Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Films of 2012

It goes without saying that an end of the year list depends on access to quality films from around the world. And my access to those quality global titles is getting harder each year with closure of arthouse/independent cinemas thereby delaying seeing foreign films in a timely manner. For example, only 4 of the 25 films (16%) listed below had a theatrical run of one week or more. The rest only played once or twice via a film festival/cinematheque screening. Since all film festivals don’t have access to the same films, that forces a wait of 1-2 years to see certain foreign titles. That is why this list, like all previous years, contains older titles.

Top 10 Films

1. Holy Motors (France, Leos Carax)

Leos Carax creatively captures the essence of cinema from the silent era to contemporary times while paying homage to key genres throughout. Pure Cinema!

2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

A stylistic film that is packed with dry wit while depicting characters in the hunt for a murdered body over the course of a night. Also, the best shot film of the year which manages to use light and shadows to great effect. For example, the scene where the mayor’s daughter makes an appearance is pure cinematic bliss.

3. This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)

The film shows that in the hands of a talented filmmaker even a tiny confined space can be a liberating cinematic experience. The final moments capture those magical moments that Werner Herzog has claimed happen only when the camera is left recording just a little bit longer.

4. The Master (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson) 

5. Gone Fishing (Argentina, Carlos Sorin) 

A charming and relaxed film that contains plenty of contemplative moments in following a father’s (Marco played by Alejandro Awada) attempts to patch-up with his daughter. Such a story could have gotten a serious treatment in the hands of another director but Sorin smartly uses the visuals and pleasant score (composed by his son) to release any tension before it forms on the screen. When things are about to get serious Sorin ensures that the audience gets a nice reprieve either with a moment of humor or breathtaking beauty.

6. The World Before Her (Canada, Nisha Pahuja)

A perfectly balanced and insightful film that examines two very different camps of thought in India. The two camps, beauty pageants vs fundamentalism, contain the essence of issues that are dividing and ruining India. Given the recent brutal crime in Delhi, The World Before Her is one of the year’s most relevant films which should kick-start a debate about improving women’s rights in India.

7. Found Memories (2011, Brazil co-production, Lucia Murat) 

A mesmerizing film that deceptively appears as a contemplative piece but contains another layer beneath the surface. The ending, which puts a completely different spin on the overall film perception, haunts long in the memory because it forces one to rethink the lives of the residents and why they have continued to stay in a place cut-off from the rest of the world. One could easily classify this as an artful horror film!

8. The Bright Day (India, Mohit Takalkar) 

Mohit Takalkar makes his cinematic debut with a beautiful, poetic and hypnotic film. The visuals are striking as is the use of background music to enhance the film’s mythical tale. Plus, there are some smart touches such as using the same actor (Mohan Agashe) to play different characters that highlights how the main character Shiv perceives people around him.

9. Unfair World (2011, Greece/Germany, Filippos Tsitos) 

This smart Greek film shows how two cops’ efforts to save an innocent person leads to murder thereby forcing them to cover their tracks. Each frame is packed with absurd comedic moments which are slowly revealed as the camera movements act like a drawn out punch line. The film’s comedic style is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismäki, Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) and the recent wave of Greek films directed by Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) & Athina Rachel Tsangari’s (Attenberg).

10. Sleeping Sickness (2011, Germany co-production, Ulrich Kohler) 

15 Honorable Mentions roughly in order of preference:

Teddy Bear (Denmark, Mads Matthiesen) 

An award winning body builder who not only lives with his mother but is afraid of her. Despite his hulk like appearance, he has no luck with love. So he decides to fly to Thailand to find a bride. This setup brings plenty of humor and credit to the director to allow events to flow naturally without any extra drama.

The Queen of Versailles (USA co-production, Lauren Greenfield) 

Even though Lauren Greenfield’s documentary looks at a single American family, the Seigels, the film is a case study of the excess spending that played a part in the American Economic crisis of 2008. The Siegels clearly spent beyond their means but they were not alone in doing so. After 2008, when easy access to money was shut down, the previously wealthy Siegels suffered the same fate as the average American of having to cut back and making drastic changes in their lives. Essential viewing!

Polisse (2011, France, Maïwenn) 

An unflinching look at a French police division dealing with children and juvenile crime cases. The verite style heightens the tension and shows that even the police officers dealing with the cases are not immune to losing control.

Reality (Italy, Matteo Garrone) 

A devastating case study of a man who is so blinded by his quest for fame that he starts to lose grip on reality and starts to throw his life away.

Killing Them Softly (USA, Andrew Dominik) 

Andrew Dominik makes a very good decision to adapt George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan's Trade to the 2008 American economic crisis. The original book is devoid of any political or economic elements but the film depicts the effects of financial strain on the characters in every frame. The opening shots of abandoned houses plus the non-stop sound bites of presidential debates highlight that even assassins and mobsters are feeling financial pressure in cutting back. The grayish look of the film also emphasizes the constant gloom that envelopes all the characters. As good as the film is, two stylistic scenes don’t mesh with the rest of the film’s look. The slow-motion car killing and the drug trip may look good on their own but they have no place in an otherwise tightly constructed film.

Arcadia (USA, Olivia Silver) 

A wonderful American film about a father’s road trip with his children to their new home. The strong start sets the tone of the father’s parental methods early on, which makes for a fascinating viewing. John Hawkes puts in a strong performance but the young actors also shine brightly and evoke tender emotions. This film is another one of those that belongs to the Neo-Realist American cinema category which depict genuine stories with a fly on the wall perspective.

Take This Waltz (2011, Canada, Sarah Polley) 

Perfectly etched characters depicted in a beautiful fluid manner. Plus, Leonard Cohen's title song elevates the film emotionally.

I’m not a Rockstar (Canada, Bobbi Jo Hart) 

Bobbi Jo Hart has edited over 4 years of footage to craft a documentary about the struggles and journey of a young girl, Marika Bournaki, to become a pianist. There are few scenes which show Marika’s natural talent but for the most part, the film shows her relationship with her father and the sacrifices the father makes for her success. This focus on father-daughter is why the film works so well as we get to know both of them better and even listen to things that we should not have access to. The subject matter applies to all arts in general and highlights pitfalls that can trip up young artists.

The Dynamiter (2011, USA, Matthew Gordon) 

A visually stunning film that belongs to the same category of New Realist American cinema such as Ballast and Wendy and Lucy, films that show a true slice of American life by focusing on characters completely absent from the big Hollywood productions.

The Student (2011, Argentina, Santiago Mitre) 

A razor-sharp political film that examines core issues at the heart of politics: tactics, strategy, managing & manipulating people.

Mallamall (Canada, Lalita Krishna) 

A highly relevant Canadian documentary that looks at India's economic rise via the countless malls being constructed there. The film also highlights a Canadian connection crucial in developing these mega stores, something that is hardly ever seen in any newspaper headlines.

Snowtown (2011, Australia, Justin Kurzel) 

A chilling work that shows how evil can slowly build up until it explodes with horrific consequences. Based on a true life crime, this Australian film shares some aspects of family & crime shown in 2010’s Animal Kingdom but Snowtown is far darker.

The Color Wheel (2011, USA, Alex Ross Perry) 

Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman’s vibrant script ensures that The Color Wheel stands apart from other American independent films by including dialogues and jibes that have a purpose in illustrating the character’s insecurities and personalities.

Heleno (2011, Brazil, José Henrique Fonseca) 

Jose Henrique Fonseca has created a devastating portrayal that perfectly depicts the self-destructive habits that led to the Brazilian soccer player Heleno de Freitas' decline. At times, it is painful to watch Heleno throw everything away but given his personality, his fall from grace seems inevitable. The music and black and white visuals nicely evoke the 1940’s-50’s and enhance the mood of the film.

Lowlife (Canada, Seth Smith)

And now for something completely different. This unique film follows two characters who get high on slugs. Their repeated usage of slugs blurs the line between reality and their slug induced nightmares. The drug visions are shown in black and white while reality is shown in color but as the film progresses that changes, especially with a jaw dropping ending.

Best Performances & Cinematography of 2012

There have been many worthy films in 2012 but also many more fine performances and great visuals. So I created a separate entry just to highlight actors & cinematographers prior to publishing a best of 2012 film list.

Lead performances (both male & female) 

Denis Lavant in Holy Motors

Denis Lavant is the perfect vehicle for allowing Leos Carax to explore various film genres in a unique and mesmerizing manner. Easily the best performance of 2012.

Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master

Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are an ideal one-two punch that power Paul Thomas Anderson’s devastating film. However, Amy Adams holds the Master’s power (literally) in her hand and in a quiet manner manages to shine through.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour

Riva and Trintignant put in gut-wrenching and emotional performances as their characters deteriorate in a confined space.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Safe to say Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln, not an actor playing the part. But then again, one expects nothing less from Daniel Day-Lewis who completely takes on the persona of every character he plays. It is still shocking to think that he had once retired from acting altogether. 

Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

Waltz is given plenty of juicy dialogues to flesh out his memorable character.

Manoj Bajpai in Gangs of Wasseypur

Manoj Bajpai has performed many worthy roles in his career but he is still best known for portraying the wild Bhiku Mhatre in Satya more than a decade ago. That is why it is refreshing to see him tap into the same energy in Gangs of Wasseypur. The film also highlights that in the hand of the right director, Bajpai is one of the best actors working in the Indian film industry.

Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar

It is hard to imagine anyone else acting the title role in Paan Singh Tomar other than Irrfan Khan. His relaxed style ensures that his character does not deviate too much in tone when he is happy, angry, sarcastic or just plain innocent.

Nina Hoss in Barbara

Nina Hoss puts in a pitch perfect performance by playing a character required to control her emotions in every instance.

Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe

McConaughey plays slimy variations of a similar character in Killer Joe, Bernie & Magic Mike. But he is truly on the top of his game in Killer Joe where he plays a corrupt cop who oozes evil while delivering precise dialogues.

Aniello Arena in Reality

It is heartbreaking to watch Arena’s character throw his life away in Reality but he has put in performance that has shades of a young Robert De Niro from Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.

Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz

Michelle Williams nicely slips into a character who is easily bored of men and things very quickly. As a result, her character will never be happy in life & Williams’ expressions convey this impending sadness behind every smile.

Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone, Bullhead
Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone

Matthias Schoenaerts plays a different shade of a tough character in Bullhead & Rust and Bone. In Bullhead, Schoenaerts is a physical force of nature but one who has trouble finding love because of a past which has scarred him for life. His character is still physically imposing in Rust and Bone but he has no trouble getting love and can pick up a woman at the drop of a hat. The Dardennes' style used by Jacques Audiard ensures that Schoenaerts and Cotillard’s characters are properly showcased thereby finding beauty in moments of brutality & pain. Also, the visual style is definite proof that Marion Cotillard is gorgeous without any make-up.

Rodrigo Santoro in Heleno

Santoro plays a footballer prone to self-destruction. Just like Reality, it is painful to watch someone throw their live away but Santoro shines in every moment of joy, misery and anger.

Vidya Balan in Kahaani

For the last few years, Balan has outperformed her male co-stars so it was appropriate that she finally got a film where she was the main lead. And she nicely carries Kahaani on her shoulders.

Best Supporting Actor (Male & Female)

Rishi Kapoor in Agneepath

Rishi Kapoor’s ruthless portrayal of Rauf Lala comes as a real surprize given the warm loving characters that Kapoor has played in the past. Yet, Rishi Kapoor is able to extract enough charm from his past characters and transform it into the sinister Rauf Lala who appears to be trustworthy when needed and is ruthless when he wants to eliminate his enemies.

Tigmanshu Dhulia in Gangs of Wasseypur

It was a real surprize when Anurag Kashyap gave director Tigmanshu Dhulia an acting role but the move has paid off incredibly. If one has to see what is wrong with India and its politicians, then one need not look further than Dhulia’s corrupt and manipulative character of Ramadhir Singh.

Gina Gershon in Killer Joe

Gershon puts in a raw performance for a character forced to take the blows, both emotional and physical.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained

DiCaprio’s smooth yet wickedly evil plantation owner is a masterful performance.

Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly

The only thing negative about Brad Pitt’s character of Jackie is that he is not given enough screen time.

Carlen Altman in The Color Wheel

Altman’s character of JR delivers a non-stop flurry of dialogues from the get go and is a delight to watch.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur

Nawazuddin Siddiqui had quite a year by starring in many big named films such as Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani and Talaash. But he gets the meatiest role in Gangs of Wasseypur and he excels in playing a drug addicted gangster thrust into seeking revenge for his family.

Best Cinematography

Gökhan Tiryaki, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Caroline Champetier, Holy Motors
Mihai Malaimare Jr., The Master
Rui Poças, Tabu
Julián Apezteguia, Gone Fishing
Amol Gole, The Bright Day
Ben Richardson, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Stéphane Fontaine in Rust and Bone
Lucio Bonelli, Found Memories
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Master

The Master (2012, USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)

"Nothing frightens those in authority so much as criticism. Whether democrats or dictators, they are unable to accept that criticism is the most constructive tool available to any society because it is the best way to prevent error. The weakness of rationally based power can be seen in the way it views criticism as an even more negative force than a medieval king might have done. After all, even the fool has been banished from the castles of modern power. What is it which so frightens these elites?"-- Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul. 

The above words from John Ralston Saul came to my mind when viewing a scene in The Master when Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gets quite upset when someone questions his methods. Dodd starts attacking the questioner even though the person raised a question in order to have a rational debate. However, it is clear that any form of questioning of Dodd’s methods will be met with such hostility. In fact, Dodd appears as a person who would not entertain any rational analysis of his work. He wants everyone to follow his words as gospel, which is why he surrounds himself with those who blindly follow his words/writing. The only exception to this blind follower rule is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who does not believe in Dodd’s methods. But Freddie is fiercely loyal to Dodd and acts like a bodyguard willing to rough up anyone who troubles Dodd. As useful as his muscle is, Dodd keeps Freddie around for his alcoholic creations.

Paul Thomas Anderson brilliantly reveals that Dodd is a fake who makes up things as he goes along. In order to come up with new ideas and visions, Dodd needs alcohol. As it turns out, the only thing that Freddie can maintain focus for is mixing alcohol. Otherwise, Freddie is constantly haunted by sexual desires which prevent him from maintaining any form of focus. So Freddie's strange brews help in soothing Dodd. In return, Dodd is willing to liberate Freddie’s soul by training him in his methods. The two share a master-pupil relationship but even though Lancaster Dodd is shown be the master, it turns out his control is an illusion. One example of a scene where this illusion is shattered takes place when Dodd needs his wife Peggy’s (Amy Adams) assistance to masturbate. As Peddy holds Dodd’s member in her hand, it is clear that she exerts a lot more power than previously shown in the film.

In debunking Lancaster Dodd’s methods, The Master shares some sentiments with Todd Haynes’ Safe which also shows a fake teacher willing to profit from others. While Safe is a bit subtle in exposing a fraud, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is far more savage and does not leave any doubts as to Dodd’s identity. In exposing Dodd, The Master is also a devastating case study of how some people could easily be manipulated by impressive speakers. In this regard, The Master is a film whose message is much more universal and not grounded to just a single religion or ideology. The core message about manipulating people could easily be applied to political parties who try to seduce voters by telling them what they want to hear.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Film Log: 2012

I expected a slow down in film viewing this year and was certain I would finally drop below 300 films per year. It turns out that I ended up with 340 films for 2012, which is just one more than my previous lowest total of 339 in the last 6 years. Still, 340 films is too much. Although, I expect things to dip in coming years as more theaters close down and my choices are even more limited. Still, it was a good year of cinematic viewing.

Total number of features (fiction and docs) seen: 340

The above total includes about a dozen features that won't be released until 2013. Those 2013 titles are removed from the list below.

Film (Year, Country, Director): [optional rating out of 10]

The Hero (2004, Angola/France/Portugal, Zézé Gamboa): 7
Le Grand Voyage (2004, Morocco co-production, Ismaël Ferroukhi): 7.5
Kalyug (1982, India, Shyam Benegal): 10
Breakaway (2011, Canada/India, Robert Lieberman)
L’Appolinde (2011, France, Bertrand Bonello): 9
Rocket Singh (2009, India, Shimit Amin): 9
The Devil’s Double (2011, Belgium/Holland, Lee Tamahori)
The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Portugal co-production, Manoel de Oliveira): 10
Dreams of Dust (2008, Burkina Faso/France/Canada, Laurent Salgues)
Jackie Brown (1997, USA, Quentin Tarantino)
Winter in Wartime (2008, Holland/Belgium, Martin Koolhoven)
Junoon (1979, India, Shyam Benegal)
Storm (2009, Germany co-production, Hans-Christian Schmid)
Terribly Happy (2008, Denmark, Henrik Ruben Genz)
Mammoth (2009, Sweden/Denmark/Germany, Lukas Moodysson)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nuri Bilge Ceylan): 10
Redbelt (2008, USA, David Mamet): 8.5
Green Street Hooligans (2005, USA/UK, Lexi Alexander)
The Guard (2011, Ireland, John Michael McDonagh)
Silent Souls (2010, Russia, Aleksei Fedorchenko): 9
Miss Bala (2011, Mexico, Gerardo Naranjo): 8.5
The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (2011, USA/Sweden/Norway, David Fincher)
The Future (2011, USA/Germany, Miranda July): 4

Helvetica (2007, UK, Gary Hustwit)
Madame Brouette (2002, Senegal co-production, Moussa Sene Absa)
Take Shelter (2011, USA, Jeff Nichols)
American Psycho (2000, USA, Mary Harron)
Objectified (2009, USA, Gary Hustwit)
Adanggaman (2000, Ivory Coast co-production, Roger Gnoan M'Bala)
The Blacks (2009, Croatia, Goran Devic/Zvonimir Juric)
Agneepath (2012, India, Karan Malhotra): 8.5
Gambler (2006, Denmark, Phie Ambo)
Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Portugal/France, Raoul Ruiz): 9
The Salt of Life (2011, Italy, Gianni Di Gregorio): 8.5
Husbands (1970, USA, John Cassavetes): 9
Badmaash Company (2010, India, Parmeet Sethi): 6
Kisses (2008, Ireland, Lance Daly): 8
The Gods Must be Crazy II (1989, Botswana/South Africa/USA, Jamie Uys)
Den Muso (1975, Mali, Souleymane Cissé)
The Mill and the Cross (2011, Poland/Sweden, Lech Majewski): 8.5
A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Italy co-production, Sergio Leone): 9
Life in a Day (2011, USA/UK, multiple)

In Time (2011, USA, Andrew Niccol): 7.5
Mildred Pierce (2011, USA, Todd Haynes): 9.5
Puss in Boots (2011, USA, Chris Miller)
Ratatouille (2007, USA, Brad Bird/Jan Pinkava): 9
Karen Cries on a Bus (2011, Colombia, Gabriel Rojas Vera): 6
The Man From the Future (2011, Brazil, Cláudio Torres)
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011, India, Tigmanshu Dhulia)
The Tree (2010, Australia co-production, Julie Bertuccelli)
Everlasting Moments (2008, Sweden co-production, Jan Troell)
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop (2009, China/Hong Kong, Yimou Zhang)
Polisse (2011, France, Maïwenn): 9
High Tension (2003, France, Alexandre Aja)
Le Havre (2011, Finland co-production, Aki Kaurismäki): 7
The Pink Panther 2 (2009, USA, Harald Zwart)
Life and Living it (2008, Ghana, Shirley Frimpong Manso)
Khorma (2002, Tunisia co-production, Jilani Saadi)
These Amazing Shadows (2011, USA, Paul Mariano/Kurt Norton)
Cafe de Flore (2011, Canada/France, Jean-Marc Vallée): 8.5
Snow & Ashes (2010, Canada, Charles-Olivier Michaud): 7.5
Kahaani (2012, India, Sujoy Ghosh): 8
Manhunter (1986, USA, Michael Mann)
Rapt (2009, France/Belgium, Lucas Belvaux)
The Message (1977, co-production, Moustapha Akkad)
Crank (2006, USA, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor)
Crank 2 (2009, USA, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor)
Parking (2008, Taiwan, Mong-Hong Chung)
Manila (2009, Philippines, Raya Martin/Adolf Alix, Jr.)
In Darkness (2011, Poland/Germany/Canada, Agnieszka Holland)
I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You (2009, Brazil, Karim Ainouz/Marcelo Gomes)

This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)
Detachment (2011, USA, Tony Kaye)
Devil’s Town (2009, Serbia, Vladimir Paskaljevic)
The Lorax (2012, USA, Chris Renaud/Kyle Balda)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, USA, William A. Wellman): 10
Agent Vinod (2012, India, Sriram Raghavan): 8
Eyes without a Face (1960, France/Italy, Georges Franju)
Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy (2011, UK co-production, Tomas Alfredson): 9
A Dog’s Day (2001, India, Murali Nair)
Rockstar (2011, India, Imtiaz Ali)
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012, India, Shakun Batra)
Starbuck (2011, Canada, Ken Scott): 7.5
God Bless America (2012, USA, Bobcat Goldthwait)
Klovn (2010, Denmark, Mikkel Nørgaard): 8
The Rum Diary (2011, USA, Bruce Robinson): 6.5
Turn me on, Dammit (2011, Norway, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen): 8
Immortals (2011, USA, Tarsem Singh): 7.5
The Color Wheel (2011, USA, Alex Ross Perry): 8.5
Inbred (2011, UK/Germany, Alex Chandon)
Snowtown (2011, Australia, Justin Kurzel)
Monsieur Lazhar (2011, Canada, Philippe Falardeau): 8
Shame (2011, UK, Steve McQueen)
The Last Circus (2010, Spain/France, Álex de la Iglesia)
Applause (2009, Denmark, Martin Zandvliet)
They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968, Spain co-production, Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi)
My Joy (2010, Ukraine co-production, Sergei Loznitsa)
How I Ended This Summer (2010, Russia, Aleksey Popogrebskiy)

Warrior (2011, USA, Gavin O'Connor)
The Whistleblower (2010, Canada co-production, Larysa Kondracki)
38 Witnesses (2012, France, Lucas Belvaux)
Come As You Are (2011, Belgium, Geoffrey Enthoven)
Coming Home (2012, France, Frédéric Videau)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011, USA/UAE/Czech Republic, Brad Bird): 4
Play (2011, Sweden co-production, Ruben Östlund)
Some Like It Hot (1959, USA, Billy Wilder)
The Apartment (1960, USA, Billy Wilder)
Calcutta Mail (2003, India, Sudhir Mishra)
Bliss (2012, Germany, Doris Dörrie)
Skylab (2011, France, Julie Delpy)
Bullhead (2011, Belgium, Michael R. Roskam)
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967, USA/UK, Roman Polanski)
The Double Steps (2011, Spain, Isaki Lacuesta)
Freaky Deaky (2012, USA, Charles Matthau)
Terreferma (2011, Italy/France, Emanuele Crialese)
My Father and the Man in Black (2012, Canada, Jonathan Holiff)
Mallamall (2012, Canada, Lalita Krishna)
Found Memories (2011, Brazil/Argentina/France, Lucia Murat)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, UK, Robert Hamer)
Bringing up Baby (1938, USA, Howard Hawks)
Teddy Bear (2012, Denmark, Mads Matthiesen)
Off-White Lies (2011, Israel/France, Maya Kenig)
Meherjaan (2011, Bangladesh, Rubaiyat Hossain)
Bestiaire (2012, Canada/France, Denis Côté)
The General (1926, USA, Clyde Bruckman/Buster Keaton)
Trafic (1971, France/Italy, Jacques Tati): 10
This is Spinal Tap (1984, USA, Rob Reiner)
Trouble in Paradise (1932, USA, Ernst Lubitsch)
The Man in the White Suit (1951, UK, Alexander Mackendrick)
Annie Hall (1977, USA, Woody Allen)

Sullivan’s Travels (1941, USA, Preston Sturges)
Madagascar 3 (2012, USA, Eric Darnell/Tom McGrath/Conrad Vernon)
Arsenic and the Old Lace (1944, USA, Frank Capra)
The Lady Eve (1941, USA, Preston Sturges)
Jaane Bhi do Yaaro (1983, USA, Kundan Shah)
Chhoti Si Baat (1975, India, Basu Chatterjee)
Blazing Saddles (1974, USA, Mel Brooks)
The King of Comedy (1983, USA, Martin Scorsese)
Being There (1979, USA, Hal Ashby)
The Great Dictator (1940, USA, Charles Chaplin)
The Thin Man (1934, USA, W.S. Van Dyke)
Gol Maal (1979, India, Hrishikesh Mukherjee)
Angoor (1982, India, Gulzar)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, UK, Charles Crichton)
The Captain’s Paradise (1953, UK, Anthony Kimmins)
The Ladykillers (1955, UK, Alexander Mackendrick)
Duck Soup (1933, USA, Leo McCarey)
Dollhouse (2012, Ireland, Kirsten Sheridan)
I Am Not a Rockstar (2012, Canada co-production, Bobbi Jo Hart)
First Position (2011, USA, Bess Kargman)
Sons of Norway (2011, Norway co-production, Jens Lien)
California Solo (2012, USA, Marshall Lewy)
The Circus (1928, USA, Charles Chaplin)
Juan of the Dead (2011, Spain/Cuba, Alejandro Brugués)
Paris Under Watch (2012, France, Cédric Jimenez/Arnaud Duprey)
Happy Family (2010, Italy, Gabriele Salvatores)
Scialla! (2011, Italy, Francesco Bruni)
La kryptonite nella borsa (2011, Italy, Ivan Cotroneo)
The Dynamiter (2011, USA, Matthew Gordon)
The Bottle in the Gaza Sea (2011, France co-production, Thierry Binisti)

For a Few Dollars More (1965, Italy co-production, Sergio Leone)
Ferrari ki Sawaari (2012, India, Rajesh Mapuskar)
I Wish (2011, Japan, Hirokazu Koreeda)
A Bullet for the General (1966, Italy, Damiano Damiani)
The Great Silence (1968, Italy/France, Sergio Corbucci)
Teri Meri Kahaani (2012, India, Kunal Kohli)
Sabata (1969, Italy, Gianfranco Parolini)
Keoma (1976, Italy, Enzo G. Castellari)
Django (1966, Italy/Spain, Sergio Corbucci)
Shanghai (2012, India, Dibakar Banerjee)
Paan Singh Tomar (2012, India, Tigmanshu Dhulia)
The Bright Day (2012, India, Mohit Takalkar)
Lowlife (2012, Canada, Seth Smith)
Zombie (1979, Italy, Lucio Fulci)
Four of the Apocalpse (1975, Italy, Lucio Fulci)
Contraband (1980, Italy, Lucio Fulci)
Contraband (2012, USA/UK/France, Baltasar Kormákur)
Tabu (2012, Portugal co-production, Miguel Gomes)
Barbara (2012, Germany, Christian Petzold)
Generation P (2011, Russia/USA, Victor Ginzburg)

Duck, You Sucker (1971, Italy, Sergio Leone)
Ice Age 4 (2012, USA, Steve Martino/Mike Thurmeier)
Man from Nowhere/Arizona Colt (1966, Italy/France, Michele Lupo)
White Zombie (1932, USA, Victor Halperin)
Revolt of the Zombies (1936, USA, Victor Halperin)
Pablo (2012, USA, Richard Goldgewicht)
Arcadia (2012, USA, Olivia Silver)
Night of the Living Dead (1968, USA, George A. Romero)
Dawn of the Dead (1978, USA, George A. Romero)
Friends with Kids (2011, USA, Jennifer Westfeldt): 4
Cemetery Man (1994, Italy/France/Germany, Michele Soavi)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012, USA/UK, Christopher Nolan)
Unfair World (2011, Greece/Germany, Filippos Tsitos)
King Curling (2011, Norway, Ole Endresen)
Holidays by the Sea (2011, France, Pascal Rabaté)
Keep the Lights On (2012, USA, Ira Sachs)

Mandi (1983, India, Shyam Benegal): 9
Ankur (1973, India, Shyam Benegal): 10
The Watch (2012, USA, Akiva Schaffer): 6
Total Recall (2012, USA, Len Wiseman): 5
Kondura (India, Shyam Benegal): 8
Nishant (1975, India, Shyam Benegal): 9
Manthan (1976, India, Shyam Benegal): 10
Cocktail (2012, India, Homi Adajania): 6
Oslo 31 August (2011, Norway, Joachim Trier): 8
Las Acacias (2011, Argentina/Spain, Pablo Giorgelli): 7.5
Hysteria (2011, UK co-production, Tanya Wexler): 6
The Raid (2012, Indonesia/USA, Gareth Evans): 6
The Intouchables (2012, France, Olivier Nakache/Eric Toledano)
A Dangerous Method (2011, Canada co-production, David Cronenberg)
Chronicle (2012, USA, Josh Trank)
Domino (2005, USA, Tony Scott)
Man on Fire (2004, USA, Tony Scott)
The Hunger (1983, USA, Tony Scott)
Taken (2009, France/USA/UK, Pierre Morel)
Revenge (1990, USA, Tony Scott)
Days of Thunder (1990, USA, Tony Scott)
Bondu Saved from Drowning (1932, France, Jean Renoir)
The River (1951, France/India/USA, Jean Renoir)
Unstoppable (2010, USA, Tony Scott)
Deja Vu (2006, USA, Tony Scott)
True Romance (1993, USA, Tony Scott)

La fille de l’eau (1925, France, Jean Renoir)
Nana (1926, France, Jean Renoir)
Headhunters (2012, Norway/Germany, Morten Tyldum): 5
Elena (2011, Russia, Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Ruby Sparks (2012, USA, Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris)
Ekdin Achanak (1989, India, Mrinal Sen)
Ekdin Pratidin (1979, India, Mrinal Sen)
Gangs of Wasseypur Part I (2012, India, Anurag Kashyap)
The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment (1959, France, Jean Renoir)
The Elusive Corporal (1962, France, Jean Renoir)
La Marseillaise (1938, France, Jean Renoir)
The Dictator (2012, USA, Larry Charles): 3
La Grande Illusion (1937, France, Jean Renoir)
Patlabor (1989, Japan, Mamoru Oshii)
Samurai 1 (1954, Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki)
Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955, Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki)
Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956, Japan, Hiroshi Inagaki)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011, USA, Drew Goddard): 6

Wrong (2012, USA, Quentin Dupieux)
The Day I Saw Your Heart (2011, France, Jennifer Devoldère)
See Girl Run (2012, USA, Nate Meyer)
Fat Kid Rules The World (2012, USA, Matthew Lillard)
Amour  (2012, Austria/France/Germany, Michael Haneke)
Rust and Bone (2012, France/Belgium, Jacques Audiard)
The Misfits (2011, Mexico, Javier Colinas/Marco Polo Constandse/Jorge Ramírez Suárez/Sergio Tovar Velarde)
Reality (2012, Italy/France, Matteo Garrone)
Holy Motors (2012, France/Germany, Leos Carax): 10
As Luck Would Have It (2011, Spain/France/USA, Álex de la Iglesia)
NO (2012, Chile/France/USA, Pablo Larraín)
Rebelle (2012, Canada, Kim Nguyen)
The Battle of Warsaw 1920 (2011, Poland, Jerzy Hoffman)
Margarita (2012, Canada, Dominique Cardona/Laurie Colbert)
The World Before Her (2012, Canada/India, Nisha Pahuja): 10
Antiviral (2012, Canada, Brandon Cronenberg)
I’m Flash (2012, Japan, Toshiaki Toyoda)
Mars et Avril (2012, Canada, Martin Villeneuve)
All In Good Time (2012, UK, Nigel Cole)
The Ambassador (2012, Denmark, Mads Brügger)

Vengeance (2009, Hong Kong/France, Johnny To): 5
Ek Tha Tiger (2012, India, Kabir Khan): 2
The Master (2012, USA, Paul Thomas Anderson): 9
The Avengers (2012, USA, Joss Whedon): 6
Where Do We Go Now? (2011, France/Lebanon/Egypt/Italy, Nadine Labaki): 8.5
Cosmopolis (2012, Canada co-production, David Cronenberg)
Fightville (2011, USA, Petra Epperlein/Michael Tucker)
Looper (2012, USA, Rian Johnson): 7.5
Moonrise Kingdom (2012, USA, Wes Andersen): 6.5
Kauwboy (2012, Holland, Boudewijn Koole)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012, USA, Colin Trevorrow): 7.5
Mirror, Mirror (2012, USA, Tarsem Singh): 4
The Deep Blue Sea (2011, UK, Terrence Davies): 6
Argo (2012, US, Ben Affleck) : 7
To Rome With Love (2012, USA, Woody Allen): 6
Evangelion 1.11 (2007, Japan, Masayuki/Kazuya Tsurumaki/Hideaki Anno)
They Live (1988, USA, John Carpenter)
Escape from New York (1981, USA, John Carpenter)
The Wasp Woman (1959, Roger Corman/Jack Hill)
Rodan (1956, Japan, Ishirô Honda)
Shock Corridor (1963, USA, Samuel Fuller)

Heleno (2011, Brazil, José Henrique Fonseca): 8.5
Gone Fishing (2012, Argentina, Carlos Sorin): 10
La Sirga (2012, Colombia/France/Mexico, William Vega)
The Student (2011, Argentina, Santiago Mitre): 9
Skyfall (2012, UK/USA, Sam Mendes): 9
Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012, India, Yash Chopra): 4
Son of Sardaar (2012, India, Ashwani Dhir): 2
El Bulli (2011, Germany, Gereon Wetzel)
Take This Waltz (2011, Canada, Sarah Polley): 9
Cloud Atlas (2012, USA co-production, Andy & Lana Wachowski/Tom Tykwer): 6.5
Our Idiot Brother (2011, USA, Jesse Peretz): 6
The Palm Beach Story (1942, USA, Preston Sturges): 8.5
2 Days in New York (2012, USA, Julie Delpy): 7.5
Midnight's Children (2012, Canada/UK, Deepa Mehta): 8.5
Savages (2012, USA, Oliver Stone): 4
Prometheus (2012, USA, Ridley Scott): 6
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012, USA, Timur Bekmambetov): 5

Killing Them Softly (2012, USA, Andrew Dominik): 9
Life of Pi (2012, USA/China, Ang Lee): 7
Zero Bridge (2008, India/USA, Tariq Tapa): 8
Starship Troopers (1997, USA, Paul Verhoven)
Talaash (2012, India, Reema Kagti)
Lincoln (2012, USA, Steven Spielberg): 8
Sleeping Sickness (2011, Germany co-production, Ulrich Kohler): 9
4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011, USA/Switzerland/France, Abel Ferrara): 6
The Forgiveness of Blood (2011, USA/Albania/Denmark/Italy, Joshua Marston)
Total Recall (1990, USA, Paul Verhoeven)
The Queen of Versailles (2012, USA co-production, Lauren Greenfield): 9
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, USA, Benh Zeitlin)
Gangs of Wasseypur Part II (2012, India, Anurag Kashyap)
The Loneliest Planet (2011, USA/Germany, Julia Loktev)
Bernie (2011, USA, Richard Linklater)
Magic Mike (2012, USA, Steven Soderbergh): 8
Margaret (2011, USA, Kenneth Lonergan)
Pandorum (2009, Germany/UK, Christian Alvart)
This is 40 (2012, USA, Judd Apatow): 4
Django Unchained (2012, USA, Quentin Tarantino): 8.5
Post Mortem (2010, Chile/Germany/Mexico, Pablo Larraín)
Footnote (2011, Israel, Joseph Cedar): 8
Arbitrage (2012, USA, Nicholas Jarecki): 6
The Lady (2011, France/UK, Luc Besson)
Barfi! (2012, India, Anurag Basu)
Heroine (2012, India, Madhur Bhandarkar)
Uski Roti (1970, India, Mani Kaul)

And that's a wrap for 2012!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Comedy Countdown

Back in the summer, Wonders in the Dark invited people to be part of a comedy countdown. The rules required voters to send a ballot of their top 60 comedic films of all time. Each person was given freedom to pick any form of comedy or even define what constituted a comedy. This resulted in a diverse selection of films from all corners of the world. The incredible project, now complete with the #1 film revealed on Dec 21, featured many excellent and in-depth essays on films. I personally enjoyed revisiting many classic comedies to come up with a list of 60 films ranked below in order of preference:

1) Modern Times (1936, USA, Charles Chaplin)
2) Play Time (1967, France/Italy, Jacques Tati)
3) The Gold Rush (1925, USA, Charles Chaplin)
4) Angoor (1982, India, Gulzar)
5) Dr. Strangelove (1964, UK, Stanley Kubrick)
6) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, UK, Terry Gilliam/Terry Jones)
7) The Circus (1928, USA, Charles Chaplin)
8) Duck Soup (1933, USA, Leo McCarey)
9) Gol Maal (1979, India, Hrishikesh Mukherjee)

10) Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, UK, Robert Hamer)
11) Chhoti Si Baat (1975, India, Basu Chatterjee)
12) Being There (1979, USA, Hal Ashby)
13) Sullivan’s Travels (1941, USA, Preston Sturges)
14) In the Loop (2009, UK, Armando Iannucci)
15) City Lights (1931, USA, Charles Chaplin)
16) Trafic (1971, France/Italy, Jacques Tati)
17) Annie Hall (1977, USA, Woody Allen)
18) The Big Lebowski (1998, USA/UK, Joel Coen/Ethan Coen)
19) Do Dooni Chaar (2010, India, Habib Faisal)

20) The Apartment (1960, USA, Billy Wilder)
21) Bringing up Baby (1938, USA, Howard Hawks)
22) The Man in the White Suit (1951, UK, Alexander Mackendrick)
23) The General (1926, USA, Buster Keaton/Clyde Bruckman)
24) The Lady Eve (1941, USA, Preston Sturges)
25) Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, USA, Frank Capra)
26) Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006, India, Dibakar Banerjee)
27) The Great Dictator (1940, USA, Charlie Chaplin)
28) 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006, Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu)
29) Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008, India, Dibakar Banerjee)

30) Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983, India, Kundan Shah)
31) Groundhog Day (1993, USA, Harold Ramis)
32) The Graduate (1967, USA, Mike Nichols)
33) The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, UK, Charles Crichton)
34) Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Sweden co-production, Roy Andersson)
35) The Ladykillers (1955, UK, Alexander Mackendrick)
36) Mon Uncle (1958, France/Italy, Jacques Tati)
37) Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001, France/Germany, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
38) Ed Wood (1994, USA, Tim Burton)
39) The Man Without a Past (2002, Finland co-production, Aki Kaurismäki)

40) My Cousin Vinny (1992, USA, Jonathan Lynn)
41) The Captain’s Paradise (1953, UK, Anthony Kimmins)
42) Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
43) Trouble in Paradise (1932, USA, Ernst Lubitsch)
44) The Dinner Game (1998, France, Francis Veber)
45) Hera Pheri (2000, India, Priyadarshan)
46) Andaz Apna Apna (1994, India, Rajkumar Santoshi)
47) Borat (2006, USA, Larry Charles)
48) Delicatessen (1991, France, Marc Caro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
49) You, The Living (2007, Sweden co-production, Roy Andersson)

50) Coming to America (1988, USA, John Landis)
51) The Princess Bride (1987, USA, Rob Reiner)
52) The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, USA, Wes Anderson)
53) Best in Show (2000, USA, Christopher Guest)
54) The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Spain co-production, Luis Buñuel)
55) Whisky (2004, Uruguay co-production, Juan Pablo Rebella/Pablo Stoll)
56) Being John Malkovich (1999, USA, Spike Jonze)
57) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, USA, John Hughes)
58) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, USA, Jeremiah S. Chechik)
59) The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960, Mexico, Rogelio A. González)
60) Blazing Saddles (1974, USA, Mel Brooks)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping Sickness (2011, Germany co-production, Ulrich Köhler)

Ulrich Köhler's film was my first choice for a German film entry for the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight. However, the film only got a limited theatrical release in Canada (Toronto & Vancouver) and was not available for viewing prior to the Euro deadline of June 2012. Therefore, I had to leave the film out of the spotlight. Thankfully, the film is now available across Canada via Films We Like & iTunes and I am glad to have seen the film in 2012. Sleeping Sickness is indeed a mesmerizing film and it is easy to see why this film was #9 in Cinema Scope's Best of 2011 list. Cinema Scope's editor, Mark Peranson, has an excellent essay which outlines the film's beauty and charm. The entire essay is worth reading but I want to focus on the following:

Though there is a slight mirroring of Ebbo and Alex, there’s nothing simple about it, and this structural looseness is perhaps the closest that Köhler’s version of the cinema of the opaque comes to Apichatpong; to make this comparison due to the mere presence of a jungle is indicative of lazy thinking, akin to bringing up Claire Denis because she’s also a European filmmaker shooting in Africa. Indeed, I suspect most people who will watch Sleeping Sickness, like myself, will have formed their views of Africa through fiction, literature or film made by Europeans—hence the many comparisons of Sleeping Sickness to Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene (Köhler says the film was sparked by Sudanese author Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, and indeed the main characters are richly novelistic and complex—they jump off the page).

I had not read his essay prior to seeing the film but surprisingly found myself thinking of both Claire Denis & Apichatpong while watching Sleeping Sickness. Peranson attributes this comparison as "lazy thinking" but atleast qualifies it with the following words that are true in my case: "most people who will watch Sleeping Sickness,...,will have formed their view of African through fiction, literature or film made by Europeans". It is not true that any film shot in Cameroon by a European brings Claire Denis to mind. In my case, the comparison to Denis' White Material came about by seeing Ebbo's isolation. In the first part of the film, it is shown that the sleeping sickness disease is almost cured and no longer an epidemic. That means there is no need for further funding and Ebbo can conclude his work & return to Germany. Yet, he does not return home like his wife. He stays behind for a further three years and becomes as isolated like Isabelle Huppert's Maria in White Material. Both Ebbo & Maria appear to be clinging on desperately so as to avoid returning back to Europe. It is clear that it will take a lot of effort to force both Maria & Ebbo to leave Africa. In Maria's case, Africa is her home and she has a business to protect while Ebbo seems to have developed a deeper connection with his surroundings. One part of Ebbo wants to return back but another part wants to live in the jungle. This inner struggle causes him to appear on the edge, one step away from ending it all. The Apichatpong reference also jumps out not only because of the jungle but the presence of a key transformation that occurs near the end of a film divided in two parts. Like Tropical Malady, there is a connection between the two parts shown in the film and the hippo transformation that takes place near the film's end is mentioned in the first part.

Overall, Sleeping Sickness is unique and manages to haunt one's memory long after the film's final image.

As a late correction to the Euro 2012 Spotlight, I decided to plug Sleeping Sickness into the game 1 results to see how the final group standings would get impacted. Currently, game 1 results show Portugal's Mysteries of Lisbon defeating Germany's Storm by a 5-1 margin. With Sleeping Sickness taking part instead of Storm, this is how things would turn out:

Germany (Sleeping Sickness) vs Portugal (Mysteries of Lisbon)

Acting: Portugal
Story: Both Portugal & Germany
Direction: Germany
Cinematography: Germany
Production: Both Portugal & Germany

Final result would see Germany prevail 4-3 over Portugal. As a result, Germany would get 3 points and Portugal 0. Therefore, the final group standings would look like this:

Team         Points   Goal Difference 

Portugal     6            5 - 3
Holland      6            5 - 3
Germany    4            5 - 5
Denmark    1            3 - 6

Portugal & Holland would end up with the same number of points and goal difference. But Portugal would still take first place due to their 1-0 win over Holland which will be used as a head-to-head tie-breaker. Therefore, the top 2 spots in the group won't get altered which means all the results from the quarter-finals onwards would remain the same.