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.

 

 

Review of Oscar Winning Austrian Film ‘Amour’ Starring Oscar Nominated Emmanuelle Riva along with Jean-Louis Trintignant

English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...

Michael Hanake, the director of Amour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grade: A

Summary: Amour is poetry at its purest; the piano melody you hear in the film piercingly plays out the poignancy and the profound silence sings the symphony of pathos on one of the most popular theme in poetry or literature – death of a loved one.

Occasionally in Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ you hear the piano piercingly play out the poignancy of its characters. The film is about two retired music teachers but you hardly hear music; instead there is profound silence, a symphony in itself but of pathos that you find devouring the characters. What you yearn for is to hear the voices of Anne and George, happy sounds that leap up at times, like in a scene where a paralyzed Anne attempts to sing along with her husband, who gives her speech therapy, but is only able to coo ‘Dance, Dance!…’ in French. What breaks your heart is watching Anne, an accomplished piano player, unable to continue her lifelong passion – music. Not for a moment are you indifferent to ‘Amour’; you become a part of the couple’s home, which is where almost the entire film is shot, and get such a close access to all the hardships they face that you become more than just an audience member – you feel what they feel. None of the scenes in Amour are phony even though many scenes may seem familiar, and the film is more about “bereavement of a loved one” than it is about “growing old” and anyone who has read Byron or Poe knows that the former is the most popular theme in poetry and literature. And Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is poetry at its purest.

Amour doesn’t begin in silence; in fact the first thing you hear in the opening is a door being broken down by firemen to enter the couple’s now desolate house. The camera tracks a person as he moves around the rooms of the house before reaching the bedroom, where he finds the lifeless body of Anne adorned with flowers. After the scene fades out, you see the entire movie in flashback beginning with the Georges and Anne taking seats in the concert where Anne’s former pupil is playing. After the couple exits the hall, Anne’s pupil Alexandre greets them; here again the camera only moves to track Alexandre walking to the couple. The camera stays immobile during the next few scenes, allowing us to watch them the way we think of our ‘grandparents’; think about it, you’ll always have a picture of the two old people together who pass the remaining years of their lives silently, undisturbed.

It is only when Georges calls out Anne (the first time we hear her name in the film) and she doesn’t respond that the camera cuts to a closer shot of Georges –you realize as Georges does that something’s wrong. After Anne is admitted to the hospital, a mistake in the surgery paralyses the right side of her body. She makes Georges promise not to take her to the hospital or nursing home, despite their daughter Eva’s insistence, and so is taken care at home by her husband and a temporary nurse. Anne is sharp and curt to Georges whenever he tries helping her as she hates being treated ‘as a cripple’ (in one scene, she tells him “not to watch her turn the pages of her book as she’s still sane”) but as her condition deteriorates, she is unable to perform basic functions and has to be helped for everything. Her speech, memory, everything fades away slowly until the inevitable moment, which although we did anticipate still remains a touchingly unexpected one because it comes so suddenly.

We get very familiarized with the décor in the couple’s home, the array of books and files in their living room, the white lamps, the red curtain, the red carpet, the piano, the paintings etc because the camera wants us to be connected with the space. There’s even a strongly effective montage sequence of the different rooms and later of the paintings that hang in the rooms. Imagine just how Anne’s life, one ripe and lively, slowly ebbed into dismalness here as her home and later her bedroom became her only world, and without Georges’ unconditional presence and love, even this world’s little happiness would’ve been taken away.

My late grandmother spent the last six years of her life bedridden, suffering from cancer, osteoporosis and dementia, and there was nothing that could be done except give her as much care as possible. Unfortunately, her husband had already died twenty years ago and there was no one who could, in those six painful years, give her love and care that her late husband, despite his weakness, would’ve given had he been alive. I’m sure the characters in ‘Amour’ would be very familiar to many people who’ve seen their parents or grandparents in their final days (and so some people complain that the film is predictable), but Amour is a film that truthfully, touchingly, poignantly and heartbreakingly lowers its curtain upon the fading days of a being. I watched my grandmother lay there silently as long, unending days of pain eroded her life slowly, and I couldn’t do anything but watch her fade. I didn’t have the nerves to ease her pain, although the pillow just lay there…