Monday, March 3, 2008

Oscars 2008- Five movies...

Most critics agreed that there was high competition among Oscar nominees this year. Yet, for some, the list was not flashy enough. True, it didn't have an epic like 'Ben-Hur' or 'Gladiator', an evergreen classic like 'Gone with the Wind' or 'Sound of Music' or a 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Jurassic Park', rich with visual effects. Most of the movies were pure human tales- of love, longing, deceit, jealousy, determination...And they had, arguably, some real good cinematic moments. Many of these may be forgotten in the long and rich history of cinema. But they are sure to inspire some great works in the near future. Here is a look at a few of them...

Atonement

Atonement, based on Ian McEwan's novel deals with a single mistake and a small lie which changes the lives of the people involved forever. Nominated in 7 categories, this is a film with a vintage air to it. The film follows the structure of the novel and enhances it with a multi- perspective narrative. The performances by the actors are stellar. Yet, despite the portrayal of love, lust, jealousy, lie, revenge and even war in a big canvas, it remains just a good film that fails to break into the "classic" category. The background music is notable with the predominant use of typewriter clacking at the most tense junctures. The typewriter, an integral component of the film- the turning point in the story is a typewritten letter; the protagonist Briony is an author- is thus woven into the music too. Not surprisingly, the only Oscar the film won was for Original Score.

Nominations:
Best Music Written for Motion Pictures - Original Score (Won), Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design

Michael Clayton

The setting of Michael Clayton brings memories of 'Jerry Maguire'. Here too, we find the hero struggling with a conflict between his personal value system and his professional life. The comparison ends there; our hero Michael being a "fixer" with a law firm has to deal with his financial debts, the mental upset of a colleague and the exposure to corruption and deceit by a client company. Directed by debutant Tony Gilroy, well remembered for the screenplay of the Bourne movies, the movie is a crisp crime drama. Top notch acting by Tom Wilkinson and a rather restrained George Clooney are the highlights. But what leaves you spellbound is the stunning Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder, an over ambitious, neurotic (Lady Macbeth without a Macbeth??) chief counsel going evil ways to cover up wrong deeds. If you have any doubts regarding the Oscar she received, just watch her finely detailed act in the climax where Michael comments, "You're so f***ed!!" A film that doesn't preach, yet reminds you to uphold your moral stand even amidst pressures.

Nominations:
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Won), Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

No Country for Old Men

Imagine watching a 2 hour long movie- that too, a gripping cat-and-mouse drama- without the slightest notion that it is completely devoid of background music. Well, that happened to me with "No Country for Old Men", Coen Brothers' attempt to break a long standing convention. What more 'achievement in direction' can they claim than holding you to the edge of the seat sans the screaming violins and fiddles or booming drums in the background? The blood-and-guts story based on the Cormac McCarthy novel follows the gory path of a psychopathic cold blooded serial killer, Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem to Academy award winning perfection). It's about fate, chance and circumstance, incidentally the directors' favorite theme, and how ordinary people become victims of these. The brilliant writing and direction (both receiving awards) is revealed in the depiction of subtle violence - when Chigurh cleans the chicken crates carriage or when he checks the sole of his shoes as he leaves the house towards the climax. So, beware he's still somewhere near, with his cattle gun and asking you to call his coin flip- the world has never been a safe place at all...

Nominations:
Best Director (Won), Best Picture (Won), Best Screenplay- Adapted (Won), Best Supporting Actor (Won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Juno

What's common to Jamie Lynn Spears, Sreedevi (of Malayalam film Notebook) and Juno MacGuff? Yeah, you are right- they were the much talked about teen pregnants of 2007-'08!! While little Spears supplied ample Page 3 material in real life, the Malayalam star some pre- release hype and post release disappointment, Juno with her ravishing originality clearly stands apart. The beauty of 'Juno' lies in its artistic honesty and complete lack of superficiality. A mature and authentic performance in a 'not-so-common' role, Ellen Page just missed the Oscar for best actress. The warmth shared in the relationships between the female characters, however brief their meetings are, is really heartwarming. The characters are a far cry from their conventional stereotypes- you see how a seemingly aloof stepmother had taken care of even the little concerns of Juno. Watch out for the pungent sarcasm in dialogues when Juno's friend Leah says the adoption ads are "right next to terriers and iguanas and used fitness equipment" or when Juno says her baby "looks probably like a Sea Monkey right now and we should let it get a little cuter". The much expected winner of the best original screenplay award, it's one of those films which leave you contented at the end.

Nominations:
Best Original Screenplay (Won), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress

Ratatouille

What is your idea of "Originality"? Well, whatever it had been, just see "Ratatouille" to get it redefined. Here you see, hear, smell and taste "O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L-I-T-Y". Ok, you can argue that beneath its (rat) skin, it's just the same age old story of ambition and will conquering obstacles to achieve a dream. But tell me- Have you ever thought it could be recycled - and so captivatingly - with a non- human protagonist? Ratatouille talks about Remy, the rat with an irrepressible desire to be a chef and how he manages to become one. Following the Disney- Pixar tradition, the artists have taken utmost care in ensuring the authenticity of every fine detail while animating the characters and objects and here, including the culinary details. Don't frown when I brand the dialogues "profound". Have a look at this: Anton Ego, the food critic writes (in the climax): "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." Faithfully, I haven't ever heard something like that on big screen. I feel films like these should be considered for the "Best Picture" award rather than sidelining them to the category of "Best Animated feature".

Nominations:
Best Animated Feature Film (Won), Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

[Thoolika- February 2008]

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