“The Insult” Is Nominated For Best Foreign Film Oscar, First Time Ever For A Lebanese Movie

Ziad Doueiry’s latest movie, “The Insult,” was just announced as one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2018 Oscars. This marks the first time ever that a Lebanese movie has scored such a nomination – the closest we’d gotten before was when Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now” won the big prize at the Toronto Film Festival, and scored a nomination for best movie at the Critics Choice Award, losing to “A Separation.”

Released in September in Lebanon, “The Insult” quickly became one of the year’s biggest hits at the Lebanese box office, and a true testament to what Lebanese cinema can do when given proper material. In a time when we are inundated with one mind-numbing stupidity after the next, and chastised for being critical because the only thing you’re allowed to be in Lebanon is supportive, The Insult was a breath of fresh air, and hopefully a new standard by which other Lebanese filmmakers go about their craft.

The release of the movie was not without controversy. Right off the bat of landing in Lebanon for the premiere, director Ziad Doueiry was briefly arrested and had his French and Lebanese passports confiscated because his prior movie, The Assault, had been filmed in Israel. He was ultimately trialled and released without charges.

“The Insult” is about the Palestinian Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a respected foreman in Beirut charged with fixing building-code violations, who encounters car mechanic Toni (Adel Karam) whose building has an illegal drainpipe. After Yasser suggests fixing the drainpipe, Toni slams the door in his face, which prompts Yasser to fix the drainpipe anyway, leading to an insult from Yasser’s side.

This single slur then becomes the hallmark for a court case that divides the nation, pitting Palestinian refugee and construction worker, against a Lebanese Christian. The court case evolves into more than just insults, but into the long standing sectarian grievances that plague our daily lives back home.

The political backdrop of “The Insult” are historical speeches of Bachir Gemayel, with all the political pulsations that such speeches entail on the relationship between Lebanese – mostly Christians – and Palestinians refugees; it’s essentially a cross examination of an aspect of Lebanese society that many of us do not routinely address.

I recently had the honor to watch this movie in New York City. The experience of “The Insult”was humbling. It was a movie so about home, that I was watching from so far away. For the duration of its runtime, I was transported back to the streets of Achrafieh that I knew, to those encounters and discussions that we know all too well. It was so engrossing that I was disoriented, exiting that New York City theatre, as to where I was. It’s a work of art that renders you speechless, worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The entire cast did such a phenomenal job, with career defining performances. I was a proud Lebanese watching those actors soar on screen, in front of Americans who were as engrossed as I was, despite them not being aware of the historical backdrop to which the scenes unfold. It doesn’t matter – the struggles illustrated in “The Insult” are universal, transcending politics, and attaining human nature.

With that movie, Ziad Doueiry has proven once again that Lebanon has enough reservoir of stories to make proper cinema, as our brains are rendered numb with the barrage of worthless junk that fills theaters. Congrats to the makers of the movie and all of the cast, you’ve made us tremendously proud. Best of luck to you, and I hope you bring home that trophy.

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Rejecting Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack

The Attack Ziad Doueiri

News of Lebanon’s refusal to submit Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, a movie I had originally told you about here, to the Oscars is making the rounds. You can check all the details here (link).

If the movie had been banned from being shown in theaters here, the discussion would be different entirely. But is the movie really representative enough of Lebanon to be our submission for the Oscars? And is this refusal enough for us to call the committee responsible for such dealings ignorant and with a backward mentality?

I think not.

The movie features the following:

  • A story by an Algerian author.
  • No Lebanese crew.
  • Israeli and Palestinian actors.
  • Location of shooting is Israel.
  • Lebanese director with an American passport.

Would I want to see the movie? Definitely. Do I want it to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards? Let’s just say I’m on the fence regarding this.

This isn’t exactly West Beirut for us to cry wolf for it not being submitted. If Ziad Doueiri truly wanted his movie to be Lebanon’s official submission to the 85th Academy Awards (my predictions – to lighten the mood), he could have at least made an effort to make the movie more Lebanese by maybe shooting it over here and not in Israel and having a Lebanese actor or actress play a role in it, despite both elements not being a criteria required for Academy Award approval.

As it stands, the only thing Lebanese about The Attack is the director who wouldn’t have been able to make this movie if he had actually employed his Lebanese aspect from a bureaucratic point of view. The director says his choices regarding the movie’s components are logical.

Well, I say the committee’s decision is entirely logical as well. Not everything is supposed to be turned into a national matter of censorship.

 

2013 Oscar Predictions

The 85th Academy Awards are held tonight so I figured I’d throw in my predictions as to who will win and who should win some major categories. It’s not Oscar night without a few predictions to go wrong, am I right?

I’m glad this year’s Oscars fall on the unpredictable side – there’s no absolute frontrunner in most of the categories so the night should be interesting to say the least.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Best Picture Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Argo
  • Who Should Win: Amour

Amour (review) is, hands-down, the best movie of the year. It won’t win because of the way the Oscars are run. So we are left with the movie that has been picking up best picture awards here and there: Argo (review). I don’t get it really. There are two other movies on that list that I believe are more deserving (Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook) but you cannot underestimate momentum.

Best Director Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Steven Spielberg
  • Who Should Win: Michael Haneke

Out of all the nominated directors in this category, Haneke managed to turn a simple story of old age into a spellbinding movie that captured everyone’s heart and mind. With little special effects, a Parisian apartment, his camera and two great leads, Haneke created Amour. But seeing as his nomination was a surprise by itself, expecting him to win what he deserves is far-fetched. So Academy Award-darling Spielberg with what is arguably his best movie in years will take it.

Best Actor Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis
  • Who Should Win: Daniel Day Lewis

I don’t believe this needs any explanation. What a brilliant performance.

Best Actress Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva
  • Who Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva

Next to the Best Picture race, this will be the night’s most interesting. What started out as a two-horse race with Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence battling it out for coveted awards soon turned into a three-way race as veteran actress Emmanuelle Riva took the BAFTA and later on the French César. At an age of 85, many voters will probably go for Riva because it’s now or never for her. Chastain and Lawrence will get their shot one day. The mere fact that Emmanuelle Riva is present on that list means there are enough Academy members who want her. It’s also her birthday today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY EMMANUELLE!

Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones
  • Who Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones gave what is, in my opinion, the best performance out of the bunch. Pre-Oscar awards have been spread around this bunch of nominees in a balanced way so no clear frontrunner has emerged but I think Lincoln‘s (review) momentum will help Jones take another Oscar. Every single nominee in this list has won before.

Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

  • Who Will Win: Anne Hathaway
  • Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway

There’s no denying Hathaway deserves this. She owned the entire Les Misérables (review) with her chilling performance of “I Dreamed A Dream.” The movie starts dying when her character dies. No one else in this category is as deserving and she has basically won every single pre-Oscar award there is.

Original Screenplay Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Quentin Tarantino
  • Who Should Win: Michael Haneke

There’s something understated about turning a simple story into a work of art, which is what Haneke did with his story in Amour. But unfortunately, that’s not the kind that usually triumphs. I expect Tarantino to come out triumphant for Django Unchained (review).

Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Argo
  • Who Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook

Argo has the momentum. Silver Linings Playbook (review) has the superior quality and the charm. Momentum wins.

Animated Film Academy Awards Oscars 2013

 

Who Will Win: Frankenweenie

Who Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph

I found Wreck-It Ralph to be one of the most charming – and best – movies of the year. It is what I expect from an animated movie to be. Frankenweenie, on the other hand, is what plays on the Academy’s strings: homage to classics, daring technique, etc. It’s obvious who’d  win in such a match-up.

Original Song Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Adele
  • Who Should Win: Adele

I can’t wait to hear her acceptance speech.

Foreign Language Film Academy Awards Oscars 2013

  • Who Will Win: Amour
  • Who Should Win: Amour

The fact that it’s nominated for best picture, best actress, best director and best original screenplay is hint enough.

Zero Dark Thirty [2012] – Movie Review

zero-dark-thirty-poster

Here it is. Arguably the most challenged American movie of the year (a recipe for those little golden statuettes): Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. U.S. Senators of both parties came out against the movie because it portrayed the use of torture in many of its scenes in order to extract information about the whereabouts of Bin Laden. You know, because the CIA surely did not use torture. Ever.

Zero Dark Thirty is the story of CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) on her pursuit of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden over the course of a decade. The torture methods her agency employs, which include but are not exclusive to food and sleep deprivation and waterboarding, lead her to a man called Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti who, for every single non-idiot person out there, obviously comes from Kuwait. Except it’s not as obvious for the movie’s CIA agents who spend more than an hour of the movie’s 157 minutes running time on a manhunt before realizing that – GASP – Al Kuwaiti means he is from Kuwait. As they search for Osama Bin Laden’s main means of communication with the outside world, these CIA agents are faced with people who don’t want them to succeed leading to terrorist bombings in CIA headquarters, of fancy hotels, of different capitals around the world and a lot of exasperated agents who can’t fathom how they would be targeted as such.

It seems the dreadful The Hurt Locker did not satisfy Kathryn Bigelow’s appetite for American neo-political-military-award-magnet-dramas. I mean, why wouldn’t she tackle the same theme in one way or another all over again to become the first female director to win best director at the Oscars twice? Therefore, Bigelow is at it again. And Zero Dark Thirty includes not only every single thing I hated about The Hurt Locker but much, much more as well.

Jessica Chastain’s character Maya is definitely unlikeable. I hated her character to the extent that I couldn’t even appreciate her acting performance. She came off as grating, whining, overly melodramatic at times especially in a shouting scene with a CIA chief in Pakistan when she asks for extra man power in a man hunt that had been proving futile at that point. However, this type of performance is definitely the type to draw in award-voters: a charismatic female character at the heart of a male-dominated institute in the midst of the hunt for the world’s most wanted man? I can hear those voters orgasming already, which is a damn shame because if she ends up winning, she most certainly does not deserve it. Her strongest scene is right at the movie’s end as she silently reflects on the end of this decade-long era of her life. But even that scene’s potency isn’t enough.

One thing to say about Zero Dark Thirty, however, before I start grilling it is that Bigelow does well directing the movie from an “artistic” point of view. Some sequences are very well filmed, especially the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, and the movie is very technically proficient. However, a political movie like Zero Dark Thirty necessitates a politically oriented review. So here it goes.

Zero Dark Thirty is an insult on your intelligence. If there’s any movie which will get you outraged at its inaccuracy, it’s this. As a movie which wants to give itself authenticity by going the whole mile and asking you to “witness the whole truth,” it only comes off as mass propaganda about how the CIA is making the world a better place just by them being there and it portrays all those filthy Arabs living in these parts of the world as the scum of society: Muslim terrorists who can’t wait to blow up some Americans.

As they hunt for Abou Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti in some Pakistani city, the CIA van is stopped by Pakistani men. One of the Pakistanis driving gets out of the van in order to reason with the armed youth. “Shou ya chabeb?” he asks them in arabic – levantine Arabic no less – for: what’s up guys? A simple wikipedia search would have told Mrs. Bigelow that Arabic is, in fact, not spoken in Pakistan or any -stan ending country. But why would she care? Arabic-language, terrorist, Pakistan… it’s all the same for her intended audience. In fact, the movie’s scenes in Pakistan feature less Pakistani than Arabic, which is odd and definitely not “witnessing the truth” or as American critics are saying: “a movie reveling in keen detail.” Since when do Pakistanis speak Levantine Arabic?

The use of Arabic in the movie doesn’t only stop at Pakistan, it extends to various interrogation scenes where someone has to translate to Chastain’s character what the man is saying. Fair enough.

As one of the CIA agents sets up a meeting with a supposed worm within Al-Qaeda around Christmas time, she is found talking to Chastain’s character about baking a cake for the man to which Chastain replies: “Muslims don’t eat Cake.” Really? In fact, the entirety of Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t even bother to draw the line  between a religious extremist and a Muslim: it gets the boundary between the two to be so blurred that it’s so easy to confuse one with the other, making the entire movie not only highly stereotypical but highly nauseating and shallow as well.

For an American viewer, Zero Dark Thirty is definitely fascinating and I was even taken by its earlier scenes before the rhetoric started. American movie critics who don’t understand the other languages spoken in the movie and don’t have the ability to tear the movie apart from a non-cinematic perspective won’t care about the aforementioned points. Arabic, French, Pakistani – who cares? American movie critics believe that the way the hunt for Bin Laden was dramatized is chilling. They believe that the movie is politically non-biased. For those of us who can actually read into Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, it only comes off as severely culturally-inaccurate and offensive.

Bin Laden was a bad man. He killed a lot of innocent people and I’m glad he’s dead. The CIA and whichever other intelligence agencies that helped the Americans to catch that filth of a man need to be commanded for their job. But this movie is not the way. Zero Dark Thirty wants to be the definite movie about the Bin Laden manhunt. Bigelow wants the honor of being the first and last director to tackle this issue. But that is far from the case. Again, while technically proficient, the movie is not perfect. It is too slow at times and at other times, when it moves, it is only like an arthritic ninety year old man. The first twenty minutes of torturing a Saudi are chilling to watch. They are followed by almost 90 minutes of scenes that might as well be considered as an antidote to insomnia before delivering again with the Bin Laden killing scene.

By aiming to be technically proficient, Zero Dark Thirty undercuts itself by becoming emotionally detached from the material it’s trying to portray. By showing torture scenes that more often than not lead to no-tactical results, the movie is amoral. By turning the entire struggle of all of 9/11’s victims, as it starts with real-life audio from the twin towers on that horrible day, into a vehicle for Chastain and Bigelow to cash in on some rewards, the movie is also despicable. By portraying every single non-American aspect of the movie in such gross inaccurate ways, Zero Dark Thirty is horrendous. Zero Dark Thirty is, eventually, over two and a half hours of pure propaganda that is not only offensive to the memory of the Americans who died on 9/11 but to a lot of viewer’s mental capacities.

You know what’s common between Bin Laden and Zero Dark Thirty? They are both horrifyingly bad and an abomination to existence.

1/5

 

 

Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now Shortlisted for Original Song & Score Oscars

Where Do We Go Now - Nadine Labaki new movie - poster w halla2 lawein - et mainteant on va ou

Who knew that more than a year after its release Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now, which lately garnered Paulo Coelho’s love, would be in the running for an Oscar?

While going through recent articles regarding the upcoming movie award seasons, I stumbled on two press releases published by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the shortlists of original song & original score, which are quite extensive. However, keep in mind that they have been narrowed down from a much wider selection.

The original song list can be accessed here. The original score list can be accessed here.

As you can see, Hashishet Albe has been shortlisted for best song and Khaled Mouzanar’s musical work has been shortlisted for best score. I don’t think they stand a chance at a nomination, especially not when you have people like Adele and Hans Zimmer in the running. But it’s still interesting to see that the great musical work done on the movie hasn’t been lost.

It’s slightly ironic that the movie is doing better at the Oscars with its music than with its film aspect. Where Do We Go Now failed to be shortlisted for best foreign movie last year.

This is hashishet albe:

Silver Linings Playbook – Movie Review

Silver Linings PLaybook movie poster

For all matters and purposes, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that shouldn’t technically work. It struts the line of a cliche romantic comedy so dangerously close that it could wander into those realms very easily. The premise isn’t groundbreaking. Very little about it is out of the box enough for it to be as brilliantly exhilarating as it turns out to be.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a former history teacher who found out his wife was cheating on him and ends up in a mental institute to treat his bipolar disorder, as part of a court deal. Eight months later, his mother (Jacki Weaver) goes on a limb and gets him out. His father (Robert De Niro) is an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan. Set on getting back with his wife who issued a restraining order against him, Pat decides to get his life in order. But the disorder proves harder to control at times. It is then that he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow with her fair share of problems. The odd couple strikes a friendship where they feed off each other’s woes and troubles in a brutally honest manner, be it by enumerating the drugs they take without one stutter, by going for jogs around their neighborhoods, by making scenes on Halloween outside a local diner, by Tiffany proposing sex to which Pat objects, by Pat believing Tiffany, the self-proclaimed slut is crazier than him, or by rehearsing to a dance competition that Tiffany wants to participate in.

I was surprised by Bradley Cooper who gives a terrific performance. He portrays the disorder his character is having perfectly. The transfers between episodes of mania and depression is subtle and striking. He delivers his dialogue at a breakneck pace and never falters. His performance is energetic, never subdued, is a true revelation.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s acting highlight, gives a tour de force performance as the deeply troubled widow with layers upon layers of concealed rage to her character. The dysfunctional chemistry she brings to the table is absolutely brilliant to watch. You forget for the entirety of the movie that the woman you’re seeing on screen is only 22. She plays a character way above her age perfectly. She portrays her character’s angst, sadness, grieving and resiliency to perfection. She delivers the movie’s funniest moments in moments that shouldn’t even be funny. In Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is simply spectacular and has proven herself to be, yet again, our generation’s most promising new actresses.

The movie’s supporting cast also does well. While Jacki Weaver’s role doesn’t have much character development and is more important in its subtlety as the mother who had to deal with her son’s illness for years and the wife who had to cope with her husband’s obsessive compulsiveness, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years as the father who cluelessly believes in his son. All in all, the people of Silver Linings Playbook can act and there’s no reason three of them should not see Oscar nominations for what they accomplished here.

David O. Russell, who gave us The Fighter a couple of years ago, has to be commended for maintaing the balance that Silver Linings Playbook shows. His knack for having dialogue-driven movies works well here. However, Silver Linings Playbook is not perfect. The supremely strong first half gives way to a less stellar second half in which the movie loses focus at times as it starts juggling way too many things at once, instead of focusing solely on what was making the movie work in the first place: Pat and Tiffany.

So much could have gone wrong with Silver Linings Playbook. The portrayal of mental illness could have easily turned into a PSA. The romantic part of it could have easily become dreary. The dysfunctional family could have easily turned grating. But all of those don’t happen. Instead, the movie has a sense of rawness mixed with like-ability that makes it oddly refreshing. Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies of 2012 so far simply because it’s not a color-by-number movie. It is untidy. It’s random. It’s all over the place sometimes. But you still watch it. And you go out of it feeling happy and smiling because Silver Linings Playbook is brilliant.

9/10

5 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Watching The Oscars This Year

As I’ve made it widely known already, I will not be overnighting to watch the Academy Awards this year for several reasons, the main ones being:

1) I do not care about any of the nominees in best picture. Meaning, I don’t give a rat’s a*s if The Help wins best picture or The Artist or The Descendants or Moneyball or any of the other nominees. Why? Because, despite some of them being good movies (The Descendants is atrocious and I couldn’t go through Tree of Life), they are simply nominated because academy members are a bunch of elitist snobs who couldn’t take a risk. The Artist is getting hype because it’s the first silent movie to be made in a long time (if it weren’t silent, it would have crashed and died), The Help is making the rounds because of its brilliant cast and captivating story. I have no idea why Tree of Life and The Descendants are nominated, to be honest, apart from the names associated with them.
Is it worth it to watch an award show from 3 AM to 6 AM when you don’t care about their top honors? Nope.

2) I do not care who wins best actor. Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt or George Clooney. None of them have given me a performance this year that I feel is truly captivating enough for me to root for them beyond measure. Last year, James Franco delivered a tour-de-force one man show in 127 Hours that should have gotten him an Oscar. I had him to support. While I do have my preference, I still wouldn’t care if it goes either way, which means yet another reason as to why I wouldn’t want to tire myself by staying up all night for nothing.

3) Viola Davis or Meryl Streep? The million dollar question, as they say, for this year’s awards rounds. And yet, I don’t feel invested in any of them. Viola Davis was great in The Help. I have yet to watch Meryl Streep’s movie but everyone’s saying it’s a one-woman show, which is almost always the case whenever she’s present – regardless of how strong her supporting cast is. However, I haven’t been exposed to that one performance which absolutely blew me away, like I was with Jennifer Lawrence’s Winter’s Bone last year. If you haven’t watched that movie, you absolutely must. So as you see, with another one of the major awards becoming irrelevant to me, this turns up yet another reason not to watch.

4) Best director? Let’s pretend we understand all the technicalities that come with this. And let’s also pretend that Terrence Malick is not there because of his name and because academy voters usually worship at his altar. Let’s also pretend that Martin Scorsese’s Hugo deserves eleven nominations, including one for best director and let’s also pretend that Alexandre Payne is nominated because The Descendants is actually a good movie, which it most definitely is not, and not because he’s been away for seven years. And while you try to pronounce the name of Michel Hazanavicius, you’re left with him as the only one person who deserves it. However, I feel no investment in whether he actually wins or not. I really couldn’t care either way. I was invested in this last year because I was furious Christopher Nolan didn’t get a nomination. This year, not so much.

5) I tried to come up with a fifth reason and there’s no better reason than the fact that I didn’t bother with closing any of the major categories like I did last year. I haven’t finished watching all the acting performances. I still need to watch one of the Best Picture movies (Tree of Life doesn’t count). The one I still need to watch, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, has an aggregate score of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and received mixed to negative reviews at best. The reason it was nominated? Probably its theme of 9/11 drama. Simply, there’s nothing about the Oscars this year that screams excitement. There are no breakthrough performances, no surprise nominations. The Oscars this year are a mess of safe choices that will go well with the history of the Academy and, in the long run, become forgotten as movies of the “it” moment that fail to garner considerable traction with the people.