Every year, cinephiles the world over vie to get on to this list, and win the thirteen and a half inch statuette modelled after Mexican actor Emilio ‘El Indio’ Fernández, and lovingly nicknamed 'Oscar' around this time of the year. The ceremony is now delivered at your breakfast table live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Usually, the conversation at the table centres about how India produces so many movies but we never ever come home with the best foreign film award. Or it’s about how they only give awards to movies about poverty. Sometimes we even look down at those awards as being 'for them, not us' because ‘they don’t understand our culture and so on...
I love the movies, so I munch on my very early morning bagel with cream cheese and drink my chai, watch every minute (cursing when they break away for commercials or insert Indian ads during the musical performances) of the Academy Awards - the Oscars. But before that, like all movie nuts I have marked out my favourites. Of course, I have watched almost all the contenders (yes, modesty isn’t my middle name) beforehand. Thankfully this year, I have not had to go running to the neighbourhood Jack Sparrow with a USB stick and a list of films, nor did I have to seek out sites where you were watching someone else watching the film. Those days of misadventure are gone. We in India are actually able to watch these fabulous films on the big screen. This week is jam-packed with Oscar hopefuls.
This is Antonio Banderas’s eighth film with the one and only Pedro Almodovar.
Pain and Glory is Almodovar telling the story of his own physical and psychological pain and the glory of making movies and writing about life. Banderas has never been so sensitive on-screen before. His back pain becomes yours and when he talks fondly about movies you feel your heart swell with pride. His lovers become yours and the story of his mother making a home inside one of the caves becomes your story. I hope Banderas wins for his performance even though there's The Joker looming in just about every category. And no matter what happens, watch this film because the production design is extraordinary. I would exchange my home for Banderas’s home in a flash, even though there are too many reds in the home. I loved the furniture, the bookshelves, the knick-knacks... And don’t forget to watch Banderas on the Stephen Colbert show (on YouTube) sharing his own experience: the heart is a warehouse of feelings...
I hope you have seen the magnificent performance of Joaquin Phoenix in
The Joker. If you haven’t and the film wins a whole lot of accolades at the Oscars, then you will have another chance to watch the film on the big screen again at the end of February.
1917, the epic film on war is still running in the theatres and cinema crazed friends have watched it a couple of times just to see if the film is really one single shot or there is a super talented editor sitting out there somewhere, laughing at us all. I am too much of a pacifist to be able to see greatness in young men and women being killed because of political games and religious ideology. Speaking of ideology, there is Taika Waititi’s film
Jojo Rabbit, which pokes some serious fun at the Nazis and makes a point with his story of a mother who is raising a little Nationalist at the same time sheltering a little Jewish girl. VIDEO
I came away with mixed feelings about this film, just I had after watching
Life Is Beautiful years ago. I don’t know if I want to create a make-believe world for my child in order to shelter him from the realities of war or... Having Hitler as an imaginary friend to see the harshness of war and propaganda soon got to be unfunny. The movie has to crack joke after joke to tell us how Nazis are wrong. Scarlett Johansson is so gorgeous as a single mother during the war and also as a secret sympathiser that you will want to see the film only to examine the mother-son relationship. Plus some wonderful dialogue. One that stayed with me is the idea of associating freedom with dance. And a quote by one of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke: 'Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.'
We are indeed fortunate that foreign films are now getting screen time alongside Hindi potboilers although regional language cinema continues to be starving (but that is another discussion altogether). This particular foreign language film is competing for six nominations, and not because the film is good, it is because the filmmakers have worked tirelessly to promote the film, ensuring all the voting members of the academy get to see the film. Which means there is well-oiled marketing machinery working to bring us this film. Am not complaining. It is very good to see people put their money where the idea is. And Bong Joon-Ho is a wonderful filmmaker, he has made the incredible heart-wrenching Okja (a shock to my vegetarian heart) as well as action-filled sci-fi/futuristic Snow Piercer. His lyrical vision liberally peppered with humour now tells the tale of two families who have an uneasy alliance over money, 'Hell, if I had all this money, I’d be nice too.'
You are happy to take sides with the two families. The Kims barely make ends meet and the Parks are super-rich. The son first gets a foot in the door of the rich Park family as a tutor. And he manages to bring everyone in one by one. Happens when you let a gaonwala stay in your home until they find a place of their own, no? You watch your home being taken over by as little as him coughing into the phone and his mum and sister show up to help him recover... Jane Bennet gets unwell in the Bingley residence and the mother sends in Elizabeth to look after her and then shows up at the Bingley household... Director Bong Joon-H manages to make the story come alive bringing in all the twists and turns you could not begin to imagine into the picture. The movie becomes extraordinary because it is filled with life itself. And the struggle to survive.
'Rich people are naive. No resentments. No creases on them.' 'It all gets ironed out. Money is an iron. Those creases all get smoothed out.'
Parasite has all the emotions that shoplifters (Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018 Oscar winner, now on Netflix), brought to us last year. The gap between the haves and the have-nots brilliantly narrowed by need and humanity. The two worlds where one family folds pizza boxes and the other lives in tranquil beauty gets connected seamlessly by a staircase, and that is cinematic magic... And the deeper you look, the better the film gets. For me, I noticed that Mr Park works for a company that is so Pink Floyd inspired, it could be anything else. The company is called ‘Another Brick’. And you will discover what secrets his own brick house is hiding when you see the film. This year, this contender from Korea at the Oscars vying for six awards seems like the Kims wanting a piece of the Park pie, but everything comes together so beautifully, you will be happy spending a couple of hours at the multiplex near you. VIDEO Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s account of life during the civil war has been made again, by Greta Gerwig, and stars Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen as the March sisters (Jo, Amy, Meg and Beth March), Timothee Chalamet as their rich neighbour and love interest, and the brilliant Laura Dern as Marmee (mother) March. Despite the period costumes and soft-focus eye on the happy, poor but talented March family, and the delightful Meryl Streep showing up as Aunt March who makes oblique home truths like 'women who are rich do not need to marry', the film fails to engage you. It has been nominated for six awards but looks like the academy was struggling to include women filmmakers in its show. I have never liked the ‘whitewash’ novel because it barely mentions the horrors of the Civil War and is content in telling us about their ‘playacting’ to while time because the men are all away... It’s too schmaltzy for my liking. Why Hollywood had to tell the story again, I do not know (they’ve made Little Women into plays, radio versions, an opera, and several movies including Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Winona Ryder playing the lead character). This version has flashes of feminism, but it’s not enough...
I have laughed and I have cried at these movies. Taking in life made large-screen sized by writers who wrote like this was their last film. Directors who directed their actors to squeeze our hearts and minds. Music that stays with you long after the film is done... If you have been to the city of angels, walked the walk of the stars, you would have reached the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now the TLC theatre). It was the home to the Oscars until the ceremonies just got bigger. Now over 225 countries watch the award functions live. The ceremony takes place on February 10, but the movies are playing at the theatre near you now, so make time and watch stories from around the world this weekend.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication. Read all her columns