as well. Some of them might even be better than Roberts, but the only reason I am picking her over everyone else here is because I have never seen Julia Roberts in a performance like this before.

Nirmat Kaur for The Lunchbox: Whenever I make any kind of 'Best of' lists, I feel like I have to have a spot for Bollywood on them. Let me assure you, this is not that spot. Nirmat Kaur, like Sridevi Last year, is here purely based on her craft at display in another movie I will have more to say soon - The Lunchbox. I don't remember seeing her anywhere else and that probably works to her advantage as this is such a simple, non-glamorous role. Nirmat Kaur brings a lot of depth and honesty to this role and, like Adele, looks so natural while doing so that it is hard to imagine she is putting up a performance.

Sandra Bullock for Gravity: Gravity was a spectacle to behold. It remains to be one of the two or three films that made me think that 3D can be useful somewhere than just moneymaking machine for studios. Obviously, Lubezki's work with camera and Cuaron's direction, for which both deservedly won their Oscars, deserves much of praise for this but I kept on thinking that Bullock's equally courageous work somewhere took a backseat to them. Maybe Blanchett's clean sweep also has something to do with this as in any other year, she easily could have gone home with that statuette but I really liked Bullock's work as well.

Lea Seydoux for Blue is the Warmest Colour: These next two performances are supporting turns, sort of companion pieces that makes their leads, as good as they are and they certainly are great as both have featured in this list earlier, even better. Blue hs always been in the news since its premiere at cannes and as overshadowing sexuality of this film has been, what makes it work is brilliant understated and at the same time uninhibited performances by both its leads. Adele is more understated though she has many momemts where she lets her emotions flow. Seydoux is exactly opposite - as audacious, as extrovert as she is, her understated moments like one in the cafe near the end are what make her performance noteworthy.

Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine: As good as Blanchett is in this role, she probably would not have been if not for Sally Hawkins holding her own in every single scene and I am so happy to see her acknowledge that. Hawkins' performance in Blue Jasmine is probably 'the' definition of supporting turn. She makes every scene better just by being in it, and she is in almost every damn scene, but she never becomes the centerpiece of it. She never diverts your attention from where you are supposed to look at but somehow always manages to accentuate it. Those are the best kind of roles!

Keep your eyes and feeds open people! Men shall follow soon... and by soon I mean this weekend.
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