Reincarnation in “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” defies written description. The experience is more akin to that of music or painting in that it operates on a subconscious level. It communicates its complex concepts and abstractions through otherworldly sights and sounds. This is magical realism at its most spiritual; the characters inhabit a world that is just as ethereal as anything we’ve seen in a Hayao Miyazaki film.

When asked to describe his film, the director explained, “it’s about going back to the roots of things, what we have in our bodies, the primitive energy,”. But the film is not just about the past, it’s also about the future, and what happens to us after we pass away. Stricken with kidney failure, Uncle Boonme is convinced that his time has come. During his last days, we see him surrounded by his relatives, but he is soon visited by the ghosts and spirits of loved ones who have long passed away. On paper, this all sounds very frightening, but when these spirits made an appearance it had the opposite effect on me, their presence was soothing and comforting.

Weerasethakul’s vision is not for everyone. I’ve heard many people call it extremely slow, but I think a better description would be meditative. The film creates its own entrancing pace, and you just have to fall into it. There’s no use to linger on what any of it means, just let the film wash over you, and your patience will be rewarded. The film explores the transmigration of souls between human beings, animals, ghosts and mythical creatures. It left me with a heightened awareness of everything that we don’t know about the strange world we live in. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” is a gateway to another world; it exists in the space between life and death, between past and present, between reality and fantasy.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2020

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The 92nd Academy Awards are just around the corner, and it looks like it’s a tight race between Sam Menes’ “1917” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite”. Since “Parasite” is a lock for Best International Film, I’m predicting “1917” will take home the big prize; it is exactly the kind of epic that the Academy likes to reward. In terms of acting, the only ones who will be giving any speeches that night are Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt, and Laura Dern. Check out the rest of my prediction below. (They reflect who I think will win, not who I think should win.)

 
Best Picture

Will Win: “1917”
Could Win: “Parasite”


Best Director

Will Win: Sam Mendes
Could Win: Bong Joon Ho


Best Actor

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Actress

Will Win: Renee Zellweger
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Brad Pitt
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Laura Dern
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: “Parasite”
Could Win: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”


Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: “Jojo Rabbit”
Could Win: “Little Women”


Best Animated Feature Film

Will Win: “Klaus”
Could Win: “Toy Story 4”


Best Cinematography

 Will Win: “1917”
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Costume Design

Will Win: “Little Women”
Could Win: “Jojo Rabbit”


Best Documentary

Will Win: “Honeyland”
Could Win: “American Factory”


Best Documentary Short

Will Win: “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone”
Could Win: “In the Absence”


Best Editing

Will Win: “Parasite”
Could Win: “Ford v Ferrari”


Best International Feature Film

 Will Win: “Parasite”
Could Win: No one; it’s a lock.


Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: “Bombshell”
Could Win: “Judy”


Best Original Score

Will Win: “Joker”
Could Win: “1917”


Best Original Song

Will Win: “I’m Gonna Love Me” (“Rocketman”)
Could Win: “Stand Up” (“Harriet”)


Best Production Design

Will Win: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Could Win: “Parasite”


Best Animated Short

Will Win: “Hair Love”
Could Win: “Kitbull”


Best Live Action Short

Will Win: “Nefta Football Club”
Could Win: “The Neighbors’ Window”


Best Sound Editing

Will Win: “Ford v Ferrari”
Could Win: “1917”


Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: “1917”
Could Win: “Ford v Ferrari”


Best Visual Effects

Will Win: “1917”
Could Win: “Avengers: Endgame”

 

 

 

 

The 10 Best Films of 2019

What a year for cinema! There was pretty much something for everyone. Robert Eggers, Ari Aster and Jordan Peele all made successful returns to the horror genre. Hollywood heavyweights, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Sam Mendes reminded us why we hold them with such high regard. There were also plenty of independent as well as foreign films that took the world by storm. As is the case every year, I start my list with my favorite film of the year; the rest of the films are listed in no particular order. Without further ado, here are the ten best films of 2019.

 

Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse

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Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” is a strange and bizarre Lovecraftian horror unlike anything you’ve seen before. The film plunges viewers into the depth of madness, but as you fall into the abyss of insanity, you’ll find yourself laughing hysterically at the brilliant comedic performances delivered by William Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Set on a remote island in New England, “The Lighthouse” is loosely based on the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy in which two lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, got stuck in a lighthouse during a storm.

The articulate writing is something to behold with language is so rich and rhythmic, it almost sounds Biblical. Dafoe delivers an almost Shakespearean monologue that is as memorable as the famous Indianapolis monologue delivered by another seaman, Quint in “Jaws”. Eggers has officially cemented himself as one of the most important filmmakers working today with his Kubrick-level attention to detail. Just like his directorial debut, “The VVitch”, this sophomore masterpiece is filled with period-accurate dialogue that is destined to be quoted for years to come. The film also looks as good as it sounds.

Aesthetically, “The Lighthouse” has an almost antique quality to it. Not only was it shot on 35mm black-and-white film stock, but Eggers insisted on shooting the film using vintage equipment from the 1930’s. The compositions are so vivid, you can almost taste the sea-salt and smell the stench of booze in the air. Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” is a sea yarn full of sailor superstitions; it could be the most haunting film about sea-lore ever made. Save it for a cold stormy night.

 

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story”

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There’s a subtle yet incredibly hard-hitting moment midway through Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” that sums up this beautiful picture perfectly. It’s the first legal meeting between both parties. Both of them are sitting at the table, their lawyers by their side, when a waiter comes to take orders. They all make their picks, but when it’s Charlie’s turn, he looks at the menu and shrugs with no idea what to order. Nicole then grabs the menu and orders for him: “Greek salad with lemon and olive oil instead of Greek dressing.” It’s an incredibly revealing moment. She knows him better than he knows himself, and despite everything they’ve been through, she still cares for him deeply.

Baumbach’s compassionate work is full of tender moments bursting with humanism and kindness. The observant writing illuminates a dynamic relationship between two complex yet sympathetic characters. “Marriage Story” could’ve easily been called “Divorce Story”, but the contradicting title suggests that marriage is a failed institution. The film follows in the footsteps of Robert Benton’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”- a once in a generation type of film.

 

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”

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Bong Joon-ho is a master when it comes to genre-fusion. Just like his magnum opus, “Memories of Murder”, Joon-ho skillfully mixes humor with pathos in one of the most original motion pictures of the year. “Parasite” is a thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it stands tall above other thrillers is its message. Like a centerpiece in the middle of a delicately furnished interior, you can’t miss the social commentary at the heart of it all. Families at both ends of the wealth spectrum intermingle in a class warfare that is equally entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Who exactly is the title referring to?

 

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”

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Tarantino’s love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood is the funniest motion picture of the year. The film takes its time and forces us to surrender to its pace. Instead of going for a story-driven narrative, Tarantino makes us spend quality time with his main characters, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Their on-screen chemistry is the stuff of legend, a duo the likes of which we haven’t seen since Paul Newman teamed up with Robert Redford in “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Who would’ve thought a film about the Manson murders would turn out to be the feel-good movie of the year? The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino is his best work this decade.

 

Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”

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Martin Scorsese brings forth a gangster film we haven’t seen before. “The Irishman” is a meditation on time and death. Scorsese doesn’t glamorize a gangster’s lifestyle by showing them indulge in excess. Instead, he draws our attention to the latter part of their lives, the part we rarely see on the big screen, when their time on Earth is nearing its end. We see them look back at their legacy with regret, numbness, and shame. We feel the loneliness of their last days, hours filled with melancholic reflection and hopelessness. In a lot of ways, this film is the antithesis to “Goodfellas”, a eulogy to the gangster genre the same way “Unforgiven” was a eulogy to the western genre. Martin Scorsese takes big risks and his approach remains as radical as ever. He is a master behind the camera; watching “The Irishman” was like watching a top Michelin chef put together a killer dish, only you get to consume it at the end.

 

Mati Diop’s “Atlantics”

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“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? A moment of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber. A ghost. That’s what I am.” _Guillermo Del Toro

“Atlantics” is a ghost story that gets it right. Diop’s haunting tale about refugees disguises itself as a melancholic love story. The film revolves around a group of unpaid workers in Senegal who set off on a boat in hopes of reaching Spain. The main protagonist is a young girl who longs to be reunited with her lover. This tender mood-piece integrates elements of the supernatural into an otherwise realistic setting- the type of magical realism that reminded me of the literary work of Gabriel García Márquez. “Atlantics” is about the countless souls lost at sea, and the loved ones they left behind- it will cast a spell on you.

 

Ari Aster’s “Midsommar”

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Aris Aster’s twisted cult-horror “Midsommar” took me completely by surprise. Instead of making you a spectator or a non-participant observer to the occurrences at the Midsommar festival, Aster uses psychotropic visuals to pull you in and make you part of the experience. We are not merely onlookers to strangers in distress, we are the strangers in distress. Aster utilizes the viewer’s natural curiosity to suck you into daylight horror. Instead of relying on things creeping in the shadows, Aster makes you fear what you can see in broad daylight, and believe me when I say, he isn’t afraid to expose you to the type of disturbing imagery that will stick with you for a very long time. Part fairytale, part break-up movie, Ari Aster’s twisted cult horror will surely stand the test of time.

 

The Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems”

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The Safdie Brothers came back with another adrenaline rush of a movie. Just like, “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time”, “Uncut Gems” is another rollercoaster ride that goes straight through the underbelly of New York. This time around, the focus is on Howard Ratner, a high-stakes gambler in pursuit of a big win. Ratner is played by Adam Sandler who is firing on all cylinders in a career defining performance. Over the years, I watched the Safdie brothers deliver one anxiety inducing film after another, but this time, they definitely hit it big in Hollywood. With a filmography that feels like an ode to the gritty crime thrillers of the 70’s, each film is an improvement on the last. From this moment on, every Safdie Brothers picture will be an anticipated event, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.

 

Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir”

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Probably the most underrated entry on this list, Hogg’s memoir film is a brutally honest portrayal of a young filmmaker in a toxic relationship with an intellectual wrestling with their own demons. But the film is really about the connection between life and art, and how to become an artist, you must draw from your own experiences. One character argues that if you don’t, your artistic expression would simply not ring true. The strongest aspect about Hogg’s fourth feature is its almost meta-narrative structure, an autobiographical film about an artist derailed and then strengthened by her own experiences. Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) deliver wonderfully nuanced performances in one of the year’s most devastating yet intellectually stimulating films.

 

Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory”

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“Pain and Glory” is Almodóvar’s most personal work to date- a moving look at an ageing artist coming to terms with his past while facing creative paralysis. Antonio Banderas shows depth and sensitivity in a beautifully textured performance as Salvador Mallo. Penelope Cruz delivers an understated yet effortless performance as the mother. But it’s Asier Etxeandia who absolutely steals the show as a habitual heroin user/actor who is desperate for a comeback. “Pain and Glory” is a soulful reflection on life and love, it simmers with tenderness, charm, and warmth. Almodóvar made a film about finding the will to create as you deal with the physical and emotional pains that come with ageing.

 

Honorable Mentions: “Monos”, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, “A Hidden Life”,  “Ride Your Wave”, “Ad Astra”, “An Elephant Sitting Still”, “For Sama”, “Honeyland”, “1917”, “The Farewell”, “Just 6.5”, “The Nightingale”, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”, “Sea of Shadows”, “Sorry We Missed You”, “Ford v Ferrari”, “Togo”, “Waves”, “US”, “The Peanut Butter Falcon”

 

Film Analysis: “Landscape in the Mist”

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In Theo Angelopoulos’ “Landscape in the Mist”, two kids run away from their home in Athens in search for their father whom they were told lives in Germany; but beneath the surface this film is about so much more. The journey they embark on is an allegory for life itself. We all travel through time in search of something that may not even be there. 

Everything goes by so fast, the cities we visit, the strangers we meet, painful chapters and joyful occurrences- it all comes and goes in a flash. At one point, a traveler looks at the kids, smiles and utters words that ring so true for each and every one of us. 

You’re funny kids you know that? It’s as if you don’t care about time passing, yet I know that you are in a hurry to leave. It’s as if you’re going nowhere, and yet you’re going somewhere…Me? I’m a snail slithering away into nothingness. I don’t know where I’m going. Once I thought I knew.” 

We’re all aware of time passing, yet we pretend that we have all the time in the world. In a way, we’re all clueless kids traveling in a chaotic odyssey through time. We think we know where we’re going, but we really don’t. We’re all searching for different things, yet ultimately, we’re looking for the same things, closure, wholeness, a sense of fulfillment. Everything seems like it’s within reach yet completely unattainable. 

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Will we ultimately reach our destination? Or will everything we long for forever remain a landscape in the mist? Theodoros Angelopoulos creates films with images so hauntingly beautiful, they will be seared into your brain. And “Landscape in the Mist” transcends the medium with poetic lyricism that is rarely matched by any work of art. 

Angelopoulos sets up this quest for spiritual enlightenment with a delicate opening shot that is as poetic as any I’ve ever seen. The screen is completely dark. All we can hear is the gentle voice of Voula as she tells her five-year-old brother, Alexander, a tale she has told many times before

In the beginning, there was chaos and then there was light. And the light was separated from the darkness and the earth from the sea, and the rivers, the lakes, and the mountains were made. And then, the flowers and the trees, the animals, the birds.” 

We then hear footsteps approaching, but we are still in complete darkness. The door opens slightly, and we see a beam of light creeping into the dark revealing the children pretending to be asleep in bed. It becomes clear to the viewer that Angelopoulos is illustrating her fairytale words with nothing but light and shadow. This is what cinema is all about, filmmakers bringing words to life by painting with light. Angelopoulos encapsulates the very essence of the entire medium of film within the first few moments of his masterpiece. 

 “Landscape in the Mist” is filled with many breathtaking episodes that work as standalone moments in time. But these anecdotes are also part of a beautiful whole. Just like life itself, we are always entering one moment as we are about to leave another. And each moment is as aesthetically rich as the one before. I found myself pausing the film at several moments just to soak in all the beauty before my eyes. It is so sad that everything that is beautiful eventually has to fade away to become a thing of the past. The reason we treasure moments of happiness is because we know they are not permanent, and they are in a kind of transition.  

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 This sentiment is captured in a wonderful scene that comes shortly after one of the films more painful chapters. After a moment of great suffering, we bump into the only truly kind character in the film, Orestis. We see the two children riding on his motorbike, and as they are speeding towards the beach, he asks: “Are you scared?” To which Voula replies, “No! I don’t want it to ever end.” After witnessing this poor child go through hell, this brief moment of joy becomes all that matters in the world.  

  “Landscape in the Mist” is a work of art that comes from the feelings, the dreams, the sorrows, and the flashes of life that we experience every day. And it is all stitched together by the haunting melancholic score composed by the great Eleni KaraindrouThis contemplative film is layered, complex, challenging and rewarding. I find myself thinking about these children time and time again as I go through my own journey in life. It is filled with immense wisdom and unforgettable imagery. The last shot in in particular reaches a crescendo of beauty that is so operatic and poetic, once seen it will never be forgotten.  

Melancholic Reflection in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”

Martin Scorsese brings forth a gangster film we haven’t seen before. “The Irishman” is a meditation on time and death. Scorsese doesn’t glamorize a gangster’s lifestyle by showing them indulge in excess. Instead, he draws our attention to the latter part of their lives, the part we rarely see on the big screen, when their time on Earth is nearing its end. We see them look back at their legacy with regret, numbness, and shame. We feel the loneliness of their last days, hours filled with melancholic reflection and hopelessness. In a lot of ways, this film is the antithesis to “Goodfellas”, a eulogy to the gangster genre the same way “Unforgiven” was a eulogy to the western genre.

Death comes to all, and it literally lingers in the air throughout “The Irishman”. Scorsese introduces each character with the cause of their death, a constant reminder of the violent fate awaiting those who follow this line of work. The ones who somehow survive the ordeal have it much worse, because they get to slowly suffer as they embark on a desperate search for any kind of redemption. The themes explored in this film reminded me a lot of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, another masterful work about an outlaw drenched in shame. Yet, “The Irishman” still very much feels like a Scorsese picture, filled with his trademark religious themes and characters searching for meaning.

Throughout the film, we see Frank Sheeran’s daughter stare him down with a silent piercing gaze. In a lot of ways, she’s a God-like figure judging his unforgiveable behavior without uttering a single word. Robert De Niro delivers a subtle and nuanced performance, reminding us all why he’s one of the greatest performers alive. And Joe Pesci stands out with an impressive turn as a gangster who could kill you just by looking at you, a much more dialed down performance compared to his previous work, but one that is just as menacing. Al Pacino also chews through the scenery, but he really shines in the quieter lighthearted moments like when he’s in his pajamas or enjoying his ice cream. So much can be written about the dynamic relationships between all three fleshed out characters, a testament to Steven Zaillian’s excellent writing. I feel like I’ve written these words countless times, but here it goes, Martin Scorsese has done it again.

Making Connections in Kieślowski’s “Three Colours: Red”

Kieślowski’s “Red” is the most philosophically dense film in the Three Colours trilogy. In his final entry, Kieślowski effortlessly weaves everything together- very fitting for a film about making connections. An opening scene is often a film’s first shot at conveying its main themes and ideas. Here, the camera follows a telephone wire from a living room all the way to the ocean and beyond, but suddenly the line gets disconnected. Without uttering a single word of dialogue, Kieślowski establishes that the film is also about the failure to make connections.

We witness Valentine (Irene Jacob) as she forms a new bond with a dog and his owner, an old retired judge played by Jean-Louis Trintignant. As she’s making these intimate connections, she’s also failing to connect with her controlling boyfriend in England. Things start getting interesting when we follow a parallel storyline of another judge whose life echoes that of the older judge. We quickly get the sense that a force larger than life is at play, and everything in life is linked somehow. The only things disrupting our interconnected lives are time and space.

The retired judge eavesdrops on people through the telephone. The act itself has taught him to stop judging people based on the limited facts that he knows of them. When the news of his eavesdropping breaks out, an angry neighbor throws a rock through his window. It doesn’t seem to bother the old man. In fact, he tells Valentine that if he was in the neighbor’s place, he would do the same thing. “Of course. And that goes for everyone I judged. Given their lives, I would steal, I’d kill, I’d lie. Of course, I would…all that because I wasn’t in their shoes, but mine.”

The film invites viewers to consider what others have been through before passing judgment on them. At its core, “Red” is about the need to come together and share experiences. It left me with the urge to be more understanding and compassionate towards others. However, the film’s most impressive feat is its metaphysical connection with the medium itself, the cinema, which is also about coming together and sharing experiences.

Making Contact in the “Land of Silence and Darkness”

“If there were another World War, I wouldn’t even notice it.”

“Land of Silence and Darkness” concerns itself with a very specific demographic of the population, the people who suffer from the unfortunate fate of simultaneously being deaf and blind. Without these two key senses, they are cut off from the reality of the world around them. They live in their own thoughts in constant longing for contact with the outside world. In many ways, they are the loneliest human beings on this planet.

Midway through the film, Werner Herzog fixes his camera on a subject who was born into this state of being. Communicating with him is near impossible. We watch him move around, make motorboat noises with his lips; he feels his surroundings using his hands and clenching onto a radio playing music. We can only imagine what goes through his head. He experiences the world simply through smell, touch and taste. I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to think without ever having language instilled into your brain?  

Although, the film sounds very depressing, it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, it can be very moving and uplifting at times. The documentary follows Fini Straubinger, a woman who dedicated her life to communicating with people who suffer from the same severe disabilities as hers. Seeing Straubinger assure these lost souls that they are not alone in this world is quite stirring and inspirational. This study of what it means to be human is one of the most empathetic documentaries out there.