Saving Private Ryan (2017)

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Synopsis:

Amidst the chaos of the first few days after D-Day, a small team is assembled and sent on a mission to find a certain private Ryan.

Historical Context:

The story begins on the 6th of June 1944 (aka D-Day), the day the Normandy Landings took place. The events that follow span over the course of one week in several locations across Normandy, north France.

Codenamed operation Overlord, the battle of Normandy was one of the biggest operations in WWII. France had been under German occupation since the summer of 1940. Between 1942 and 1944, the Germans built a series of fortifications in the coastlines of all the Atlantic countries they had occupied. These fortifications became known as the Atlantic Wall and they spanned over hundreds of kilometres from northern Norway to south-western France. Their intention was to prevent an invasion of France or indeed any other country that would allow the ground forces of the Allies to be deployed in continental Europe. The Germans boasted that this wall was impregnable and indeed the Allies’ first attempt to invade France was a disaster. In 1942, Allied forces assaulted Dieppe with the objective to capture and hold its port. Unable to break the German defenses they finally retreated after losing more than 50% of their troops.

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In 1943, for the first time things started to look bad for the Axis Powers. They had lost a terrible battle in Stalingrad, a turning point in the war, as well as being on retreat in North Africa. This is when the Allies started planning for a second invasion of France. Although the decision for this operation was taken in May 1943, it wasn’t until a year later that it finally took place. In the meantime, the Soviet army was driving the Germans further and further towards the west and the Allied forces in North Africa (mainly British and American) had captured Italy.

After several delays due to weather conditions, operation Overlord was initiated on the 6th of June 1944. Preceded by heavy bombardment from the RAF and an airborne assault (private Ryan was part of this assault in the movie), the Allied soldiers landed in five different beaches across the coastline of Normandy. These five beaches were codenamed Utah, Omaha (the landing location depicted in the movie), Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans would land in Utah and Omaha while the British and Canadians would take the other three. After 6 days and heavy losses from both sides, the five beaches were linked establishing a foothold for the deployment of more troops. The first major objectives were the port of Cherbourg for the Americans and the city of Caen for the British. Although it took more time than expected, the Allies managed to capture these objectives by 26th of June and 21st of July respectively. From there on the Germans were unable to hold them back as they liberated the whole of France and went on to advance towards Germany.

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Review:

Saving Private Ryan is without a doubt one of the best WWII films ever made. Steven Spielberg surpassed himself doing this movie and that’s saying something for a director who had already given us Jaws, E.T, Jurassic park and Schindler’s List. The film manages to capture the true feeling of a WWII battlefield like very few others do. It starts with a scene that depicts one of the actual D-Day landings and it does so in such a masterful way that it can get you shell-shocked. It hardly slows down after that, mind you. As the team led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) go deeper and deeper through North France trying to locate a soldier who could really be anywhere, the real magnitude of this horrifying war is unraveled in front of the audience’s eyes. In fact, watching it made me think that the whole story about Ryan was just a McGuffin, an excuse the creators needed in order to show us what they really wanted, D-Day. After all, this is one of the most famous, deadly and at the same time important battles in history. Saving Private Ryan has been a huge influence on the genre and it reportedly caused a sensation in the US where a resurgence of WWII interest was observed. Spielberg’s masterpiece has cemented its status as an absolute classic and it would not be an understatement to say that it set a new standard for the war movies that followed.

 

Historical Accuracy:

While Saving Private Ryan has its fair share of Hollywood dramatisation, it also has some moments that are incredibly accurate and are some of the best among war films. Let’s start with the film’s most shocking and arguably greatest scene, the Omaha beach landing. Here, the creators really pulled off something amazing. The scene depicts the landing as brutally and as accurately as possible, without doing any favours. Soldiers falling to the sea to escape fire only to end up drowned, soldiers shot in the head before they even had the chance to set foot on land, soldiers being so shellshocked from the enemy fire that they could hardly move. All this was a reality on 6th June 1944, aptly dubbed “The Longest Day”. Even those soldiers vomiting just before they landed is not as far-fetched as some people would think. There are several reports from participants about the extreme seasickness among the crowded vessels crossing the English Channel that day. One officer said in an interview that “The soldiers were so glad to get off the landing craft to escape the seasickness, that they were just ready to go anywhere by that time.” It must also be noted that among the five beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day, Omaha beach suffered the worst casualties and the movie does a great job depicting what a massacre had taken place there. The scene is consistently ranked among the greatest war film scenes ever.

Moving on from Omaha beach, the film gets less and less factual. While the events are inspired by a true story about a soldier who lost his brothers and was sent home, there is no account of a rescue mission for him and to be fair, such a mission would never have taken place. The idea that the army would send eight men to find one soldier that could really be anywhere and who might even be dead is dubious at best. Furthermore, the events that happen during the mission are all fictional, although the overall situation in northern France is quite accurately presented. It can be argued that the film only aims to capture the overall feeling of these days rather than accurately following historical events and this I believe it does very well. Still there are some significant inaccuracies. One of the greatest is that soldiers in the movie move in daylight and rest during the night which in reality would go down the other way around because of the many dangers. Furthermore, there is too much drama between the soldiers who in real life wouldn’t be able to disregard orders or yell at their superiors like that without being punished. This means that private Ryan wouldn’t have been given the option to stay in the battlefield even if he wanted to and this is what happened to the real soldier whose story inspired the events of the film. The movie also received some criticism for its failure to recognize the contribution of the other nations that participated in the Normandy landings, most notably British and Canadians. It’s an American film of course so this should be expected.

The unplausibility of the whole mission and the historical inaccuracies are the reasons I’m not giving the film a perfect 10. Nevertheless, it does a remarkable job in bringing WWII in the big screen and this after all was the main goal of the creators.

 

Grade: 9/10

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Inception: Explanation of the ending scene

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Year 2010: Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception, is released. The sci-fi thriller fascinated cinema fans just as much as it confused them. As if the rest of the plot wasn’t complex enough, the last scene hinted at a huge twist that could turn the plot on its head. You know what I’m talking about, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, finally arrives back home after successfully carrying out his job. There he spins his top for one last time, but immediately leaves to see his children while the top is still spinning. When it seems that it’s about to topple, the ending credits roll causing a huge debate about whether Cobb is still in a dream or is indeed in reality. Although Christopher Nolan stated that the significance of the last scene is that Cobb doesn’t stay to check if the top topples because he has finally reached the reality he chose, the debate still lingers. Well the truth is that Cobb is most certainly in reality and here’s why:

1. The wedding ring

If you pay close attention to Cobb’s left hand throughout the entire movie you will notice that every time he enters a dream he is wearing his wedding ring, but when he wakes up and is back in reality he doesn’t. Probably this is because Mal exists in his dreams and so he is still married to her. After he wakes up in the aeroplane, he doesn’t wear his ring. This can be noticed both in the airport when he is handing his papers and in the last scene when he’s with his children. This means that he either is in reality at the end or he is in a dream in all the other scenes he appears to be in reality. In other words, if Cobb isn’t in reality at the end, then the whole film is a dream.

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2. The spinning top

Although we never see the top falling, it is pretty clear that its spinning is quite ‘real’. Instead of the perfect spinning observed in the dream world, the top in the last scene is unsteady and even wobbles just a second before the ending credits roll. The whole point of the top as a totem is that Cobb could manipulate it to spin forever while he was in the dream world. This means that the wobbling itself is a proof of reality.

3. Christopher Nolan’s direction

Christopher Nolan is a director who likes to give away small hints for his audience. He did it again in Memento and The Prestige, although I’m not gonna comment on these movies so as not to spoil anything. The point is, they also contain confusing parts which can be explained by small details in some scenes. Now the only way Cobb is not in reality at the end of the film is the entire movie being a dream. In such a case, not only would it be impossible to prove either theory, but it would make Nolan’s small hints useless. One could argue that it would make the whole plot useless. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that such a plot would contradict Nolan’s style and direction.

4. The children’s age

For all those who believed that at the end Cobb is still dreaming, I understand that you may have not been convinced by the first three points because you still have an ace up your sleeve: the children at the end are the same as the children before Cobb left. This is definitely the no.1 argument for the dream theory. The children at the end are exactly the same with the same clothes whereas if Cobb was in reality the children would be older. Well, this is actually wrong. The children are not the same, they are indeed older  in the last scene and this can be seen in the credits.

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There are two different pairs of children in the screenplay. The pair Cobb sees in his dreams is 3-year-old Philippa and 20-month-old James whereas at the end, the children are older by two years (the time Cobb spent outside the US) and are played by different actors. Even their clothes are slightly different (Philippa wears a white shirt inside her dress and James wears shoes instead of sandals).

So, it is pretty clear that Nolan intended for Cobb to be in reality by the film’s end. Anyway Cobb could have stayed in limbo where he could have both his wife and his children if he wanted. You can still argue of course that the film is fantasy and rules mean nothing at all, but if so I can’t do anything about it. In any case the point of the film is that reality is subjective and that we have to chase the reality we believe in. As Christopher Nolan himself put it in a speech in Princeton University:

“In the great tradition of these speeches, generally someone says something along the lines of ‘Chase your dreams’ but I don’t want to tell you that because I don’t believe that. I want you to chase your reality.”

 

Update (September 19, 2018):

It’s been over a year since I wrote this article. Since then, there was a quite illuminating comment by actor Michael Caine regarding the debate discussed above. Caine, who played Cobb’s father in law in the film, stated that whenever his character appears in the script it is in reality. Since he appears in the final scene, the film ends in reality and the Cobb family lived happily ever after. More details here:

http://time.com/5368056/michael-caine-inception-ending/

Review: Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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I’m not into commercial blockbusters at all. I feel that films created with money as their sole purpose do not deserve my attention as they completely miss the point of the art of filmmaking. I haven’t seen a single Transformers film nor any Marvel film since the very first Avengers film in 2012. Having said that, I have always been fond of the Pirates of the Caribbean for some reason. I enjoyed all the first four films (yes, even the fourth one I thought was quite entertaining) and even if I ignored titles like The Fate of the FuriousWonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast without even watching a trailer, I was very enthusiastic about the latest Pirates film. Sadly, I was in for a big disappointment. By far the worst installment of the franchise is a big mess.

The story revolves around the legendary Poseidon’s Trident and the efforts of the main characters to find it and use it to break the curses of the seven seas. Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow along with a few more returning characters like Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Jack Sparrow faces a new threat when Salazar (Javier Bardem), the captain of a crew of dead, gets released from his curse and comes to haunt the man that caused his doom. Jack’s only hope is finding the Trident that can make Salazar mortal again. In this search he is joined by Will Turner’s son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and a highly intelligent girl named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who both seek the Trident for their own different reasons.

One of the major disappointments concerns one of the most important aspects that made the films so popular, Jack Sparrow. Yes, Jack seemed like a dumb, careless man that is usually busy drinking, but at times he would show why he became such a legendary pirate. Not this time though. His only purpose is to try to make the audience laugh by acting silly with no avail most of the time. It’s not that Johnny Depp’s acting is bad, but it feels that even he himself is tired of this overused character, especially now that he appears more useless than ever. The rest of the cast is average. Rush and Bardem do a good job, but they don’t seem to have much to work with.

Then, we have the script which may be good for a 13-year old fan boy, but dumb for any self-respected cinephile. Apart from the part when Salazar recounts his first encounter with Sparrow, the story is shallow and completely devoid of any meaning. It doesn’t even try to be original, but rather recycles material from the original trilogy. I cannot know why the Rønning – Sandberg duo was chosen to direct this fifth installment, but they definitely failed to make the film live up to its expectations (which were not that high after On Stranger Tides). The film has some good points, the cinematographer did a good job and the special effects are great. Overall though, it’s just another pointless blockbuster especially when you think of the potential it seemed to have with Johnny Depp in one of his most renowned roles and Oscar winners Rush and Bardem in major roles. The franchise delivered some great moments, but even though this is not a befitting end, I really hope that the creators won’t release a sixth film.

3/10

Fun Fact of the week: When the Beatles almost made “The Lord of the Rings”

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More than 30 years before Peter Jackson made history with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Fab Four became interested in turning the novel into one of their famous films. John Lennon reportedly contacted the great Stanley Kubrick trying to persuade him to take the project. Lennon even split the roles between the band taking Gollum for himself and casting McCartney as Frodo, Starr as Sam and Harrison as Gandalf. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) they were turned down by both Kubrick and J.R.R.Tolkien. Soon after, the band dissolved and the project was abandoned. It’s still quite amusing to imagine what a film would it turn out had it become one of the Beatles’ fancy musicals. Well, we’ll never know.

Review: Solaris (1972)

To see list – no.31

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It’s difficult to be interested in cinema and never stumble across the name of Andrei Tarkovsky. It was Solaris that introduced the legendary Soviet filmmaker to me. This science fiction epic is a magnificent film in every aspect with its poetic structure, philosophical background and impressive camera work. Adapted from an equally ambitious novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris was meant to break new ground in science fiction cinema and its legacy today is the proof that it succeeded.

The screenplay is formidable in its own terms. It gives no direct answers or explanations preferring to let the film and the characters speak for themselves rather than offering a clear narrative form. Tarkovsky requires the full attention of his audience. The film starts on Earth at some point in the future where space travel is established. Our protagonist is Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist who is about to travel to a space station orbiting the mysterious planet of Solaris. Research on the station has been stalled for unknown reasons and Kelvin is chosen to investigate the situation. Of the 85 scientists originally working at the station only 3 have remained and the future of their research depends on Kelvin’s verdict. Kelvin is informed by a friend of his father about some bizarre incidents regarding Solaris. When he finally takes the trip to the station he discovers that one of the three scientists, Dr Gibarian (Sos Sargsyan) has killed himself and the two remaining researchers, Dr Snaut and Sartorius (Jüri Järvet and Anatoliy Solonitsyn respectively) are reluctant to communicate and behave in a mysterious way. Before long, Kelvin finds himself confronted with Solaris terrible secret.

Tarkovsky used the original novel merely as the basis for his artistic visions. Instead of focusing on science and extra-terrestrial life, he cared about portraying his characters’ inner struggles and exploring themes such as existentialism and the ambiguity of reality. This caused a rift between him and Lem, who worked with him in the development of the screenplay. The infamous Soviet censorship also demanded editorial changes. However, Tarkovsky managed to prevail and maintain artistic freedom delivering an overwhelming picture that today is often cited among the greatest sci-fi films of all time.

Solaris is undeniably a masterpiece with no weak spots or flaws. I believe its greatest aspect is its philosophical background. The scene where a half-drunk and clearly weary Snaut rambles over humanity’s vain pursuits just after reading an excerpt from Don Quixote is amazing. Then we have Kelvin’s struggles with reality. Even though he realizes that what seems to be his wife is not actually a human being, he is reluctant to abandon her and soon starts to reflect on the idea of staying in the station forever. On the other hand Sartorius wants to use these beings for research something which Kelvins finds inhuman. It is interesting how Tarkovsky avoids to take a position or criticize any of his characters. It is left to the audience to decide what is moral and what isn’t. You may call Kelvin a fool for wanting to leave in his “dream” or dismiss Sartorius as cruel, it’s up to you. It’s up to you to decide what the ending scene means too but I’m not going to give it away here. To sum up, Solaris is an astounding artistic experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone, sci-fi fan or not.

9/10

Review: Moonlight (2016)

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I actually watched Moonlight one day before it won this year’s Best Picture Oscar in the most twisting way in the history of the Academy Awards, but I only got to review it now. The way it turned out, this win was completely unexpected, but probably not undeserving at all. Moonlight is a sensational tale that explores human nature like few films do. It is not as an easy watch as the “Best Picture” frontrunner La La Land or in fact any of the other contenders for the prestigious award. Nevertheless, it makes for a breathtaking picture if the viewers allow themselves to take the enthralling trip it offers.

The story is split in three parts. The main character for all of them is Chiron, first as a young boy, then a teenager and finally a grown man. There’s no conventional timeline, the plot just jumps from one part to another skipping several years. Moonlight doesn’t try to tell a story, but rather showcase life with all its struggles and pains through the eyes of a black boy in a rough Miami neighbourhood. Chiron is a symbol for everyone growing up in a world they don’t understand but being unable to escape. He is different yes, but aren’t we all? Is it so difficult to find someone who really cares about you? Is it so bad to behave differently, to feel differently, to address sexuality differently? The film is as powerful as a film can get. Of course it is not for everyone, it doesn’t offer the kind of light entertainment a lot of people look for when going to the cinema, but it has the ability to affect deeply in an emotional level if one is patient.

The script was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins (who also directed it) and it was inspired by their memories and experiences as young black people growing up in Miami. Surprisingly, it is Jenkin’s only second feature film, the first being Medicine for Melancholy. His work in Moonlight is impressive. It is bold, aesthetic and clearly directed with careful attention to detail. The score and Mahershala Ali’s supporting role performance are the icing on the cake. It’s not that I predicted its surprising “Best Picture” win in the Oscars, but I really felt it was the only film that could rival La La Land. Overall, Moonlight is by all means a magnificent picture and I believe that the recognition it gained will give hope to many an ambitious filmmaker out there who’s not looking for Hollywood’s cliché formula.

9/10

Review: Casablanca (1942)

To see list – no.10

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Yes, I’ve finally watched Casablanca and I felt like I reached another milestone. Saying that the film is famous is just an understatement. Casablanca is undoubtedly one of the most loved, influential and timeless pictures in the history of cinema. Yes, even 75 years later, this classic continues to mesmerize the audiences with its captivating story and compelling characters.

Filmed and set during WWII, Casablanca focuses on Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American expatriate who owns a club in the city of Casablanca, then in French Morocco. He is introduced as a powerful, rich and cynical man who only cares about his own good. Everything changes though when Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his club. Rick’s past, as well as his well-hidden emotional nature, start to unfold and the events that follow lead him to a great dilemma.

Do you know anyone, at least half-interested in cinema who has never heard of Casablanca? Probably not. Now, there is reason why a film so old is still famous today and frequently appears in “top 10 films of all time” lists. So what distinguishes Casablanca from its contemporaries? I would say its story. The characters seem to have been taken out of an ancient Greek tragedy as they find themselves caught between love, duty and honour. The plot and pace are excellent, especially the way the timeline unfolds raising questions and then revealing the answers one at a time while the action is building and the climax is drawing closer. A love triangle or a love story with sad (or even bittersweet) ending wasn’t something you saw much in films back then. Casablanca was bold, affecting and included characters much more realistic and relatable than the conventional of Hollywood’s golden age.

Of course one could by no means ignore the superb acting. Humphrey Bogart is outstanding as the overwhelming Rick Blaine, indifferent on the outside, but a romantic sentimentalist on the other. Ingrid Bergman also shines in what is probably her most famous performance. She did a remarkably good job considering that she was still learning English. The supporting cast is solid, nothing less expected from actors like Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre. The surprising fact is that nobody had any great expectations about the film. The story is an adaptation of a not so successful play, the production was rushed and used limited budget due to the war and both Bogart and Bergman tried to get out of the film at some point. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. Surprisingly, everything worked perfectly for Casablanca and the result continues to inspire actors and film makers to this day.

8/10

 

The greatest moments from the 89th Academy Awards

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The 89th Academy Awards ceremony was definitely a fascinating one. There were surprises, mistakes, lots of fun and of course lots of stars. Here’s a list with the most memorable moments from last night’s ceremony.

Suicide Squad won an Oscar

As one member of the studio pointed out last night, we can now refer to Suicide Squad  as “the Oscar-winning movie”, joking that it had more awards than The Shawshank Redemption. Yes, the superhero (or I should say supervillain) film has gone against the odds to win the Academy Award for “Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling”, becoming one of the lowest rated films to do so. I’m an ignorant when it comes to hairstyling, so I’m not going to judge the decision although we have to give it to the Academy for recognizing a good aspect in an otherwise bad film.

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Jimmy Kimmel’s bullying at Matt Damon

Matt Damon had predicted that his presence in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel was “going to probably be ugly”. He was right. Jimmy Kimmel did everything to hit on Damon reigniting their infamous feud. Kimmel called him fat, selfish, a jerk, joked about his acting, he even took over as conductor to play him off while he was trying to announce the “Best Original Screenplay” nominees.

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Casey Affleck’s win

Casey Affleck did not only beat Denzel Washington to win the Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role”, he also beat his brother and childhood friend Matt Damon, the latter’s first nomination dating back in 1998. Affleck was among the favourites, especially after winning both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. However, even if his performance was widely acclaimed, many felt that he should have never been nominated after the controversial sexual harassment lawsuits against him in 2010. The incidents resurfaced a few months ago when Manchester by the sea  started gaining the public’s attention, but  apparently they weren’t enough to persuade the Academy

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Viola Davis’ acceptance speech

Davis was the frontrunner for the “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” category, so her win was not a surprise at all. A powerful and emotional speech was also expected by most and the acclaimed actress didn’t disappoint. Her acceptance speech left everyone speechless with many in the audience crying and Jimmy Kimmel joking that her speech had earned her an Emmy.

Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.” – part of the speech.

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The records that were broken

It was a night filled with records. Damien Chazelle became the youngest person to win the “Best Director” award at 32 years. OJ: Made in America won the statuette for best documentary becoming the longest film ever to win an Oscar with a running time of 7 hours and 47 minutes. Redemption came at last for Kevin O’Connell who won an Oscar after being nominated for 20 different films in the past with not a single win. This was the biggest losing streak in the Oscars’ history. Finally, even though it sounds surprising, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim ever to win an Oscar for an acting category.

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Asghar Farhadi’s message

Iran won its second “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar last night for The Salesman, but sadly, the director of the film, Asghar Farhadi, didn’t attend the ceremony. The reason was Donald Trump’s ban that denies entry to the US to citizens of 7 countries including Iran. Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari accepted the award on his behalf and read a message written by him for the occasion. Farhadi’s expressed his frustration over the controversial ban calling it disrespectful and inhumane.

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La La Land won best picture, oh wait…

The night was almost over. There was only one award remaining: “Best Motion Picture of the Year”. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were summonned to announce the winner with La La Land  being the favourite. Warren Beatty opened the envelope, paused and after a puzzling look, he passed it over to Dunaway who announced La La Land as the winner. The winners (Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt and Fred Berger) began their speech and the ceremony was reaching its end. But no, it couldn’t end like this. The night had a plot twist worthy of a Hitchcockian thriller. Horowitz announced that the real winner was Moonlight. Among disbelief from pretty much everyone, the content of the winner’s envelope was revealed. It was plain: “Best Picture – Moonlight”. I was trying to figure out if a mistake did happen or if it was another of Kimmel’s jokes, when Beatty said that he was given the wrong envelope and specifically the one for “Best Actress in a Leading Role”. Now Emma Stone had won the award for that category. That explained Beatty’s puzzling look. However, the envelope was passed to Faye Dunaway who just said “La La Land”. This might well be the biggest mistake in the history of the awards and it is definitely one of the main reasons we will remember this year’s ceremony.

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You can see the results in detail on http://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2017

Congratulations to all the winners!

Review: Paths of Glory (1957)

To see list – no.19

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Finally, I have started crossing titles off my list of essential films. I had a break from covering the Oscars nominees to revisit one of Kubrick’s classics, Paths of Glory. I’m a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut being among my all time favourite films so, I couldn’t miss this one. I wasn’t disappointed. Paths of Glory is an outstanding picture that goes beyond the conventional war films (which at the time were made mostly for the sake of propaganda) to explore greed, death and dehumanization.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave“. The title derived from this line of Thomas Grey’s poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard“. Described as “a war film with an anti-war theme” the film stars Kirk Douglas as Dax, a colonel of the French army who is ordered to undertake an impossible attack on the enemy line during WWI. When his men fail to capture the enemy target and retreat, their furious general commands the arrest of three of them. The soldiers are facing death penalty and the only one who is  willing to defend them is Colonel Dax.

Paths of Glory works incredibly well in various aspects. It is I think Stanley Kubrick’s first study on dehumanization, a theme explored in several of his films. This is best showcased through the characters of Generals Mireau (George Macready) and Broulard (Adolphe Menjou). The first scene, which is overflowed by irony, is the epitome of human greed. General Broulard is given the order to attack Anthill, a very important strategic position held by the Germans. Knowing that the task is nothing less than impossible, he visits General Mireau trying to assign him the task. Mireau calls the idea ridiculous and boasts of how important his men’s lives are to him. However, he’s more than happy to attack once a promotion is hindered. The ingenious about this scene is that none of these points is given directly, but rather implied. The generals seem to legitimize and reason about all of their ideas and decisions. Stanley Kubrick leaves everything to the viewer although he makes sure that the message is given. The General who claims that the life of a single man is more important than any decoration, orders the execution of 10 men only a few days later. Anyone watching the film would start questioning the motives of war as well as the men who give the orders. Is the protection of people the reason a country enters war or just an excuse for ambition, fame and money?

Then, we have our main character, representing what is left of honour and solidarity. His struggle against authority that sadly proves too strong an enemy along with his attempts to demonstrate the absurdity of certain actions are exactly the anti-war points of the film. Kirk Douglas is amazing and though the film wasn’t much noticed back in 1957, it is now regarded as one of the best in Douglas’ filmography.

Stanley Kubrick was still evolving back then, still experimenting with anything about the motion-picture industry. He hadn’t reached his top form yet, but it was the first time that he managed to convey his ideas and opinions through a film.When I watched his previous film (The Killing, 1956), I couldn’t see his style anywhere. This wasn’t the case here. I would dare to say that Paths of Glory was the first “Kubrickian” film with its thought-provoking directing and exploration of human nature. The bittersweet ending is probably the best example.

“Give the men a few minutes more”

8/10

Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Last year, the Academy was boycotted by thousands for its lack of diversity. A lot of people expressed their disappointment for the absence of coloured actors from the Oscars nominations. It seems that the Academy have learned their lesson. This year all four acting categories feature colored actors/actresses names and three films featuring colored main characters are among the Best Picture contenders. One of them, Hidden Figures, showcases perfectly what discrimination and racism feels like by presenting the struggles that coloured women had to face in a white-men-driven America during the early 60s.

Three brilliant coloured women – Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe) – manage to get a job in NASA. Shamefully enough, almost one century after the end of Civil War, segregation hasn’t ceased. The situation for these three women and every other woman of their ethnic group is, at the very least, derogatory. They are not allowed to go to white people’s toilets, they get much fewer opportunities and Katherine cannot even use the same coffee pot as her colleagues. As these weren’t enough, the pressure and work load they have to face in NASA is huge. The year is 1961 and the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States is more intense than ever. Things get even worse when news of Russia sending the first man into space reach the world. However, we’re not talking about any women. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are determined to overcome any difficulties and show the world what they are made of.

The film tells a story that most of us were unaware of. We’ve seen dozens of American films that take place in the early 60s. There are films about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Vietnam War, Elvis Presley, the British Invasion bands, and so many other topics. However, we rarely see a film that focuses on people of those days and especially the racial minorities. Among all that technological advancement, humanity was cast aside. It was 1961 and people of colour were still treated as lesser beings. Hidden Figures recounts the events in a particularly touching way. While speaking of the huge achievements of NASA in the space race, it subtly emphasizes on the effort of the people who were responsible for them and particularly the three women who set an example for thousands of others. The cast delivered an amazing performance and the result was an emotional and didactic story that pays true homage to the real people.

Of course, the film has its drawbacks. It suffers from a defect found in many biographical films. They tend to glamorize their characters to the extent of portraying them as infallible supporting them with minor characters who by now have become too cliché. Katherine, Mary and Dorothy have absolutely no faults whereas Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parson’s characters are unlikable from the very first moment. By the time the happy ending comes, everyone’s problems seem to have disappeared and the main characters are now loved by everyone. This is the reason I rarely find a biographical film to amaze me. Apart from that though, every aspect of the film was masterfully dealt with. In general, it makes for a great and quite informative viewing.

7/10