This is an Indian film I saw last year and that I’m going to talk about in a minute, but first my picks for tonight’s Oscars. Or, rather, my non-picks, as I have not seen one or more of the films in each on the top categories, so lack the requisite basis to express definitive preferences. I would have normally seen most of the Oscar nominated films but in view of my present medical condition, I have not been able to go to the cinema since mid-January :-( so have yet to see several of those that have opened in Paris since then. But as I have seen most of the nominees for best picture, here’s my assessment of each:
AMOUR – Very good film. Of course. But as it’s French (and by an Austrian director) and has nothing American about it, it doesn’t belong in this category. Let it win best foreign film.
ARGO – Top notch geopolitical thriller. Enjoyed it from beginning to end. But it is not without flaws and cannot be called a chef d’œuvre by any stretch. So it does not get my vote here.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – I recognize its merits but it did not bowl me over. And I had a small issue with its implicit celebration of the simple bayou people living in filth and squalor. Modernity does have its downsides but I’ll take it any day over the lifestyle of the film’s protags. Also, the young Quvenzhané Wallis may be impossibly cute and adorable—and no doubt melted many hearts during her live interview sur le plateau on the France 2 evening news when the film opened here—but it would be most premature for her to win the best actress award.
DJANGO UNCHAINED – Thumbs way up on this. Great entertainment, great acting, funny, offbeat, zany… in short, Tarantino at his best. Not having seen ZD30 (see below), this is my pick for best pic. And it’s too bad Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor, as he’s the man…
LES MISÉRABLES – I have not seen this and likely will not. I toyed with going while in the US over Xmas but couldn’t bring myself to. And the across-the-board panning by critics—and on both sides of the Atlantic—plus the fact that I don’t like musicals to begin with heavily outweighed the gushing, dithyrambic reactions of 20-something female FB friends. But I am 99% certain that even if I were to see it, I would not vote it best pic.
LIFE OF PI – Wonderful movie. It loses out to Django only by a hair.
LINCOLN – Is it possible not to praise to this one to the heavens? It would be most un-PC not to, that’s for sure. I did like the film, no doubt about it, but voting it the best would be an intellectual, cerebral decision, not an emotional, visceral one. And at the risk of sounding the contrarian, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance, while very good, did not light a fire under me. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand…
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – Entertainment for the Bachelor’s degree and higher cohort. I generally liked it—and it did lend itself to discussion afterward (on the subjects of schizophrenia and bipolarity)—but would hardly rate it the best film of the year. (Pour les lecteurs Français, je trouve bizarre et plutôt idiot le titre qu’on a donné ce film en France, ‘Happiness Therapy’, qui ne veut rien dire, ni en français ni en anglais).
ZERO DARK THIRTY – Haven’t seen it yet, as it opened in Paris after I had my accident (and which has kept me housebound for the past five weeks now). Hope I’ll be able to before it disappears from the salles.
Back to the Indian movie at hand, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, I’ve been intending to give the head’s up on it since seeing the second part after it opened here in December. In my ‘Best (and worst) movies of 2012’ list, I labeled it the “Best epic two-part movie from India about the interstices of organized crime, politics, corruption, communalism, and weak state institutions in the state of Jharkand.” Wasseypur is indeed a real city in what used to be southern Bihar, which is one of the poorer, wilder, and more lawless parts of India. Instead of describing the pic myself, I’ll let US critics do so. Here’s the intro to the review in Variety
The love child of Bollywood and Hollywood, “Gangs of Wasseypur” is a brilliant collage of genres, by turns pulverizing and poetic in its depiction of violence. A saga of three generations of mobsters cursed and driven by a blood feud, it’s epic in every sense, not least due to its five-hour-plus duration. Helmer Anurag Kashyap puts auds on disturbingly intimate terms with this psychopathic family and its hardscrabble North Indian mining town, while encompassing nothing less than India’s postwar history and deep-rooted problems in microcosm. Riveting…
And Hollywood Reporter last May
An extraordinary ride through Bollywood’s spectacular, over-the-top filmmaking, Gangs of Wasseypur puts Tarantino in a corner with its cool command of cinematically-inspired and referenced violence, ironic characters and breathless pace. All of this bodes well for cross-over audiences in the West. Split into two parts, as it will be released in India, this epic gangster story spanning 70 years of history clocks in at more than five hours of smartly shot and edited footage, making it extremely difficult to release outside cult and midnight venues. Its bow in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight met with rousing consensus…
Though it runs at over five hours, there’s never a dull moment in this Indian gangland epic by one of India’s hottest indie directors, Anurag Kashyap. Oozing visual style, laced with tight and often blackly comic dialogue, bolstered by tasty performances and a driving neo-Bollywood soundtrack, this Tarantino-tinged Bihari take on The Godfather has what it takes to cross over from the Indian domestic and Diaspora markets to reach out to action-loving, gore-tolerant theatrical and auxiliary genre audiences worldwide.
Those with a particular interest in India and/or who are of a social scientific bent will want to see the film, for the way it deals with communal and caste issues, and of Indian political culture. A couple of things. The film is in two parts, which opened six months apart here, so when I finally saw the second I had forgotten some of the details from the first, e.g. who was who and how they were related to one another. So the two parts should be seen in rapid succession. Also, the first part is superior to the second, which descends into an orgy of violence of bloodletting. This part could have been substantially cut. Mais peu importe. If you can stomach the violence, do see it.