And the Oscar did not go to…


Every year, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts a grandiose ceremony to celebrate cinematic excellence in various aspects of film-making. Needless to say, the Oscar (as the award has come to be known in popular parlance) is THE most prestigious award of its kind in the English speaking world. Ever since it’s inception, hardly a year has passed when the Academy’s choices haven’t come into scrutiny; 2011 proved to be no different.

Michael Fassbender, one of the most underrated actors of our times was at his versatile best as Carl Jung in ‘A Dangerous Method’ and as a man with a voracious sexual appetite in ‘Shame’ (read below); he wasn’t even nominated for the Golden Lady. Was it because Hollywood despises brute portrayal of human sexuality or did the actor go overboard with his prurience? While the Academy was busy lauding Meryl Streep with her umpteenth nomination and the subsequent award (It was a case of 14th time lucky), a conspicuous omission was Tilda Swinton’s virtuoso performance in the cerebral ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’. Even the winner of the ‘Big 5’ this year, the French silent movie, ‘The Artist’ has a distinct pro-Hollywood overtone and is enough to give any French movie aficionado an apoplexy.


The theories for the Academy’s (frequent) oversights are as numerous as the people under the sky-ranging from Hollywood’s self-aggrandizing propaganda to their apparent obsession with their former colonial masters from across the Atlantic. (Helen Mirren and Colin Firth among others may have a thing or two to say about this) This rant could fill several pages more; instead, we reviewed 6 movies which did not meet the Academy’s ‘high standards’ but are worth a watch, at least.

 

Shame

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place”

Steve McQueen’s film about a damaged sibling relationship is a lurid, unfunny black comedy about
obsession and dysfunction. With degree-zero long camera takes, a style that is typical of this director,  Shame doesn’t bother with sheets or blushes in justifying its NC – 17 rating.

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a single, suave, handsome young executive in New York, who is  obsessively, even excitedly, addicted to casual sex, prostitutes and porn. It’s really not the good life,  you know. His addiction is painted in harsh colours, and his is a life where work, goals, and peace of  mind are non-existent ideas. Heck, even a nicotine dependency seems easier to manage when you’re made to experience his horrible, stifling, (and very expensive) addiction as personally as is possible through a laptop screen. It’s an addiction that is stripping his personality of all recognisable human impulses.Carey Mulligan play his desperately unhappy screwup of a sister, Sissy. To kick start the story (and to Brandon’s dismay), Sissy announces she is going to be crashing at his bachelor pad while following her dream of being a singer, cramping his style and annoying the hell out of him.

Coming back to the central theme of the story, Brandon and Sissy live in an netherworldly tragedy of fear – of addiction and humiliation. With tremendous performances from Fassbender and Mulligan, and such superb technique from McQueen, this is a horrible, fascinating movie to watch.

 

Drive

“I don’t sit in while you’re running it down. I don’t carry a gun. I drive.”

A love-struck soldier in ‘The Notebook’, a savvy lawyer in ‘Fracture’ and a high school teacher with a drug  addiction in ‘Half Nelson’, Ryan Gosling now plays the Driver with a shady past. A Hollywood stunt racer  who moonlights as a getaway wheelman, Gosling is mesmerising in the role. His silence and his intriguing  smile are perfectly complimented by the ever graceful Carey Mulligan as Irene, the single mother/love  interest and Albert Brooks (who deserved an Oscar nomination) as the clichéd yet menacing antagonist  Bernie Ross.

Drive is an intense modern day neo-noir driven by escalating and grotesque violence that surprisingly isn’t  off-putting. An epic opening shot with a haunting soundtrack (Kavinsky’s Nightcall), it hooks you up for some edge of the seat action. The movie resembles Gosling’s Driver as it mystifies you but comes across in it’s own time. So pay close attention and before you know it, Drive will explode onto your screens, leaving you gasping for breath. One of the best movies of 2011, just one Oscar nomination is a farce but then it’s the Oscars. My advice, go watch it.

 

La piel que habito ( The Skin I Live In )

“Soy Vincente”

From the director of the critically acclaimed ‘All about My Mother’ and ‘Talk to Her’ comes a horrifying tale of  betrayal, insanity and an undying love. Starring Antonio Banderas, The Skin showcases the relationship between  a scarred plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) and his suicidal patient Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) as he  attempts to perfect her synthetic skin.

Under the compelling direction of Pedro Almodovar, La piel que habito goes back and forth in time unveiling  the true identity of his mysterious patient while exploring themes of obsession and revenge under the guise of  Robert’s tragic past. The movie departs considerably from Almodovar’s trademark love & romance tales.  Instead, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, Dr. Frankenstein comes to life in this contemporary yet  wonderfully bizarre take on our beloved folklore. Awarded a Bafta for Best Film Not in English Language, but snubbed by the Oscars, this tale will resonate with the masses. A harrowing watch, it will leave you gutted.

 

Blue Valentine

“She just seems different, you know? I don’t know, I just got a feeling about her. You know when a song comes on and you just gotta dance?”

Derek Cianfrance’s film is a grave, painful portrait of a toxic marriage, often touching and  sometimes moving, with a compelling plot that almost spooks you with its plausibility. This is a  movie which puts its audience in close, sometimes uncomfortably close proximity to a dying  relationship. The contrast that’s brought out by flashbacks of the start of the couple’s romance  interpolated into the present day breakdown of their marriage is stark, even harsh at times. The  stellar performances delivered by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in this film will make you a  helpless slave to the intense emotional turmoil depicted in it.

No, you don’t need tissues; this isn’t a tear-jerker. But yes, the blue after-effects of some scenes will haunt you for a while. Especially the final few shots. Happy watching.

 

Certified Copy

The original is only the reproduction of the beauty of the girl…if you look at it that way, even the Mona Lisa is the reproduction of La Jocanda…”

Shot entirely in the Arezzo province, Italy, this is Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature film in
almost a decade and just like the Tuscan wines, it seems that the characters and the flavor of the film have taken their time to mature and the final product is quietly pleasing to all senses, aesthetic and otherwise.

The film opens at a book release by the English cultural historian, James Miller (William Shimell) where we see Juliette Binoche, a French antique store owner eagerly hanging on to his words. They get together later and head off to a nearby town with a Church famous among young to-be-married couples, where they get mistaken for husband and wife. They dec
ide to play along and the conversation develops a greyer hue as their ‘martial woes’ come to light. Flirting, bickering, pleading, reminiscing, Binoche and Shimell create an intellectually engaging atmosphere with a subtext of sexual tension that is a brilliant contrast with the languid pace of the movie itself. Shot in real-time in the tradition of movies such as ‘Before Sunrise’, the narrative is multi-layered and nuanced. While the story plays out at the surface, we are drawn to ponder over the true nature of art-one of the most poignant questions asked during the movie (see: quote). The answer, of course, is that there is no answer but a realization that art is subjective-to each, his own. Spend some time with this movie and lose yourself in the eclectic mélange of stories and emotions it has to offer.

 

The Tree of Life

“Tell us a story from before we can remember.”

Our list of films concludes with Terrence Malick’s cinematic masterpiece ‘The Tree of Life’ and the one  with perhaps the closest shot at the Oscar (Best Cinematography). New Yorker film critic, David  Denby calls it “insufferable: interminable, madly repetitive, vague, humorless, and grandiose.” Genius,  in a way, is insufferable and that is precisely what lends poetry to the movie as it traces the journey of a  Texan family in the early 50s through the eyes of Sean Penn, a modern day architect lost in the labyrinth  of his childhood memories. Obviously, the portrayal is hardly explicit-we are left to grapple with the  metaphors as footage of The Grand Canyon and Penn walking moodily across a rocky terrain flow by.

Liberal footage of supernovae, planetary nebulae and other exotic objects from the Universe add a  whole new dimension to the storytelling. The cycle of birth and destruction elucidated through the  cosmogony is hardly what you call Christian; Malick, it seems, is content with celebrating the miracle of life. Sibilations and muffled whispers make up for most of the dialogue, but then again the lyrical cinematography hardly requires any. Probably, the most esoteric of the lot, The Tree of Life is vividly sublime and deliciously transcendental-a movie truly worthy of the Lady.

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