Category Archives: IMDB Top 250

#Whiplash Like None Other

The eternal battle between “why me” and “try me”

I have been hearing a lot about this film from multiple sources. It has been one of the favourites in prestigious film festivals around the world. Mostly in the Supporting Actor category for J.K. Simmons and his brilliance on screen. So far, the film has claimed a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, a Screen Actors Guild Award for the same and many more. I watched the film twice in one week and I feel I should refrain myself from speaking about how good Simmons is at what he put up on screen and speak more about some other points that make the film stand out.

Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) as a drummer with great potential meets Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) known for his terrifying methods. Fletcher gives Andrew a chance in his top ensemble as an alternate. Andrew struggles making a permanent place in the core team as Terrence pushes both – his ability and his sanity.

The director Damien Chazelle made a short film of the same name in 2013 with the producers Jason Reitman and Jason Blum with J. K. Simmons in the same role. It was a 17 minute proof that the subject and the director can make it to the big screen. At the age of 30 the director has an Academy Award Nomination under his belt.

If you are remotely interested in this film, please do not watch the trailer. On one hand, the film shows off excellent editing but the trailers are quite the opposite. True that they generate interest about the film but if you wish to enjoy the film one piece at a time, unraveling the minute details about it; then simply skip the trailers. They contain major spoilers without any spoiler alert. Almost as if the producers were desperate to get the audience to fill the seats.

I have heard a lot of people complaining that the plot of the film is quite like any other sports film. And it is. To put it in simple terms, Whiplash is a movie about a guy with potential who meets the toughest challenge of his life in the form of his instructor. I even had an argument with a friend of mine who attacked the film by calling it a typical Hollywood commercial film. For me, the film succeeds for its spot on beginning and perfect ending.

Being a filmmaker, being an artist, I have been in Andrew’s shoes. And I feel everyone has been through this at one point or the other. We all have that one person in the world we feel is impossible to impress. And some of us do take small things personally. When you put so much of efforts in something, it is hard to take any criticism at all. The bottomline being the last scene of Whiplash. Conviction is the key. There are all sorts of friends, philosophers and guides in the world who simply enjoy to pull you down. Even if you are good. This is my way of dealing with them. NOT TO GIVE A FUCK.

Regardless of the great performance, Terrence Fletcher IS the bad guy in the film. And Andrew wins my heart. An icon such as Fletcher has the power to discourage someone. But the next great one will never be discouraged, no matter what. That is what I am going to take back from the film.

Whiplash is by far the best film I watched in 2015. I am a little biased towards it for many personal reasons. I predict the film has a great potential winning the Best Sound Mixing award and also Best Film Editing. I am sure the film will get a warm response on its release in India. And the only sound that would be louder than the drumming would be the applause the movie receives!

#5 Anthony Hopkins – The Power of Extreme Closeups

The subject I am writing about is much wider than this particular film. Yet I want to surround my post around this movie because of its exceptional use of extreme closeups.

There are a lot of definitions of what an extreme closeup is. I prefer to say is when you take a close up and you go even closer, so close that you can feel the breath of the character, and even the slightest of change in expressions you are taking an extreme closeup.

I observed in the film, when the lead characters – Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) talk to each other the camera hardly moves any farther than a mid-shot. And that comprises of a major portion of the film. I think this special treatment is designed to portray the suffocating conversation that they have. And when we move to an extreme close-up of the Cannibal Anthony Hopkins, we know that this guy means business.

At first I thought it was a mere coincidence but later on I paid close attention to this. Hopkins hardly blinks in the entire movie. He does not take his eyes off his “patient”. Also there is a purpose for keeping Hopkins behind a glass wall rather than bars. The director Jonathan Demme was convinced that shooting through bars would compromise the intimacy between Dr. Lector and Clarice.

What does an extreme closeup achieve?

1. It chokes you: At least in a thriller like this, you are forced to wonder what is going through the mind of the character when his pupils dilate. You wonder what he is looking at. You wonder what he is saying. You wonder what he is about to do next. The whole idea of not being able to see the action is the greatest power of extreme close-ups. For a twisted character, how dangerous it is not to be able to see what he is up to?

2. Emphasis on a particular line: Maybe not in this film, but one can use extreme close-ups to make a line stand out, to reveal a secret.

3. Cut the chin: a very simple trick I learnt in my film school. Actually I was told NOT to cut the chin ever. If at all going to a close up from a mid-shot you can cut a little bit of forehead but never the chin. It gives out an image of the head being cut out from the body. When asked to describe the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector, Hopkins said that the Lector is a good man trapped by an insane mind. Wonderful!

Hopkins, in the film is present for no longer than 25 minutes in total. His performance is the second shortest to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. There are only three films who have won the Big Five Academy Awards till date. This film was one of them. Since 1991 no other film has been able to repeat this success. The film is considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and is preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011.

#1 Christopher Nolan – Inception

“It’s only when we wake up, we realise something was strange.”

Inception is ranked 13th in the IMDb top 250 list.

It was the master of Suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock who said that you need three things to make a great film; a good script, a good script, a good script. In today’s era if you have a team good enough to create a breathtaking audio visual experience for the audience, you have a perfect recipe for a blockbuster.

No idea is novel enough. There are similarities between the plot of The Matrix and Inception beyond one can imagine. There are only seven basic plots in the world. Yet, we have a new apocalypse movie every year. We do enjoy indulgence in the subjects we already love.

Even in such a redundant plot of creativity, films like Inception stand out. Why exactly? The secret lies in the details. Easter Eggs are one thing but the intricacy in which all the subplots are interwoven. A golden rule of making films is everything should have a reason; cause and action. Nothing happens without a cause and every cause has some or the other consequence. If any line, if any shot, if any reaction is not essential for the story to unfold, it is not worthy of the audiences’ time.

I learnt this lesson while making my recent short film for the 16th Mumbai Film Festival. Usually while writing a film we tend to immerse ourselves into the dialogues.With more and more emphasis on words than visuals. Then comes the job of a director. Who takes over the hard copy from the writer and converts it into a visual medium. Often important scenes and even characters need to be left aside in order to be honest to the time constrains and for an effective presentation of the story.

A fellow blogger has explained the whole story of Inception on his wordpress blog. And I thought he is the best person who can explain it to you. Here is the link.

Totally off the topic, yet interesting enough; this is an awesome article about some common movie misquotes. Worth a read!

#4 Robert Zemeckis – Forrest Gump

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”

~ John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril

The film is ranked 14th in the IMDb top 250 list.

Twenty years ago, in 1994 there were these three movies, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump. Many consider 1994 to be such an iconic year for cinema because of these three films. All of these had their contribution to make towards the industry for what it is today. All of these were successful in their own fashion. And all of these were totally different from each other in all terms. No matter how many times I watch these I can never get enough of them.

I think The Back to the Future trilogy was how I was introduced to Robert Zemeckis. The first part of the trilogy is a very special movie for my whole family. Even as a kid, I could recognize the power of detailing and how it could enhance the overall understanding of the film. So much can be said in such a little time. That is what cinema is all about. We witness the journey of a child as he is born through his teenage right till his grave in the short span of two and a half hours. And yet we feel that the story is somewhat about us. The trick is to get the details right.

The first ten minutes of the film define how your entire film is going to be. This may or may not suit all the genres but at least in the Back to the Future trilogy and even in Forrest Gump, we were given a hint of what the film is all about in the first ten minutes or so. The opening sequence of Forrest Gump is one of the most iconic opening sequences of all times. Apart from the brilliance in the execution and stunning VFX, the relevance to the story has made it so exceptional.

Have you seen the film Guide by Vijay Anand? No matter how different the plot is, I cannot fail to recognize the similarities in the structure of both the films. Both the films have more than three acts. There is a resolution to every story and more importantly, just like in real life; events keep happening regardless of the final conclusion. What supports my argument is that the protagonists in both the films start their regular lives and circumstances take them through various adventures. Ultimately leading to an intimate, spiritual experience for them. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

(Spoilers ahead)

Apart from the compelling performances, I admire how honestly the story is told. It is completely from Forrest’s perspective. (At times they have taken the liberty of showing us how the female lead character had been doing all this while, but there are only glimpses.) Nothing that Forrest wouldn’t understand has been said. That is where the film makes us believe that we are looking at the world through the eyes of a man who understands so little. The film makes Forrest run away from certain things and it makes him embrace some new things. Just like life. Every end is the start of a new beginning. Just like life.


Jenny Curran: Were you scared in Vietnam?

Forrest Gump: Yes. Well, I-I don’t know. Sometimes it would stop raining long enough for the stars to come out… and then it was nice. It was like just before the sun goes to bed down on the bayou. There was always a million sparkles on the water… like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny, it looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It’s so beautiful.

Jenny Curran: I wish I could’ve been there with you.

Forrest Gump: You were.


 

Overall, Forrest Gump is completely an American formula film. The incidences covered in it are so perfect that every American person could connect with them. It is the story of a generation. I love how apolitical they’ve managed to be while doing so. The film won the 67th Academy Awards for the Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film EditingRoger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “I’ve never met anyone like Forrest Gump in a movie before, and for that matter I’ve never seen a movie quite like ‘Forrest Gump.’ Neither has any of us. 🙂


I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.

#2 Frank Darabont – The Green Mile

We each owe a death – there are no exceptions – but, oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long. – Paul Edgecomb

The film is ranked 43rd in the IMDb top 250 list.

You can simply admire the similarities between The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption or you appreciate how contrasting the two films are. The choice is really yours. But these first two films sure did create a niche for writer-director Frank Darabont.

Just like The Shawshank Redemption, the film is an adaptation of a story by Stephen King. This time King was eager to work with Frank Darabont. So was Tom Hanks. Shawshank did open new possibilities for him. Yet again a prison based story with characters even more interesting than his previous film. Especially the sub plots. Every character, no matter how little screen time it has is exceptional. Frank gives full credit to the actors.

Speaking of performances, the film brought Michael Clarke Duncan in front of the world as a compelling actor. The journey for the big man wasn’t so easy. He worked as a bodyguard for celebrities like Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G. Bruce Willis, after Armageddon suggested his name for the role. Michael had to train under acting coach Larry Moss. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.


 

In actuality, Michael Clarke Duncan is of a similar height as his co-star David Morse and is a couple of inches shorter than James Cromwell. Among other things, creative camera angles were used to create the illusion that Duncan as John Coffey towered over the prison staff, even Brutal Howell and Warden Moores.


 

The film explores all the subplots so well that even the three hour long film seems fast and interesting. There are limited characters but every character has an important role to play.

There is no clear antagonist in the film. Every character is peculiar. We don’t know what are the crimes committed by Eduard Delacroix or Arlen Bitterbuck. It is just that some of them are sorry for what they are.


Doug Hutchison (Percy) was given, according to the director, the squeakiest shoes he’d ever heard. He thought this was the greatest bit of fate, and a “perfectly wonderful, annoying character trait” that he kept it in the movie, and you can hear sometimes how loud his shoes are.


 

The execution of Eduard Delacroix in the film is described in a even more brutal way in the original work. I think it is the strongest scene in the film. The director describes it as ‘a necessary compromise to suit the audience’. If this was the compromise, the original work if I ever be brave enough to read it is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards and received none. The accolades were in a different league altogether.

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 and a half stars out of four, writing “The film is a shade over three hours long. I appreciated the extra time, which allows us to feel the passage of prison months and years.” Forbes commentator Dawn Mendez referred to the character of John Coffey as a “‘magic Negro‘ figure.” Stephen King considers the film as the most faithful adaptation of his work. The worth of these achievements is greener anything else.

 

#1 Frank Darabont – The Shawshank Redemption

“It is mine to screw up now” – Quentin Tarantino

I think I can build a post out of some beautiful lines from the film itself. And I think I should. It would be a crime if I don’t.

Andy Dufresne: If they ever try to trace any of those accounts, they’re gonna end up chasing a figment of my imagination.

Red: Well, I’ll be damned. Did I say you were good? Shit, you’re a Rembrandt!

Andy Dufresne: Yeah. The funny thing is – on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.


To begin with, this is Frank Darabont‘s first film. The film is an adaptation of a Stephen King story named Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The film is written and directed by Frank himself. I feel these details are important to mention because I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for a new director to get the rights of a renowned author.

Stephen King sold the film rights for his novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, for $5,000. He never cashed the check. Years after Shawshank came out, the author got the check framed and mailed it back to the director Frank Darabont with a note inscribed: “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”

It took Frank Darabont 5 years to complete the script. And the journey was not a smooth one at all. Just like the film itself, that’s all it takes, pressure and time.

Every man has his breaking point: The film, if you look at it closely, is full of narration. A person from the school of thought that preaches cinema being a visual medium would regard this film as a disgrace to the medium. And as we look it it right now, nearly 20 years from its release we can say that Morgan Freeman‘s narration is the factor that drives the film forward. It helps us connect with the characters to a deeper level. As my cinema teacher once said, in cinema, there are no absolutes. There is no right and wrong. It is all relative. The maker had his breaking point. He was skeptical about keeping the narration throughout. He had doubts if the audience would appreciate it or not. He explains in an interview that Martin Scorsese came to his rescue. Not in person but through cinema. Frank watched Goodfellas and realised that the film is all narration. If he could then it shouldn’t be all wrong.

I was in the path of the tornado: (well almost) The location where the film was shot “had a date with the wrecking ball,” as the director himself explains. He believes that there is no other place in the world where the film was possible otherwise.

Get busy living or get busy dying: A friend of mine said that the film is all about boredom. I respectfully (?) disagree. The film is not about boredom. Look from any character’s point of view. Although the treatment seems to suck every ounce of happiness out of your body, the film in all sense is about hope. How can anyone misinterpret the basic message of the film that Hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.

Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt were all offered the role but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with Waterworld, Forrest Gump and Interview with the vampire respectively. Kevin Costner would later regret that decision.


 

Honorary mentions to some of the smart lines in the film:

Morgan Freeman calls Tim Robbins‘ plan of having a hotel in Mexico “shitty pipe dreams.” Well he means it literally without realizing it. Foreshadowing!

The salvation lay within.  At least the tools of salvation did.

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free” – Red (Morgan Freeman) The music player scene was added by the director and it does not exist in the original story by King.


The film did not get a warm reception worldwide on its release. The feeling of being in a prison for the entire movie may not attract a lot of positive vibes. And it is not an action movie, not in the slightest possible way. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1994. It didn’t win even a single one. But it brought it again in the spotlight. The film’s initial gross of $18 million didn’t even cover the cost of its production. It did another $10 million in the wake of its Oscar nominations but the film was still deemed to be a box office flop.

Yet, Warner Bros. shipped 320,000 rental video copies throughout the United States, and it became one of the top rented films of 1995 and currently it holds the 1st position in the IMDB top 250 list. Some redemption at last!

#1 Robert Zemeckis/ Spielberg* – Back to the future (Part I)

“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”

He stared at me, baffled. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

~ Stephen King

The film is ranked 49th in the IMDb top 250 list.

Time is such a vague yet interesting concept. Every great mind of modern times has spent time thinking about “time”. And for me, the Back to the future trilogy remains the best work in this subject.

If we take the time travel part out of the picture, we have a simple premise – a troubled teenager trying to correct a few wrongs in his life. This is what intrigues me! A simple premise embellished with a compelling treatment. Every good film has this feature in common.

I have watched this film so many times by now that I know the film frame by frame. Yet every time I watch it, I get excited when, in Marty’s language he discovers something, “heavy”. I love explaining the intricate details to my younger brother, just the way my dad did to me. It feels like passing on a legacy.

Why is the film so special?

Foreshadowing – a sign or warning about an incident in future

If I am correct, every major event casts foreshadow. The plutonium used in the DeLorean is shown missing on the news in the very first scene. We get an idea that Marty (Michael J. Fox) will not have any plutonium in the car, as Doc (Christopher Lloyd) mentions carrying extra shards during time travel. It is like letting the audience think that they knew it was coming, so that when it actually happens they link it to the former events and as a result recall it. If your foreshadowing succeeds you have an active audience. Nothing works better than an active audience!

The film does not really highlight this theory, but still I feel the makers must have studied it while making.

The Butterfly Effect – Can the flutter of a butterfly in Brazil cause tornado in Texas? Our smallest actions, do they have strong repercussions on the Universe? Wikipedia makes it real boring. I gave a more poetic, simple version.

Lastly, talking about the theme now. Ah, again! Who would not like to go back in past and see the moments when their parents actually fell for each other. I would like to see my father sweeping my mother off her feet. I would love to check how much of it is true and how much is, you know, amplified! I love the film because I can clearly see myself as the protagonist. I always have and I always will. And I am sure I am not the only one to feel so!

* I could not help but enter Spielberg’s name in the title. You have all the ingredients to a good Spielberg film in this one although he did not actually direct it.