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...