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 ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ – David O. Russell’s Oscar Nominated Work

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Baby Mama in...

Robert Deniro plays Pat Sr. In Silver Linings Playbook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Summary: Cooper Plays Pat With Such Believability We Begin Pitying His Character, So Much That We Are Left Dissatisfied With The Resolution The Film Offers Him

There is a thin line of difference between ‘eccentric’ and ‘unstable’: Pat Solitano, a victim of bi-polar disorder behaved more unstable than eccentric or quirky, and so I pitied him instead of loving him. Bradley Cooper has Pat’s uncontrollable anxiety down to a tee and he plays his character with great sincerity because of which we sympathize with him all the more. Silver Lining Playbook’s humor seemed more dark than quirky in the first half, and when the director David O. Russell brings in the screwball comedy post intermission, I was a tad disappointed because I was looking forward to a better resolution for Pat’s dilemma. Maybe Cooper should have performed his character with less believability and more stylization, and then I may have laughed with him all along. But since the actor plays every moment of his character with utmost sincerity and believability, I could not laugh at his actions and behavior before intermission. I pitied him, I prayed for him, I had a lump in my throat when he began screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night, but I did not laugh much.

I was howling with laughter when Tom Ewell played Richard Sherman in Seven Year Itch. I almost fell off my couch watching Billy Wilder and Tony Curtis play two impersonators in Some like It Hot. I fell in love with screwball romantic comedies like Awful Truth and Send Me No Flowers. In none of the films did the protagonists invoke pity right from scene one. Maybe Cooper, despite his impressive efforts, isn’t the right choice for a genre like this. His co-star Jennifer Lawrence is ideally cast though because we do not sympathize with her in the beginning; she plays her part in a manner where we gradually fall in love with her eccentricities and then care for her when it seems she won’t achieve her desire. This imbalance Cooper creates manifests strongly in the second half when the situation goes berserk – that is when the artificiality sickens us instead of charming us and our interest in the characters and the plot dwindles right up to the very end.

Silver Lining Playbook has a winsome premise involving bi-polar disorder patient Pat’s release from mental institution and subsequent endeavor by him to ignore all negativity and set his life back on track keeping the motto ‘Excelsior!’ in mind. Pat’s main objective is to get his wife Nikki back, who refuses to meet him and has a restraining order against him after he almost beat her paramour to death after the two were caught making love in the shower. He is not encouraged by his parents to do so and so when he gets to know that his friend’s wife’s younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) can help him by delivering messages to Nikki, he becomes friends with her. But Tiffany has her own problems – suffering from depression ever since her husband died, she spent a long time having sex with almost all her co-workers (women included) at her job until she was kicked out. Even now, she is extremely impulsive and volatile and she only agrees to deliver Pat’s letter to Nikki if he partners her for a dance competition. Pat’s father on the other hand suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and he spends his entire time gambling on football team Philadelphia Eagles after losing his job so that he can buy a new restaurant with the money he gets. Things take a surprising turn when Pat Sr., who believes his son is the luck factor for his winning streak, loses his bet money and it coincides with Pat Jr.’s scuffle at the game; Pat Sr. then decides to parlay with his rival where if i) Eagles wins against Dallas and ii) Pat Jr. and Tiffany get a minimum 5 points in their dance competition, then the family shall recover all the money lost on the first bet.

Frankly, the entire football segment with Pat, his elder brother and the American-Indians, and the parlay segment were lame. A big issue I had was the inclusion of Pat’s brother in the movie, who served little purpose than to slight his sibling whenever he could and then react to his father’s parlay. I was slightly disquieted the moment Tiffany said ‘dance with me’ but that was nothing compared to the disappointment I felt watching every character break loose and trying to sound as if they really cared about that silly ‘parlay’. The part where Tiffany wakes in during the fight and starts reproaching Pat for skipping rehearsals would’ve suited the old films mentioned in the first paragraph, but doesn’t look good in this film. Everything after the parlay scene went downhill, and although it was funny to see the how the events turned up, I was yet dissatisfied by the resolution provided to Cooper’s character in the film.

In supporting roles are Jackie Weaver, Robert De Niro, Anupam Kher and Chris Tucker. Jackie Weaver speaks more with her eyes and makes it clear that she loves her family to death despite all their oddities. Robert De Niro is perfectly fine except he sounded (only sounded) weirdly like Tommy Wiseau from the disastrous 2003 film The Room at times and that distracted me. Anupam Kher in the role of Pat’s therapist Dr. Cliff Patel is alright, but I was stunned when how his character responded to the parlay situation at Pat’s home. Chris Tucker is very likable and very funny as the hair-obsessed buddy of Patrick. David O Russell maintains the quick-shifting pace throughout using cuts, zooms and hand-held camera. Yet, on the basis of the impression I got from the first half and the changing impression I got after interval, I was left unconvinced whether Pat had really attained his silver lining.