My Choice for Best Director Oscar 2013 (Having Seen & Reviewed All 5 Films) : Michael Haneke For Amour

English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...

Michael Haneke is My Choice For BEst Director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nominees for Best Director, 53rd Oscars:

 

(Amour) Michael Haneke

 

 

(Beasts of the Southern Wild) Benh Zeitlin

 

(Life of Pi) Ang Lee (Winner)

 

(Lincoln) Steven Spielberg

 

(Silver Linings Playbook) David O Russell

 

 

My Choice for Best Director

 

1st Place: Michael Haneke (Amour)

 

2nd Place: Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

 

3rd Place: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

 

4th Place: Benh Zeitlin (Beats of the Southern Wild)

 

5th Place: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

 

Last year, we had four exceptionally honored and highly talented men competing for the Best Director spot at the 53rd Academy Awards. Along with these four, there was another very talented newcomer who vied for the coveted spot. The five names include Spielberg, Lee, Russell, Haneke and Zeitlin; Spielberg’s a world-famous director so no problem recognizing him, Haneke is more popular among festival goers yet a highly familiar name because of the Oscars (his last picture ‘The White Ribbon’ was nominated for Best Foreign film), Russell is well known for his high-octane movies with quirky and high-octane characters and for his on-set arguments (read filthy fights), Lee holds a high prestige in the industry for his works of art which are also commercially successful, Zeitlin is the guy whom very few know because he’s an fresh face. All five directors deserve to be a contendor for this spot (I’m not considering other directors who also deserve to be here for e.g. Kathryn Bigelow), so here’s how they rank in my opinion:

 

English: David O. Russell attending the premie...

David O Russell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the fifth place is David O. Russell. He shouldn’t have cast Bradley Cooper as the lead in Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley acting with a different rhythm from that of his co-stars; he took his character too seriously and turned it less quirky. The other cast was quirky and likeable in a light-hearted way so we could laugh at the ludicrousness of their character’s situations. Cooper however made me pity his Pat a tad too much, and so I couldn’t take his situation jokingly. Whenever he turned up, the screwball comedy turned into a dark comedy. Hence, Russell is my last choice.

 

Benh Zeitlin (Wikipedia)

Benh Zeitlin (Wikipedia)

In the fourth place I would place Benh Zeitlin. This is not because his film has faults – in fact the decision to case actors with absolutely no acting experience helped the film achieve the almost documentary-like realism from its characters. You see this community he depicts in his film celebrating together and supporting each other in difficulties, and you are to look more at their unity than the moral question of whether what they did was right or not. Some critics argue unnecessarily that the character of the father was too abusive or that the characters shouldn’t have left the help offered to them, but they fail to notice that the film is from the viewpoint of the community and not outsiders. Benh Zeitlin uses handheld camera and 16mm film to capture their lifestyle as it is: dirty and uncouth for us but home for them. I need to see Benh’s future films before I can note how his directorial style is, but for a first film, I can say it’s pretty damn impressive; no wonder he came runners-up at the prestigious New York Film Critics’ Society for Best First film.

 

In the third place comes Spielberg’s Lincoln. Spielberg cast Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, which is a major plus for him; then he cast Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones for the roles

Spielberg

Spielberg (Photo credit: xTrish)

of Lincoln’s wife Mary and Lincoln’s Conservative ally Thadeus respectively which are a double bonus for him. Spielberg’s only mistake was to include Josh Gordon Levitt, the only weak link in the film. Yes, his Lincoln’s beginning is a bit theatrical but everything gets fine once he finds the right foot: note how Spielberg captures Lincoln’s swooping authority every time: he circles the camera around Lincoln and his addresses till he pans the camera on Lincoln and slowly closes in and in till Lincoln finishes, and each time this technique works in capturing the spell that Lincoln’s monologues have over others. The camera is low lit but not even so low that you can’t see what’s happening (Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar had way less lighting), but as the Bill for Slavery abolishment gets passed and things turn positively for the film’s protagonists, you do see the scenes infused with more light. Plus, I was very pleased with how Spielberg filmed some scenes, such as the Voting segment where Lincoln was shown in his office playing with his youngest son as his party fought for him in the House; I also loved the way they treated the assassination sequence by not showing the actual assassination taking place but only the news being announced on stage and a close up shot of Lincoln’s youngest son screaming in terror is seen. So Spielberg is the second runner-up for me in the Best Director Category.

 

Ang Lee

Ang Lee (Photo credit: jiadoldol)

I was initially going to place Michael Haneke in the third position but then I thought I’d place him in the  second position. But now I’ve changed my mind again: it is Ang Lee who’s in my runners-up position for Best Director for his film Life of Pi. His film is truly wonderful with one of the best opening credits sequence you can get in film; there are beatific shots of different zoo animals and birds resting peacefully or gamboling playfully as the melodious score by Mychael Danna hums mellifluously till the opening credits end. Almost all the scenes are beautifully shot and Ang Lee is totally invested in making his film look as magically majestic as possible; you can’t believe just how realistic the animals in his film look (they’re all CGI!). Some of the scenes are so profound you find almost plunging into the depth of the film’s oceanic themes; take for instance the moment where Pi looks into the ocean and we are taken way below the depths of the waters, below the aquatic creatures till we see images of his past, images of people whom he has lost forever. Then the camera brings us back to the surface and pans straight into the tiger’s face looking at Pi. I can never forget the impact this shot had on me: it was way beyond wonderful. My only gripe with this film is that Suraj Sharma is no Quvenzale Wallis (she’s the lead in Beasts of the Southern Wild); he cannot say a line without concealing the hint of artificiality in his tone. He’s probably the only reason why I place Ang Lee in the second position; a director is to be held responsible for his casting choice, especially when they are big directors and get complete freedom in choosing their cast.

 

The winner, in my opinion is Michael Haneke for the film Amour. It’s a poignant film which has the director’s signature style all over it. You see the director’s touch especially when he decides to include shots of landscape paintings and empty rooms in two separate montage sequences to capture a sense of loneliness and dismalness. Haneke splendidly keeps us engrossed for over two hours, allowing us to watch the couple’s final journey without cutting unnecessarily or allowing any theatrically to seep in the film. The greatest part is how is modulates the pace of the film through the camera (while I know it’s the DOP who operates the camera, it’s mostly the director who chooses the right shots. In fact DOP Darius Khondji’s digital photography was rejected by Haneke, who worked more than a year to get the film done in his way): in the beginning, while a shot tracks the fireman as he looks around the couple’s empty home to only find the dead body of the woman, the next flashback shot of the couple leaving the theater, going home and having breakfast the next morning is all shown in middle-to-long shots, which only changes to close up shots when the husband realizes that his wife is acting unresponsive and strange. The best decision by Haneke was to restrain the music only to certain scenes to let it act as a motif in the film.

 

So there you have my choice for the Best Director of 2012 in film. Although it’s been long since the last Academy Awards, India has yet not been able to get a number of these films and hence my verdict comes a bit late.

 

 

Reviewing ‘Life Of Pi’ – Winner Of Best Director At 85th Oscar Awards

Life of Pi

Life of Pi (Photo credit: GBPublic_PR)

k

SUMMARY: Ang Lee‘s Task of Adapting Life of Pi to Big Screen is as Mighty as The Ocean Itself, But Lee Won’t Stop Till He Reaches Shore. He completes His Task With Outstanding Success

My first recommendation to any adult would be to watch this film alone- not with their noisy friends, or meddlesome children. The reason for this is simple – in order to totally submit oneself to the visual and spiritual experience delivered by the movie, one has to remain alone, just as Pi does for over two hundred days, being the only human stranded on the lifeboat. I believe this experience cannot be savored when one’s emotional response is dictated by the collective feeling of the group (just imagine sitting there holding back your tears because you do not want your friends to snicker at you. In spite of going alone, I was disturbed a couple of times by some people who were wowed by the lion ( it’s a tiger, for god’s sake!), so I’m glad I didn’t bring anyone with me who would have surely robbed me of the delight and wonderment that Life of Pi delivers.

The story of Pi’s journey of a lifetime begins with a enchantingly dreamy opening sequence showing animals, birds and reptiles of many kinds at a zoo. What’s so astonishing about this sequence is that you are so lost admiring the beauty of the animals shown without narration but with a soulful Indian classical music score that you pay no attention to the opening credits until the name of Ang Lee pops up more prominently at the end.

The first Pi that we see is probably in his forties and has already completed his journey long back. On his uncle’s insistence, he shares his life story with a writer. As the older Pi narrates his story, the camera inter-cuts between the present time and Pi’s childhood through fluid dissolves and morphs. We get to know why Pi is called Pi – a queer name for an Indian kid; we can make out that Pi is one curious boy who believes in exploring religion and spirituality and has a deep affinity to animals. A pivotal incident in his early days involving Richard Parker changes his attitude towards life and other matters that were consequential to him before. His family decides to move to Canada on a Japanese ship along with the zoo animals; an unexpected storm hits them on their journey and only Pi manages to hold on to the life boat… along with an injured zebra, a friendly orangutan, a cantankerous hyena and the mighty Richard Parker. What follows then is a deeply mesmerizing tale of courage, will to survive, perseverance, realization and ultimately – hope, which is what the world needs right now, hope.

Life of Pi is full of deep and important themes, and I can say, based on the experience I had in the theater, that more than three fourth of the audience were either i) oblivious to the metaphorical allusions or ii) not interested enough to get them. If you give adequate attention to the movie, you shall realize how important the element of water is the film; the swimming pool scene with Pi’s uncle, Piscine being named after the pool and the entire journey taking place in the ocean – all three incidents have the element of water in common. Why does Pi look closely at the ocean water and see his life flash before him? Is it a commentary of how fate works? What about the journey of Richard Parker and Pi? Is it only to show the relation between man and animal? Pi fears Parker and distances himself from his fear, only to confront and later conquer his fear (i.e. Parker) but not by destroying Parker but by developing an understanding with him (his fear). What does Pi gain from this journey?

Hope is the word I get whenever I search for answers, and isn’t hope required in this world, especially when you lose everything? And hasn’t this message been reiterated so many times after 7/11 and the financial crisis in USA? Obama‘s inaugural address when he was elected for the first time stressed on hope, films such as 127 hours channelize hope. It isn’t a surprise that Life of Pi has come this year and is doing well at the box office – people want films that carry the message of hope. And, I think Life of Pi teaches that you can get hope provided you have the will to survive and resist the temptation of an enclosed existence.

There are some standout scenes in Life of Pi which includes the opening scene, the storm scene, the moment Pi looks into the water wondering what Richard is looking intently at and the second storm scene. The third scene from above is especially noteworthy because of the way Ang Lee has filmed it – after the camera takes us underwater to get a view of Pi’s vision, it goes back to show Pi’s reaction for a second, and then, for about two seconds,cuts to the face of Richard Parker looking at him.This was one unforgettable moment that shook me completely. I’ve mentioned the second storm scene as a notable one as it gives us some minutes to reflect on whatever has happened in the film, and this is the point people should think instead of answering their cell phone calls ( person next to me).

Irfan Khan so honestly conveyed his sadness towards the end with not more than a teardrop. I really wished Suraj Sharma could do that instead of feigning grief by simply quivering his lips mechanically, speaking without conveying a sense of terrible isolation and not understanding fully the relevance of his character in the film. In many scenes, his eyes do not give us anything and he says important lines without hinting the subtext beneath them. It’s still a good job considering he has no prior acting experience.