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Oscars: the final insult!
I saw Chicago the other night. I'm not much of a musical fan but I did love Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. And here was an Oscar winning musical that was all the rage.
For what? This film deserved only ONE Oscar nomination and that was for Richard Gere who stretched himself with an incredible un-Gere-esque performance. And he wasn't nominated.
Nearly every other aspect of this film was bad, bad, bad.
1) Renee Zelweger - so what if she looks like nothing on earth? She can act! Can't she? What? She can't? Ok, then she's truly good for nothing
2) Catherine Zeta Jones - this woman can act (she's lost her looks though) but she is pushed into the back rows of this film with a minor supporting role
3) The music - this is a musical, there have to be songs - in S of Music the songs were good , hell they were great. Not one song in this pathetic film is catchy or good. Not one song lasts in your head as you come out of the movie except for All that Jazz - which lasts in your head because the main line is musically out of sync and off-beat with the rest of the song!
4) The plot - is quite intricate - for a 1 year old. No harm done, we don't expect great plots in musicals. But this one comes under the "who gives a rats ..." category. It is beyond lame.
5) When you get out of the theater, you find that you couldn't have cared less for any other characters - Velma, Roxy and frankly, you just wished they were all dead
6) Ok, so some say that one should'nt dissect a film as long as it provided entertainment. Fine. This film is BORING people. I heard that the Hours is a slow mover. After seeing this, The Hours might be non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action that never lets up!
Just when I would start getting into the dialogue, they fade reality into a pathetically low-beat, dull, unattractive song made even more unattractive by Zelweger who looks like troll.
The Oscars have fallen from grace over the past 20 odd years and this is truly the final nail in its coffin.
Btw, I had a friend who saw it in England who walked out of it in 5 minutes. If you want to torture someone, or lure them into a coma or get even with someone who did something to you once, then CHICAGO is the movie for them.
And if in the highly, highly, highly unlikely event that the Oscar was awarded to the truly best picture, then this is THE worst year in movie history.
The one truly great Hindi film of the 1990s
I am not a big fan of Hindi films - infact I'm not a fan of commercial Hindi films at all. But then there's Satya, Ram Gopal Varma's classic 1998 Indian mafia fan is brilliant, innovative and despite certain directorial flaws is nonetheless so vastly different from the run of the mill Hindi films (ie. 99% of Hindi films) that it is unforgettable. It is 175 minutes long, the typical duration, but it grabs you instantaneously as you follow the journey of Satya who comes to Mumbai to make a life for himself.
Before getting into a long winded review, I shall just point out a few plusses and minuses of this great movie. The minuses are minor and are nothing compared to the mishaps in a normal hindi film.
Plusses: - Manoj Bajpai, Manoj Bajpai and lastly, Manoj Bajpai. This is probably the single best acting performance by an Indian in the 90s. The realism and flawlessness he brings to the role is amazing. He does to go a bit over the top, but without losing any of his characters identity (hell, Pacino has been doing it for years now). - The rest of the cast. Urmila is incredibly refreshing as the innocent girl next door with the usual handicapped Dad and perennially miserable Mom. Saurabh Shukla as Kalu Mama is brilliant and comes quite close to Bajpai performance-wise. The realism he brings is equally breathtaking. Just seeing the scene where he, Bajpai and Govind Namdeo (Bhau) literally makes you a member of the gang, standing there and smiling along with them. - The plot is largely excellent. - (see weakness #2) Golimaar and Sapne Me are hilarious musical numbers
Now for two minor flaws: - Ram Gopal Varma's directorial synchronization of music and plot is often out of sync. A classic example is during the scene after the gangland shootout (when Kalumama first sees Vidya and Satya). There are certain other flaws as well in his direction as well. - Barring numbers from classic Hindi films (known for their music), I have never been even a remote fan of Hindi film singing and dancing. I feel three out of five songs in this movie are totally unnecessary and I would've enjoyed an "all-out" realistic film for a change w/o any songs. Having said that, the film is all the more memorable due to the two main numbers: Goli Maar and Sapne me milti hai - mainly due to Bhiku's gang and their histrionics.
All in all a refreshing Hindi film that made me a part of the main gang for the three hour duration and left me wanting more. I hope this inspires a revival of GOOD hindi films as was in the late 70s and early 80s.
The Last Emperor (1987)
The Last Epic
The Last Emperor, like Once Upon a Time in America, is an epic saga that delves, among various aspects, into the realm of Time and the ensuing effects it has on a human being and his culture as it passes through his lifetime. The Last Emperor of the Qing dynasty, Pu-Yi, was coronated in 1909 at the age of three and due to his youth ended up being a puppet to his adminstration. Bertolucci successfully shows us a young man who while understandably spoilt by many luxuries of monarchy, is in actuality a tender hearted, independent thinker (not doer) who is passionate about his homeland (Manchuria) and has a ravenous desire for experiencing life in the outside world. His caged lifestyle in the Forbidden City (Beijing) is definitely a major contributor to this mindset. From his infancy the director takes us through a chain of historical events that ultimately lead to Pu-Yi being an ordinary man (we know this from the beginning, however flashbacks explain his situation at the start). However, it is not the desired lifestyle that he sought as an Emperor in his youth.
The Last Emperor is breathtaking in its cinematography and Bertolucci's direction is impeccable. A lot of criticism was directed at his film '1900' (1976) due to its sheer length. The Last Emperor clocks in at 215 minutes (director's cut) and barring 10 minutes of a marriage related scene, it never lets up. Bertolucci seamlessly interweaves the flashbacks with Pu-Yi's situation in post-WWII China by providing us with a real life tragedy that epitomizes human weaknesses, vices, love and loyalty. Here is a film that is a true story but goes beyond mere narration or simple depiction - it is a three and a half hour, non-stop attention grasping journey through the spectrum of humanity that defines our lifetime through the eyes of an unfortunate soul who was a victim of circumstances like many are. Any questions that the viewer will have concerning an event in the plot will be immediately answered through the rich tapestry that Bertolucci shows when depicting Pu-Yi's imperial life.
On a technical note, the acting in this film is brilliant. John Lone deserved atleast an Oscar nomination for best actor due to his seamless portrayal of Pu-Yi. He makes his portrayal of a 21 - 60 year old Pu-Yi seem like an effortless act. Through his performance the audience feels an even greater compassion for the last emperor as we come across a man who despite all the hardships he endured was very compassionate and soft centered. The sheer down to earth nature of his character as a 55-60 year old who walks with a tired smile, forever accompanied by his loving brother, is a testament to Lone's ability to portray any age and move the audience.
Once again, it takes a Hailey's comet like event for the Academy to nominate someone from the eastern world (or non-British, non-American when it comes to best actor). The rest of the cast is also brilliant barring Ryuichi Sakamoto (who portrays the one-armed Masahiko Amakasu) who, for the most part, presents us with a classic display of Japanese overacting. Although I wouldn't call it overacting in a Kurasawa-esque/Japanese film environment, it becomes quite hilarious in a production such as this.
This apart, the film is brilliant. It is the last great epic (yes, Gladiator is very good, but is far from an epic in my mind) and somehow I hope it is rediscovered and re-appreciated as it once was back in the late eighties.
While the Oscars have always contrived to ignore the true best picture for most of the last two decades, here is an example of a best picture winner which beat the competition by miles.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
An epic that makes you feel like you've lived a life in 4 hours
I think this movie would break IMDB's top 50 if all the viewers saw the REAL version of this movie - the 224 minute epic that was Sergio Leone's directorial swan song. Ennio Morricone's music has always been at its apex when Leone was involved and it's the same right here - the music is stunningly moving and enhances the passage of time. Frame by frame scenes, the quality of the film, the music, the acting (brilliant - with my main man Deniro ..aka GOD) and a volatile James Woods makes you feel like you've lived an entire life of someone when you see this movie. Although The Godfather and the trilogy are my favorite movies of all time - this movie along with the GFather trilogy are perhaps the only ones who make the viewer well and truly feel like they've taken a lifelong journey - literally living a life. But this film gets credit for doing so with 3.5 hours - without any sequels. A brilliant, sad, moving and enriching experience.
Carlito's Way (1993)
One of the Greatest films of the decade
Brian DePalma is such an experienced director, you'd think that he's the best in the business. Instead, a landslide majority of his films have been exercises in waste production. This one, however, projects DePalma in the way he SHOULD have been with his years of experience; it is fast, brilliant, excellently acted (the ONLY reason Pacino wasn't nominated for an Oscar in my opinion was the fact that he had won it the previous year...and what's with the Academy not nominating this for best picture? Ok, there was Schindler's List, but still...) and for once DePalma deserved an Oscar nomination for best direction. Pretty much a perfect movie.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Where's Jack Lemmon's Oscar?
Can't quite understand why Lemmon didn't get a nomination at the Oscars for his performance in this phenomenal but short film. It relies on a superb script that makes something which we really couldn't be enthralled to see just by the circumstances the plot is immersed in (i mean, I wouldn't be that interested to see a movie on closers) but the actors pull us in, and the crafty script makes it just fantastic. A great film, and if you ask me, Pacino could have done with his second Oscar of the year for his performance.
Last but not least: Alec Baldwin's five minute performance is acting at it's VERY BEST. That performance leaves an everlasting memory from the movie.
The Godfather (1972)
Film's greatest achievement
Few movies have ever come close to this epic. It is the most intelligently and brilliantly woven piece of work that any man in the film industry has ever created. The genius of 'Coppola of the 70s' and the brilliance of the man are in perfect display here. Words escape me to describe this movie. Starting from the foundations of one of the greatest novels (kudos to Signor Puzo) it gains tremendous strength from the greatest acting, directing, producing and scriptwriting that one can come across.