Sunday, December 31, 2006

#10 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)

As I pause and consider the career of the great Naseeruddin Shah, I marvel at the fact that there are so few actors of South Asian descent that have been able to dabble in so many different "spaces" in the cinema. Bollywood? Check? Art-house Parallel? Check. Hybrid/Crossover? (Monsoon Wedding, duh.) Hollywood!? Yup, although perhaps not positively so (see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.) If I were an Indian actor working today, I would be most envious of the roles and accomplishments accorded to Shah - what a varied and unique career (in addition to being a great artist)! This is not to mention his work on the stage (from where he started off), of which I cannot speak of myself, despite many others having done so (and at great length.) As for his on-screen efforts, I could name several that I consider close to my heart, but it's undoubtedly his crotchety but loving patriarch stretched thin in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding that is his most memorable. And enchanting and heartbreaking and moving. When we first encounter Lalit Varma, the impression is perhaps not a very welcoming one - within minutes, he has already berated the wedding planner and called his Australian nephew an idiot repeatedly. Clearly, the man is under a great deal of pressure; his only daughter Aditi is to be wedded to an American-Punjabi, and the wallet is more strained than ever as a result. As relatives, in-laws and the wedding party parade into the household, Lalit and his wife Pimmi (the incomparable Lillete Dubey) must attend to many different problems and usually clash heads.

But despite his hardened exterior, Shah is able to demonstrate Lalit's humanity as well as his deep affection for his family - this is something that is never in question. The night before the big day, he stands over his daughter and his niece Ria (Shefali Shetty, who is also magnificent in this film) with Pimmi, trying to understand where the years have gone, and how these two little girls have become adults without him realizing it. "If only they are happy, then I am willing to take on every trouble in the world," he says softly, and we know this is true. A shocking realization late into the film absolutely shatters Lalit, and Shah goes from an authoritative and grand figure to the exact opposite. He is a broken man, the stress of the celebration and this uncovered secret weighing on his bruised back. "I'm falling Pimmi," he sobs in Punjabi, embracing his wife presumably for the first time in months (they sleep in separate cots), letting the outer wall crumble. Shah is so, so good in this scene, allowing us to see a side of this character that he has contained and suppressed for so long. It's a graceful and generous moment, for both the actor and the character he plays. And certainly in the film's climax (*spoiler warning*), Shah once again takes control in order to protect his family, but in a different sense. In confronting and challenging the man who abused Ria - the one family elder he has esteemed and trusted more than anyone - he also confronts his own sense of pride, masculinity and family honour. He overcomes that traditional familial respect in order to protect Ria and shield her from further pain. What a moment - as he does this, we have the sense that Lalit has finally understood what his priorities are. No longer is he concerned with peripheral expenses, social status or self-pride, but the happiness and well-being of those he loves most.

* By the way, as I clued you all in a couple of weeks (months?) ago, I have had to resort to cheating on the top ten due to coming across one performance that I had overlooked earlier and another that I had forgotten about completely (whoops!). For that, I apologize, since I really set out with the intention of avoiding ties altogether (even though I love doing them.) No matter, let's finish this up kiddies!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Screamingly Funny

"The rest of us have to show our tits to get a job!"

Friday, December 08, 2006

L.A./N.Y. 2006

* I'll do reactions to NBR plus these awards after the NYFCC's selections have been announced. For the time being, I just want to get these predix out there...


Best Picture: The Departed [alt. Children of Men]
- I thought they'd go for Letters from Iwo Jima, but looking back, L.A.'s not too big on the Clint lately (then again, see below.)

Best Actor: Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking [alt. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed]
- It's a weak year for leading actors, and we're likely to see the same names pop up over and over again, so I expect it to be one of these four: Whitaker, Eckhart, DiCaprio or Gosling. I'll leave Eckhart from my NBR predix, because I expect him to find a mention somewhere this season.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen [alt. Naomi Watts, The Painted Veil]
- Last year they went a little "huh" with Vera Farmiga, so I'm thinking they'll go back to the basics and let the Mirren steamroller will barrel onwards. They were certainly on the Staunton bandwagon two years ago.

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children [alt. Michael Sheen, The Queen]
- Am I just holding on when all signs point to "no"? I can't believe he's finished just yet. No.

Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stranger than Fiction + World Trade Center + Trust the Man [alt. Jennifer, Hudson, Dreamgirls]
- These critics love giving prizes for multiple perfs, and they did so with Keener last year for ALL her 2005 films, including The Interpreter.

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers [alt. Martin Scorsese, The Departed]
- He hasn't won an award from L.A. since Unforgiven, and was snubbed entirely for the last two Oscar-loved outings: Mystic River and M$B. But perhaps this will be the year they return with love, full of admiration for his back-to-back efforts?

Best Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga, Babel [alt. Michael Ardnt, Little Miss Sunshine]
Best Cinematography: Tom Stern, Letters from Iwo Jima [alt. Rodrigo Prieto, Babel]
Best Music Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Painted Veil and The Queen [alt. Alberto Iglesias, Volver]
Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film: An Inconvenient Truth [alt. Deliver Us from Evil]
Best Foreign Language Film: Volver [alt. Pan's Labyrinth]
Best Animation: Monster House [alt. Cars]
Best Production Design: Children of Men [alt. Dreamgirls]


Best Picture: The Departed [alt. United 93]
- Feels appropriate for some reason. Initially, I didn't think both L.A. and N.Y. would go for the same thing, but now... seems the safest bet.

Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson [alt. Ken Watanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima]
- Seems like a very New York-y selection, and it's one of the best reviewed performances of the year in any category.

Best Actress: Penelope Cruz, Volver [alt. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sherrybaby]
- New York has been known to avoid the obvious selection before; see 2002 when they fell big-time for Far From Heaven and yet gave this award to Diane Lane for Unfaithful.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Sheen, The Queen [alt. Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children]
- Will he be the critical darling of this season? I can't see Murphy, Pitt or Nicholson grabbing all the prizes...

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza, Babel [alt. Carmen Maura, Volver]
- I would have placed Hudson here, except the NYCC hasn't really been on board with the recent musical revival.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed [alt. Paul Greengrass, United 93]
- They gave Clint the award for Million Dollar Baby two years ago, so I'm thinking they bow down to Marty this year, who has surprisingly only won this award once - for Goodfellas. But this spot also feels right for Greengrass. I'm so torn.

Best Screenplay: Paul Greengrass, United 93 [alt. Pedro Almodóvar, Volver]
- We always said that he would get support from the critics; let's see if they're up for it.

Best Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men [alt. Tom Stern, Letters from Iwo Jima]
Best Foreign Language Film: Volver [alt. The Lives of Others]
Best Animated Film: A Scanner Darkly [alt. Monster House]
Best Non-Fiction Film:
Shut Up and Sing! [alt. An Inconvenient Truth]
Best First Film: Thank You For Smoking [alt. Little Miss Sunshine]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

National Board of Review Predictions 2006

Oh my, it's already time for the National Board of Review to declare their winners. Why do we place so much emphasis on the choices of this inconsequential, easily wined-and-dined voting body every single year? Simple: they set the trends for the rest of the awards season (we love them, we hate them.) The IFAs are always up to their own thing, and the Golden Satellites make it a point to nominate practically every film and personality in contention (thanks for nothing.) Therefore, the NBR is just as exciting as Oscar nomination morning, because they are the first ones to give us a list of names that will be repeated ad nauseam throughout the next few months. The novelty is key. Essentially, we will likely be looking at a lot of our future Academy Award nominees tomorrow (well... this was not so for Gong Li last time, poor gal.) Last year, I predicted 8/10, which is pretty darn good if I do say so myself (I even got #1 right, but that was sort of an easy call considering there was a lot of buzz on how it was between that film and Memoirs of a Geisha for the win.) I'm putting absolutely no thought into the forecasting this time around (blame it on essay and exam stress), so I don't expect to climb to a 9 or 10 this year (hah). Because of that, I've decided to go out on a limb and make some crazy, bizarre predictions. And I know they supposedly no longer release numerical lists, but in the chance that they do so anyways, I don't think it hurts.

1. Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
2. Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)
3. Little Children (Todd Field)
4. Dreamgirls (Bill Condon)
5. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
6. The Queen (Stephen Frears)
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (Gabriele Muccino)
8. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster)
9. United 93 (Paul Greengrass)
10. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)

[alternates: The Painted Veil, Flags of Our Fathers, Venus, Apocalypto, The Good German, World Trade Center, The Last King of Scotland, and Thank You For Smoking, all of which I feel stupid for leaving out.]

Best Picture: Could they decide to give Babel the shot in the arm it needs at this point? As always, I have no explanation to go with this claim, but I have a gut instinct that this is the one they will rally behind. I'm just as tempted to go with Letters from Iwo Jima, just because it's brand spanking new and they loved both Mystic River (#1 of 2003) and Million Dollar Baby (#4 of 2004). It will definitely place in the top five, I'm thinking, just not sure how high. Flags of Our Fathers is likely off their radar by this point, although I would not be surprised at all if both films made the cut. Little Children and Dreamgirls bring up the rear, which would cater to their recent interest in steamy sexual transgressions (Quills) and flashy musicals (Moulin Rouge!). I very much expect it to be one of these four.

Best Actor: Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking [alt. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland]
- (Stupid? Probably. But who would have thought Campbell Scott would win this for the low-key Roger Dodger? I've gone with the frontrunner for the last two years, and even though it would be wise for me to do so again, I'm getting bored. Surprise me!)

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen [alt. Penelope Cruz, Volver]
- (Got to have one standard prediction in there, and she's still in the steamroller position.)

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children [alt. Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland]
- (Not going with any of the big frontrunners here, mostly because NBR sometimes likes to throw us for a loop at times. I expect the Todd Field film to get an award somewhere.)

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, Babel + Notes on a Scandal [alt. Adriana Barraza or Rinko Kikuchi, Babel]
- (I strongly feel like this will be going to one of the three Babel girls, although I could see Jennifer Hudson or Maggie Gyllenhaal placed here tomorrow.)

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima [alt. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls]
- (The man will be nominated for one of the films, let's just face it, because Letters has all the steam right now. If you recall, Million Dollar Baby most definitely benefited from its late December qualifying run.)

Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan, The Queen [alt. Guillermo Arriaga, Babel]
- (Can Morgan repeat his win from Venice? The category is slim pickings this year.)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children [alt. Bill Condon, Dreamgirls]

And the rest... (I'm not going to do their ridiculous "Freedom of Expression" awards. Yawn.)

Ensemble: Little Miss Sunshine (Is Bobby dead and gone?)
Animated Feature: Monster House (Please not Happy Feet. No more damn penguins.)
Breakthrough (Male): James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland
Breakthrough (Female): Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Directorial Debut: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine
Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
Production Design: Dreamgirls
Musical Score: Alberto Iglesias, Volver [Now watch it go to Eastwood.]
Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth [Pedro would be a natural here, but he's already won here twice in the last seven years. Again?]
Documentary: Deliver Us From Evil