“Departures” Review

Departures (2008)

Departures is the winner of the 2009 Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign Language Picture. Loosely based on a memoir by Shinmon Aoki titled Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, it tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), an ex-cellist who comes to his home town and finds a very undesirable employment as a nōkanshi, a traditional ritual mortician in Japan. The profession attracts strong societal criticism and prejudice, and soon Kobayashi has to justify his choice not only to his wife and those around him, but also to himself, while finding the courage to finally face the most hated man in his life – his own father. Departures is a wonderful film full of humour and touching moments. This film about one man’s journey of self-discovery and finding forgiveness is also an admirable attempt to challenge and to help alleviate the nonsensical and unfair discrimination faced by people who work in this very difficult and challenging profession in Japan.

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The Academy Awards 2020: Some Commentary

the oscars 2002

The Oscars have again surprised the world, and, this time, thankfully, not because they gave an award to the wrong film. Parasite, a South Korean movie, has officially become the first foreign-language film to win the most prestigious award – Best Picture, a fact that is especially remarkable given that it was also nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category and won there too. The Oscars have also been overly “white” this year, did not recognise some (more art-house) films and acting which are also deserving of praise and nominations (that acting in “The Lighthouse“!), and, for the year that is supposed to celebrate women in cinema-making and acting, did not acknowledge great acting and films made by women (for example, no women nominees in the category of Best Director). I will only very briefly comment on the 2020 wins in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in the Supporting Role and Best Cinematography. 

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“The Shape of Water” Review

the-shape-of-water-french-movie-posterThe Shape of Water (2017)

Words lie, but looks don’t…When you fall in love, you fall in love, absolutely, all at once, all-in. It’s a miracle” (Guillermo del Toro).  

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere” .

This tale of unlikely love between the Princess without Voice or Elisa and the creature from the Amazon has been nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and there are good reasons for this furore. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)) has finally made the movie he wanted to make for a long time. Del Toro merges different cinematic genres (fantasy, drama and romance), while paying tribute to black-and-white Hollywood musicals and B-movie monsters, to produce a movie which is almost faultless in its directional execution, acting and emotional content. The director draws on a number of sources to tell the unlikely love story which, among many other things, portrays and sympathises with the lives of the “underdog” minority, and engagingly sets out the high-pressure conditions of living in the times of the Cold War. 

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Academy Award Nominations 2018: Some Commentary

2018-academy-awards-finalists-released-1170x630

Best Picture  

My favourite to win: The Shape of Water 

It is a bit of a surprise that “Phantom Thread” as well as “Get Out” made this list. “Get Out” is a horror (not the Academy Awards’ favourite genre), which was released a bit less than one year ago. Even though it is good to see the Academy nominating such a dark-horse, the amazement is still there. For all its unforgettably tense psychological atmosphere, “Get Out” is still a flawed film (see my review here), and one may  wonder whether, as with “Moonlight” the year before, there were not some “race politics” involved in this decision as well. On the other hand, such a great film as “The Florida Project” is nowhere to be seen here, which is astounding. I guess the Academy thought that by nominating “Call Me By Your Name”, they would be done with it when it comes to paying their dues and nominating aesthetically-pleasing, independent-spirited films. The limit is ten nominees per category, and, surely, “The Florida Project” deserves its tenth place on this list. 

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“Hacksaw Ridge” Review

hacksaw0001Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

**SPOILER ALERT**

An inspiring story about an unconventional hero? A graphic tale of the brutality of a war? A touching and believable love story? Mel Gibson can do it all, and, believe it or not – do it brilliantly – all in the same movie. His latest film “Hacksaw Ridge” tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a kind, deeply-religious young man who also happens to be a conscientious objector, enlisting to serve in an army, while having a deep conviction against the commission of violence/murder and would not even touch a gun. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, “Hacksaw Ridge” is the kind of a film which one can easily define as “great”: a moving, heart-felt story is matched by a dedicated director and a committed actor who do their work exceptionally well.

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BAFTA Awards 2017

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Yesterday, on 12 February 2017, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) presented its 70th British Academy Film Awards. Hosted in the Royal Albert Hall in London, the ceremony was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and presented by a comedian and actor Stephen Fry (“V for Vendetta” (2005)). The ceremony was particularly impressive this year, with the great British humour all around, and a fierce high film competition, which, although could have been even more diverse, was, nevertheless, inclusive of so many great foreign productions. Here, I will comment on the Best Picture, Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress, Foreign-Language Film, Documentary and Animation Award winners. 

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Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” Review

rebecca_ver4Rebecca (1940)

“…I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end” (Daphne Du Maurier “Rebecca” (1938)). 

 **SPOILER ALERT** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, “Rebecca” is adapted from the best-selling novel by Dalphne Du Maurier, and tells of a mysterious widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the owner of a grand estate Manderley, who stumbles across a shy and awkward young girl (Joan Fontaine) while on a trip in Monte Carlo. De Winter hurriedly marries our heroine, but upon the arrival to his estate, the new Mrs de Winter feels like a trespasser. She realises that every corner of the house is permeated by the spirit of Maxim’s beautiful, charming and intelligent previous wife, Rebecca, and senses that her husband still re-lives the happy moments that he had with his former wife. 

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Academy Award Nominations 2017

Today, the Academy announced its 2017 Awards’ nominations. Many nominations were predictable, e.g., “La La Land”, while some omissions/inclusions were surprising. Here, I will briefly comment on 7 categories: (1) Best Picture; (2) Best Actress; (3) Best Actor; (4) Best Animation; (5) Best Foreign Language Film; (6) Best Documentary; and (7) Best Original Song.

  1. Best Picture
  • Arrival
  • Fences
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hidden Figures
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight

­­­­­­­­In my review of “La La Land”, I said how the movie was a perfect Academy Awards material, celebrating what is, in fact, Hollywood, well…even the Academy Awards itself. So, it is no surprise to see so many (14!) nominations for the movie. That is, of course, on top of the fact that “La La Land” is an excellent movie in its own right. “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” are predictable nominations, but, I think, that “Lion” was nominated on the strength of its story, rather than on the quality of the film per se. Going through the list I did not expect to see there “Nocturnal Animals”, and it was not included, but I think the movie was unjustly bypassed in some other categories, such as the Best Actor/Director/Score categories.

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“La La Land” Review

la-la-land-posterLa La Land (2016)

Universally acclaimed, “La La Land” is the kind of a film which could melt the most cynical and toughest of critics. As romantic as it is visually stunning, the main charm of the film lies in its simplicity: a guy, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and a girl, Mia (Emma Stone) both dream of professional success in Hollywood, and first find true happiness in each others’ arms before the practical realities of their chosen star professions separate them. With an uncomplicated plot and an absolutely stunning soundtrack, “La La Land” has all the appeal of an old musical, while keeping things interesting and original with notes of modern music, the showcasing of modern technologies and with the demonstrations of a competitive side of today’s Hollywood business. In “La La Land”, Damien Chazelle (director) shows that, in the 21st century, it is still possible not only to make a financially successful old-school musical-comedy, but also to produce a real gem of a movie capable of leaving the audience breathless with its heart strings’ pulling and sheer inventiveness.

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“The Lost Weekend” Review

the-lost-weekend-posterThe Lost Weekend (1945)

“One drink’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough.”

The Lost Weekend” is a 1945 film directed by Billy Wilder, and telling a story of a failed writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland) who struggles to combat his chronic alcohol addiction in the course of a weekend. The winner of an Academy Award in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, “The Lost Weekend” is now deemed so significant both culturally and historically, it has been recently added in that category to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Indeed, more than 70 years after its initial release, the movie still mesmerises the audience with its performances, and paints probably the most heartfelt and realistic picture of someone combating their alcohol addiction.  Continue reading ““The Lost Weekend” Review”

The Academy Awards 2016

I won’t title this blog “The Academy Awards 2016: Controversial, Emotional & Predictable”, although I want too. What have we had so far? Protests regarding the representation of black people and women nominated, and nominated actors who you can so safely bet on winning – the chances that they won’t is like forgetting your own name. Diversity & Competition or rather a lack thereof. Here, I will only comment on the Best Picture, Best Animated Film, and Best Actor and Actress categories.

The Best Picture Academy Award went to Spotlight (other nominees being The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Brooklyn, and Mad Max: Fury Road). Surprising? Hardly. Room may be too traumatic or misunderstood for the Academy to applaud, The Martian too science-fiction to take seriously, and The Revenant just not good enough to win.

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“Spotlight” Review

spotlight-posterSpotlight (2015)

Directed by Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” is this year’s critically-acclaimed Best Picture Academy Award nominee that deals with a very sensitive topic of exposing a widespread and systematic child sex abuse by Roman-Catholic priests in the area of Boston, US. In the movie, “Spotlight”, the investigative team of the Boston Globe newspaper, becomes in charge of the task of investigating the allegations against a number of priests involved in the scandal. As the team digs deeper, it uncovers more and more horrifying facts of the matter that includes unbelievable cover-ups and world-wide accusations.

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“The Revenant” Review

revenant-leoThe Revenant (2015)

“He would crawl until his body could support a crutch. If he only made three miles a day, so be it. Better to have those three miles behind him than ahead.” (Michael Punke, “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge”)

In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film “The Revenant”, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman involved in an expedition to American wilderness in the year 1823. After a bear attack leaves Glass seriously injured, one of his companions decides to betray him, and among other horrific actions, leaves him behind. What follows is Glass’s unforgettable journey back to the outpost, to find the man who not only left him for dead, but also robbed him of the one dearest to him.

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“12 Years a Slave” Review

12-years-a-slave-poster12 Years a Slave (2013)

Coming from Steve McQueen (director of Shame‘ (2011)), ‘12 Years a Slave’ can now be comfortably described as this year’s cinematic sensation. The film, based on a self-autobiographical novel by Solomon Northup, tells the story of a black free man, who lives a happy family life in Saratoga, New York in 1841. After he is tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South, his life turns up-side-down, and a once brilliant musician and an educated family man is now forced to endure an unjust hard life of a slave in Louisiana. The film is very truthful to Northump’s novel, and is filled with so much realism that when one of the characters at the end of the film starts talking about freedom and black people’s rights, the audience may find it hard to believe a word he says – so engrossed they have become in the political/social ideology of that time and in black people’s lives on a plantation in Louisiana.

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“The Departed” Review

78The Departed (2006)

              ‘When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?’ (Frank Costello) 

Martin Scorsese’s crime thriller ‘The Departed’, winner of an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006, is considered to be the director’s finest take on the mob theme since ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) (intermittently he also directed ‘Casino’ (1995) and ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002)). With many great actors involved in this movie, and with such a meticulously constructed script, this is no wonder. ‘The Departed’ is set in the south of Boston during the time when the police wages their war against the Irish-American criminal syndicate. The film starts off with young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) befriending the untouchable lord of crime, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Years later, there emerge two cops: one – Colin Sullivan, only too ready to infiltrate the state police as an informer for Frank Costello, and another Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a guy who grew up in a criminal environment, who becomes a gang member working for Costello, while at the same time working as a undercover cop. When both the state police and the mob begin to suspect that there is an informer within their circle working for the other side, both Sullivan and Costigan must race against time to uncover the identity of another to save their lives.

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“War Horse” Mini-Review

War Horse (2011)     

Directed by Steven Spielberg (‘Schindler’s List‘ (1993), ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ (1998)) and based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, ‘War Horse’ is a moving picture about the strong ties of friendship which develop between a boy and his horse. The film begins with the boy’s father, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), buying a horse, Joey, at a horse market for a very high price. Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) becomes instantly attached to the talented Joey and teaches him to plough to try to pay the family’s rent in Devon. When the war breaks out, however, Joey is sold to the army, but not before young Albert promises Joey to honour their friendship, and to find him someday. Although the film is full of sentimentality, it is also entertaining and heart-warming.

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The Academy Award Nominees 2012: Best Picture & Actor/Actress in a Leading Role

The “Best Picture” nominees:

1. The Artist                    

2. The Descendants

3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  

4. The Help

5. Hugo

6. Midnight in Paris

7. Moneyball

8. The Tree of Life

9. War Horse

I predict ‘The Artist’ to win the Academy Award in the “Best Picture” category this year. The least likely “Best Picture” winners are clearly “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and ‘Moneyball’.

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The Academy Awards 2011

oscar-2011

With the nominations for the Academy Awards 2012 coming up in January 2012, it is a convenient time to review and comment on the Academy Awards 2011. Here, the focus will be on two categories: “Best Picture” and “Best Actress in a Leading Role”. 

As it is well-known, ‘The King’s Speech’ won the Academy Award in the “Best Picture” category in 2011, and other runner-ups were Black Swan, ‘The Fighter’, ‘The Kids Are All Right’, ‘True Grit’, ‘Inception’, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Winter’s Bone’, ‘The Social Network’ and ‘127 Hours’. It could be argued that ‘The King’s Speech’ won the Award not because it represented some exceptional cinematographic achievement, but simply because it had no real serious competitors in that year – in the eyes of the Academy. To put it simply, ‘The King’s Speech’ won the “Best Picture” Award not because it was so good, but because other films in its category did not conform in any way to the Academy’s ideas of what the “Best Picture” winner should look like. That “ideal” was set in the past. Though such things happen at the Oscars every year, arguably, the year 2010 has seen some of the worst examples of cinematography compared to the past thirty years, with the Academy Awards’ standards falling the lowest since the early 1980s.

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