Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh my Lord.

I will not make it to November.

BTW, sorry about the lack of updates. My hard drive crashed for the third time, and I am composing this short entry from my cousin's laptop. More reviews/thoughts to come once Futureshop returns my crappy desktop.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Most Anticipated Films of 2006 [Part Two]

The Top Fifteen continues...

10. Omkara (Vishal Bharadwaj)
At the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, I had the pleasure of viewing Bharadwaj's astounding Maqbool, a Hindi-language adaptation of Shakespeare's Scottish "cursed" play. I immediately jumped on the chance, because it is so rare to see South-Asian films included in the lineup, and also because the film featured Irfan Khan and Tabu in the lead roles (two of the best actors working in the industry today). What was so refreshing about the piece was that it was re-located in the present-day of the Mumbai mafia underworld, and used only three songs in the narrative (sparingly at that, mostly in the background). His latest, Omkara, sounds equally promising, although it does seem strange that he would choose another Shakespeare re-working so soon (it is based on Othello). Still, Maqbool was strong enough that I hold high hopes for this one, and it has a very ecclectic cast, featuring both Bollywood superstars as well as character actors that work outside the mainstream. Strangely enough, the film's title is still in flux; this is the first time in Indian cinema history that a director will let the public choose the title of his film; it's between Omkara, Isaak and O Re Saathi. Oookay.

9. Southland Tales (Richard Kelly)
Another Palme D'Or contender, this is another one that I am torn on; on one hand, it's about time that Kelly moves on from the Donnie Darko universe, but then again, I'm not sold on the cast (Sarah Michelle Gellar? Seann William Scott? Kevin Smith? The Rock?). What's more, I'm not thrilled about the overly-complex advance publicity Kelly has planned (the labyrinthian website, the prequel graphic novels, etc) - seems a bit much (can't the film stand on its own?). At the same time, the plot description is too kooky and promising to ignore, and it does feature my girl Miranda Richardson, who is always a treat (her cameo is The Hours is one of - if not utterly - my favorite performance(s) of that film). And with Darko, Kelly has demonstrated that he can deliver on very bizarre concepts, as well as present a very convincing background setting (the 80s in that film, 2008 here). All in all, it sounds like a film that will be discussed at length upon its release, and more importantly, one that will settle whether or not Kelly has more to offer than one knock-out.

8. Guru (Mani Ratnam)
If you know me well enough, you should know that I take a very avid interest in South Asian films (the countries in that area are my main area of study and interest). Ratnam is a director who primarily works in the Tamil-language industry, a dialect I am not familiar with. However, in the past few years, he's been dabbling in Bollywood as well; he dubbed his Bombay into Hindi, then made his first Hindi-language feature Dil Se.., which is a masterpiece in my eyes. (Incidentally, that film features the song "Chaiyya Chaiyya", which Spike Lee used to open and close this year's Inside Man). Guru is another foray into the same territory, which explores the ordeal of Partition, as seen through the eyes of young lovers. To be frank, I've had my fill of films made about the 1947 Independence (and most of them have been terrible), but at the same time, this is the first time Ratnam has done such a period piece. Plus, he has great talents in front of the camera including Aishwarya Rai (who does exceptionally well provided she has good directors helping her) and Vidya Balan (who gave my favorite female performance in an Indian film last year in Parineeta), as well as a fantastic production team: A.R. Rahman of Lord of the Rings (the musical) and Bombay Dreams fame will do the music, and Rajiv Menon will act as D.P.

7. Marie-Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)
My uneasiness with Lost in Translation notwithstanding, I do feel that Coppola is onto something big here with a subversive, rock-n-roll approach to the extravagant, much-disliked queen's life experience... although I suppose I have no way of knowing that this is her aim (the trailer certainly suggests as much). Plus, I actually do adore Kirsten Dunst the actor (I don't know about the person), and think she is quite an underrated talent in Hollywood (true, she lacks much range, but when she does hit her marks, she does so brilliantly [Coppola's own The Virgin Suicides, Bring it On, Interview with the Vampire]). Hell, I even loved that she took the Mary Jane character in a different direction in the Spider-Man films (a lot more human and vulnerable than the comic-book character). Anyways, the fact that Judy Davis has decided to make a small comeback of sorts with this film is good enough for me, and I am eager to see Jason Schwatzman on screen again after having a great acting renaissance (I Heart Huckabees, Shopgirl).

6. Dreamgirls (Bill Condon)
Not much to say here - I simply cannot wait to experience this spectacle (I am crossing my fingers that it shows up at TIFF this September, but I'm not holding my breath). Bill Condon directed one of the best of '98 (Gods and Monsters), and he also has experience adaptating a musical for the screen (I thought his Chicago screenplay was brilliant). I also am excited at the prospect of a fully mainstream Oscar-contender film that features a mostly African-American cast in all the leading roles. What's more, I have full faith Beyonce Knowles will pull this off (I must admit that I have not seen much of her acting work, although she was the lone bright spot in the latest - and hopefully last - hideous Austin Powers installment), and I am already predicting a Supporting Actress nomination for "American Idol" star Jennifer Hudson.

5. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar)
How would any list for 2006 (whether a "most anticipated" or "best of") be complete without mentioning Almodóvar's name? So far in my life, I have not encountered a film by my beloved Pedro that I have disliked, so Volver stands a good chance of making my top ten next year (All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Bad Education all did). And it almost seems like he's made this film for me (heheh), because I am so in the mood for a semi-comedic Pedro emotional rollercoaster with silly melodrama and bright colors (the trailer looks delicious enough to eat). I also love that this film has a supernatural twist to it, and although it seems like a strange Ghost Dad situation (except that this time, it's a mother who returns as a spirit), there's no doubt that this man will make it all work. How will he characterize the dimension of the afterlife, and how it co-exists with the material world? Will he extract a fabulous lead performance from the inconsistent Penelope Cruz? Will it fare well with Oscar? These are all questions that I can't wait to have answered...

4. For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest)
Once you get a taste for Guest's delicious mockumentaries, you are hooked for life, no two ways about it. Seriously, Guest should not even consider doing anything else in his career; none of his films feel the least bit repetitious or strained (namely because he is so genius at changing the milieu for each outing, and keeping the writing fresh and spontaneous). But this one is even more genius than I could have ever imagined - this is going to be absolute heaven for all of us who take a more-than-casual interest in awards season and all things Oscar. I am sure that Guest has some brilliant comments to make on the nature of campaigning and Acting with a capital "A". Can you imagine what the FYC ads will look like for this film, if the studio believes it has any chances at gold? *dies*

3. The Namesake (Mira Nair)
It is no secret that I have a obsessive "thing" for my Mira; the woman is my idol plain and simple. An incredibly intelligent (just listen to any of her DVD audio commentaries) soul, Mira's work makes fascinating observations into the South Asian experience, whether situated in modern-day "dot com" New Delhi (Monsoon Wedding), in 19th-century hierarchical English society (Vanity Fair) or in the NRI Diaspora (Mississippi Masala). It helps that she and I are both East-African Indians living in North America (well, she divides her time between here and other countries), and that her films address important themes as identity, notions of "home" and the writing of national history. With The Namesake, Mira tackles Jhumpa Lahiri's novel of the same name, which explores the life and times of an Indian family that moves to the United States in the 1960s. They become caught between honoring their tradition and the new ways of their geographical homeland, especially the young Gogol, who desires to assimilate. Irfan Khan and Tabu, who essayed the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the aforementioned Maqbool film, join together again here as the dislocated married couple, and Kal Penn (who is now a well-known face thanks to the racial stereotype-skewing Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) plays their son. Considering the film will speak directly to my life experience so far and also the talent involved behind and in front of the camera, I have no doubts that this will be one of my favorite movies of the year.

2. Little Children (Todd Field)
This is going to be my Oscar darling of the year; if Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Todd Field do not get some serious love for their efforts here, I will trek across the continent to Hollywood and start a demonstration outside the Kodak theatre (any takers?). That is how confident I am of their potential this year, because: a) Winslet is one of the greatest actors working today and has been robbed every time she's been in contention for an Academy Award (except for Titanic), b) Wilson more than proved his worth in Angels in America, and c) Field delivered a flat-out masterpiece with In the Bedroom in 2001. That film was utterly shattering, and it consumed my thoughts for weeks after first seeing it (so much so that I ended up watching it two more times). This film, based on Tom Perrotta's book, is about unhappy individuals living the suburban dream (read: nightmare). I don't even care that the "suburbia is fucked up" theme has been so overdone in the past few years thanks to American Beauty; I am ready for more... More! I suppose one reservation I have is about Jennifer Connelly doing something dark and depressing (again!); she really needs to do something light and frothy.

1. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
There is no way this list could not end with Aronofsky's hugely-anticipated opus, even with Field, Nair and Almodovar unveiling their potential masterpieces this year. In the years since its arrival, it has become popular to bash Requiem for a Dream for being too didactic and overstylized (I'm not of that opinion). Whatever one may think of that film, I believe that no one can deny Aronofsky's powerful visual style, and the signficance of how he and Jay Rabinowitz changed the way we think about editing today. Aside from the fact that it is a love story set across a period of one thousand years, I am keeping myself as clueless as possible about the film (does replaying the trailer over and over again count?). The overall look reminds me a lot of Tarsem Singh's The Cell, which was both a gripping horror/suspense film and a visual feast for the eyes. In addition to this, The Fountain also stars Hugh Jackman (who seems ready to dominate this year after wasting his time in a lot of crap) and the recently Oscar-ed Rachel Weisz as the lovers - that alone should have you counting down the days...

Most Anticipated Films of 2006 [Part One]

You don't have to say anything. I am perfectly aware that posting a list of this year's best-looking films is a little silly considering we are in the middle of May, considered by many to mark the start of the Summer Movie Season (heralded by the release [and flop] of the woefully-titled M:i:III). What's more, everyone else has already put in their two cents' worth, so why bother with a mostly similar-looking list? Good points, but in my defense, I must remind you all of the following: a) January to March, film-wise, are clearly not part of the new year, but dedicated to discussing the Awards Season of the prior year, and b) we all know the early crop of movies are largely forgettable fare. Now, with the Cannes Film Festival having just begun (with Ron Howard's much-anticipated [and apparently much-panned - yikes!] The Da Vinci Code adaptation), things are looking up for us film fanatics who live half our lives in the cinema halls or in front of our televisions.

Note: I do plan on having a non-film-related post soon enough about summer plans and the end of school, as well as a generous capsule review rundown.

First, the ones I am not looking forward to watching this year:

World Trade Center - No, I am not of the mind that it is way too early to discuss 9/11 in art, although it's certainly more tasteful in my mind to consider the events in a less direct manner than to dramatize the events in full, explicit detail. I was not a fan of the year's first film dealing with the tragedy, and as such, I cannot get my hopes up for this Oliver Stone-helmed picture. The trailer that has been floating around for the past few days (and that was officially released today) is even more suspicious-looking. I certainly hope Stone does not follow in the steps of Greengrass - delivering respectful and well-made filmmaking, but unwilling to ask difficult questions or add anything that would elevate the proceedings beyond shock recreation.

Flags of Our Fathers - It's not that I don't welcome any more films by Clint Eastwood or Paul Haggis, because I've certainly enjoyed (some) of their recent output. I am a big fan of Mystic River, and thought Haggis's adaptation of Million Dollar Baby had its strengths. It's a timing issue mostly. I am certainly not looking forward to seeing them both at year's Oscar ceremony, in contention for yet another mini-sweep, and for a WWII-film at that. *snore*

Superman Returns - I am of two minds here; on one hand, this could be the film that salvages Kevin Spacey's career (isn't his Lex Luthor just perfect casting) and present a superhero film worthy of matching Raimi's Spider-Man saga. Then again, it has the clueless Kate Bosworth as the leading lady (*snore* again), and Brandon Routh does not inspire confidence in me. Still, I will try to keep an open mind about this, but I will not be surprised at all if I end up hating it. Superman was never one of my favorite superheroes growing up.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - Karan Johar is the most successful director working in Bollywood today, and IMHO, he's also one of the worst. He has built his career on sugary-sweet family dramas that shamelessly attempt to manipulate and push buttons (and made millions). He has since promised that this outing will be much darker, exploring marital infidelity, and within the South Asian Disapora in New York. I still don't trust him, because the latest plot synopsis makes the enterprise sound like a bad rip-off of 2004's Closer.

Babel - Alejandro González Iñárritu returns to his favorite subject (three-layered drama about different people brought together by tragic accidents - how original!) in this film that is in contention for the Palme D'Or this month. I will certainly see this for the cast (Cate Blanchett + Gael Garcia Bernal = j'adore), but I've hated everything this director has done with a passion.

In addition, All the King's Men (Sean Penn needs to tone it waaaaaaay down, from the looks of the Oscar-bait trailer), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Blaaaah - is this necessary?), A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater may have directed possibly the best film of the new milennium, but his Waking Life was a thankless affair, and this looks like more of the same), Umrao Jaan and Don (Bollywood runs out of Hollywood films to copy-cat, and turns to Hindi classics to desecrate).

Runner-ups (to the Most Anticipated):

Lady in the Water - Has M. Night Shyamalan learned his lesson? Early on during the pre-production of this film, it sure seemed like it. After all, he set about working on a subject completely at odds with his prior filmography (yes, the appearance of supernatural beings in our world is nothing new for him, but it seemed like he was going to put a fantastical, romantic spin on it). He insisted that there would be no trailer and to the surprise of all, it sounded as if the man's ego had been damaged enough by The Village's failure that his head was finally out of the clouds. Obviously, this humility did not last very long, because the publicity material is already plastered with his name in gigantic lettering, and statements like "A Bedtime Story" (WTF?) are abound. The most recent trailer is a lot less magical (Strange creatures! Spooks in the night! Run!), and seems like the trickster is back to his old ways. But then again, Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard are starring, so that's enough to put my butt in the theatre seat opening day. But wary, I shall be...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - From the looks of the trailer, the promotional team at Warner Brothers would have you believe that Brad Pitt is the only person starring in this movie (Casey who?). I detest it when posters and ads leave out the rest of the ensemble to focus on only one or two actors to sell the film. I understand why it's like that, but the fact remains that the majority of the public will not know that the cast here includes Casey Affleck, Mary-Louise Parker (whee!), Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shephard, and Ted Levine.

Fur - Okay, you've got me. The sole reason I have this down here is because it means a return to form for Nicole Kidman. After tolerating her in The Interpreter and gritting my teeth through her painful slapstick/overplay in The Stepford Wives and Bewitched, I finally get my chilly, cold and mentally disturbed Kidman back. The movie doesn't even have to please - I was less than thrilled with Jonathan Glazer's Birth, but bought the DVD just to re-live her performance whenever I could.

In addition, The Devil Wears Prada (Streep as a bitch? I'm so there, as I was for Death Becomes Her and She-Devil), Fast-Food Nation (I'm more excited by this Linklater effort, especially how he will create a narrative out of a non-fiction text), Inland Empire (I'm iffy on Lynch, but always willing to go in with an open mind), Notes on a Scandal (Blanchett and Dench doing what they do best), Provoked (Aishwarya Rai makes an Oscar bid), The Woods (a Patricia Clarkson starrer that has been lost in release date-limbo), A Prairie Home Companion (Altman and big casts always deliver), The Good German (I'm sick of Clooney, but I'm always up for Blanchett, who somehow manages to repell overexposure), Children of Men (Cuaron follows up Harry Potter), Goya's Ghosts (what's Milos Forman cooked up for us in his absence?), Zodiac (Gyllenhaal mania), Pan's Labyrinth (del Toro is one of the more interesting directors working today), and The Good Shephard (how will De Niro fare behind the camera?).

The Top Fifteen:

15. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
Almost six years after garnering an Original Screenplay nod and making Laura Linney a household name with his masterpiece You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan pursues his sophomore project in this story about a young woman (Anna Paquin) who is devastated by witnessing a bus accident. I am confident that with Lonergan's writing talent, this film will give some great lines to chew on, but even more exciting is the chance that he will able to move Paquin away from her recent Lolita-esque cypher rut in The 25th Hour and The Squid and the Whale. Joining the party are You Can Count alumnus Mark Ruffalo (who is also screaming "Acting Makeover" after playing thankless love interests in 13 Going on 30 and Rumor Has It) and Matt Damon (who, like Blanchett, will be appearing in three different films this year).

14. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan)
After blowing my mind with the breathtaking Memento, Christopher Nolan has been kind of wasting his time with an adequate-but-pointless remake and a gloomy, joyless superhero re-vamp. Thankfully, this new project seems very much worth his time, and the fact that it stars two of the best actors working today (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) just adds to my anticipation. The film depicts a deadly rivalry that forms between two competing magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Sounds like a gorgeous film already, and I can already imagine the superb work by the technical team. Plus, the supporting cast is nothing to scoff at either - Andy Serkis, Scarlett Johansson (although she really needs to cut down her projects), David Bowie (!), and Michael Caine.

13. Running with Scissors (Ryan Murphy)
There's only one thing on everyone's mind regarding this film, and that's "Is this the film that will finally win Annette Bening her Oscar?". That and "Will Hilary Swank come around the corner again and steal the frontrunner status?". It certainly is a juicy role for Bening, but what concerns me is the fact that it's such a high-wire act, similar to what she did in all her nominated performances. Is it going to be too much? But regardless of Oscar potential, the film still sounds like a messy, over-the-top hoot. Great cast supporting the diva including Gwyneth Paltrow, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Patrick Wilson (aaah!). I have a feeling this will be the I Heart Huckabees of the year (same type of bizzare humor, terrific ensemble cast).

12. X3: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner)
I am not a big fan of this series, I have to admit right off the bat. There are just too many characters and subplots going on, and I prefer my main source of conflict to be much more personal and aimed at the individual (read: Spider-Man). But the arrival of this installment is promising for a couple of reasons - it's the final one (ups the stakes), it features the performance of Dark Phoenix (my favourite X-"Man" character) and has a heart-pounding trailer. Yes, it's directed by Brett Ratner, but I think he understands how much is riding on this film, and from the looks of it, he's done a solid job of taking over for Bryan Singer. Plus, I just have to see Kelsey Grammer as The Beast. Just perfect casting right there.

11. The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard)
Believe you me, I'm just as surprised to see this film listed so high as you are. I have hated every single thing Ron Howard has directed (and that includes the overrated Apollo 13), and the quality of his work has deteriorated even more with the turn of the century. The fact that his grating chum Brian Grazer is in tow, as well as screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who believes he has to overexplain everything in his work) is even more disturbing. I haven't read the book, nor do I care to. The advance word at Cannes has been damning on top of it all, so why do I care about this film? Because I feel that this mystery lends itself perfectly to a film medium - it will be nothing more than a empty-calorie "big" popcorn thrill ride, and I am in the mood for a summer film that is both entertaining and about more than explosions. I feel that Howard can deliver at least that. Plus, it has Alfred Molina, Audrey Tatou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany - that is worth something!

... and the top ten will be posted tomorrow. This has nothing to do with "unveiling" it as a surprise; it's just that I'm exhausted and can write no more.