Snapshots From a Dream

What is this thing that builds our dreams yet slips away from us ....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Academy Awards - If It Were Upto Me

Faithful readers will recollect the series last year where I ranked the Best Picture winners at Academy awards in order of my preference. Expanding on that theme, this year with the awards a few days away, I thought I should go year-by-year and give my opinion on the film that won the Best picture award, the film that truly deserved to win and also the film that I would have crowned were it up to me. Not having seen all the films ever produced, it is quite likely that some of my selections reflect a view which may change over the years as I watch more movies from the classic era. But till then, this remains my opinion and mine alone. The selection varies from those films which were nominated along with the winning one as well as those which were not even deemed worthy of nomination. Such films are in italics.

Won: Wings
Should Have Won: Wings
If It Were Up To Me: Circus

Wings was a fantastic achievement in cinema with remarkable special effects for that era and an engaging story as well. However, Chaplin with Circus did something which only he could: make you laugh as your heart is breaking.

Won: Broadway Melody
Should Have Won: Steamboat Bill Jr.
If It Were Up To Me: Steamboat Bill Jr.

For its first ‘talkie’ winner of best picture, the academy choose a melodrama which looks terribly outdated today. But how can you not acknowledge Buster Keaton’s brilliant masterpiece?

Won: All Quite On The Western Front
Should Have Won: All Quite On The Western Front
If It Were Up To Me: All Quite On The Western Front

No arguments regarding this one. A truly exceptional movie about WWI as seen from the German viewpoint.

Won: Cimarron
Should Have Won: City Lights
If It Were Up To Me: City Lights

What were they thinking in making Cimarron the best picture? City Lights is Chaplin’s magnum opus and I will never be convinced otherwise.

Won: Grand Hotel
Should Have Won: Grand Hotel
If It Were Up To Me: Grand Hotel

They got this one right. Grand Hotel was a fascinating character study and a worthy winner.

Won: Cavalcade
Should Have Won: King Kong
If It Were Up To Me: Duck Soup

Another one they should take back. King Kong was just brilliant in its execution and a watershed for “monster movies”. The special effects were breathtaking and if any movie deserved to win that year, it was this one which failed to get nominated! However, if I was handing out the trophy, I will not look beyond Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo with their anarchic reign over ‘Freedonia’.

Won: It Happened One Night
Should Have Won: It Happened One Night
If It Were Up To Me: It Happened One Night

Once again, no arguments here. A smart and sophisticated road comedy, which is delight to this day.

Won: Mutiny On The Bounty
Should Have Won: Mutiny On The Bounty
If It Were Up To Me: Top Hat

Mutiny On The Bounty deserved to win with Charles Laughton giving a chilling performance as ‘Captain Bligh’. However, I am partial to Fred Astaire floating on air and so would have voted for Top Hat.

Won: The Great Ziegfeld
Should Have Won: Modern Times
If It Were Up To Me: Modern Times

I can understand why the academy fell in love with The Great Ziegfeld and its lavish production. But how can you not nominate Modern Times? Yes, I favor Chaplin films but this was a masterpiece of a satire on the way the world was changing.

Won: The Life Of Emil Zola
Should Have Won: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
If It Were Up To Me: The Life Of Emil Zola

I agree with their choice but the deserving film of the year was the first full feature length animated film by Walt Disney and which to this day is one of the great cinema experiences of all time. However I felt that The Life Of Emil Zola was a more complete film with good structure and excellent acting.

Won: You Can’t Take It With You
Should Have Won: Grand Illusion (France)
If It Were Up To Me: You Can’t Take It With You

I love Capra, Stewart and Arthur. So no complaints from me here. However, Jean Renoir’s film was a great achievement in story telling.

Won: Gone With The Wind
Should Have Won: Gone With The Wind
If It Were Up To Me: The Wizard Of Oz

Gone With The Wind is one of the most grand productions of all time and deserves its rank as an all time great. But how can anyone not love the one film which I consider our true heritage?

Won: Rebecca
Should Have Won: The Grapes Of Wrath
If It Were Up To Me: The Philadelphia Story

Tough one to go against the ‘Master of Suspense’, but The Grapes Of Wrath is quite simply one of the greatest films of all time period. However, I can listen to Grant Hepburn and Stewart go at it for hours at a stretch and for everyday of my life.

Won: How Green Was My Valley
Should Have Won: Citizen Kane
If It Were Up To Me: Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane did not win an academy award! Need I explain?

Won: Mrs. Miniver
Should Have Won: Yankee Doodle Dandy
If It Were Up To Me: Yankee Doodle Dandy

I guess due to US involvement in WWII, it was inevitable that a film like Mrs. Miniver would win. But how about James Cagny and a performance of a lifetime?

Won: Casablanca
Should Have Won: Casablanca
If It Were Up To Me: Shadow Of A Doubt

Yes I know it is Casablanca and it did deserve to win. However, what a great, great film Shadow Of A Doubt is. The mood, the acting and the eventual melancholy of the outcome, makes this one the ‘Master’s’ greatest efforts. Hitchcock himself said that out of the 50+ films he made, this one is his favorite. And I agree.

Won: Going My Way
Should Have Won: Double Indemnity
If It Were Up To Me: Double Indemnity

Has there ever been a better noir film that this Billy Wilder masterpiece? Going My Way has no chance.

Won: The Lost Weekend
Should Have Won: The Lost Weekend
If It Were Up To Me: Spellbound

Ray Milland gave a terrific performance that sustains The Lost Weekend. However, I’ve always liked Spellbound for its dream sequences that only Dali can design and Hitchcock can execute.

Won: The Best Years Of Our Lives
Should Have Won: The Best Years Of Our Lives
If It Were Up To Me: It’s A Wonderful Life

What a great movie The Best Years Of Our Lives is! But come on, it’s ‘George Bailey’, the ‘richest man that ever lived’.

Won: Gentleman’s Agreement
Should Have Won: Gentleman’s Agreement
If It Were Up To Me: Gentleman’s Agreement

No arguments from me. A seminal film confronting racism and a very good one at that.

Won: Hamlet
Should Have Won: The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
If It Were Up To Me: The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

I only have one question. Did the people who voted ever see The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre? I mean seriously, who will pick Olivier over Bogart?

Won: All The Kings Men
Should Have Won: Third Man
If It Were Up To Me: Third Man

No doubt that the best film of the year was not even nominated. Joseph Cotton and an explosive cameo by the one and only Orsen Wells and the cuckoo clock.

Won: All About Eve
Should Have Won: All About Eve
If It Were Up To Me: Sunset Boulevard

All About Eve remains the best written movie to win the award. But there is something chilling about Gloria Swanson looking at us and saying “It’s the pictures that got small”. What a moment in cinema.

Won: An American In Paris
Should Have Won: A Streetcar Named Desire
If It Were Up To Me: Strangers On A Train

I agree that An American In Paris was more joyous and colorful. But has anyone ever lit up the screen like Brando as ‘Stanley Kowalski’? Well someone has, Brando as ‘Terry Malloy’. But more on that later. My choice would have been one of Hitchcock’s greatest character studies of two men that have a chance encounter leading to tragic consequences.

Won: The Greatest Show On Earth
Should Have Won: High Noon
If It Were Up To Me: High Noon

High Noon remains the ‘crown jewel’ of American ‘western’ genre. There are few greater heroes than ‘Will Kane’ and the film itself is a fascinating character study of love, hate, loyalty, betrayal, heroism and cowardice. Compared to this, The Greatest Show On Earth is a study of boredom.

Won: From Here To Eternity
Should Have Won: Tokyo Story (Japan)
If It Were Up To Me: Tokyo Story (Japan)

Academy was not too kind to International pictures back then the way it is nowadays. Ozu is one the greatest story tellers and Tokyo Story is his best effort. It is a land mark film in terms of how simplicity can win you over.

Won: On The Waterfront
Should Have Won: On The Waterfront
If It Were Up To Me: On The Waterfront

The greatest screen performance of all time with Brando as ‘Terry Malloy’, the great anti-hero of our times. It is a film which doesn’t just knock at a person’s door of conscience, but rather breaks it down.

Won: Marty
Should Have Won: Marty
If It Were Up To Me: Marty

Marty is one of the sweetest films to win the best picture award. I mean how could you not love Borgnine’s character that may look ugly but has a heart of gold.

Won: Around The World In 80 Days
Should Have Won: The Searchers
If It Were Up To Me: The Searchers

Of all the hare-brained decisions that Academy has ever made, this one takes the cake. Not only did Around The World In 80 Days not deserve to win, how it even got nominated is beyond my understanding. Plus, how did The Searchers not get nominated? How can we say 100 years from now that John Ford’s masterpiece is not a best picture winner?

Won: Bridge On The River Kwai
Should Have Won: Bridge On The River Kwai
If It Were Up To Me: Paths Of Glory

Bridge On The River Kwai is a splendid war film with keen insight into the psychology of three individuals as all of them go mad in one way or the other. But for pure heartbreaking image of what war can do and how important it is to maintain our humanity during difficult times, one has just to watch Kubrik’s Paths Of Glory.

Won: Gigi
Should Have Won: Vertigo
If It Were Up To Me: Vertigo

Gigi is a cute film which may help pass time on a rainy afternoon. Vertigo is genius at work which mere mortals can only aspire to reach.

Won: Ben-Hur
Should Have Won: Ben-Hur
If It Were Up To Me: North By North West

Ben-Hur is an epic in true sense, complete with elaborate sets, larger-than-life action scenes and over-the-top acting. In short, everything what Hollywood likes. But from all the films Hitchcock has made, North By Northwest is my favorite due to its spirit of adventure, wit and of course the locations.

Won: The Apartment
Should Have Won: Psycho
If It Were Up To Me: The Apartment

For the third year in a row, Hitchcock delivered a great film which should have at least been nominated, if not won. However, I actually agree with the academy’s decision to elect The Apartment. Once again Billy Wilder manages to brilliantly showcase the comedy and tragedy that is life.

Won: West Side Story
Should Have Won: West Side Story
If It Were Up To Me: West Side Story

West Side Story has some of the best choreography to be captured on film, though it also had mediocre acting and screenplay. It is a sad reflection on 1961 or the fact that I have not seen enough films from that year that I have to agree with the academy.

Won: Lawrence Of Arabia
Should Have Won: Lawrence Of Arabia
If It Were Up To Me: To Kill A Mockingbird

As far as sprawling epics go, it doesn’t get better than the David Lean masterpiece. A deserving choice if there ever was one. But there is something about ‘Atticus Finch’ that evokes a feeling saying, “Yes we can be good, all it takes is a little effort on everybody’s part”. What a great film To Kill A Mockingbird is!

Won: Tom Jones
Should Have Won: 8 ½ (Italy)
If It Were Up To Me: The Birds

No, no a thousand times no. 8 ½ is a film which on surface appears to be something which even Fellini, its director, did not take seriously. But as you peel the layers there is a strange nostalgia and melancholy which stays with you for a long time. I however, stick with my favorite director and a film which strikes fear in the hearts of many as they look up in the skies.

Won: My Fair Lady
Should Have Won: Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb
If It Were Up To Me: A Hard Days Night

It’s so unfair. Any of the three films above would have been a worthy winner. My Fair Lady remains one of the few films that make you smile anytime to watch it. Dr. Strangelove is the greatest satire on war which should be a compulsory viewing for all the leaders of the world. A Hard Days Night is so infectious in its joy that generations to come will marvel at the phenomenon that was ‘The Beatles’.

Won: The Sound Of Music
Should Have Won: The Sound Of Music
If It Were Up To Me: The Sound Of Music

This is it. My Favorite film of all time. Not only did I want it to win for 1965, I want it to be voted as the greatest of them all. Well at least I can do so.

Won: A Man For All Seasons
Should Have Won: The Good The Bad And The Ugly
If It Were Up To Me: The Good The Bad And The Ugly

The best I can say about the winning film is that it is boring. Sergio Leone’s movie can be called anything but. Outrageous it its execution of the climax, it is a spaghetti western for the ages and a reminder that before he became a legendary director, Clint Eastwood used to wear tights and ride a horse.

Won: In The Heat Of The Night
Should Have Won: The Graduate
If It Were Up To Me: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

This was a great year for films and for Sidney Poitier who starred in the winning film about racism in the south a one mans fight to earn respect. I mean how can you not applaud when he glares and says, “The call me Mr. Tibbs”? The Graduate was a better film though, with its portrayal of confused youth and manipulative adults. Poitier was back in my favorite film of the year which included outstanding performances by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. That speech at the dinner table by Tracy is probably the best father-daughter communication ever.

Won: Oliver!
Should Have Won: 2001: A Space Odyssey
If It Were Up To Me: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Oliver! is a delight and the best adaptation of the beloved masterpiece by Dickens. Kubrick’s film is beyond description. A movie which requires multiple viewing to have a full impact, it remains one of the few genuine art pieces which should be enshrined in a museum.

Won: Midnight Cowboy
Should Have Won: Easy Rider
If It Were Up To Me: Easy Rider

Both of these films share a similarity about disenchanted young men seeking peace of mind and a place in the society but who encounter nothing but tragedy. Whilst Midnight Cowboy was a grim look at urban America, Easy Rider showed its carefree side where each day is an adventure and the joy is in being free.

Won: Patton
Should Have Won: Patton
If It Were Up To Me: Patton

No arguments here. George C. Scott is outstanding in the role of a lifetime.

Won: The French Connection
Should Have Won: A Clockwork Orange
If It Were Up To Me: A Clockwork Orange

The French Connection is a cop film which may distract you from time to time. Kubrick’s movie will make you watch in a hypnotic trance as the violence unfolds amidst the melody of Beethoven.

Won: The Godfather
Should Have Won: The Godfather
If It Were Up To Me: The Godfather

There had never been a more complete film than this and there never has been one since. Enough said.

Won: The Sting
Should Have Won: American Graffiti
If It Were Up To Me: American Graffiti

The Sting is a great heist film feature the legends Newman and Redford at their very best. However American Graffiti represents an era in everyone’s life when there wasn’t a care in the world and life was like a changing track on the car radio.

Won: The Godfather Part II
Should Have Won: The Godfather Part II
If It Were Up To Me: The Godfather Part II

Well, it’s the continuation of the same story, what else should I say?

Won: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Should Have Won: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
If It Were Up To Me: Jaws

Jaws was perhaps the first indication of what a great film maker Spielberg was going to become. The suspense, much like Hitchcock’s style, was in the unseen. Of course once the big fish made its appearance, all bets were off.

Won: Rocky
Should Have Won: Network
If It Were Up To Me: Rocky

Rocky is the greatest folk hero of all time - an underdog who knows his limitations and who just wants to do his best. Network was a realistic look at what goes on behind the scenes in the world of broadcast news. A right choice nevertheless as Rocky makes you cheer for him from the first frame right till the end.

Won: Annie Hall
Should Have Won: Star Wars
If It Were Up To Me: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

I am the biggest Woody Allen fan and love Annie Hall. However Star Wars exploded into our imagination and that faraway galaxy has captivated us for 30 years. Having said that, Spielberg’s film was a reminder that mankind’s greatest paranoia is the fear of the unknown, even if that unknown wants to be your friend.

Won: Deer Hunter
Should Have Won: Deer Hunter
If It Were Up To Me: Deer Hunter

This was a fantastic look at how for some people war does not necessary end when the bombs stop exploding. It is a life changing experience which haunts you forever.

Won: Kramer vs. Kramer
Should Have Won: Apocalypse Now
If It Were Up To Me: Manhattan

How the fantastic Apocalypse Now did not win will remain one of those unanswered mysteries of life. However, for me, Woody’s tribute to the city he loves is one of my all time favorites.

Won: Ordinary People
Should Have Won: Raging Bull
If It Were Up To Me: Ordinary People

I agree with academy’s choice. Ordinary People is a gut-wrenching look at a family falling apart. But Raging Bull is something special and Scorsese’s greatest film to date.

Won: Chariots Of Fire
Should Have Won: Raider Of The Lost Arc
If It Were Up To Me: Chariots Of Fire

Right from the opening notes of Vangelis’s theme for the film, Chariots Of Fire is a great experience and one of the best sports movies ever made which deals with the fact that there are some things more important than winning. Having said that, Spielberg’s film is a rip-roaring adventure which is a benchmark for adventure movies.

Should Have Won: Gandhi
If It Were Up To Me: ET: The Extra Terrestrial

To bring ‘The Mahatma’ to screen was a formidable task and the film makers succeeded with flying colors. But ET is one of those moments in life which everyone deserves to experience, not just kids. It is to date, Spielberg’s most noble achievements.

Won: Terms Of Endearment
Should Have Won: The Right Stuff
If It Were Up To Me: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff tells a story of the early years of the US space program and the sacrifice of those brave pilots, so that some day man may aim for the stars.

Won: Amadeus
Should Have Won: Amadeus
If It Were Up To Me: This Is Spinal Tap

Amadeus is the story of Mozart and his divine music. This Is Spinal Tap urges us to pump up the volume to 11, no matter what the settings on the stereo. Rolling-on-the-floor hilarious, it is one of the funniest movies of all time.

Won:Out Of Africa
Should Have Won: The Color Purple
If It Were Up To Me: The Color Purple

Once again, there are a lot of similarities in the two films, both of which deal with a woman who struggles to form her own identity in the world and overcomes every adversity life can throw at her. However, Spielberg’s film was superior in terms of pure emotional impact.

Won: Platoon
Should Have Won: Hannah And Her Sisters
If It Were Up To Me: Hannah And Her Sisters

Oh, what a lovely film Hannah And Her Sisters is. Every scene is a delight and though the intensity of Platoon appealed to the voters, Woody’s movie can win over the most ardent critic.

Won: The Last Emperor
Should Have Won: The Last Emperor
If It Were Up To Me: Moonstruck

Bertolucci’s movie is a masterpiece, no doubt about that. But there is something extremely charming and romantic about Moonstruck which makes you love it quite a lot.

Won:Rain Man
Should Have Won: Rain Man
If It Were Up To Me: Grave Of The Fireflies (Japan)

Of all the war films ever made, an animated film from Japan, which does not have a single scene of armed combat, drives home the message clearly and with heartbreaking honesty.

Won: Driving Miss Daisy
Should Have Won: Do The Right Thing
If It Were Up To Me: Field Of Dreams

Whilst Driving Miss Daisy was a sweet film, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was in-your-face movie about racial tensions and one hot summers night when everything boils over. It is a great film which shows the reality of urban America without taking sides. However, one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences is watching Kevin Costner build his baseball diamond. A truly magical feeling!

Won: Dances With Wolves
Should Have Won: Dances With Wolves
If It Were Up To Me: Dances With Wolves

Kevin Costner’s epic film about the great western frontier during the civil war is slow in its pace but mesmerizing it its execution.

Won: The Silence Of The Lambs
Should Have Won: JFK
If It Were Up To Me: Beauty And The Beast

Another year with all great films. The Silence Of The Lambs is a fantastic movie but JFK is Oliver Stone’s greatest achievement. The viewer is put right in the middle of the great American tragedy of 1963 and though it runs for over 200 minutes, each and every moment is more gripping that the previous one. However, I cannot go against what is not only the only animated film to be nominated for best picture, but also my favorite fairy tale of all time.

Won: Unforgiven
Should Have Won: Unforgiven
If It Were Up To Me: Scent Of A Woman

Once again, any one of the nominated films could have won and I do feel that Clint Eastwood’s ‘western’ about a retired outlaw who goes back for one last shot at redemption is a poetic masterpiece. But what won me over that year was Al Pacino and his winning performance as a blind man who knows about a few facts of life.

Won: Schindler’s List
Should Have Won: Schindler’s List
If It Were Up To Me: Schindler’s List

Hey, it’s Schindler’s List. What else could they have done?

Won: Forrest Gump
Should Have Won: Forrest Gump
If It Were Up To Me: Pulp Fiction

I love Forrest Gump and consider it an American treasure. But Quentin Tarentino’s 2nd film has become a pop culture phenomenon which I suspect will be studied for a long time to come. It was a landmark film which shows that violence can be as intoxicating as a romantic scene and criminals can sometimes have more interesting things to say than honest people.

Won: Braveheart
Should Have Won: Apollo 13
If It Were Up To Me: Apollo 13

Mel Gibson’s film about the Scottish freedom fighter is a very good movie. However, with Apollo 13, Ron Howard takes the viewer and puts him right in the midst of what is undoubtedly NASA’s ‘finest hour’.

Won: The English Patient
Should Have Won: Fargo
If It Were Up To Me: Jerry Maguire

Fargo is a fantastic piece of story telling and should have won that year. But with Jerry Maguire, Cameroon Crowe emerged as genius film maker in the mold of his idol Billy Wilder.

Won: Titanic
Should Have Won: Titanic
If It Were Up To Me: Contact

In my article last year , I had named Titanic as the greatest film to win the best picture award and with good cause. It is virtuoso film making of the highest order and deserves all the accolades it has had over the years. But what Carl Sagan did with his book and Robert Zemekis captured on screen was to open up a universe which is not as vast as we imagine. All it takes is a little bit of faith and we can cruise the galaxies.

Won: Shakespeare In Love
Should Have Won: Saving Private Ryan
If It Were Up To Me: Saving Private Ryan

As much as I enjoyed Shakespeare In Love, I cannot imagine any other film winning that year than Saving Private Ryan. Right from the opening shot of D-day landing on Normandy beach, Spielberg has us hooked and watching what is perhaps the most gruesome WWII movie ever filmed.

Won: American Beauty
Should Have Won: Matrix
If It Were Up To Me: Matrix

Very few movies can be called ‘trendsetters’. Matrix belongs to that exclusive group. Fantastic dialogue, breathtaking action sequences and deep philosophical overtones made a cult classic which will thrill generations to come.

Won: Gladiator
Should Have Won: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Taiwan)
If It Were Up To Me: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Taiwan)

Gladiator was fashioned as an epic, but if there was ever a movie which plays like poetry, whose elegance supersedes everything ever captured on film, than it is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The sheer brilliance of it all leaves you speechless and elevates the viewer to a state of sublime. The best film of the year and a great way to launch the millennium.

Won: A Beautiful Mind
Should Have Won: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
If It Were Up To Me: The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

I envy all those who are yet to see The Lord Of The Rings and wish that I could go back in time and experience it all over again. I had never seen anything like it before and it is unlikely that I will ever again. Although the academy rewarded the series two years later, I will always feel that The Fellowship Of The Ring was robbed.

Won: Chicago
Should Have Won: City Of God (Brazil)
If It Were Up To Me: Whale Rider (New Zealand)

Although Chicago was a delight to watch, City Of God was an explosive movie which took the viewer to the streets of Rio de Genero and the kids who have to fight to survive. It played like a breath of fresh air and launched Fernando Mirelas as a director to be watched. However, Whale Rider was a gem which stays with you forever. A heart warming tale of living your dreams, no matter what the obstacles. A lovely film!

Won:The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
Should Have Won: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
If It Were Up To Me: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

I consider it a privilege to have seen the trilogy and experience a once in a lifetime feeling.

Won: Million Dollar Baby
Should Have Won: Million Dollar Baby
If It Were Up To Me: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece was a triumph of story telling which deserved to win. My favorite film of the year was one of those inspired pieces of film that has a life changing effect on the viewer. A bitter sweet look at love and loss, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is perhaps the greatest love story that I have seen.

Won: Crash
Should Have Won: Crash
If It Were Up To Me: Crash

Crash is a great film which was underappreciated by many but richly deserved its success. A fantastic movie on racial stereotyping and how a simple misunderstanding can lead to tragedy. Should be a compulsory viewing for all teenagers.

Won: The Departed
Should Have Won: Letters From Iwo Jima
If It Were Up To Me: Rang De Basanti (India)

For the second time in 3 years Scorsese and Eastwood went against each other and this time the former won, though Letters From Iwo Jima was an outstanding attempt at telling a story from the ‘enemy’s’ viewpoint. However, even though it was an Indian film, without a wide international audience, Rang De Basanti remains the best movie that I saw last year.

So this is it. I will be back next year for analysis of Academy Awards 2007.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Great Moments From Cinema - 43

On The Road…With The Band

Movie: Almost Famous (DreamWorks and Vinyl Films; 2000)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe
Major Cast: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson

Film Synopsis: A coming-of-age film about a 15 year old boy, Fugit, who as a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine gets a chance to tour with the rock ‘n roll band ‘Stillwater’

My Favorite Moment: All the band members singing the song ‘Tiny Dancer’

Why I Like It: This is a movie made with a lot of heart. Crowe has written a semi-autobiographical film about his early days as the Rolling Stone reporter and he shares his experiences with such passion and enthusiasm, that we can’t help but fall in love with it. He shows a rare gift of avoiding sentimentalism and yet tugs the emotional strings. It is set in the 70’s towards the end of golden age of rock music and we can see how much Crowe was influenced by music in his early life. It’s a celebration of his youth and our privilege at being invited for an unforgettable summer wherein he lived a lifetime. It is not just a feel-good movie, it is our cinema therapy.

Fugit has grown up in a household of an overbearing mother played magnificently by McDormand. She wants him to be a lawyer but ever since his rebel sister introduced him to it, Fugit has been in love with rock music. Crowe pays homage to all the great artists of the era when in one scene we see the wide-eyed young kid scan trough his sisters LP collection which includes music by all the legends. He starts writing for his school paper and gets noticed by editors at Rolling Stone who send him to cover a rock concert. There he meets two people who will change his life: a lead guitarist (Crudup) of an up and coming band called ‘Stillwater’ and a beautiful ‘groupie’ (Kate Hudson in a career performance). His young heart falls in love immediately with Hudson and she is also fond of him, though her real love is music itself and she worships Crudup. Fugit impresses the people at Rolling Stone and is assigned to tour with ‘Stillwater’, much to the chagrin of his mother. On the road, Crudup takes him under his wing and thus begins Fugit’s initiation into the real world.

One night, Crudup has an argument with his band and gets high on drugs. Next day as the tour bus picks him up, the mood is somber and everyone is on the edge. Then one person starts humming Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’. This starts a chain reaction as everyone joins in gradually, including the disillusioned Crudup. Music is the strongest bond holding all of them together and they know it. As Fugit turns towards Hudson and tells her that he has to wrap up the tour and go home, she looks at him, waves her hand in front of his face and says “You are home.” Sometimes a person’s path is chosen for them. Fugit’s true love in life is Rock ‘n Roll, not law. This is where he belongs and that is perhaps what Crowe is telling us about himself. All the people in that bus have so much love for something which they cannot explain to others. But through this scene we really understand it and also understand them.

The film is extremely well written and incredibly involving. Our heart goes out to Fugit as sometimes he faces disappointment in his love for Hudson and his hero Crudup. But at the same time his sprit and self-belief never waver. After all, he only turned out to be someone called Cameron Crowe.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Great Moments From Cinema - 42

Verbal Volleys

Movie: The Philadelphia Story (MGM-USA; 1940)
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart; Philip Barry (Play)
Major Cast: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey

Film Synopsis: When a wealthy socialite (Hepburn) plans to re-marry, her ex-husband (Grant) returns with two tabloid reporters (Stewart and Hussey), which disrupts the wedding.

My Favorite Moment: The dialogue exchanges between the entire cast.

Why I Like It: “The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” This dialogue by Stewart sets the tone for the movie which is one-upmanship between the ensemble cast. Hepburn and Grant are two stubborn characters who ended their marriage in acrimony and when she decides to re-marry he comes back to be, what she perceives as an irritation. However, even though she refuses to acknowledge it, as the movie progresses, she can’t help but realize that he brings out the best in her. Stewart plays a gentleman tabloid reporter who is sent to cover this wedding and ends up being enamored by Hepburn’s personality. Hussey is his colleague who loves him, but wants to wait till Stewart realizes that himself.

No cast member is superfluous and each one of them has lines which major actors in other films can only aspire for. The mother, the father, the sister or even the uncle of the bride to be is not there to make up the numbers. These are interesting people with delightful insights. The dialogue flows freely and sometimes it feels like everyone is trying to catch a runaway train and no one wants to be left behind. Stewart, Grant and Hepburn are no strangers to sharp one-liners, of which they have plenty, but what makes this movie remarkable is the importance given to the writing involving the supporting players. It is difficult to pick just one great piece of conversation and while seeing this movie, it becomes evident that acting doesn’t just mean evoking emotions, but it is process by which one can make the audience member feel like a fly on the wall, that has waltzed into the actors lives and is watching them in their usual surroundings.

The movie does no favors to the lazy audience member who wants to be a passive viewer. It asks us to meet it half way and if we do, then it becomes a truly rewarding experience. Dialogues are funny to only those who can appreciate adult writing. For example, the scene between Grant, Hepburn and Stewart at the swimming pool where,

Grant: “I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. (Then looking at Hepburn) You know one time I secretly wanted to be a writer.”

Everyone at one point or another has the last-word. The tête-à-tête is more like tennis between players who give no inch to the opponent and pounce to hit a winner at first available moment. So when Hussey observes that the intercom at Hepburn’s residence has a button called ‘stables’, she promptly says, without batting an eyelid, “Perhaps it is for when they want to talk to the horses without inviting them in the house”. Well I say, really it can’t get much better than this!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Great Moments From Cinema - 41

Song Sung Blue

Movie: Paths Of Glory (Bryna Productions and Harris-Kubrick Productions; 1957)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Humphrey Cobb (book) and Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham & Jim Thompson
Major Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolph Menjou and George Macready

Film Synopsis: Set during WWI, a French Colonel (Douglas) has to defend his men against charges of cowardice

My Favorite Moment: A young German girl singing in a bar full of French soldiers

Why I Like It: Hollywood has had its share of ‘War’ films which eventually preach anti-war sentiments. Several actions scenes are usually punctuated with emotional bonding between the soldiers and the strife they face everyday. But in just one scene, far removed from the battle front, Kubrick does more for illustrating the human side of war than any other movie. It is one of the most poignant endings to a film since City Lights, and if that movie gave the audience an emotionally satisfying closure, this one leaves them with a heart-breaking image. It is without a question the greatest war film ever made.

A French General played by Menjou, orders his subordinate General (Macready) to carry out an impossible mission of capturing a German stronghold. Driven by his own ambition, Macready passes on this task to Douglas who pleads with him to reconsider. The mission has a limited chance of success and would cost the French huge casualties. Macready disagrees and as Douglas’s men proceed with the attack; as expected it leads to failure and death. The surviving troops retreat, seeing which, a furious Macready even orders the artillery to fire on their own men. In order to teach them a lesson, he commands Douglas to select 3 men to be tried for cowardice and executed. Douglas tries in vain to defend them in a farcical court martial where he is not given a fair chance at defense. As a last straw, he goes to Menjou and gives him proof of Macready’s order to fire on his own people. But Menjou is politically correct and the 3 soldiers are executed as planned. The next day Menjou launches an inquiry against Macready and promotes Douglas to Macready’s post. As he congratulates him, Douglas tells Menjou to stuff the promotion and walks out in disgust. It is then when he hears loud cheering coming from the dining hall.

A German girl has been captured and she is brought out in front of a jeering and rowdy French crowd. She is frightened as there are some disparaging remarks made against her and is forced to sing and entertain the soldiers. She starts singing a song in German and even though they don’t understand the lyrics, slowly the shouting stops and the soldiers start humming the tune. In the end all of them join in and several of them start weeping under all the emotional strain they are forced into every day. Douglas is clearly moved and he lets them share this brief moment of catharsis before ordering them back to the trenches. It goes on to show that it is not the politicians or the top army officials, but common men who lay down their lives and for what? Just so that some other people can chalk out new geographical lines on the map? The soldiers identify with that frightened girl and they see themselves on the stage with no hope of escape. In the end all of them including the girl are human, irrespective of their lineage. If they are allowed to remember that by their superiors, then there would be no need for bloodshed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Great Moments From Cinema - 40

Fading Pictures

Movie: Sunset Boulevard. (Paramount Pictures; 1950)
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D. M. Marshman Jr.
Major Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim

Film Synopsis: Holden is an unemployed screenwriter who finds himself in the mansion of Swanson, a senile and faded star from silent movies. Believing that she can still make a come-back, Swanson hires Holden to write a script. He eventually becomes a kept man who tries in vain to escape from her growing madness.

My Favorite Moment: Swanson as Norma Desmond, “I am still big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Why I Like It: How do you write a dialogue like that? Swanson says the above in response to Holden’s comment that he remembered her from the old silent films and that she used to be big at one time. No other response has been so dramatic, so appropriate and so overwhelming in its execution. Swanson says these words as if she believes them and it is insolent on Holden’s part to assume otherwise. It’s not just the sound of her voice, but her entire body language which communicates these sentiments. The raised eyebrows and the smug look of superiority are convincing to us as the audience, and we think to ourselves that this is a woman who at one time may have had Hollywood in the palm of her hands.

This is a great movie. A classic look at Hollywood after the spot-light has been turned off. Many stars have faced this bitter experience of being forgotten too soon. Although Swanson plays a delusional woman, at no stage does the audience pity her. She still maintains a dignified exterior and that is what makes her insanity so captivating. Erich von Stroheim plays the role of her butler who at one point used to be her husband and also a great director. Even he cannot force himself to leave her and one suspects that it is more due to Swanson’s forceful presence rather than compassion on his part.

Wilder directed this movie with great style. The movie starts off with Holden being dead in a pool and yet narrating the story. It may sound strange, but it gives the film the feel of a noir and works because of that. The screen play is flawless and some of the dialogues, like the one above, have become legendary. For example towards the end when she has surrendered completely to the madness, Swanson in a farewell speech to the reporters says, “You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!” or the time where she says about the silent films, “We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!” These words resonate with some significance and a sad reflection on how Hollywood may have forgotten the spirit of some of its old legends. Think about it, “It’s the pictures that got small!” Where have all the people gone? Where are the Bogart’s, the Stewart’s, the Grant’s, the Gable’s, the Chaplin’s, the Keaton’s, the Lloyd’s, the Astair’s, the Hepburn’s, the Stanwyck’s, the Garland’s, the Brando’s? The story of Sunset Blvd. means more today than at any time. But dammit, just how do you write a dialogue like that?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Great Moments From Cinema - 39

As The Clock Strikes 12

Movie: High Noon (Stanley Kramer Productions; 1952)
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: John Cunningham (story) and Carl Foreman.
Major Cast: Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

Film Synopsis: In a small town of late 19th century, Cooper plays a marshall who is getting married to Kelly and about to quit his job and leave town. Then he gets news that a man whom he had put in prison and who has sworn to kill him, is arriving by the noon train. Now Cooper has to decide whether to stay for a showdown or leave with his bride.

My Favorite Moment: The swinging of the pendulum as the clock ticks towards noon.

Why I Like It: If “The Western” is an American treasure, then this is its crown jewel. It is a terrific film and an edge of your seat thriller. A mandatory viewing for all cinema students, the suspense of the film is in the anticipation of the approaching hour. Almost in real time, the 90 minutes which Cooper spends waiting for the outlaw ‘Frank Miller’ to arrive is the best time one can spend at movies. It is a character study of a man ‘Will Kane’ (Cooper) who knows that by dong what is morally right, he may lose his lovely bride, or even his life. But character is what the film is all about. ‘Heroes’ in movies fight against tyranny, generally to help or protect someone who is oppressed or wrongfully accused. ‘Will Kane’ is one of the greatest screen heroes, not because of this stereotype. On the contrary, he is fighting for himself, his own conscience.

Cooper had send ‘Miller’ to state prison years ago and had been warned of the repercussions. He is the town Marshall who is getting married to Kelly and leaving to start a new life. When he hears that ‘Miller’ has been released and is arriving by the noon train, everyone advises him to take his bride and leave as soon as possible. He does so, but after some time his conscience doesn’t allow him to turn his back and run. He knows that he cannot spend the rest of his life knowing that ‘Miller’ and his gang are wrecking havoc. Against his wife’s wishes, he comes back to town and has an hour to prepare for the encounter. He goes around town looking for people who can stand by him and fight, but nobody agrees. They see it as suicide and even preach from the commandments which forbid men from killing each other. As the hour approaches, ‘Will’ is all alone and even his beloved wife decides to leave him because she cannot understand why a man has to go to a certain death when he should be with a woman who loves him. All through the film, camera focuses on ‘Will’s’ growing frustration due to his abandonment and as he keeps looking at the clock ticking away toward noon.

The soul of this film is that unforgettable song “Do Not Forsake Me Oh’ My Darling”. This movie would not exist without this song and it is unimaginable to listen to this tune and not think of the movie. It plays in the background throughout the film and is a reminder of ‘Will’s’ predicament as a person who is torn between love and his duty as a lawman. In the end, he kills the outlaw, Kelly returns back to him and as ‘Will’ prepares to leave town, everyone comes to congratulate him. However ‘Will’ just looks at them in disdain and flings the marshall’s badge at their feet. But who can ever forget the shadows growing shorter, the ticking of the clock and that song in the background. As long as there are movies, they will be talking about this one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Great Moments From Cinema - 38

The First Family Of Crime

Movie: The Godfather (Paramount Pictures; 1972)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
Major Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale and Talia Shire

Film Synopsis: The story of Mafia family, the ‘Corleone’s’; it chronicles the passing of the leadership from ‘Vito Corleone’ (Brando) to his youngest son, ‘Michael’ (Pacino).

My Favorite Moment: The transformation of Pacino into the next ‘Godfather’

Why I Like It: I am yet to meet a person who hasn’t seen this movie. In fact, I am yet to meet anyone who dislikes it. No matter when or where, the minute we hear the haunting music by Nino Rota, we are drawn into the world of the ‘Godfather’. A flawless film, it is the iconic cinema of all time and the benchmark for all ‘mafia movies’. A benchmark which no other film has ever matched, except of course its sequel.

Right from the opening dialogue (the most famous first words in a film) “I believe in America”, at the wedding of Brando’s daughter (Shire), we are captivated by this family and even become a part of their lives. Yes these are criminals and sometimes they are heartless, but we still like them. It is perhaps because they value loyalty beyond everything else. Godfather’s word is his honor and if he promises you something, it is etched in stone. The foundations of their family have deep roots and they will have no mercy on anyone trying to destroy that. As ‘Michael’ chillingly reminds his brother ‘Fredo’ (Cazale), “Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”

It is hard to imagine anyone else playing ‘Vito Corleone’ than Brando. His every nuance is perfect and the way Coppola lights his face only partially, adds to the mystic of his performance. Even as he won the Academy award for this role, the best performance is by Pacino and his transition from the innocent kid to the next ‘Godfather’. Nowhere is it emphasized more than the scene where he coldly plots the murder of a corrupt cop who had tried to kill ‘Vito’. His posture as he sits in the chair, changes ever so slightly, but it is enough to convince us of his growing stature. It is his rebirth and the steely look in his eyes is testament to his intentions. It is hard to believe that it is the same young man who, at the beginning of the film tells his girlfriend (Keaton) that he is not involved in his family’s shady business. But blood is after all the strongest bond and it is a destiny he cannot escape. In a virtuoso sequence at the end, on ‘Michael’s’ orders, all his enemies are being eliminated at the same time as his infant son is getting baptized. It is as if he is purging his life of all the unwanted elements. He comes across as cold man who doesn’t see any crime in killing people who deserve to die.

Coppola achieves the cinematic equivalent of a perfect score in gymnastics. The rest of the cast is nothing short of brilliant. Caan and Duvall were born to play their roles. It is compelling to see these men discuss crime as if it were the most natural thing to do. So when a person who disrespects the ‘Godfather’, gets up with his horse’s head in his bed, he as well as the audience gets the message loud and clear: This is what ‘Godfather’ can do. If you do not follow his instructions, he will be forced to ‘make an offer which you can’t refuse.’ ... And it won’t be pleasant.