Les Misérables (Dir: Tom Hooper)
"Do you hear the people sing?"
Basic plot (for those philistines like me out there)- Adapted from the reknowned musical, the film follows Jean Valijean, who after being imprisoned for nineteen years is finally a free man who cannot escape his checkered past. He breaks his parole to get a new life, and a new enemy in the process, the ruthless inspector Javert. When due to his negligence, a factory worker, Fantine, suffers a terrible fate, he adopts her daughter Cosette and raises her, but always under the threat of Javert. Set in 18th century France.
If you know of my The Social Network and David Fincher obsession, you must know that I do not like Tom Hooper very much. I know it's silly, but it is what it is. Also, Russell Crowe's face irritates me to no end. So with this in mind, I sat down to watch Les Mis, totally ignorant of the story as I have neither read the book nor watched the musical. And lo and behold, I really liked it! I think being a Bollywood person, I am partial towards the musical genre as long as it does not overwhelm you with all the singing (I'm looking at you, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). And this might be the first time I have seen a film employ live-singing, a brilliant decision by Mr. Hooper, I must say. Without it, we could not have had two gorgeous performances by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, both deservedly nominated for Oscars for their roles. Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" literally made me shiver, and Jackman was plain wonderful and was born to play the role of Valijean. I thought the film looked quite beautiful, in spite of the infamous dutch angles and other filming techniques Hooper is known for. Among the other cast members, I thought Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Samantha Barks were pretty perfect and so were the kids playing little Cosette and Gavroche. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried were slightly annoying, but apparently their characters of Marius and older Cosette respectively are not very liked. Which brings us to Russell Crowe as Javert. Oh good lord, my ears! Russell Crowe's "singing" is one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life. I might have liked Javert if he was played by someone else, but Hooper's biggest misstep ended up being this particular casting choice.
From whatever I have read in Wikipedia, I thought the story was very well presented. The costumes, the music, the characters (except Javert) were all top-notch and I had two pretty special cinema trips all in all. I have almost forgiven Tom Hooper because of this and Jackman is the man!
Pitch Perfect (Dir: Jason Moore)
"You guys are gonna get pitch-slapped so hard, your man boobs are gonna concave."
Basic plot- The Bellas want to be the first all-girls group to win the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella and take the title away from Treblemakers, an all-boys group in their college. When edgy newbie Beca joins their group with a bunch of other characters, most notably (the awesome) Fat Amy, they finally have a chance at the title.
Yes, this film is not very deep, but what it is is a lot of fun. It begins rather poorly, due to the totally misfired puke joke (PUKE IS NOT FUNNY, PEOPLE!), but then it gets much, much better. The songs, the lines, Rebel Wilson's ahmazing Fat Amy, all make the film very enjoyable and the right kind of fluffy fun that does not completely insult your intelligence. Once again, I enjoyed most of the songs, even though my total lack of knowledge about current popular music made it a little difficult. Many people are calling it "our" Bring It On, which is not an unfair comparison. This too is about an underdog group coming out on top and all the hilarious, music-themed obstacles in between. Anna Kendrick played Beca and while I loved her audition song, she was quite non-charismatic as the protagonist, which is a shame because I usually really like her. Then again, all characters faded under the epicosity that was Fat Amy. Easily one of my favourite comic characters of recent times, Wilson's timing and dialogue delivery is to die for and she is a rather special singer too. Other actors too like Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Elizabeth Banks and Skylar Astin were quite entertaining.
One other thing that I personally really loved about this film was all the Breakfast Club love. I am an unabashed fan of the John Hughes classic and any film that idolises it gets points from me. Watch it for Fat Amy!
Anna Karenina (Dir: Joe Wright)
"Anna isn't a criminal, but she broke the rules!"
Basic plot (for those philistines like me etc.)- Anna Karenina is a married, aristocratic woman who starts a love affair with Count Vronsky. Caught between her husband Karenin, Vronsky and the unforgiving society, this is the story of Anna's struggle.
No, I have not read this world famous novel by Leo Tolstoy. Yes, I do hate myself. In regards to this movie, I adored it, though hardly for the story itself. This doesn't mean that I did not like the tale of the doomed Anna. I really did but Joe Wright's decision to make it on a staged setting, with every scene happening in an ever-changing theatre, and all the visuals that that provided, absolutely blew my mind. I am a big believer in "style over substance" if done right. And I would actually give the film the benefit of doubt that after having read the story and then rewatching it, I will almost certainly get many nuances of the script. It's just that I have not seen anything as singularly spectacular as the entire set-up of Anna Karenina ever and I was left completely gobsmacked. 2012 is a year of just stunning-looking movies and this film definitely among the best.
I am completely of the opinion that Keira Knightley only really acts in a Joe Wright film. Their previous two collaborations, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, were also beautiful films containing her other two best performances. I thought she was really good as Anna. The costume department did a wondrous job and Knightey benefited the most from it because she looked simply dazzling. However my favourite performances were by the erstwhile Mr. Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Anna's brother Stiva, and ugly-mustached Aaron Johnson as Vronsky. Macfadyen was really funny and believable and I felt the most for Johnson's Vronsky. The rest of the cast made of Jude Law, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald, Alicia Vikander and Ruth Wilson were pretty good too.
Wright comes out as the hero though. With the exception of The Soloist that I have not seen yet, I have loved all of his films. Anna Karenina joins this group because I thought he outdid himself with its visuals (though my love for Atonement and its beauty knows no bounds). It was also a rather smart decision because the story of Anna had to be presented in the "all the world's a stage" way. I think a woman's life is often judged just like it is public property and Anna's certainly was. All the little tricks Wright plays in telling the story this way is very commendable and my eyes and I were captivated throughout.
English Vinglish (Dir: Gauri Shinde)
"When you learn to love yourself then the same old life starts looking new..."
Basic plot- Shashi is an excellent Indian housewife whose only flaw it seems is her inability to converse in English properly, as pointed by her unappreciative husband and smug daughter on a regular basis. When she has to go to New York to help with her niece's wedding, she finds an avenue to improve this part of herself by enrolling in an English-speaking class.
I loved it. (Note: All the following reviews are going to start the same way) Absolutely, madly, unexpectedly. I had heard a lot of praises, but I could not believe that it was *this* good. It has been a while since I saw an Indian film as flawless as English Vinglish. The story, the humour, the heart, the message, the characters- everything was as perfect as could be. I kept waiting for something to go amiss, but nothing ever does in this film. It's believable and wonderful and oh so inspiring. Sri Devi is excellent as Shashi, a character so common and rare at the same time. Being Indian, I have seen many women like her- heck, I even saw shades of my mother in her- the Indian housewife who is expected to live her life in the service of her family and never ask anything for herself, and then to see her emerge as this heroic, independent, free-thinking woman is nothing short of jubilating. I don't know how much people of other cultures will identify with her, though this film does a beautiful job of portraying all types of people from many different places remarkably well, but I certainly did and it was fantastic. A woman wrote and directed it as well, and I don't think a male director would have been able to make it as perceptively. Shinde did some fantastic work here in showing the inner and outer life of Shashi and all the people around her.
Of course this is Sri Devi's big comeback film and I don't recall any Indian actor, especially a female actor, ever having done a better one. Save her accent and voice which were a little distracting for me, all the emotions, which were often very subtle, were shown exquisitely by her. The other two characters I really loved in the movie were Laurent, played by Mehdi Nebbou, the French classmate of Shashi's who falls for her and their bilingual conversations are lovely to watch, and Shashi's niece Radha, played by Priya Anand, who helps Shashi succeed in her clandestine efforts. Two characters I absolutely despised were of Shashi's husband and daughter who were just horrid, but the film took the higher path in dealing with them as well.
English Vinglish is also a rather beautiful looking film, showing the great city of Manhattan through the eyes of a fascinated stranger. The music though not very memorable, is complimentary enough. Shinde and Sri Devi have outdid themselves with this adorable little tale and there is just so much to love in this film that I cannot recommend it enough. PLEASE watch it, please!!
Cloud Atlas (Dir: The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)
"We cross and re-cross our old paths like figure-skaters."
Basic plot- A grandiose tale about interweaving lives through six different time periods and how every life affects another throughout the history of the world through its actions.
I loved it. This film is so grand and marvelous and entertaining! It is the reason we like stories and watch movies. It is complex yet simple. I will admit that in both of my viewings I have not attempted to really sort out this film but then again, do I have to? Can't I just love it because it shows a plethora of characters, all played by an assortment of actors, and it spans through the genres of adventure, comedy, political thriller, sci-fi, dystopian worlds, and of course romance? Or because of the fact that I was completely enthralled throughout its running time of almost three hours? Or just because Ben Whishaw is the loveliest person ever and Hugo Weaving gets to play a villain in drag? Whatever the reason is, I adored this film.
I have read about it being one of the most ambitious films ever made. After watching it, all I could think of is why aren't more movies like this made? There are so many stories to tell because every one has their own story. An crabby old publisher's escape from an old age home is no less impressive than a ballsy journalist trying to uncover a huge nuclear disaster-in-making. The romance of a gay musician in the 30s is just as magical as that of a fabricant in a futuristic world. The film celebrates love and freedom and bravery, just like all great stories that we have heard our entire lives do. And I really did think that it was great.
The film looked amazing too. Every time period has its own allure and all the costumes and set-designs for them are superb. Of course in the visuals sphere, nothing beats the hair and make-up department which turns Halle Berry into a white lady, Ben Whishaw into an oppressed wife, Jim Sturgess into an Asian action hero and Hugh Grant into a cannibalistic tribesman and so on. It takes quite sometime to actually figure out who is playing who in this film, and I even enjoyed that part about it. I really liked all of the cast, but my favourites were Jim Broadbent, Weaving, Doona Bae, and Whishaw being the most exemplary.
The Wachowski Brothers and Tom Tykwer have made a helluva movie-watching experience here. I don't understand the hate for it but to his or her own.
Django Unchained (Dir: Quentin Tarantino)
"You silver tongued devil, you."
Basic plot- Django is a slave freed by the bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, in order to assist him in finding a group of men with a bounty on their head. Soon they start bounty hunting together till they decide to go and rescue Django's wife, Broomhilda, who has been sold to the infamous plantation owner, Calvin J. Candie.
I loved it. Notice how the quote I put for this film is not one of the more well-known ones, like "I like the way you die, boy." or "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention." or even the very obvious "Django. The D is silent." This is because the above quote is exactly what I would like to say to the filmmaker extraordinaire, Quentin Tarantino, who once again proves that he is one of the best writers and directors around. He made a non-sleep-inducing western, with new awesome characters that are now part of the Tarantino-verse. Leonardo DiCaprio as Candie, Christoph Waltz as Schultz, Jamie Foxx as Django, Samuel L. Jackson as Candie's trusted and shrewd black servant, Stephen and Kerry Washington as Broomhilde. In the first watch, DiCaprio and Waltz shine the most, as they really embrace the Tarantino-speak, and Jackson reveals a whole new facet to himself. In the second watch, I thought Foxx was pretty excellent as Django and Washington really good too.
The film looked gorgeous with the magnificent American outback, all the period settings and costumes, and of course all the blood. All the shooting in Django Unchained looks almost pompous, which made it hilarious for me. It is one of the more disturbingly violent films by Tarantino as it does not shy away from showing a very dark side of slavery. Candie and Stephen are some of the worst kinds of characters ever, but DiCaprio also manages to imbibe a lot of humour in his portrayal of the former. Again, on a repeated viewing, I was able to truly appreciate Django's whole tale, how he goes from being a scared, unsure slave to a smooth-talking, powerful, bounty hunter, who is likened to Siegfried, a German hero in a fairytale about a character named Broomhilda. The soundtrack is, as is always the case with Tarantino's films, flawless, with "Who Did That To You" and "Freedom" being the best of the best.
This was my most anticipated movie of the year and while it doesn't take the top spot because it was a tad too long and in my eyes, not as well put together as the other Tarantino films, I really loved it with all my heart and had a rollicking time watching it.
Silver Linings Playbook (Dir: David O. Russell)
"Calm down, crazy."
Basic plot- Pat has just been released from a mental institution where he had been receiving treatment for bipolarity after a violent episode concerning his cheating wife. Out with his new positive attitude and belief in silver linings, he goes back to living with his parents, his OCD-ed bookie father, Pat Sr. and his sweet and caring mother, Dolores. He aims at getting his wife back after improving himself, until he meets newly widowed and equally "crazy" Tiffany who promises to help him if he partners up with her for a dancing competition.
Director and writer David O. Russell made Silver Linings Playbook for his son who has bipolar disorder. I usually try to keep the art and the artist separated, but I think sometimes it is alright to admire such people for their motives and inspirations. I think this is why the film had so much heart in it. It was also very witty in the way it played with similar sequences like the Pat and Tiffany running thing or how even the more contrived bits made sense. I especially appreciated its stance on Indians and not making us all about curry and saris and slums and giving the great Anupam Kher such a lovely role.
I would love for Silver Linings Playbook to win Best Film and also Best Actress for Lawrence and Best Supporting Actor for De Niro, who I feel is the most deserving of a third Oscar this year. The film is a true delight.