Feb 19, 2011


This picture makes me happier than anything possibly could.
My favourite working auteur, the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi just won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival with his fifth feature film Nader and Simin, a Separation. And the film won both acting awards for its male and female ensemble too.
Remember when the film was number 3 at my most anticipated list? It's gonna have to move a couple of ranks higher now.

Feb 18, 2011

Short Takes: Oliver Sherman, Biutiful

Oliver Sherman
Director: Ryan Redford
Cast: Garret Dillaunt, Donal Logue, Molly Parker

Oliver Sherman, the Canadian film starring Garret Dillahunt and Molly Parker and directed by Ryan Redford is the first film I saw this year and it is indeed a promising start. The film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck war veteran called Sherman Oliver (yes, it’s the other way around) played by Garret Dillahunt who comes back to Canada after spending a period of time in the hospital because of a head wound. Upon arrival at his friend Franklin’s – a man we later learn has saved his life – he looks lost, hurt and in desperate need of help, but as time goes by, Sherman becomes increasingly angry, jealous and threatening.

Oliver Sherman is a powerful film thanks to the three strong central performances, especially Dillahunt and Parker’s. Sherman’s uneasy, troubled and yet, irritating persona is key to the film’s progress. Redford wants to subtly but continuously ask us to re-evaluate Sherman, and Dillahunt pulls this off perfectly, both at his most sympathetic and most menacing. Parker’s performance as a distraught mother and wife, especially in the climactic scene of the film is pure gold.

Although the deliberate pace of the film gives clues to ending midway through the film, Redford’s direction – one of the stronger debuts I’ve seen – keeps the tension high. The editing work cannot go unmentioned, as its power is what allows for Dillahunt to play his “Will he? Will he not?” act right to the very last seconds of this suspenseful film.

Grade: B
Final Word: This is one of those films that won’t lose any of their value on the small screen, but if you get the chance to watch it in the theatre, don’t pass up. It’s a strong film, and fans of psychological dramas will particularly enjoy it.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez

Biutiful, Alejandro Inarritu’s first feature film since his departure from long-time screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga, tells the story of Uxbal, a man from Barcelona who manages Chinese construction workers, handles the African black market workers, communicates with the dead, and takes care of his two children whilst dealing with his sex addict wife. Because all this is not enough, in the beginning of the film, he also finds out that he’s at a very late stage of a cancer that will take his life in a matter of months.

Biutiful shows flashes of greatness intermittently throughout the film, but the piece as a whole never quite comes together perfectly. The problem with the film stems from Inarritu’s indecisive and messy script. He doesn’t seem satisfied enough with his story at any point so he keeps adding new threads to the story, without working them into the structure of the film. For every great scene in the film (like the near perfect family ice-cream moment at the table), there’s a redundant scene that doesn’t do anything but confuse the audience. The introduction of the Chinese warehouse bosses as gay lovers for instance, plays no role in the narrative. Why Innaritu chooses to branch his story out further and further is beyond me. The super-natural talk-with-the-dead plotline is more relevant to shaping the story and Bardem’s character arc, but even that doesn’t merge with the rest of the film right.

The over-written and inconsistent plot of Biutiful is really what hurts it. What does remain consistent though is Javier Bardem’s solid performance as Uxbal. He practically saves the film from going to waste by keeping himself together even when the plot seems to be going nowhere. In fact, the only reason I cared for the film was to follow Uxbal to the end. (Although I have to mention, the technical accomplishments in this film, particularly the gorgeous cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and Gustavo Santaolalla’s score are also way superior to the final product.)

Grade: C+
Final Word: Biutiful is Inarritu’s weakest film to date, but I’m a huge fan of his work. I seemed to be the only person in the world who truly believed Babel’s best picture nomination was well-deserved. If you enjoyed his previous films, you’re probably going to be slightly disappointed with this. If you didn’t like his old stuff, then you should probably skip this one. Nevertheless, Bardem’s performance is one for the ages.

Feb 6, 2011

My Top Dozen Most Anticipated Films of 2011

12. Tintin
If Steve Spielberg's doing two movies in a year, one of them has to show up on this list. Between Tintin and War Horse, I'd pick this one because: 1- Tintin is a childhood obsession; Those are the only comic books I've read in my life. 2- The promotional material looked interesting. 3- His chapter is probably going to be better than Peter Jackson's, given Jackson's post Rings career so I'm putting my hope in this part of the series.

11. On the Road
I'm a big fan of the original novel by Jack Kerouac and Walter Salles has proven himself with road films before, but the actors worry me. None of the three leads in this film are in the calibre that the characters deserve, in my opinion. To be honest, I'm not as excited for this particular film as much as I am for On the Road getting a cinematic treatment, I just hope it turns out fine. Regardless of that, the purpose of the list is to talk about the films I'm most definitely going to watch. On the Road is one of them.

10. Winnie the Pooh

I know, I know. "How does anyone rank this film so high on a most anticipated list?" I hear you ask with your eyebrow raised. Well, first of all, films that open on my brithday weekend are always important to me. (Last year's Inception was such a treat.) More importantly, like Tintin, Winnie is something of a childhood obsession and the trailer made me oh so nostalgic. Not to mention that Craig Ferguson, one of my most favourite people will lend his voice to Owl, and his last voice work in How to Train your Dragon was funtastic.

9. Crazy, Stupid, Love
As funny and cheerful as I Love You Phillip Morris was, I'm not familiar enough with the work of this pair of directors to consider them the biggest factor for my interest in this film, but they certainly showed chops at making comedy. Crazy, Stupid, Love gives them the opportunity to work with the funniest TV actor of our times (Steve Carrel), the promising starlet of Easy A (Emma Stone), and two of the finest actors of their respective generations and my personal favourites (Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling). Carrel and Moore cast as a couple may be quite an awkward match, but the story sounds intriguing and I especially want to see what Gosling can do with comedy after his exceptional work in Lars and the Real Girl.

8. Hugo Cabret
My feelings about the Scorsese films that I've watched range somewhere between "enjoyed", "liked", "loved" and "can't get over how amazing it was, I don't think it can be any better". His last film Shutter Island wasn't his best, but it was an enjoyable venture into genre filmmaking. Hugo Cabret's story is the type of fantasy I usually like and the cast is terrific (Moretz notwithstanding). It also brings Michael Stuhlbarg back to the screen after his incredibly underrated work in A Serious Man. I'm not sure how big the role is but it's nice to see him in a Scorsese film nonetheless.

7. Take This Waltz
My fascination with Sarah Polley will lead me to the theatre to see ANYTHING she does, let alone her second directorial feature with a pairing of Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen.
The premise sounds like something she'll do well with, and the title of the film is taken from one of Leonard Cohen's best songs (cause you know, that's usually an indicator of how good the film is!) I really don't see this one going wrong, so I'll be first in line.

6. A Dangerous Method
Honestly, everything about this film screams perfection. It was about damn time for a top-notch director to take over a project about Freud, or Jung, or better yet, Freud AND Jung. Cronenberg's recent run of films have been brilliant and he's teaming up with his two-time collaborator Viggo Mortensen here. If that's not enough, add Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley to the equation. If this film doesn't excite you, I'm really not sure what will.

5. The Grandmasters
I'm a sucker for visually rich cinema and of today's working auteurs, no one does that better than Wong Kar Wai. In The Grandmasters, he returns to Martial Arts cinema, from which he's been away for almost 17 years now. On top of that, he's reuniting with Tony Leung and we all know how that collaboration turned out before. (In the Mood for Love is in my top 5 favourites of the last decade.) Let's hope for an early North American release.

4. The Skin that I Inhabit
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education, Volver.
Case Closed!

3. Nader and Simin, A Separation
The Iranian film community and I seem to agree that Farhadi is getting better film by film. This Iranian auteur was largely unknown outside of his native country until his last feature, About Elly won best director at Berlinale and best picture at Tribeca. Separation will also premiere in Berlin this month. Aside from Farhadi himself, there are other factors at play that make me all the more excited for this. The film's production was stopped halfway through by the government, which is Iranian code for "this film is gonna be great." Also, some of Iran's biggest stars are in this film, including three actors from the stellar cast of his previous feature. Whether I'll get to see this film in 2011 depends on how much the TIFF programmers love me, but here's hoping.

2. Shame
Steve McQueen's second effort behind the camera would top my list had it been scheduled for release in any other year. Hunger is one of the most powerful films I've seen in my life and Michael Fassbender gives his best performance there. (That's no small compliment given how great he is on a regular basis.) Here they are reuniting and teaming up with Carey Mulligan for a modern day story set in NYC about a man who has to deal with his sister in the middle of his sexcapades. Interesting premise, amazing cast, promising director and already strong promotional material.

1. Tree of Life
If you remember my list from last year, you probably saw this one coming. Back then, I wrote that the name Terrence Malick alone guarantees a number one spot on a list of this sort for me. As if that wasn't enough, a whole other year of anticipation and a trailer that promises another epic of the scope of Malick's last features have only made me more impatient. June 10th really can't come soon enough.

Feb 3, 2011

2010 in Film: My Top Dozen Favourite Films

Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Animal Kingdom, Certified Copy, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Exit through the Gift Shop, Four Lions, The Ghost Writer, Inception, The Kids Are All Right

12. Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance, U.S.)
Talking about this film, one can write a thousand lines and still fail to adequately put to words how agonizingly honest and organic it is. To tell you about how good Ryan Gosling is and how great a performance Michelle Williams gives is stating the obvious. There’s no doubt that the elements of this film, technical or otherwise, are all extremely strong. (In fact, to be honest, only a few days after posting my favourites in each category, I already regret not including the editing of this film among my favourites. How did I forget to jot that down?)
The truth is that Blue Valentine’s bruising story really hit me hard, more personally than most other films do. Maybe because in my own life, I’m at the beginning end of the spectrum of this tale and the prospect of the other end breaks my heart. Or maybe it’s just because Blue Valentine is far from the cartoonish portrayals of relationships we often get out of American cinema. Whatever it is, in my books Blue Valentine is one of the best films of the year and Ryan Gosling righteously deserves the title of “Best Actor of his Generation”.

11. Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, U.S.)
I haven’t watched this film since I first saw it in theatres, but I think about it often, and it has actually grown on me. Black Swan is an imperfect film, but the more I think about that, the more I love it. Aronofsky’s bold and manipulative direction throws a lot of people off, but the more I think about that, the clearer it becomes that that’s the only way he can get us to follow him. He knows how silly and outlandish and bizarre Swan is, but he wants us to know that too; he’s not being pretentious. The only way to like this film is to just let go and enjoy the show. And boy is this show not enjoyable...

10. The Hunter (Dir. Rafi Pitts; Iran, Germany)
The Iranian version of The American, but with a fast-beating human heart. The haunting crime thriller takes its time to settle and lets you absorb the situation and succeeds in calmly integrating the challenging character study into its action sequences. The Hunter is high on politics and filled with details about the Iranian middle class life. This type of film doesn’t come out of Iran often, which is what makes it such a rewarding experience for someone who grew up with that cinema. As good as the central performance is, as compelling as the story and the final act may be and as accomplished as the film is in its technical mastery,in the end The Hunter is my most personal choice on this list. It might not be for everyone, but to me, it is the best crime film of the year and the best of such films from Iran in more than 8 years.

9. Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, Canada)
A perfect example of traditional filmmaking at its best. Incendies tells the story of a mother and a daughter’s journey in the Middle East in two different narratives that are almost twenty years apart, but connected through location. Incendies is reminiscent of Live of Others in its political themes, its glossy production values, and robust direction and acting.
Here, the story twists and moves back and forth several times, every time taking a stranger turn than before, and in its path to the final revelation, shows us shocking details about the war torn region and is full of moving moments of universal familial love. The result is a powerful film, one of the strongest about the state of the Middle East that succeeds on both levels: as a thrilling detective story with the backdrop of civil war, and as a delicate story about loyalty and human triumph.

8. Everyone Else (Dir. Maren Ade, Germany)
It’s hard to find a review of this film that doesn’t include the words delicate and intimate, but those two words so perfectly capture the essence of the film. The success of Everyone Else is that when it’s over, we feel like we’ve known Chris and Gitti for ages. We’ve known all the bits and pieces about themselves and their relationship. This film gets every little detail about this relationship, or in fact, any relationship right. With an intricately written script, and two actors whose chemistry together is unmatched by real life couples, Everyone Else plays like a study of the missing middle section of Blue Valentine: the everyday interactions of a relationship that is not beginning or ending, but is simply existing with all its delights and difficulties. And just like the former film, it moves you in a way no plastic Hollywood relationship ever could.

7. Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich, U.S.)
To tell the truth, the news that a third instalment was being made in this series didn’t excite me as much it worried me. Then, about ten minutes into the film, I knew I was foolish to worry. Toy Story 3 is not just a respectable entry into this beloved series, but one of the best films in Pixar’s already stellar resume. The Pixar crew had proven before that making mature, intelligent animations that don’t lack in entertainment value isn’t at all difficult for them (Ref. Finding Nemo, WELL-E), but Toy Story 3 enters new territory even for their standards.
Aside from that, I feel a personal connection with Andy that I’m sure millions of the film’s fans share with me. I was around the same age as Andy when Toy Story came out, and four years later I felt the strengthened attachment to those toys when the second instalment was released. I’ve almost finished University now; Andy’s a few years behind me in life, but I can’t deny that I’ve experienced the ending of this film first hand myself. Toy Story 3 has a place in my heart that no other film on this list can come close to competing for.

6. The Fighter (Dir. David O. Russell, U.S.)
This film is the rare instance where an auteur steps out of his usual territory, diluting down the characteristics that make up the fundaments of his work in order to appeal to a larger audience, and it actually pays off. The result is a film much stronger and much more complete than anything else in his resume. Russell’s adhered to many of the formulas that make up the core of boxing dramas, but not too much to make the film a cliché. He’s put enough of himself in the film to make it anything but typical. On top of that, this is the most entertaining film of the year. It’s funny, fierce, loud, energetic, full of heart, and endlessly re-watchable. The Fighter is really the perfect balance between art cinema and pure popcorn pleasure. Cinema needs more of these every year.

5. White Material (Dir. Claire Denis; France, Cameroon)
I admit that writing about White Material is incredibly difficult for me. Claire Denis’ film is about a white French woman who runs a coffee plantation in an African country, until her labours escape just before harvest in the wake of a rebellion by child soldiers. The ambiguity surrounding the history of the main character and her family, and Denis’ refusal to take blunt political positions make for a complicated, absurd and yet loosely structured film that is as poetic and dreamlike as it is frightening and brutal. Tindersticks’ magical score is the best musical soundtrack of the year and the band makes as great a case for Director/Composer collaborations as Mansell does in Black Swan.

4. Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas; France, Germany)
Modern epic masterpiece. It’s hard to take your eyes away from the screen at all during the whole 5.5 hour long film, and that should tell you how good it is. In Carlos, history is told in a linear fashion, and any other director could have made this into a dull biopic, but Assayas’ ambitious project plays out majestically. One after another, the set pieces, the costumes, the cinematography and the songs continue to marvel. Admittedly, the deliberate set pieces of the first half and most especially the OPEC hijacking appeal to me more than the compressed historical details of the fast-paced second half, but that’s only a compliment to the former. This film is surely the perfect biopic treatment the mysterious twentieth century “superstar” deserved.

3. The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher, U.S.)
It’s no easy feat being compared to Citizen Kane, but The Social Network has managed to accomplish that ever since its debut back in autumn. Ironically, the much revered Orson Welles classic managed to win only one Academy Award for... wait for it... Best Screenplay; a fate that seems to be waiting for The Social Network as well.
Honestly though, I wish the conversation about this film hadn’t become so violently about the Oscar race, and about a head to head race with The King’s Speech. In a bigger scheme of things, none of that really matters. The Social Network is great film that will be remembered as one of the best American films of its time. Only time can tell if it actually defines our generation as some have claimed. The quality of the film however, the sharp dialogue, the crisp images, the moody music, and the brilliant performances don’t need time to define themselves. They already have.

2. The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet; France, UK)
In my original review of The Illusionist I mentioned my decision to never call a film “an all-time favourite” after the first screening and wrote that I consider that decision the only reason why I don’t claim The Illusionist is a masterpiece of that level. Six months later and after another screening, Sylvain Chomet’s film still feels exactly like a timeless classic to me. Its own dreamy brilliance aside, in a top 5 list otherwise filled with films about crime and war and greed and perversion, The Illusionist is breath of fresh air among my favourites. And so it is among animated features. It looks like Chomet is single-handedly saving 2D drawn animation. Will American animators ever follow suit?

1. Dogtooth (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
It certainly takes guts to sit through this film. Heck, it even takes guts to sit through the trailer! But once the film is done, it’s impossible to ever get it out of your head again, and repeated viewings only make it more enigmatic. Despite its absurdity, Dogtooth feels closer to me than any other film I’ve seen this year. It’s the only film that made me want to live its characters; the only one that made me reconsider my life from a different perspective. It’s the only one that makes me question my existence, my identity, my childhood, family, memories, and really everything I’ve ever learnt.
Dogtooth is the greatest study of human nature in cinema in a long long time. Its surrealism might be more reminiscent of a children’s fairy tale, but its traumatizing depiction of our vulnerability and simplicity is freakishly bold and refreshingly pure. And when all is said and done, Dogtooth, more than any other film this year, defines great cinema for me: original, confident, powerful, and beautiful. Oh, and that touch of perversity doesn’t hurt either.

Other entries in my year-end reviews:
Performances, Writing, Editing, Cinematography, Directing

Feb 1, 2011

2010 in Film: Performances, Screenplays, Cinematography, Editing and Directing

Best Performances of the Year

Amy Adams (The Fighter)
For taking a great leap from what she had done in the past, and for being the emotional heart of a film filled with great performances. She’s the perfect balance between the quietude of Wahlberg and the loud and showy performances of Leo and Bale.

Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
For subtly displaying a wide range of emotions while maintaining the mystique of her character, for crying beautifully, and for being a loving mother and a tortured lover.

Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr (Everyone Else)
For their nuanced and pure chemistry. They don’t need dialogue to convey how they feel. Their glances, their gestures, and their presence speak a thousand words. They’re so comfortable in their roles, it feels like they’re a couple we’ve known for much longer than the screen time would suggest.

Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
For perfectly improving their game off of one another. Eisenberg’s ice-cold sharpness lets Garfield’s human heart stand out. Garfield’s depth of emotions feeds the emotional perplexity of Eisenberg’s character.

Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
For playing the most heartbreaking character in any film this year. His eyes beam with love when he sings, and long for love when he watched his life slowly float away. Gosling does with one look what other actors do in a whole film.
...and for a great singing voice.

Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
For not sentimentalizing a character that could have easily been treated so, for convincing us to share her grief without ever being overbearing, and for taking risks in playing challenging and tricky roles and pulling them off so impeccably.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
For not letting this opportunity of a lifetime go to waste, and for the astounding blend of dynamism and intensity. Her riveting and unnerving performance steals the show, even outshining the genius of Aronofsky’s remarkable directing.

Emma Stone (Easy A)
For proving that comic roles can come to life with depth and character, for going beyond the lines on the script to elevate the comedy with her physicality, and for introducing us to new star.

Best Screenplays of the Year

Maren Ade (Everyone Else) and Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis (Blue Valentine)
For ruthlessly dissecting relationships with honesty and precision. The two films are nothing alike, but they share a common element in their core: an authentic and rich script about a real relationship.

Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
For understanding the value of the treasure he’s inherited from the first two instalments and building on it with hilarious new characters, exciting adventures and mature comedy; and for writing a story for my generation of kids who grew up with Andy.

Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
For writing a script that can be described with any (approving) adjective ranging from grotesque and bizarre to original and inventive to challenging and provocative. This unique story is a work of sheer genius.

Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
For penning an instantly classic script with confidence and force, for giving us richly realized characters without sacrificing the entertainment value of the story, and for the endlessly quotable lines.

Best Cinematography of the Year

Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth)
For aiding the film without being bluntly showy, and for integrating his definitive, controlled, unnerving and claustrophobic work into the narrative.

Roger Deakins (True Grit)
For delivering top-notch work that is a worthy entry in the resume of the cameraman who shot Fargo and Jesse James, for capturing the beauty of the American Midwest, and for elevating the magnificent details in the work of the production design team and costumers.

Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love)
For the sheer beauty of the images, and for the greatest use of natural lighting in recent memory.

Martin Ruhe (The American)

For driving the whole film with his beautiful imagery and for turning the locations into characters in the story. Ruhe knows the extent to which the film depends on its visuals, but by indulging in the beauty of Italian sceneries (and that of George Clooney!) he treats us to the most lustrous images of the year.
(The 15 images to your right have been taken from the 2 minute trailer. The film is about 50 times longer and visually about a gazillion times richer.)

Best Editing of the Year

Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall (The Social Network)
For lifting the film high from early on and never letting the pace slow down, for making The Social Network a thrilling ride by intercutting the pre-facebook invention stories and the post-facebook courtroom drama, and for bringing out the best in the performances and in Fincher’s decisions.

Chris King, Tom Fulford (Exit Through the Gift Shop)
For putting together so seamlessly the different narratives in the story without ever, and I man EVER losing any of the film’s energy, insight or humour. No film this year depends so heavily on editing as Gift Shop does, but the editors really nailed it.

Lee Smith (Inception)
For using the basic element of editing, time, to his benefit in creating an exhilarating action ride, and for the final sequence of the interrelated dreams that is a real marvel of this craft.

Best Directing of the Year

Olivier Assayas (Carlos)
For his ambition and precision, for meticulously depicting several decades with consistency in detail, for the tense set pieces, and for handling different locations, different eras, different languages and a big cast with mastery.

David Fincher (The Social Network)
For bringing his unique vision to a film that would have otherwise been a writer’s show, for bouncing back from the conformist direction in Benjamin Button, and for giving us more tension in a courtroom scene than a car chase in an action film could.

Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth)
For his vision and his originality, for his letting the audience grasp the gravity of the story despite his extreme control over every scene, and for his unsettling perversity.

David O. Russell (The Fighter)
For elevating the original material more than imaginable, for giving life and heart to the generic story. Russell’s moved to more mainstream filmmaking here, but he never lets go of his individuality, The Fighter still bears his signature all over.
...Oh, and for the pants he wears on set – as glitzy as his directing.