Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Films of 2009

I saw plenty of excellent films in 2009 and I cannot restrict my list to 10 or even 20 films. My short list has 57 titles that I enjoyed in varying aspects so I have decided to break things up into three categories to reflect a subjective ordering -- Gold (Favourites), Silver (Honorable Mention), Bronze (Worthy viewing). All the films in each category are listed in order of viewing and are 2009 released films or older films that only saw the light of day in my city this year (such as Zidane and Wendy and Lucy).

Gold -- 23 titles

Zidane (France, Douglas Gordon/Philippe Parreno)
Wendy and Lucy (USA, Kelly Reichardt)
Birdsong (Spain, Albert Serra)
Call If You Need Me (Malaysia, James Lee)
Buick Riviera (Croatia, Goran Rusinovic)
Be Calm and Count to Seven (Iran, Ramtin Lavafipour)
Border (Armenia/Holland, Harutyun Khachatryan)
Everyone Else (Germany, Maren Ade)
Milk (Turkey, Semih Kaplanoglu)
Karaoke (Malaysia, Chris Chong Chan Fui)
Ain’t No Tomorrows (Japan, Yuki Tanada)
The Storm (Turkey, Kazim Öz)
The Hurt Locker (USA, Kathryn Bigelow)
District 9 (South Africa/New Zealand, Neill Blomkamp)
Katalin Varga (Romania co-production, Peter Strickland)
Police, Adjective (Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu)
The Happiest Girl in the World (Romania co-production, Radu Jude)
I Killed My Mother (Canada, Xavier Dolan)
Breathless (South Korea, Yang Ik-June)
The Prophet (France, Jacques Audiard)
The Class (France, Laurent Cantet)
In the Loop (UK, Armando Iannucci)
The Limits of Control (USA, Jim Jarmusch)

Silver -- 21 titles

The International (USA/Germany/UK, Tom Tykwer)
Che, part two (USA, Steven Soderbergh)
The Blessing (Denmark, Heidi Maria Faisst)
Can go Through Skin (Holland, Esther Rots)
My Only Sunshine (Turkey co-production, Reha Erdem)
This Longing (Malaysia, Azharr Rudin)
Fujian Blue (China, Weng Shou Ming)
Lulu & Jimi (Germany/France, Oskar Roehler)
Daytime Drinking (Korea, Young-Seok Noh)
Vacation (Japan, Hajime Kadoi)
Independencia (Philippines, Raya Martin)
Mid-August Lunch (Italy, Gianni Di Gregorio)
Still Walking (Japan, Hirokazu Koreeda)
Fish Eyes (Korea/China, Zheng Wei)
Rough Cut (Korea, Hun Jang)
Revache (Austria, Goetz Spielmann)
Wrong Rosary (Turkey, Mahmut Fazil Coskun)
Man on Wire (UK/USA, James Marsh)
Firaaq (India, Nandita Das)
The Damned United (UK/USA, Tom Hooper)
35 Shots of Rum (France, Claire Denis)

Bronze -- 13 titles

Dev D (India, Anurag Kashyup)
Gulaal (India, Anurag Kashyup)
Pontypool (Canada, Bruce McDonald)
Guidance (Sweden, Johan Jonason)
Amreeka (USA/Canada, Cherien Dabis)
Genova (UK, Michael Winterbottom)
Mary and Max (Australia, Adam Elliot)
Public Enemies (USA, Michael Mann)
The White Ribbon (Germany co-production, Michael Haneke)
The Last Lullaby (USA, Jeffrey Goodman)
Cooking History (Slovakia co-production, Peter Kerekes)
Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (France, Dany Boon)
Tulpan (Kazakhstan co-production,Sergei Dvortsevoy)

2009: Overview

Another film watching year is in the books! My final total of 338 films seen in 2009 is lower than the 445 films seen in 2008 and 385 in 2007. However, the quality of films I saw in 2009 was much higher than that of the previous two years. With the exception of a few films (soon to be outlined in a best of 2009 post), a majority of the best films I saw in 2009 came courtesy of the film festival circuit, routed via Sundance, Rotterdam, Cannes and eventually landing in CIFF. For me, the importance of Film Festivals cannot be emphasized enough and going into a new decade film festivals continue to be the only venue for most of the cinephiles around the world to peer into the existing beautiful cinematic universe. This is because the multiplexes are dominated with the usual gimmicky Hollywood [insert Bollywood or other local commercial offering] works and as a result, non-commercial films struggle to be seen. The number of art house venues cannot possibly show every worthy foreign/independent work and distributors only have a limited budget to grab a majority of these titles for DVD releases. Thankfully there are plenty of online/print film magazines/blogs which shed a light on the relevant cinema that exists but their film write-ups are still limited to a few titles from a select few film festivals. The onus is still on the cinephile to chase down titles on their own and try to discover works that others have missed. The good think is that there is plenty of potential to find new cinematic gems. For example, I was alerted to the lineup of films at The International Film Festival of Kerala thanks to Brown Country. Not only have I not seen any of the 14 competition films, I have not heard/read about them anywhere. So there remains a huge chance to find real gems in that list. How many of these 14 films will make the rounds around the world, via film festivals or DVD? Very few. What about the rest? They will sadly disappear as it often happens every year where sometimes worthy works go unnoticed because an important distributor/critic/film programmer did not get a chance to see the film. The fate of the Indian films in the IFFK list is even more bleak. Atleast Harishchandra’s Factory will get a wider release by UTV in January 2010 but the others might be inaccessible not only to international audiences but even to the people of India.

The Real Game Changer -- availability, not format

There has been a lot of talk this year about the new possibilities regarding 3D cinema. The buzz words around 3D now even apply to TV as 3D-TV should be available sometime in 2010 (very pricey though) and in 2009, one could have seen some 3D episodes of some TV series (one episode of the amazing Chuck comes to mind). Sure the experience of watching a film in rich 3D is rewarding but that experience only applies to a limited Hollywood selection and those films would have been easily available anyway in 2D and DVD anyway. On the other hand, I think something that allows cinephiles access to films from around the world is the real game changer. The current film festival calendar is broken and the film distribution network is not adequate enough to get films shown to people. For example, Cannes takes place in May and people in North America have to wait until TIFF premiers a select few Cannes titles in September before other film festivals can then start to show those films over the next few months (or a year as the case maybe). Then it is a further 6-8 months before a few of those titles would make it out to the art house/independent screens the following summer. And then the DVD release of those films could take another 6-8 months, meaning almost 2 years could have passed since a film’s Cannes premier before the film makes it to DVD in North America. This timeline applies to the few select award winning/big name Cannes films whereas the DVD release of other Cannes films could take even longer or never happen in some cases. That is not acceptable, especially when in an age where people talk about the speed and efficiency of data.

There has to be a major rethink about how fast film festival titles are made accessible to people. Here are my two cents to speed the process up:

1) The major film festivals with a distribution network (such as Sundance, Rotterdam, Cannes) should also broadcast films over the internet on a pay per view basis.
2) The festivals should provide a method to upload films via satellite to designated film theaters around the world.

Neither idea seems far fetched but the internet option might be more doable and recently The Auteurs tried something out with the Sao Paulo film festival where people from around Brazil could watch a selection of works shown at the Sao Paulo festival. I just think this model should be extended to allow international audiences to view films from the major film festivals. One argument why such a model cannot be opened up for people around the world has to do with a film’s international rights. But if a film does not have an international distributor, then I think it is better if the film is seen rather than wait 2-3 years for a future release or worse have the film never see life outside of the festival circuit. Overall, both options would benefit everyone -- the festival could get some extra revenue, the filmmakers can get a bigger audience for their works, cinephiles can finally have choices of what they watch, various film programmers can quickly decide what films they want to book for their festivals or cinematheque and prospective distributors can assess films without flying around the world to the various film festivals.

Will anything change in 2010? I don’t think so but I do hope that things will be better so that people can access quality cinema a bit more easily.

Here’s wishing to a Happy New Year and more film watching :)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Ethical Red Button

The Box (2009, USA, Richard Kelly): 8/10

When I was a young kid, I remember staying up late to watch episodes of the Twilight Zone. I have forgotten most of the episodes but the episode based on the "Button, Button" short story stayed with me. The episode ended on a chilling note and I can still remember the ethical dilemma the couple faced while sitting in front of a simple box with a button in the center. When I first heard about Richard Kelly’s film adaptation, I was intrigued about how this short story could be extended into a feature. Given Richard Kelly’s previous two features, I had a feeling that The Box would certainly be fresh and innovative. Sure enough, I was not let down as The Box is indeed one of the most though provoking films to come out of the normally stale and cliched Hollywood film industry.

**** Some spoilers ****

The short story ended with the idea that the young couple could die next when the box would be given to someone the couple didn’t know. The feature picks on up this idea and shows that the box follows a closed loop where death will next take place in the household that last pressed the button. Since there are multiple such boxes doing the rounds in America, a scenario is setup where various paths of life/death will be made. On a macro level, the boxes also seem to serve as an elaborate game theory model where pressing a button also triggers codes for a possible global game of destruction. The game theory angle is never mentioned but can be inferred at the continuously changing world map listing the various US combat command centers around the world. Does the map change everytime someone presses the button? Possibly, because in one instance the deliverer of the box, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella), mentions the game will stop when enough people decide to not press the button. The game theory angle could have been the perfect explanation for the film had there not been the additional layers of an alien invasion, government conspiracy and religious implications thrown in the mix. Not to mention the mind control element and portals used to give people a glimpse of the after life or to transfer them from one location to another. I am unable to find a unified theory to explain everything in the movie but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the film. Two other films came to mind while watching The Box -- David Twohy’s 1996 feature The Arrival regarding the radio communication with aliens and the ending of John Carpenter’s 1987 feature Prince of Darkness. The ending of Prince of Darkness showed that someone from the future was sending messages at a frequency which was picked up by the people in the church only in their dreams, meaning only when the people fell asleep were they able to get the same dream, which turned out to be an encoded message. In The Box, people’s mind is controlled via a frequency which renders them into zombies and in turn transmits the images they see back to a central source.

The Box requires an investment from the audience to think ahead and to piece things together. Given the poor reviews the film has received, it is clear that most people were not willing to invest their time in this film and slammed it. The same reaction was given to Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, a film which was much less complicated than The Box and even to Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking, a film which was jam packed with intelligent ideas. If The Box was instead an animated film, then some people might have accepted what they saw on screen. I can’t remember many people complaining too much about how an elderly man could spend a single night to blow up enough helium filled balloons to uproot his house in Up. No one seemed to further question how a young boy could then navigate this flying house in the movie correctly to South America with just a compass? A cartoon allows one to easily digest any deviation from reality whereas a flesh and blood feature allows very little room for imagination. Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko became a cult hit on video and DVD and I certainly hope The Box does find an audience on DVD. While the film may not be on the same level as Donnie Darko, The Box certainly needs to be seen and not dismissed lightly.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Champions League, Round of 16

A fascinating round of 16 draw for the Champions League was made on Friday, Dec 18:

Lyon vs Real Madrid
AC Milan vs Manchester United
FC Porto vs Arsenal
Bayern Munich vs Fiorentina
VfB Stuttgart vs FC Barcelona
Olympiacos vs Bordeaux
Inter Milan vs Chelsea
CSKA Moscow vs Sevilla

The words emotional rivalry come to mind regarding the Inter vs Chelsea match-up. Jose Mourinho was a favourite of the Chelsea players and fans and it was because of Jose that Chelsea finally won the league title after a gap of 50 years. So his return to Stamford Bridge will certainly be an interesting event and another fascinating element to this tie is that Jose's opponent will be Carlo Ancelotti, the once successful player and manager of AC Milan, Inter's bitter rivals.

Milan lock horns with Man Utd again and it will be interesting to see if David Beckham will lineup against Man Utd. If everyone at Man Utd is fit, then they should progress against Milan but if Milan spend wisely in the January transfer window, then they might provide Man Utd a challenge.

It seems no Champions League season would be complete if Porto didn't face either Chelsea or Arsenal. This time since Porto already met Chelsea in the group stages, it is appropriate that they face Arsenal in the two legged affair. Arsenal will struggle as usual in their away trip to Portugal similar to their last two visits to Porto (a 2-0 loss and a 0-0 tie). However, Arsenal's last two home results against Porto were 4-0 and 2-0 wins. Given Arsenal's injury problems, it is hard to know what shape the Arsenal team will be in February. If Arsenal are to progress, then they will need an away goal in Portugal and have to keep a clean sheet at home. For Porto, a 1-0 win at home will be more than enough as they are capable of grinding out a 0-0 or 1-1 result in London.

What to make of Lyon vs Madrid? Once upon a time, Lyon thrashed Madrid 3-0 and 2-0 in back to back seasons (2006, 2007) and managed 1-1, 2-2 ties in their away results. Ofcourse, those were seasons that Lyon should have won the Champions League but for one reason or another, Lyon always struggled in the knock out round. Along with Arsenal, Lyon are the other European team that has had enough talent to merit a Champions League title but the European Cup is not won on the strength of a squad on a piece of paper. Lyon's best years in the Champions League appear to be a distant memory and it is hard to see this squad avoid getting brushed aside by Madrid.

Barca should be able to see off Stuttgart comfortably while the CSKA Moscow vs Sevilla game should be an open tie that sees two former UEFA Cup Champions lock horns. Bayern should progress against Fiorentina but sometimes with the German side it is better to flip a coin instead as it is hard to know which team will show up. Also, it is uncertain if Luca Toni will get to face his former team. Olympiacos vs Bordeaux gives the French Champions an excellent chance to progress while Zico's team have to win their home leg in Greece if they are to have any chance of upsetting Bordeaux.

The two big game changing variables between now and February would be if any of the 16 teams strengthen their squads in January and whether any of the team's African stars come back injured from the African Cup of Nations.

Still, some mouth-watering ties await.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pedro Costa, finally....

Criterion has finally announced the date for the Pedro Costa Box Set: March 30, 2010.

So that means my 3.5+ year search for Costa's films can finally end.

2006: The search started around the same time that Mark Peranson asked his Cinema Scope readers to "Vote for Pedro", Costa that is.

2007: The Pedro Costa film series traveled through North America but only touched down in two Canadian Cities (Toronto & Vancouver). I had planned on going to the Vancouver one but the plan fell through.

2008: Cinema Scope announced that they would give away copies of Costa's Colossal Youth for new and existing subscribers. Unfortunately, nothing come of that.

2009: Rumours of Criterion releasing Costa's films began to surface. Then a glimmer of hope arrived courtesy of Second Run DVD in the UK who released Costa's first feature O Sangue in the fall. Shortly after, Criterion announced that Costa's Fontainhas trilogy would be released in "Early 2010".

And now, there is a date. Finally!!!!!!!

This also means that I can finally choose a Costa film to represent Portugal in my 2010 Movie World Cup. Although, if I had this information a few weeks ago, I surely would have had a more involved dialogue with my mystery caller, whose identity still lurks in the shadows.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Follow the silence...

Back in 1999, on a rainy sunday night, I got my first text message on a cellphone. The cellphones back then were a lot bulkier than the current models and on this particular night, that large cellphone stood motionless on my coffee table until the arrival of that text message. The sudden vibration of the cellphone disturbed the quietness in the room and the words of that first ever text message simply read:

“Follow the white rabbit”.

Ha. It was obviously a joke by a friend who knew I had recently seen The Matrix. Since there was no phone number associated with the message, I had to resort to a guessing game of sorts. As the days went by, I could not find any trace of this mystery person. Eventually, a few weeks later it turned out to be someone unexpected who sent the message from the cellphone company’s internet page.

Now almost a decade later, another mysterious person got in touch with me. The phone number was unlisted when I picked up the phone.




I said hello once again and was about to hang up when I heard some static on the other end of the line. Then finally a voice.

“I have what you want.”

“Hello..who is this?”

“It does not matter. I have the Costa.”

“Sorry, I am not sure what you mean. Who are you?”

“You wanted to see the Pedro Costa films? Well I have them, all of them.”

By now, I was going through the short list of people who knew about my desire to trace down Pedro Costa’s films.

“Yes. I want to see them,”

“Good. Meet me at.....”

“How will I recognize you?”

“You don’t have to. I will approach you.”

I was certain this was a new prank from of my friends. So I went along.

However, I could not make it out to the location on the specified date & time. I tried but the icy roads coupled with the snow storm in the city made it almost impossible for me to make it. I was stuck in traffic for 1.5 hours and after seeing a dozen accidents on the roads, I decided it would be safer for me to head back home. The next day, after making a few inquiries, I could not get any verification about this mystery person.

Two weeks have now gone by. The weather is still brutally cold and more importantly, I have still not heard back from this mysterious person again.

For the record, I have already seen three Pedro Costa films -- Casa de Lava, Where Does your Hidden Smile Lie? & O Sangue. I am waiting for Criterion’s Fontainhas Trilogy due in 2010 which will check off three more Costa features off my list. So I am not that worried about missing that date with the mysterious person.

On the other hand, mystery person, if you are reading this, I would really appreciate it if you could dig up a film from North Korea, Honduras, Slovakia (Czech Republic will not do), Slovenia (besides Spare Parts which I have seen and love), Ghana and Nigeria.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spotlight on Iran

When it comes to Iranian cinema, the names of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf loom large. However, there are many more names which have captured the attention of festival audiences over the last decade such as Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi and Bahman Ghobadi. I recently realized that all the Iranian films I had seen were post 1990, even though there are many worthy cinematic works available pre-1990. This was a similar situation to the one I found myself in last year with regards to South Korean cinema when I had not seen anything from South Korea prior to 1990. I was able to rectify the pre-1990 South Korean cinema gap this year thanks to the Auteurs availability of Kim Ki-young’s Housemaid. So it was time to throw the net out and grab some pre-1990 Iranian films along with other works. In that regard, I came up with the following list of 10 films for a spotlight:

The Cow (1969, Dariush Mehrjui)
The Cyclist (1987, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
The Suitors (1989, Ghasem Ebrahimian)
Close-up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
Gabbeh (1996, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
The Mirror (1997, Jafar Panahi)
The Pear Tree (1998, Dariush Mehrjui)
Delbaran (2001, Abolfazl Jalili)
The Fish Fall in Love (2005, Ali Raffi)
It’s Winter (2006, Rafi Pitts)

All the films were engaging but if I had to pick out one favourite, it would have to be Rafi Pitts beautiful It’s Winter. The shots of a character against the snowy background in It’s Winter did not remind me of any Iranian film I had seen but made me think of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s fascinating Distant.

One interesting aspect about The Fish Fall in Love is that the camera lovingly lingers a big longer on the food, be it stuffed fish, rice or kebabs. I cannot remember seeing food being the focus in any other Iranian film so it was nice to see how the restaurant scenes were incorporated around the framework of two love stories.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Clean Hands

So this week, the British government announced a tax on bankers bonuses. The bankers are not happy, ofcourse. After all, the bankers have worked hard to play with other people’s money and get rich. Why should the bankers be punished for others mistakes? It is not the bankers problem that the government lent billions of dollars to banks to bail them out. As far as the bankers are concerned, their hands are clean.

The entire financial problem is not the bankers fault but caused by the general public. Yup, it is the general public that have ruined things. How? By two ways:

1) Giving banks their money
2) Borrowing too much from banks

The public duly give their money to banks. Why? Because it is “better” than keeping it under a mattress. The banks turn around and give the people close to 0% interest on their deposited money (sorry, 0.01% is as good as zero). On top of that, banks charge people fees for accessing their own money. So what do the people do in return? Nothing!!! They still keep their money in the banks. Stupid people. The banks then have no choice but to take reckless risks with the people’s money. When the banks run into trouble, they do not have to worry because the government will rush in to save the day and use taxpayers money to keep the banks on their feet. Hooray!!

People are supposed to be smart about their money. If they go to a bank for a $100,000 loan and the bank in turn approves them for a $500,000 loan, the people should know better than to accept the money. Who is to blame here? These people for accepting the money or the banks for approving their loans? The people ofcourse!! The banks seriously do not have time to do proper checks on each person’s financial history and only lend the correct money to each person. If the banks did that, then they would be crushing these people’s “American dream”. The banks don’t want to be the bad guys but want to be liked by the people. Moreover, how can the bankers ever have time to treat each customer like an individual. For that, the bankers would have atleast 8 hours a day. Seriously! How can bankers be expected to work 8 hours like those average miserable non-banker public. Yuck! Bankers should not have to come into work before 10 am and they have to leave by 4 pm.

The bankers hands are clean.


They do not have to get their hands dirty by building a bridge or operating on a patient. No sir! A few clicks of the keyboard and playing with other people’s money is not a dirty job. It is the cleanest job there is.

Moreover, since when was it bad to make money? I mean, even Hollywood heaps praises on characters who are greedy such as Gordon Gekko (Wall Street) and Daniel Plainview (There Will be Blood). Does Hollywood ever give a trophy to a character who plays a slacker? Nope. Modern society has been built using loans and human progress has been fueled by money. So why is being greedy bad all of a sudden?

In a year or two, this “greed is bad” phase will pass. The banks are not going anywhere after all. Where else will people put their money? The bankers will always be rich and their hands will always be clean.

Noe: image from Francesco Rosi's brilliant film Le Mani sulla città (Hands on the City)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Damned Job

The Damned United (2009, UK/USA, Tom Hooper): 9/10

Just a few of the things a modern soccer manager has to satisfy:

And even if all the above are met, there is still no guarantee that a soccer manager would be able to keep his job.

Case 1: A manager wins all the trophies by playing 1-0 negative football and the owners/board of directors are happy with all the trophies.

However, if some sections of the fans and media are not happy with the negative football and they have a huge say in the club’s operations, then the manager would not be in the job too long.

Case 2: A manager ensures his team plays the most beautiful football but fails to win many trophies.

Some fans would be happy but others would want the manager to be fired. However, if the board of directors are satisfied, then the manager would survive.

Case 3: A manager wins trophies by playing beautiful football but does not get along with the board of directors.

In this case, the manager would not last long in the job. The example of Real Madrid comes to mind because at Madrid, the board of directors are never shy to fire a manager days after he had landed a major trophy. Heck, at Madrid, they are known to fire managers even when the team is top of the league and in an excellent position to win the title (example, the 1991-92 season).

Until this year, if one had to understand a soccer manager’s tough position, then one could only piece things together by reading multiple books, newspaper/magazine articles and watching the odd tv interview. But with the release of The Damned United fans of the game finally have a film that gives a glimpse into the multiple pulls that a soccer manager has to withstand in his day to day job. Even if one is not a soccer fan, then there is still plenty to enjoy in this accessible and polished film that mixes the real life case of Brian Clough’s turbulent 44 days of employment at Leeds United with a sprinkling of fiction.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gossip + Misinformation = Information

In the Loop (2009, UK, Armando Iannucci): 10/10

Journalists only run stories they have verified from multiple sources.
Governments make decisions based on concrete evidence.


The last few years have shown that gossip combined with misinformation tactics, used to great effect in the Cold War era, have rewritten the rules on how stories are published and how high level decisions are made. The hazy “truth” is complicated by the fact that there are now several 24 hour news channels who have to fill their air time by pointless analysis. For example, if a president coughs at a global meeting, numerous pundits are wheeled in to analyze the ramifications of that cough. The following morning, newspapers run the same stories about how the cough showed weakness and could signal the downfall of the president.

Armando Iannucci’s witty and hilarious In the Loop may be officially called fiction but no one seeing the film can fail to draw the connections with a certain invasion back in 2003. To Iannucci’s credit, the film does not really have any bad guys but portrays people trying to do their jobs. Ofcourse, there are some people who are better at their jobs than others, there are some who crack under pressure and some who are looking to advance their careers. Watching all these people collide with one another makes for a fascinating cinematic experience.

Friday, December 04, 2009

2010 World Cup Draw

So the countdown to the 2010 World Cup can now officially start after today’s draw.

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, Korea Republic, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, Korea DPR, Côte d'Ivoire, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

The hosts, South Africa, are probably not thrilled as all the other teams in their group are stronger than them.  On paper, Mexico, Uruguay and France are all better than South Africa but the home support might give the South Africans a boost.  Also, the French team has a 50% chance of crashing out because their coach is still Raymond Domenech.

Group C appears to be a joke with all 4 teams probably glad that they got each other.  England may be delighted but Algeria, USA and Slovenia are also probably thrilled that they avoided some of the bigger teams.

Group H is too easy for Spain while Argentina and Italy won’t be too worried.  Brazil on the other hand will have their hands full with Ivory Coast and Portugal.  The Ivory Coast have once again gotten a tough group after they were paired with Holland, Serbia and Argentina back in 2006.

The Dutch have a decent group with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon while the Germans will get an average test with Serbia, Ghana and Australia.

Overall, with the exception of Algeria, all the other African teams have gotten some tough assignments.  Also, excluding Group G, this is a very light weight draw which means that the best games will only take place once the group stages are decided.