Peter Morgan re-teams with Ron Howard after 2008's "Frost/Nixon" and this time he takes on Formula 1 and in particular the electrifying 1976 season that saw Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) battle each other for the top spot. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Morgan's "fictionalised" biographies right from "The Queen", "Frost/Nixon" and "The Damned United" and he doesn't disappoint one bit this time either. He is adept at it and with a subject such as this he excels every bit. Those of you unfamiliar with what happened at the 1976 F1 season its best not to read about it and for those who know well the thrill doesn't diminish one bit. This is as much about human drama as it is about an account of rivalry between two radically different individuals. There is the driven, committed almost hermit-like Lauda pitted against the showy, flamboyant Hunt. Beautifully shot with some top notch performances especially Bruhl who is spot on as Lauda, not to take away anything from Hemsworth, this is one of Howard's best works that should stand alongside "Frost/Nixon" and "Apollo 13".
"Lootera" is a lovingly crafted rarity, a big budget Bollywood offering that makes no compromises and sticks to conviction. Meticulous to detail, richly photographed and lavishly mounted this is a piece of work that not only is a feast to the eye but tugs at your heart strings and does it rather painfully. Varun (Ranveer Singh) and Palkhi's (Sonakshi Sinha) love story is touching, poignant and heart breaking and as good as it gets for any romantic. Sonakshi and Ranveer carry their roles extremely well, particularly Sonakshi as the mischievous and spoilt Palkhi who's world turns upside after she falls in love with the mysterious Varun. The two are ably supported by veteran Barun Chanda, Arif Zakaria and Divya Dutta along side a scene stealing turn by Vikrant Massey as Deb, Varun's associate.
The cinematography is sheer poetry with the 1950s sets painstakingly created to such authentic detail. The whole idea behind the film seems to have germinated from O Henry's short story "The Last Leaf" whose story however only takes up the last act. The film is a testament to how much Hindi Cinema has evolved over the last few years with the advent of a niche market known as the classes. Just as I was beginning to warm up to the idea of looking forward to more such gems I was rudely brought back to reality in the form of a three minute drivel - the trailer of "Chennai Express" - Hindi Cinema is not entirely out of the doldrums - atleast not yet as long as there still is an audience for the likes of "Shower Rock Can" and co. There is hope though in the form a new brigade of film makers such as Tigmanshu Dhulia, Sujoy Ghosh, Reema Kagti, Dibankar Banerjee and ofcourse Anurag Kashyap, in the meantime I am going to check out Vikramaditya Motwane's first venture "Udaan".
This year's Best Documentary winner at the Oscars, "Searching for Sugarman" is a fairy tale and a fantastical one at that. It tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez a Rock Icon who didn't know he was one. Rodriguez made a couple of records in the late 60's after being discovered at a local bar in Detroit by record producers who saw immense potential. His second record sold just 6 copies in the US and he was promptly dropped by the label following which he simply disappeared in to obscurity. Halfway across the globe a bootlegged copy of "Cold Fact" his first album made it's way on to South Africa and spawned anthems for the anti apartheid movement turning Rodriguez in to a legendary icon. He was more popular than Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and the Beatles but he knew nothing about it and South Africa knew nothing about him either other than the fact he was American and that he was dead. Rumours circulated that he had committed suicide on stage by setting himself ablaze or by shooting himself and that was all they knew about him. Eventually two fans in the late 90s set out to discover what happened to him and this documentary is all about that. A brilliantly structured feature more so considering the limited footage and the lapse of time between the late 90s and now this is a remarkable achievement though from a Documentary Feature perspective one may sense flaws. What grips the viewer is the mystery surrounding the search and then eventually the moving account of one talented individual unlike any celebrity that you may have known. Watch this even if you're not one for documentaries, if this doesn't move you nothing will. Produced by the same Simon Chinn, the man behind the Oscar winning "Man on Wire" and directed by debutante Malik Bendjelloui.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild", the indie darling and eventual Oscar contender of 2012 is a magical piece of work from first time director Benh Zeitlin (the other Ben that got nominated!). This is unlike anything I have seen before and probably will. The film tells the tale of a struggling but proudly defiant Bayou community living beyond a levee in a watery part of Louisana which is constantly threatened by storms and the rising sea levels. The central characters are six year old Hush Puppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her ailing father, Wink (Dwight Henry) who along with the rest of the close knit community overcome a particularly bad storm. The film mixes environmental issues like the melting of the polar caps, social issues such as the squalor in which the impoverished community lives and fantasy as see through the eyes of Hush Puppy. The result is a strange visceral experience though fascinatingly gripping. Zeitlin is a force to reckon with and this has to be one of the most astounding directorial debuts in a long time. Both the main performances are terrific with the little Wallis already creating history as the youngest Best Actress nominee ever.
This has to be certainly Steven Spielberg's most challenging venture to date. Bringing to life on screen the most beloved President of the United States of America and focussing on the final tumultuous days of life is not an easy task, the end result though is not just a fascinating character study but also an insight in to the wheelings and dealings of politics during that period. Set in 1865, the film focuses on the last few months of Abraham Lincoln's life when he struggles to pass the 13th Amendment with the hope of putting an end to the Civil War. The film is uplifted by a towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis who lives the part and is simply unrecognisable, what you see is Lincoln himself and not the Day-Lewis you knew. This is a pure class and truly expected from an artist that Time Magazine recently referred to as "the greatest actor". Sally Field shines as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones has some of the best lines in the role of Thadeus Stevens in a scene stealing part that has seen him win some accolades already. The film though belongs to Day-Lewis and Spielberg for having the courage of handling something as risky as this and pulling it off.