Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The (almost final) top 10 for 2008

It's the last day of the year and I am almost ready with my top 10 of the year (YAY!!).. There are still some movies that haven't opened in my city yet (and some others that I missed earlier in the year) that can probably bump some of the movies in this list later but I don't expect any major changes.

Some of these movies that I haven't seen (in order of decreasing probability of appearing in the top 10) are:

So.... some special mentions first.. And some of these will probably figure in my top-10 list if you ask me a month from now as these things are hardly ever that clear-cut. But, I am making this list right now, and they don't figure in the list right now...

12. Doubt

That brings us to the top 10. But I must say something about the overall quality of these movies. While some of these (top 3-4) are really good and would've deserved to be in top 10-15 movies of most recent years, the others are really there because of lack of quality competition this year (or, maybe the movies that I haven't seen yet will change this impression). Anyway, to the list then..

10. In Bruges: It released quite early in the year and has probably slipped from most people's mind by now. Quite an interesting, though a tad slow in patches, mixture of drama, comedy and perhaps even thriller. Really good performances by both leads (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) and a nice cameo by Ralph Fiennes. There are times when it seems to meander, but by the end everything comes together beautifully. Not unmissable, certainly, but definitely worth a watch.

9. Milk: I am still not sure why this movie is so low in my list. It seemed to be quite good. Most of the parts (performances, screenplay, cinematography etc) are great and yet, overall it still left me a little aloof. As I had said in its mini-review, it is probably because it is a biopic and works within the overall framework that most biopics follow. There is no reason why it won't rise 2-3 spots in this list once I get to see it again. I would put it in unmissable category for the movies of this year, if only for the story that is worth being aware of and the absolutely amazing performance by Sean Penn.

8. Slumdog Millionaire: I've already talked about this before. Most of it is quite entertaining, but that is about as far as it goes. No real "aftertaste". It might seem amazing to non-indian critics to see hindu-muslim riots sewn into the narrative the way it is, but for indian viewers it probably seems very unoriginal. It's funny that I am actually writing negative things about this movie while including it in the top 10 list! :D As I said before, this was probably a weak year in terms of movie quality. As entertaining as a large part of this movie is, it probably wouldn't have figured in my top 10 list in any other year.

7. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen falls in love with Barcelona (and makes us fall in love too, with an amazing "Barcelona" song running in the background throughout). So, the best thing he could do was put some really good looking actors in that city and spin a story around them. Some of the situations here are quite funny, but really it's Penelope Cruz's and Rebecca Hall's characters and performances that make this movie as good as it is. Quite a fun movie. Penelope Cruz will probably be nominated for this and might even win it.

6. The Visitor: Talked about it here.

5. Mithya: Easily the best indian movie that I saw this year. (I should say hindi movie since I haven't seen any non-hindi indian movie this year). By all accounts, that might change once they release the DVD of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! but Mithya clearly holds its own even against some of the better movies released in the US this year. It takes the basic concept of Don and twists it around in an unexpected manner. The movie has some funny scenes and dialogue even before this twist, but it REALLY goes to another plane after that point. I thought it was really impressive when I saw it but I didn't think I will start liking it so much even without watching it again. This is what I call "aftertaste"! :)

4. Frost/Nixon: Martin Sheen Michael Sheen becomes a superb interviewer and the actors around him are all in form. But all they really do is prepare a setting in which Frank Langella shines brightly as Richard Nixon. Langella will get a well deserved nomination here as should the screenplay and direction. The political-historical drama genre is something that makes compelling viewing if done well (The Queen, Good Night and Good Luck, All the President's Men etc). It is a pity that no one attempts it in Hindi cinema because they don't think it is viable. This is one of the more engrossing movies of its kind that you'd have seen.

3. Let the Right One In: Again, talked about it before. It has only gone up in my estimation since then. Along with Mithya, and possibly In Bruges, this is one of those movies in this list that you will probably not hear as much of as the other more famous movies. Yet, it is easily a must-watch. Don't reject this movie because you have heard that it is a vampire movie, or because you didn't like the trailer. This is really a gem.

2. WALL-E: Sigh! Pixar... They clearly don't get tired of living up to all of our expectations. And yet, WALL-E has shown the Pixar has its own problems. The kids/teenage targeting frachise is such a huge money spinner and Pixar quality animation is such an expensive undertaking that they end up compromising just a little here. As cute as WALL-E is, it is actually absolutely unbelievably unqualified masterpiece material during its first half. The second half has its own great moments (the definition of dance that WALL-E and EVE present outside Axiom when the captain says "Define dance!" is one of the greatest moments EVER in a film...), and yet all the running around of crazy bots and the fight with Auto are purely there for the young ones in the theatre. That this is still at number 2 for the year (and one of the best animation movies ever) only goes to show the greatness of the rest of the movie.
(aside: initial reports are suggesting that Pixar's next "UP" is probably going to be similar. i.e. it has an amazing first half where the movie seems almost like a great grown up drama but then it probably changes into something more palatable to children's taste... we'll see... if the first half as great as in WALL-E, maybe we can live with some battles with monsters etc!)

1. The Dark Knight: I can't talk about this movie. I really can't. Every time I thought about writing a mini-review, I just didn't know where to start. I can write all the great adjectives I can think of and yet will find myself feeling that I didn't do justice to it. So, maybe I'll try to write about things that I didn't like. Some of the "two-face" stuff was probably average. As was the IR-vision stuff. But that is really about it. Virtually every other scene of the movie was jaw-droppingly great. WOW!! Christopher Nolan is a genius. I can't wait for whatever he does next. Heath Ledger will get his oscar, and it will be a pity that anyone who hasn't seen the movie will always assume that his death had something to do with it. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great in Doubt, and some of the awards are acknowledging Josh Brolin in Milk, but if you ask me, no one comes even close to Heath's Joker. TDK made my year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brief comments on some recent movies

I've just moved to a new place. Which means that regardless of how much work I might have to do, there is a lot of time to kill without anyone to kill it with. And that can mean only one thing for me... more movies!!! In any case, this is the "oscar season", which means that there are a lot of really good movies are in the theatres right now or about to release over next few weeks. November to January are my movie months regardless of the amount of free time I have on my hands. 

Anyway, here are some brief comments on some of the movies that I have seen over last few weeks.

Slumdog Millionaire: I've already written about it in the previous post. Basically a really good movie overall, just not as good as Roger Ebert and others think. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons why everyone seems to be liking it so much is that Roger Ebert talked about it in such glowing terms long before most others had a chance to see it. And that puts a certain pressure on others. I don't mean to say that all the critics follow his advice or that they can't dislike a movie if Ebert likes it a lot (eg. Synecdoche, New York left a lot of people cold even though Ebert thought it was brilliant). Still, if you think a movie is quite good, if you actually like it, chances are that the fact that someone like Ebert has already hyped it up a LOT then your own review will probably add maybe one-fourth of a star to what you'd have given it otherwise. Having said that, maybe it really is that good for people here and the only reason why it didn't impress me as much as others was the language part, as I mentioned in that post.
Rating: 8.3/10

Synecdoche, New York: The fact that it is the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman itself was enough to make me feel a little apprehensive. He writes amazing (and sometimes amazingly convoluted) scripts. So if he decided to direct this one himself, chances are this one is even more convoluted than normal. That is exactly what happened. I am sure I'll "get" more of the movie after watching it at least two more times. There were certainly parts of the movie (and the acting performaces, especially by Philip Seymour Hoffman) that were quite accessible and pretty good. Yet, every once in a while something happens that leaves you scratching your head. I am sure my rating of the movie will increase a lot once I have had a chance to see it again. But as of now it is only a 7/10. 
Rating: 7/10 (tentative...)

Milk: Sean Penn is absolutely great here. Definitely Oscar worthy. A really well made movie about Harvey Milk. Filled with some other good performaces too, but I never felt Josh Brolin was as good here as all the critics awards lists seem to indicate (specially when the rival performace is Heath Ledger's in The Dark Knight). Then again, what do I know about acting? Really good movie, even if there's a certain pattern to most biopics which this follows too, making almost everything (including the supposedly sudden tragedies etc) quite predictable. I have found that now biopics don't really move me as much as they used to initially, just like war movies. Even when they are very well made, there is a certain been-there-seen-that kind of feeling to the situations.
Rating: 8.1/10

Let The Right One In: Wow! I guess the reason I was so impressed with this movie was that I went in to see it without really knowing about it all that much. All that I knew was that it was a horror movie/vampire movie that was getting really great reviews. I am not all that big a fan of horror movies as such, but maybe that is because too few of them are good nowadays. Anyway, I was really surprised by this movie. It is not even close to what one might expect from a horror/vampire movie and is much more closer to good drama movies. The story is more concerned about the relationship between two pre-teen kids than showing blood/gore/violence/special effects as most horror movies might do. In fact visuals-wise the vampire aspect of the story probably doesn't even take 10-15 minutes in total. One of the best movies I have seen recently (which might not be saying much.. considering that I haven't seen all that many movies this year).
Rating: 8.6/10

Happy-Go-Lucky: Good, but not nearly as good as some of the reviews made me expect. Performaces are good. Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan are great. But overall it didn't have nearly enough things to keep me interested. Not theatre-worthy for me. :)
Rating: 7/10

The Visitor: It had released much earlier in the year and had got some really good reviews, specially for the lead performance by Richard Jenkins. And I found everything exactly that way, if not better. A nice, touching, even engrossing movie about a writer/professor who has lost touch with the good things in his life - except the memory of his wife, and his interest in and ability to enjoy music - and an immigrant family that he comes across. 
Rating: 8.3/10

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire micro-review

Today is my lazy-blogging day. That doesn't mean "I am feeling lazy, so I'll blog" kind of day. It means "I am feeling lazy to write proper posts, so I'll just steal stuff from my chats/emails and paste here" kind of day! :) 

Anyway, I had seen Slumdog Millionaire last weekend and I was quite excited about it because of all the critical hype here in the US. A friend asked me about the movie today and I emailed her my views. Here is what I had to write (and I know it shouldn't be called a review at all.. just some thoughts about the movie)..
yes, I liked it. But not so much as to justify all the hype here in the media right now. It seemed like a very well made indian movie actually, in a lot of ways.. which means, it is a really good movie.. just not as "great" as I had expected... or maybe that is the effect of language.. it becomes a little difficult to empathize with the characters/situations etc if you feel a little awkward at listening to them talking in english... as in, they have done such a good job at shooting, casting etc that everything is absolutely correct in terms of the setting in india/mumbai.. thats why it just seems a little awkward to see them speak in english for about half the movie.. obviously, that is inevitable as it is a british movie.. and obviously it shouldn't matter to people who only see it as a semi-foreign language movie here and it wouldn't have mattered to me if it had been a movie set in africa where characters were speaking english... but it had at least some effect on how much I could believe the characters and situations, specially since a lot of scenes evoke in my mind some scenes from great movies where the memorable lines were in hindi... It just seems a little awkward to see a cop torturing a kid and talking to him and his own subordinate in english.. specially because all of them act really well and everything but the language is quite convincing... having said that, maybe i am underselling the movie a lot... it wasn't bad at all.. as I said, it is actually really good... just not so good that I think of giving it an oscar for best picture (which it is most likely going to be nominated for...)

I won't hesitate to give it the oscar for best original score though.. :P and I'm sure it will be nominated for that... 

Hopefully this will lead to some more people discovering ARR!

quick top 10

I was chatting with PB (better known nowadays as VKBs karela guinea pig) right now and he mentioned someone's all time top-10 movie list. That triggered a sudden reaction somewhere making it inevitable that I come up with my own top-10 movie list. And since I couldn't have waited too long (otherwise he'd have become completely uninterested in the topic), I searched only the very top of my head and came up with this list. Obviously, in no particular order...

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
12 Angry Men
Schindler's List
The Incredibles
The Lord of the Rings (will count it as only one movie!)
Kill Bill (again.. will only count this as one movie... but Vol 2 more than Vol 1)
The Godfather.
Forrest Gump

special mentions that JUST missed the list: City of God, The Dark Knight, The Lives of Others, Iruvar, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Ratatouille.... and maybe about 20 others... :)

clearly the list is highly fluid and will probably look a bit different (hopefully not COMPLETELY different) if you catch me at any other time. But, here it is for right now!

not bad.. not bad at all...

Found about this online typing speed test via this post on Prem Panicker's blog, and decided to give it a try and see how will my version of 5-6 finger typing fare at this. The result...

69 words

Typing Test

Not bad, eh? Prem is at 76 words. So, a non-journo like me whose current typing technique has evolved over 8-9 years of blogging and chatting online should be proud of achieving 69 words correct, 0 words incorrect per minute, right?