Sunday, February 19, 2006

Not Oscars

This is not my attempt at predicting who will win Oscars this year but just a list of my favourite films released last year. (This is another way to while away time. It is well past midnight and I can't sleep!).

Cache: The blazingly intelligent art-thriller from the Austrian director Michael Haneke was easily the most intellectually challenging film of last year. It not only raises difficult questions about racism, class, history, problems facing contemporary European societies, psychological guilt, both personal and collective, but also makes you question the basic assumptions of cinema itself by problematising the traditional relationship between the filmmaker and the audience in a way that would keep film-theorists busy for some time. Even a laid back viewer, who has barely heard of people like Delueze and Bazin (and I am one of those), will be asking questions about objectivity, representation of reality, point-of-view, meanings behind images etc after watching the film. This is as if Robert Bresson and Alfred Hitchcock collaborated together on a single project. Can there be a more positive recommendation? I had earlier written about it here.

2046: As sensuous as Cache was intellectual, this was easily the most delirious movie going experience of last year for me. Although the story about romantic masochism and fatalism was, well, a little too romantic for me, the sights, sounds and textures were so evocative that it left me swooning throughout the film. I even completely lost the plot in the middle of the film! Wong Kar-wai takes cinematic sensuousness to new heights here, which might be the best of his career so far. And of course, needless to say, this is one of those films you HAVE to see on big screen. Previous post on the film here.

The Squid and the Whale: The funniest film of the year with just the right amount of pain, heartbreak and bitterness. At few places I was in fact laughing at myself. Just like Walt (the elder son) I have used my half-baked knowledge of Kafka to impress people (with even less successful results!) and just like his father I have often used the word "philistine" as the most preferred form of abuse ("you haven't heard of Flaubert? You philistine!"). The great insight of the film is that intellectual snobbery of this kind is nothing but another form of egotism and it wreaks enormous damage on personal relationships, as perhaps any kind of egotism always does. The writer-director Noah Baumbach reportedly based the film on his own experiences but even if you didn't know this you can make out that the film must be autobiographical -- every character, every scene is so honest, soulful and truthful that it couldn't but be based on a lived experience. Truly remarkable. Link to New York Times review.

Innocence: This extraordinary debut by the French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic was the strangest and the most original film of the year for me. It is one of those films which keeps you captivated from the first scene to the last and yet at the end you ask yourself, what was it that I just saw? Was it real or was I just dreaming? Fantastic, chilling and very rewarding. Previous post here.

The Constant Gardener: The most conventional film on the list. Also an example of how a director with a distinctive style and vision can transform what could have been a regular political thriller into something with considerable emotional force and a potent political outrage. The Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (his second film after the art house hit of 2001, City of God) not only navigates and criss crosses different timelines effortlessly but also has a weird way of composing and editing shots. This gives a powerful sense of immediacy and intimacy to scenes which become unusually effective. It also contains the best romantic pair of last year -- Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, who were both outstanding. Also a perfect nightmare for the public relationship department of big pharmaceutical companies. The film claims, rather convincingly I thought, that those multi national companies are "up there with the arm dealers". Though I am personally a little biased towards anti-capitalist propaganda of all kinds, I am sure the film will work for people with all persuasions just because it is honest, truthful and motivated by a genuine sense of purpose. Link to NYT review.

Now that I see, none of the films on my list are nominated for Oscars. What does it say about Oscars? Hmmm.


km said...

2046 - absolutely! WKW is one of the best out there.

Alok said...

Oh Yes! I generally avoid romances but Waong kar-wai's romances are sublime!

and no body uses pop-music like him.

km said...

"California Dreamin'" - I don't think anyone can in Hollywood can ever use that song.

Alok said...

Yes. after seeing that movie I can never again hear it without thinking of that actress's face (faye wong something?) and of course her dance :)

Alok said...

This short review from Salon says, it was the worst overuse of a pop song in history :(

This is a short review of Chungking Express from Salon:

Those for whom the statement "that was weird and meaningless" is high aesthetic praise will love "Chungking Express." Those who prefer their art to come equipped with such old-fashioned accessories as coherence and character development will be less happy. Iconoclastic Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's 1994 film is a frenetic one-way ride through The Land of Vaporous Plot, with stops along the way at Irritatingly Cute Extended Metaphor City. There's madness aplenty in this tantalizing film, but not nearly enough method in it.

You have to give Kar-Wai, the much-parodied, arty bad boy of Hong Kong cinema, points for audacity. To his unorthodox two-stories-in-sequence structure Kar-Wai adds generous portions of Hong Kong noir, manic editing, urban angst a la Scorsese, Freudian analysis as told to Hello Kitty and possibly the worst overuse of a pop song in film history. This wild mixture sounds intriguing, but it ends up being about as nourishing as those "special milk shakes" that six-year-olds make out of beer, aspirin, peanut butter and cayenne pepper.

ventilatorblues said...

Would agree with the reviewer from Salon. The song did pop up a bit too much. But thats ok - ultimately, the film paid out handsomely. As for romances, I did not like ITMFL so much, and have stayed away from 2046 so far. Intriguing trivia - WKW's next film is entitled "The Lady From Shanghai" starring Nicole Kidman. If it is a remake of the Orson Welles classic, then sign me up for it RIGHT NOW.

Alok said...

Haven't seen the Welles's film but whatever I read about it, it doesn't appear to be a remake. It is a historical drama/thriller and is actually set in mainland China unlike the original film.

Also the latest update is that Wong has postponed the shooting because he is not able to find a male lead who is strong enough(!). His next release will possibly be one with Norah Jones in the lead. Don't know if it will feature her songs too.


And yes there was some news of Hurricane Katrina film too. Don't know if they are the same film.

I have my Wong Kar-wai pretty up to date ;)

P.S. 2046 is very good. actually better than ITMFL.