Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Mean Creek

Remember I was talking about giving a "best acting by an ensemble of actors" award for Mean Creek during my Oscar nominations post? Turns out that the movie actually has won one such award. The Independent Spirit Awards have a "special distinction award" for the ensemble cast of Mean Creek.

The nomination committee says, "These young actors turned in performances so uniformly unselfish, and so intricately in tune with one another, that it became impossible to single any one of them out from their extraordinary achievement together. Their work is of such high quality that it moves beyond craft to achieve that mysterious truth and beauty that constitutes the finest acting."

And how young are these young actors? look at the pic below. courtesy Carly Schroeder (who is the only girl among the key actors of the movie and has performed absolutely superbly)

Mean Creek came out on DVD yesterday (in US). Watch it, if you haven't yet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Nope. Wrong Answer. It actually is 672! The question, of course, is "what is the number of pages in the forthcoming book - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince?" :)

I thought I have written enough about movies. So back to Harry Potter stuff! :) Anyway, the news, as I said already, is that the US edition will have 672 pages. This is almost 200 less than Order of the Phoenix. I am yet to decide whether that is a good thing or not.

On a related note, JKR gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. And her full name is Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray!! Phew!

two-thirds right!!

So, the nominations are out and 67.5% of my predictions were right!!! YAY!!! :)

Some observations:

After Globes, Natalie Portman gets a shot at oscars too for Closer.

Alan Alda gets recognized for The Aviator (good for him! though I would really have liked to see Rodrigo De la Serna get a nod for The Motorcycle Diaries)

Jamie Foxx had a supporting role in Collateral??? I don't know what is a leading role then...

Extremely happy for Catalina Sandino Moreno and Kate Winslet!!! The day I saw Maria Full of Grace, I told Neelaabh that the girl in that movie definitely deserves an oscar nomination. But I didn't think it very likely as they don't normally nominate actors from foreign language movies unless the movie itself becomes an unusually big box-office success in the US or the actor in question is highly popular here.... Really, Really happy for Catalina. And what can I say about Kate Winslet. She was one of the best things about Eternal Sunshine. And that is saying A LOT as that happens to be my no. 1 movie of the year.

Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby? Now where did that come from?? He probably deserves it (I wouldn't know as I haven't seen the movie) but if he doesn't, Javier Bardem and Paul Giamatti might just murder him before he gets to the red carpet. On second thoughts, Javier Bardem and Paul Giamatti might murder him regardless of how good his performance was. You don't get a chance to give great performances like they did in The Sea Inside and Sideways every day. (well.. I haven't seen The Sea Inside yet, but going by what I read in the reports, he is incredible in that role. And the trailer shows enough to help you understand what they mean.)

Both Eternal Sunshine and The Incredibles get nominated for best original screenplay!!! Now I have a problem deciding which one to root for!!! :) Eternal Sunshine is superb and The Incredibles wouldn't probably deserve it if it would win (I know it won't win though... ) but it would be great to see Pixar get some recognition outside the obvious "best animated feature" category, which is theirs to keep till eternity. :)

Nice to see personal favorites The Motorcycle Diaries and Before Sunset for adapted screenplays. Though its stretching the definition of "adapted screenplay' a bit to call Before Sunset adapted. All it is based on is the original lead characters created for the prequel Before Sunrise.

Best Foreign Picture had most of the unexpected names. Some movies which I'd have thought were obvious candidates (The Motorcycle Diaries, House of Flying Daggers) were not there.

It seems I am beginning to get a feel for what great cinematography is, even though I know practically nothing about photography. at least three out of the 5 nominations (House of Flying Daggers, A Very Long Engagement, and The Passion of the Christ) had me raving about their cinematography when I saw them. Specially HoFD and AVLE. They are two of the best looking movies I have EVER seen. Just the images are a thousand times the ticket's worth. Add some great background score, a gorgeous leading lady (Zhang Ziyi and Audrey Tautou), a cameo of Jodie Foster in AVLE, and some breathtaking choreography (action or otherwise) in HoFD and you have two of the most sensually satisfying movies one can think of.

One special mention. There is this very good movie called Mean Creek which deserves a "great acting by an ensemble of actors" nomination. Pity there is no such category. Its a movie featuring some young actors (early to late teenagers) and all of them are absolutely great.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Julia Roberts was wrong!

Julia Roberts didn't know what she was talking about when she said that Aishwarya Rai is the most beautiful actress in the world today. She probably hadn't seen Zhang Ziyi then! If you thought that she looked stunning in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero, go and see House of Flying Daggers. She is a goddess! (and doesn't act too badly either, refer to my choices for best actress oscars in the previous post).

Have a look at these stills from House of Flying Daggers. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

Or.. just go and see the trailer here. Or... better still... go and see the movie!! :)

Nominating the Nominations...

Ok people, the oscar nominations are here. And here are my choices and predictions. Remember, my choices are constrained by the movies that I have seen. The predictions are based on both my own impressions of the movies/performances and my understanding of Academy voters' biases.

Best Picture: Predictions
The Aviator
Million Dollar Baby
Finding Neverland
Best Picture: My Choices
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kill Bill-2
Finding Neverland
The Aviator
Before Sunset

Best Director: Predictions
Martin Scorsese (Aviator)
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Alexandar Payne (Sideways)
Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers)
Mike Nichols (Closer)
Best Director: My Choices
Martin Scorsese
Zhang Yimou
Marc Forster (Finding Neverland)
Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine)
Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill-2)

Best Actor in Leading Role- Male: Predictions
Leonardo DiCaprio (Aviator)
Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside)
Paul Giamatti (Sideways)
Best Actor in Leading Role - Male: My Choices
Leonardo DiCaprio
Johnny Depp
Liam Neeson (Kinsey)
Paul Giamatti
Jamie Foxx (Collateral)

Best Actor in Leading Role - Female: Predictions
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
Annette Bening (Being Julia)
any two among Zhang Ziyi, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet and Uma Thurman
Best Actor in Leading Role - Female: My Choices
Zhang Ziyi (House of Flying Daggers)
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine)
Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace)
Uma Thurman (Kill Bill-2)
Emma Watson (Harry Potter) (I know I know... but what the heck! its my list! I can indulge myself here!! :) )
And now that the list has turned into "I-have-a-crush-on-these-actresses" list, why leave Natalie out.. :) so...
Natalie Portman(Garden State)

So.. there you go... I must say that I haven't seen Million Dollar Baby, Closer, Ray, Vera Drake, Being Julia and The Sea Inside yet. I guess the two lists could've been more similar otherwise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

while on Miyazaki's art..

Another GREAT image. This one is from Castle in the Sky. Notice the robot with the birds around its head. Interaction between humans, technology and nature is a recurring theme in Miyazaki's movies.

Again, courtesy Studio Ghibli

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rediscovering Animation.

You have seen quite a few animation movies. Some of them ordinary (Shrek 2, for instance), some good (The Lion Kings and Aladdins of this world) and some stupendous (one word.... Pixar). And yet, if you haven't seen anything by Hayao Miyazaki yet, you have missed a completely different sub-genre of animation - the Epic Animation.

I don't know if its a genre patented by Miyazaki or most Japanese animation is like that but going by what I have heard/read about him, his work is as good as it gets in Japan, or anywhere else on the planet for that matter.

Miyazaki doesn't make your normal laugh-a-minute, cute action-adventures for kids (not that there's anything wrong with that. Pixar people do that brilliantly and who would want to miss their gems?). His style is different. Simpler in a way (he doesn't approve of computer animation and still makes the hand-drawn kind) and yet producing images that remain with you forever. And not just because they are beautiful and grand and bubbling with imagination but also because the pictures tell stories that are simple yet great.

I don't think I know enough about art to even attempt reviewing his work (or anybody else's) but you know you have seen something special when what you expected to be "just an animation movie" keeps coming back to you more than a week after you have seen it. I don't know if everyone would like them as much as I did. Maybe you'll find them good but not as great as others you might've seen. Maybe you'd be disappointed because you'll find that some of his work isn't quite as "entertaining" as, say, The Incredibles. But the fact that IMDb's top animation movies list has one of Miyazaki movies at no. 1, 2 in top 3, and 4 in top 9 gives me hope that a lot of people do like his work as much as I do. And the fact that he is considered a veritable movie-making God (animation or otherwise) in Japan must count for something too. Which reminds me of the little factoid that his Princess Mononoke was the highest grossing movie in Japan EVER before Titanic replaced it later that year. Which reminds me of the fact that Titanic's record was broken by another Miyazaki film - Spirited Away - when it released in 2001. Which reminds me to predict that his latest - Howl's Moving Castle - will take the mantle over very soon (actually it might already have done so. Last I checked, it had already collected more that $150 million and was moving relentlessly towards $200 million dollars without any sign of slowing down.) I am citing all these figures so that you don't misinterpret my raves about his art as an indicator that his work might not be "for the masses".

So, the next time you feel like watching a movie, get a Miyazaki movie regardless of whether you are in the mood to see a great piece of art or just want to have a good time with a light-hearted movie. Among the three that I have seen, I'd recommend that you see Castle in the Sky first. But don't miss the others too.

An image from Miyazaki's current release - Howl's Moving Castle.
courtesy: Studio Ghibli

Monday, January 17, 2005

Golden surprises!

Golden Globes winners have been declared! And some were real surprises! Leonardo DiCaprio took the trophy for The Aviator (superb movie, great acting but he wasn't frontrunner mainly because of other great performances in the fray). The movie itself won the best movie in drama category (ahead of widely tipped Million Dollar Baby).

But the news of the night, as far as I am concerned, is coming of age of our little Mathilda! Natalie Portman wins her first golden globe for Closer!! Here is one case of a talented teenager growing up and fulfiling the early promise shown unlike many others who end up with disappointing careers. She was sooo charming in Garden State and now a golden globe for Closer!! And lest I forget, there is a certain Revenge of the Sith about to release in a few months. What more could she ask for? An oscar maybe... :)

Natalie Portman zindabad!! :)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hermione-Vicky madness!!

Emma says that Hermione is supposed to kiss Viktor Krum in the fourth movie!! I don't think Mike Newell and Steve Kloves love their lives much. Kiss??? Krum??? Hermione!!!!!

Friday, January 14, 2005

And from 0 km!!

Credit: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona

Titan from 16 km altitude!

courtesy ESA

Houston, we have no problem!

The touchdown! The farthest touchdown we humans have EVER attempted has been successful!! Huygens is not only alive and screaming (in radio frequency), but it has been doing so for far longer than expected. It was expected that the batteries of Huygens would not last more than half an hour after touchdown, but it turned out that Huygens was still screaming data when Cassini had to stop listening and turn around so that we can start looking at that 5-6 hours worth of data, 2 of them post touchdown. I can hardly wait to see the first pictures!

Its a HUGE success for all the scientists, engineers and administrators involved!! Look at some of the video clips here. Most of them are press conferences etc. of ESA (European Space Agency). Very interesting! makes you feel a part of the success.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

D-day cometh!

I am currently busier than Pakistani bowlers and fielders are going to be when Sachin decides to finally unleash his quadruple century in the forthcoming series. But couldn't resist myself from making this post. Jan 14 is almost here!!** And Huygens is now very close to entering Titan's atmosphere! Its as exciting as it can ever get in modern science. Nobody really knows what Huygen's findings will be. in a few days from now, we'll all know whether any of our conjectures about Titan were close to being right. This is going to be BIG!! bigger than even the release of Half Blood Prince!! :) (but then, maybe I'll feel differently once July 16 comes closer :) )

**(That reminds me... its KP's birthday!! should call...)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Worse than Vogons?

Continuing with Hitchhiker's Guide stuff. Here is a contest where you can win Ugly (and hence very geek-worthy) Vogon artifacts. All you have to do is write a poem worthy of a Vogon. Do your worst. And if you are sending in an entry, please send a copy to me too. I can do with some mind-bending, hair-pulling, head-banging, nausea-inducing poetry myself.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Depress yourself!!

in the company of Marvin: the most depressed android. Ever.

Don't know how good the movie will be, but initial publicity is good. Pic courtesy "Ain't it cool news".

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Happy B'day God!!!

well, that doesn't tell you much, does it? (Unless you know me well, in which case you have probably already guessed that its either ARR's b'day today or Sachin.. or maybe Mani Ratnam's!)

He has turned 39 (or is it 38?). And considering that he has influenced my life so much over last 11 years, surprising even die-hard fans with one album after another, I can't even begin to imagine what he is going to achieve over next few decades. From Roja to Swades (Kisna isn't quite an ARR album... so... ) he has consistently maintained the highest quality, even changing our perceptions about what that highest quality might be. Just when I start to doubt his ability he comes up with yet another astounding album.

2004 was sort of a mixed year for Rahman. Not in terms of the quality of his songs. In that sense it has to count as one of his best. But it was disappointing to see that some of his great work didnt get the recognition it deserved. Three great soundtracks came and none of them would probably be remembered 10 years from now except by a handful of fans like me. Meenaxi, Yuva/Ayidha Ezhuthu, and Swades are all National Award material. And by that I mean that if any of them is chosen for the award this year it won't be as much of a surprise as Kal Ho Naa Ho was last year. (Nothing against KHNH.. it had good songs.. but NATIONAL AWARD??? )

Ironically it was the fourth -New- that was his most successful album this year. Good music, but nothing as compared to the other three. Enjoyable yes, but not quite as breathtaking as the other three. Specially Meenaxi and Swades. I still can't quite come to terms with Meenaxi's failure to get junta's attention. Granted, the movie's failure had something to do with it, still... it deserved better. Much better.

Anyway, these albums (along with some numbers in Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha and Kisna) were what he came up with last year. And now that we are in 2005, there are some truely exciting projects to look forward to. Netaji, The Rising, Rivermoon (assuming they haven't tinkered with his original music too much) are the three classy albums in the pipeline for this year. Then there are at least 2-3 tamil albums too that he has signed recently. But none of them as exciting as these three (unless Rajiv Menon shoots his next and comes with the music before 2005 ends.. not very likely though).

Happy B'day to the Great A R Rahman. I hope he continues to do the good work for many years to come. At least till I am alive. :)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Back to movies!

First things first, Happy New Year to all!!! :)

Among other things worth looking forward to at the turn of a year there are all those "best of" and "worst of" lists. I have been reading so many of these over last few weeks that its impossible not to get carried away and post a few of my own. And considering that most people consider me to be a movie buff, why not start with the movies!! I am sure I have seen some great movies this year which many of you haven't, so some recommendations won't really be out of order. So, here goes...

First, a little explanation of the lists. I am sure I have seen most of the movies that have opened in US or India in 2004 and are worth being in year's top 10. But I know some of them which I am yet to see. And at least some of them are sure to replace some of the movies in my best-of-2004 list as and when I get to see them. So first this list of movies I haven't yet seen in ascending order of likelihood of being great.

16) Friday Night Lights
15) Raincoat
14) Moolaade
13) A very long engagement
12) Swades
11) Virumaandi
10) Hotel Rwanda
9) The Dreamers
8) Vera Drake
7) Tae Guk Gi
6) Closer
5) The Sea Inside
4) Bad Education
3) House of Flying Daggers
2) The Aviator
1) Million Dollar Baby

The last 5 of these movies are getting such glowing reviews that I am almost certain I'd find them great. Pity I haven't seen them yet.

Now, before my top-10 I need to make some special mentions. There are 12 of them. I found all of them pretty interesting and would recommend them to anyone who likes good movies of their respective genre. (I intend to write a little note for each of the 22 movies I am going to list here along with providing a link to their trailers, but maybe not today).

So, list of my 12 special mentions is..

22) Collateral
21) Kinsey
20) Primer
19) Aayidha Ezhuthu/Yuva
18) Mean Creek
17) Maria Full of Grace
16) Garden State
15) Infernal Affairs**
14) Passion of the Christ
13) Sideways
12) Spiderman-2
11) Hero**

And now.. My Top-10 movies of 2004 are..

10) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
9) The Bourne Supremacy
8) The Incredibles
7) Maqbool
6) The Motorcycle Diaries
5) Before Sunset
4) Goodbye Lenin!**
3) Finding Neverland
2) Kill Bill: Vol. 2
1) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(movies with a ** are older movies that opened in the US in 2004)

I must mention that most of these movies I have seen only once. So, the ones that I have seen recently are more fresh in my mind and hence might be ranked higher than they deserve. Some of the not-so-fresh-in-my-mind-and-are-probably-better-than-I-think-they-are movies are "Eternal Sunshine", "The Incredibles", "Spiderman-2" and "Garden State".