Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Academy Awards 2008

This has been a whirlwind year for Hollywood. The historic writes’ strike brought the industry to a standstill and the studio moguls down from their high horses. The watershed event impacted Hollywood so dramatically that they almost shelved their yearly glitz extravaganza, The Oscars. If it hadn’t been for the propitious and timely end to the strike, the Oscars would have gone the way of this year’s golden globes: just the peremptory reading of a Winners list. That would have been a pity, considering the fine slew of material that invaded cinemas this year.

Jon Stewart hosted the gig. Having had to churn out hours worth of comedy in just over a week due to the Writers’ strike, it was understandable that the jokes were not out of this world. But he was witty, interesting and even poignant when required; a collected and impressive performance. The nominees and winners themselves were hardly controversial; critics’ favorites clinched most awards leaving bookmakers saying, “I told you so”.

The best picture obviously went to No Country for Old Men. In a year of superlative films, the Coen Brothers' crime opus was light years ahead of the pack. Also-rans included the very good There will be Blood, Michael Clayton, indie sleeper-hit Juno and the Golden Globe winning but slightly overrated Atonement. The Coens picked up their second Oscars for Best Director for the same oeuvre, trumping Juno’s Jason Reitman, Michael Clayton’s Tony Gilroy and the masterful Paul Thomas Anderson. They also won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Daniel Day Lewis’s brilliant, imposing and unforgettable turn as an ambitious, amoral oil-man in There Will be Blood netted him his second Oscar, an honor he called “the closest I'll ever come to getting a knighthood”. To me, this man is the most gifted actor of our generation. Kudos to P.T. Anderson for bringing him out of self-imposed retirement.

Hollywood’s Finest!


Marion Cotillard’s Best Actress Oscar nod for portraying Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose had the stunned actress declaring “it is true, there is (sic) some angels in this city”.

The Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Tilda Swindon who played to perfection her role as a corporate executive trapped by circumstance to make excruciating moral decisions. In her acceptance speech, she praised co-star George Clooney’s professionalism, dedication to his craft and antics both on and off-set, saying, “You rock, man.”

Javier Bardem’s mesmerizing portrayal as one of the most unforgettable villains in celluloid history ( with arguably the worst haircut ever) garnered him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, a weird choice given that Bardem was obviously the star of No Country.

Ratatouille clinched the Best Animated Feature Oscar, trouncing the intelligent and thought-provoking movie adaptation of Persepolis and Surf’s up, yet another penguin romp in the tradition of Happy Feet. Ever since they instituted this award, it has been given to movies starring ogres, horses, fish, superhumans, penguins and rats. I suppose animated creatures play to the strengths of the medium, but it’d be nice to see some regular animated humans make a play for the brittanium statuette.

Can you smell what the rat is cooking?


Juno won a much-deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar and while Ellen Page’s refreshing performance as the eponymous protagonist did not get her an Oscar, we can take heart that Hollywood has discovered a prodigious new talent.

The much-touted The Bourne Ultimatum won the Film Editing Oscar while Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd won for Art Direction.

This year’s Oscars did not afford much in the way of melodrama and theatrics. For one, the statuettes didn’t get stolen before the ceremony. There were no drawn-out spiels about the war in Iraq, no emotional break-downs on stage nor did anyone manage to execute passionate lip-locks with Halle Berry. On the upside, it was a great year for movies and the Writers’ strike is finally over. All things considered, one should be grateful the event happened at all.

Also, for those of who are interested in such things, Penelope Cruz looked glorious as she paraded the red carpet in a glorious strapless black gown that accentuated her... But don’t get me started on that; we could be here till next year’s Oscars.

And the Oscar for Best Dressed Actress goes to…

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Santana: Live in Concert

As concerts go, this one was something of an anomaly. It started only 15 minutes past the scheduled time.

In a system where rock legends arrive fashionably late, leaving their fans waiting the obligatory hour, Santana’s uncharacteristic punctuality nearly made me miss the opening. Having accounted for a late opening, I made it with milliseconds to spare, just in time to see Santana himself come out on stage and begin his first solo.

Santana is one of the greatest guitarists of our time, a six-string demi-god in a pantheon that includes Jimmy Page, Brian May and Ritchie Blackmore. While he’s hardly on his last legs, a chance to see him live in concert might not come by again. Thus it was that despite the exorbitant ticket prices, the Singapore indoor stadium was packed to the gills. The crowd was a tad more mellow and older than the black-tee clad, shout-themselves-hoarse types that throng heavy-metals concerts.
The band started up with a few plucky numbers from the old days. It took a good hour or so before they tired of playing instrumental ensembles and launched into a proper song, lyrics and all. Not that I was complaining; Santana’s sonorous blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms had an ethereal quality.

In the tradition of the great Bob Marley, the band churned out stirring, passionate rhapsodies that conveyed the essence of proud Latin America in all its hot-blooded mish-mash of poverty, romance, rage, revolution and hope.

The tempo sure picked up after their rendition of “Maria, Maria.” Crowd control authorities tried to get the few of us who’d left our seats to go by the railings to dance to return to our chairs, to little avail. Carlos Santana was thirty feet away, dressed in white, sporting a fedora and twanging away the dulcet notes of “Smooth.”

Nothing short of a Force 10 gale could have moved me, rooted to the ground as I was awe-struck by wonder and a feeling of profound gratitude to the fates. Then in a moment I’m not sure if I imagined, he steps over to the crowd and hands his plectrum to one of the women seated in the front row. She’s beside herself.
The highlight of the night for me was the stellar solo performance of Dennis Chambers, whose inspired drumming was a treat to listen to. This was followed by renditions of classic numbers like “Oye Como Va”, “Corazon Espinado” and “Black Magic Woman.” An Indian couple in front of me was doing the salsa to the sultry Spanish numbers.

While the final songs were performed, pictures of Santana’s musical history flashed on the big screen, both tribute and possible swan song to a legendary career. The three-hour concert ended with Santana’s latest hit single “Into the Night.”

Santana, despite his age, is still going strong. What with The Rolling Stones still rocking stages with one foot in the grave, I shouldn’t be surprised.

In the words that Kurt Cobain immortalized in his suicide note, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Keep burning, Santana.

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