Saturday, March 20, 2010

Film Review: Love Sex Aur Dhokha

The moral fabric of a rapidly transforming urban India comes under the scanner in Dibakar Banerjee's audacious new offering: Love, Sex aur Dhokha. Banerjee's is an altogether distinct voice in Indian cinema today -- his attention to detail and complex characters manage to create a completely authentic North Indian milieu (those who've lived in that part of the country will attest to the fact that his characters possess an uncanny resemblance to people they know in real life). Shot entirely in Dogma-style, using hand-held and "hidden" cameras, unknown actors and a complete disregard for vanity, LSD looks destined for cult status.

The triptych narrative features characters caught in a web of familiar human emotions: insecurities, jealousy, despair; and the astonishingly natural performances add to the surprising emotional resonance of this film -- especially during the stunning denouement of the seemingly frivolous and light-hearted initial chapter. This first story lovingly mocks traditional Yash Raj romances -- the film-school student making his diploma film addresses his dialogues to Adi sir while re-creating the Raj/Simran love story for his film (makes sense for such a radically different film to acknowledge the existence of mainstream Bollywood).

The three stories featured here are inspired by real life events -- and LSD makes us realize how desensitized we've become to these shocking stories that appear in our newspapers everyday, thanks to the onslaught of reality television and a hyper-invasive media. The actors here perform as if they are unaware of the cameras focused on them -- ironic, since Nikos Andritsakis's camera is almost a character by itself, an inherent part of this film's voyeuristic impulses. 

The dialogues and interactions between the characters are painfully real. I swear I've seen the disgustingly hilarious conversation that's played out in the second chapter at the store between the day-time store girl and the character played by Raj Kumar Yadav in front of my eyes! This is also the strongest of the film's three chapters -- shot entirely using security cameras and featuring excellent performances by Yadav and Neha Chauhan and scene-stealing turns by the watchman and the actress who plays the day-time store girl (must look up her name!).

I must admit that I was very wary of this film coming off as too gimmick-y when I first read about it months ago -- primarily because the themes handled here have already been explored with varying levels of success in recent movies (MMS porn clips, casting couch and sting operations form the basis for the other two stories). But Banerjee and co-screenwriter Kanu Behl have managed to dig deep into these issues and they pull no punches in embracing the disturbing nature of these pulp-y tales. The narrative is consistently engaging (thanks in no small part to Namrata Rao's superb editing). 

Love, Sex Aur Dhokha may as well have been titled Sex, Lies and Videotape, Steven Soderbergh's Palme d'Or winning 1989 film that went on to shape an entire decade of independent filmmaking in Hollywood. Whether LSD will be as influential as that film remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: with three brilliant films already under his belt, it's time to officially induct Dibakar Banerjee into our list of great Bollywood directors. I can't wait to see what he does next. B+

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Battle of the Exes: Oscar Predictions

My predictions for the big night. The full list of nominations is here

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Avatar led this race early on when it nabbed the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama, but since then The Hurt Locker has emerged as a favorite with the guilds. Among its several trophies in the past few months was a jaw-dropping upset win over Avatar at the Producer's Guild Awards (where James Cameron's film was a shoo-in). If things go according to plan, The Hurt Locker will become the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in decades.

Alternates: Everything currently points towards The Hurt Locker, but if there's an upset, Avatar and Inglourious Basterds are likely candidates.

Should win: This year's Best Picture roster is easily the best in years -- the decision to expand the nominees to ten worked well this year (though it remains to be seen if it'll work just as well in the coming years, so I'm reserving my final assessment of this experiment as of now). My favorite films of the year (in order of preference): Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, The Hurt Locker. I'll be happy to see either of them win.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
This should be an easy win even if the film goes on to lose Best Picture. She won the Directors Guild award (a very accurate predictor of the eventual Oscar winner) and her win will make history as the first directing win for a woman (not to mention the fact that she'll be winning over ex-husband James Cameron). Academy voters will find it hard to ignore that. Expect a standing ovation.

Alternates:  I can't think of a scenario where Bigelow loses this -- Cameron would be an upset, Tarantino would be a stunner.

Should win: Tarantino or Bigelow are equally deserving candidates, though I love Cameron's work on Avatar as well. Still, I really hope to see Bigelow win this thing!

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Bridges is one of Hollywood's most respected actors and his Oscar-less status has been discussed quite often (4 previous nominations, 0 wins). After a clean sweep of the precursors (including the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe), and numerous Critic's group citations, he will finally win that elusive Oscar.

Alternates: None. Colin Firth won the BAFTA but it's hard to imagine Bridges losing this one.

Should win: Colin Firth's is the one performance I haven't seen from the group -- three of the remaining four are excellent performances -- George Clooney (Up in the Air), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) and my favorite: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker).

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
This is where I'm breaking away from the consensus (Sandra Bullock): I have a hunch that Streep will finally win that third Oscar. Of course, everything points towards a Bullock win -- she has the Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award -- and fits the pattern of Academy rewarding stars in this category. But Streep hasn't won in so long (her second Oscar came way back in 1982) that voters may want to reward her (especially since she delivers the better performance!). Plus, I'd like to predict at least one surprise.

Alternates: The likely winner here is Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side and a possible shocking upset - Gabourey Sidibe, Precious (be prepared for the water works if this comes to pass!)

Should win: Some of the year's best performances weren't nominated here - Tilda Swinton (Julia), Abbie Cornish (Bright Star), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist). Among the nominees, Sidibe is my favorite but Streep is great in her film so I have no issues if she wins. Just as long as it is not Bullock, I'll be happy.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Mo'Nique, Precious
They are both such overwhelming favorites that I won't even bother to analyze the competition. And there's a good reason why they've steamrolled over the other contenders and why they will win on Oscar night -- they are the best in their respective categories by miles (it'll be awesome to finally see an acting win for a Tarantino-directed performance!)

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
This will be a close call -- voters may look at rewarding Tarantino for his film in this category, or it could get caught in a Hurt Locker sweep. Should be an interesting race!

Alternate: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Should Win: The Coen Brothers, A Serious Man (brilliant!) or Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds (audacious and brilliant!)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
This will be the category where they will reward once-thought-to-be-the-favorite Up in the Air.

Alternate: Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Should win: Up in the Air or In the Loop

Best Foreign Language Film: A Prophet (France) (Alternate: The White Ribbon, Germany)

Another close race -- it's a toss-up between A Prophet or The White Ribbon (if they want to finally reward Michael Haneke with an Oscar). I love both the films but haven't seen the rest of the nominees yet.

Best Animated Feature: Up (Alternate: None)
As the only animated film in the Best Picture race, Up will find it easy to win, just like the past Pixar products. There is some great work nominated here though, and I think Fantastic Mr. Fox is actually a slightly better film (though Up is amazing as well).

Best Film Editing: Bob Murawski and Chris Innis, The Hurt Locker (alternate: Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron, Avatar)
This category traditionally lines up with the Best Picture winners (the Best Editing winner has gone on to win the Oscar more than 60% of the time). This will also be an early indicator if there's an Avatar upset in the works in the big categories.

Best Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd, The Hurt Locker (alternate: Mauro Fiore, Avatar or Christian Bergen, The White Ribbon)
One of my favorite categories at the Oscars every year, this is also a close race between The Hurt Locker (BAFTA winner) and Avatar, but The White Ribbon won the Cinematographer's guild award, so that's in play too. I think that the CG-nature of Cameron's film may work against it and Hurt Locker may take this one home. But it's a close call.

Best Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, Avatar (alternate: None!)
Can't see anyone else winning this!

Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, The Young Victoria (alternate: Catherine Leterrier, Coco Before Chanel)
Sandy Powell is a favorite in this category (2 past wins from 8 nominations). She'll probably add a third Oscar to her shelf. Nine and Coco Before Chanel could upset.

Best Original Score: Michael Giacchino, Up (alternate: James Horner, Avatar)
Another one of my favorite categories. Giacchino should finally win this after doing some amazing work in the past few years (Pixar's earlier Ratatouille and The Incredibles). His music has also been an essential ingredient in Lost, often improving an already terrific TV show. PLUS: Just watch this clip -- how can he not win?

Best Original Song: "Weary Kind", Crazy Heart (alternate: none)

Best Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker (alternate: Avatar)
Best Sound Editing: Avatar (alternate: The Hurt Locker)
Best Visual Effects: Avatar (alternate: NONE)
Avatar might win all three of these but war movies also fare well in the sound categories, and The Hurt Locker's Best Picture front-runner status may carry it to a win in Best Sound. It did win the Guild award for Best Sound, and the Cinema Audio Society guild winner is usually the same as the eventual Oscar winner.

Other categories:
Best Makeup: Star Trek (alternate: The Young Victoria)
Best Documentary Feature: The Cove (alternate: Burma VJ)
Best Documentary Short: China's Unnatural Disaster: Sichuan Province (alternate: ??)
Best Short Film (Live Action): The Door (alternate: Kavi)
Best Short Film (Animated) The Lady and the Reaper (alternate: A Matter of Loaf and Death)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Opening This Weekend

Road, Movie: Director Dev Benegal (English, August, Split Wide Open) returns with his first film in ten years, starring Bollywood new wave's poster boy Abhay Deol. The film has been playing on the festival circuit for quite some time now and most people who've seen it have raved about it. From the official synopsis: "VISHNU, a restless young man, itches to escape his father's faltering hair oil business. An old truck beckons, which Vishnu sees as his ticket to freedom. He offers to drive the antique Chevy across the desert to the sea, where it has been sold to a local museum. As he sets off across the harsh terrain, he discovers he's not merely transporting a battered vehicle, but an old touring cinema."

In an interview to IANS, Abhay Deol says: "Road, Movie is a celebration of cinema. It’s actually a film that you are watching within a film. It plays upon how important it (cinema) is to us and how it is treated and accepted. It is a journey of cinema". That sounds FANTASTIC! I'll be at the ticket counters on opening day. If you haven't visited the fabulous website for the film, please do so now -- you won't be disappointed!

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?: Is Konkona Sen Sharma looking for a change of image? Or merely a break from more meaningful work? Everything I've seen about this film suggests that it's going to be as terrible as the last Ajay Devgan comedy, but I could be wrong.

Broken Embraces: You wouldn't want to miss this one if you're a Pedro Almodóvar fan -- it features an excellent performance from Penelope Cruz (yet again!). I was slightly disappointed with this, though one of the reasons could be that this is one of Almodóvar's more subtle films and it didn't grab me immediately like his previous work -- I definitely need to see this again! 

Legion: An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) (IMDB plot summary)

Thanks Maa: This film has also been playing at a number of film festivals across the world, though I'm not sure what the response has been. Here's an excerpt from the not-so-good Screendaily review: "The global success of Slumdog Millionaire might help to create some curiosity about Thanks Maa, a sentimental melodrama set amongst Mumbai’s street children. Actor-turned-writer/director Irfan Kamal attempts a somewhat similar blend of urban fairytale and social commentary as Slumdog, but lacks the sure emotional touch and bravura filmmaking instincts that distinguished Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winner."
Hello Zindagi: Based on environmental themes, this film follows the life of a rebellious teenager who sets on a mission to save the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle, finally finding clarity in life. As per the official synopsis, "Hello Zindagi is the story of one young woman's journey towards self-realization."

Rokkk: The producers of this horror film have claimed that they will keep ambulances posted outside theatres where the horror film will be screened, a la RGV. Apparently people with heart problems have fallen ill during test screenings.