Sunday, January 31, 2010

Movie review: Ishqiya

The tragedy of contemporary Indian cinema is that, much like everything else that’s contemporary in India, it’s just not Indian. In a country with a rural population far exceeding the urban elite, a fact clearly evidenced in political elections, it’s somehow inexplicable that film characters and plots very rarely are written in a non urban-centric environment. In fact, more often than not, we find ourselves with foreign locales conveniently dressed up with all-Indian casts, right from the British (Indian) butler, to the Bahamian (Indian) chief of police. In such a scenario, it’s more than anything else, a sight for sore eyes, to see a raw, rustic story being told through the tongue of an everyman.

In this deeply dissatisfying scenario, Vishal Bhardwaj has time and again brought us entertainment that is rooted in the ethos of Indian-ness. Whether it was Makdee or Maqbool, Omkara or Kaminey, Bhardwaj went from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar to Maharashtra to West Bengal and fleshed out characters that are real, relatable, and more than anything else, incredibly entertaining. Perhaps that is why, from being an underfinanced independent filmmaker, he now stands in a position to have his own production company, supporting fledgling newcomers like Abhishek Chaubey make cinema of the newest brand, which for a better term, I’m going to call Bhardwaj-esque.
Ishqiya is a prime example of cinema that brings back the feeling of the cinema of Shyam Benegal or Gulzar, but is emphatic in its purpose being, like all other movies under the Bhardwaj banner, unadulterated entertainment. Headlined by Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, it takes us on a ride from Bhopal to Gorakhpur to Faizabad and back, and introduces us to characters as nutty as Iftiqar(Shah)and Babban(Warsi) and as layered as Krishna(Balan).
The story of Ishqiya is simple enough, albeit a little indulgent to plot points. Babban and Iftiqar are on the run from a goon named Mushtaq and they run into the widow of Vidyadhar Verma, Krishna. What happens next is a delicious continuum of twists and turns, some that make you sit up and some that make you dizzy. The movie has everything that a caper film in the ilk of Kaminey needs, but instead treads a delicate balance between an unconventional romance and a tribute to noir. The duo solicit the help of Krishna and construct a plan to get out of a potentially life threatening debt and at the same time, earn enough to retire to a life of luxury. Are there mixed motives though? Or do, per usual, the best laid plan of mice and men, go askew? This is what follows in the meandering journey these three unlikely accomplices take.
The treatment is what makes this film special. Like all films before this, Bhardwaj pays incredible attention to detail in his dialogues, and they’re appropriately crass, whilst remaining effectively authentic. He gets the dainty Balan to mouth words you’d think she didn’t know the meaning of with such consummate ease that you get effortlessly sucked into the world where gang wars are treated like real wars and children of different castes are initialized into weaponry at (Bhardwaj uses colorful language to describe this) the age of potty training. There is more than a touch of humor in the movie, and most of it is induced by the dialogue and its delivery, both of which are impeccable. I’ve read that the film was shot on set in suburban Bombay, and in that case, the set decorator and the DOP deserve special plaudits for very efficiently creating the required ambience to take us back to the days of ‘Ankur’ and ‘Mrityudand’.
As he has grown with his direction, so Bhardwaj has improved his musical scoring. Amongst the only composers left to rely solely on traditional Indian melody, he creates a score that is rich, textured, perfectly fitting and that creates a mood that elevates this already very good film quite a few notches. The positioning of each song also is done immaculately, and Chaubey does a particularly fantastic job of interweaving the music with the flow of the story, and also for directing the song sequences themselves, so that at no point do they take away from the movie.
The trump card of Ishqiya however, is its characters. A special shout out must go to the casting director who does a spectacular job of casting each and every role, such that the parts seem like they were written for the actors playing them, even though you’ve never seen any of them do anything remotely similar. Shah is potent as usual, and shows innocence, despondence, vulnerability and charm as well as he ever has. Warsi finds a role for the first time since the memorable Circuit in the Munnabhai franchise that suits him to a T, and he grabs on to it with both hands. He treads the path of too much in a few scenes, but is just about perfect for the role, and does complete justice. Amongst the supporting cast, the child actor playing Nandu has only a couple of scenes, but is precocious without being annoying and is the standout in the supporting cast. The film however unequivocally belongs to Vidya Balan.
Krishna is at times a victimized widow and at times a wily nymphet, and Balan transforms with just the tiniest shift in expression, or the most insignificant gesture, from one to another that her performance in this film could actually be studied in film school. She is clearly out of her regular style of work (as evidenced by her previous films) but carves out a character that is so real and oozes with sensuality that she ends up being irresistible. This film was probably shot before Paa, and Balan still carries some of the weight she had lost for Paa, but in the saris she wears, she has never looked as hot as she does in this film. Even though they look nothing alike, she manages in this film to bring back the memories of the raw sensuality of Smita Patil, and she clearly has the acting prowess to match as well. Undeniably the most powerful female character in cinema since Shabana Azmi in Godmother, this is (IMHO) the best performance by an actress in years, and if Balan does not get her due for this film, she probably never will, because this is one hard act to follow. She is the heart and soul of this film, and rightly so.
All Bhardwaj films have genius titles, and this film isn’t any different, and what is more, it is very fitting. The film is all about Ishqiya, and as corny as it sounds, it won’t be odd if many of you feel the ishq or crush long after you’ve left the cinema.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Invention of Lying

Imagine a world where no one can tell a lie. Ricky Gervais creates such a utopia and then makes himself the only exception, the special one. He then proceeds to repeatedly have everyone call him a loser, until they realize that he’s the real winner, and everyone lives happily ever after, (or at least, Mark Bellison does). That is essentially the sum and substance of the picture. Much like Edison and Einstein, Bellison (a play on Edison and Bell?) chances upon his discovery quite by accident. In his case, the stimulus was desperation. Faced with eviction and unemployment and insolvency, Bellison does something involuntary, and finds something wonderful happening.

Gervais needs to be commended for his inventiveness. Taking the basest of human instinct and creating an alternate reality around it, Gervais weaves a story that is unmistakably original and potentially brilliant. Especially in such story though, how you execute each scene increases exponentially in importance. Somehow, Gervais misses the play there, and what results is a long experience of tedium. It isn’t that he doesn’t try, in all earnestness, to form a complete story, it’s just that he doesn’t have that much of a plot, and his meandering through the mess of Bellison’s life to find one is an arduous watch.
In this world of Gervais’ creation, of course, there can be no Church, no concept of science, because everything just is. There isn’t even a word for truth or lies, because there isn’t a distinction. Everything you say, is, or, like Bellison says, his power is to “say something that wasn’t.” Instead of examining the implications of the lack of such fundamental institutions as religion and reasoning, Gervais chooses to go the rom-com route and study the ramifications of the lack of free will. This he translates to a lack of feeling and automated reasoned decision making, and a painfully oft-repeated “search for a genetic match.”
Jennifer Garner is brazen and brave for trying to flesh out a character, but with a paper thin character sketch, does nothing significant. Gervais has a fantastic role to play with, but really, and maybe it’s just me, he’s so inherently unlikable that it is difficult for anyone to root for him. There are a bunch of interesting cameos thrown in there as well, from the likes of Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, but none really hit home. There is a lack of sincerity, or perhaps of identification, and instead of being honest, they come across as mean and unlikable.
Also, I think, perhaps for comic effect, Gervais not only makes it impossible for anyone to lie, but also to contain thoughts, and everyone is sharing what they’re doing, or thinking, and whilst highly comical in theory, for the duration of the 100 odd minutes this picture lasts, can become quite an ordeal. In essence, I would say, that whilst this is just me and my sheer inability to enjoy the humour of Gervais (I’m amongst the very few who enjoy the American adaptation of The Office infinitely more than the British one), The Invention of Lying just wasn’t smart enough to not need it to be hilarious. Not every comedy gives you a stitch in your side, but it’s rare that you find yourself cringing more often than smiling, and when that happens, you know you’re watching the wrong movie.

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Wake Up Sid – A Movie Review

Coming of age is a unique genre in cinema, in that, even though from movie to movie, the story remains mostly the same, depending on the treatment, you may make either a forgettable disaster, or the next ‘Garden State’. No film better exemplifies this in recent memory than ‘Wake Up Sid’. Telling the oft-told story of a boy finding his way into manhood, the movie has all the regular devices one would expect in such a film (punch-lines, driven female stimulus, familial disagreement etc.), but finds a way to rise above the mediocre because of an infusion of soul and life into every single character.

Headlining the proceedings is Siddharth Mehra, a twenty something almost graduate who goes from Mr. Popular to the “one who flunked out” in a commerce college in Bombay. As is typical with such stories, Sid, the titular protagonist is affluent, spoiled and sleepwalking through life hanging on to the coat-tails of his father’s wealth. Again, typically, he may be flawed, embarrassed at associating himself with “flower showers”, his father’s legacy that he so easily uses for his material needs, but at the core, has a good heart. He is detached and unwilling to commit though, either to relationships (as is evident in both his dealings with his parents and his advice to his about-to-propose friend) or to work, and, in his own words, “just want(s) to have fun”.
wake up sid
In stark contrast to Sid is the pivotal character of Aisha. She’s the “new girl in the city”, she’s driven, already lined up a job interview, and bold and brazen enough to go on a late night walk in a strange city with a guy she just met at a party. She is traditional though, and immediately clarifies that she “doesn’t want to sleep with (Sid)”. This highlights the relationship between the two throughout the film, with Aisha motivating Sid to be all he can, without ever telling him he must.
The beauty of Wake Up Sid truly comes from the well crafted characters and the natural, fluid dialogue between them. They say that life is made up of millions of small moments. The same is true of cinema, and every film comes together as a series of interchanges between characters. Unfortunately, most films seem to miss this point, and get lost in translation. Ayan Mukherjee and Niranjan Iyengar do a surprisingly good job of writing the screenplay and especially dialogues, especially a standout angry exchange between Ranbir Kapoor, Anupam Kher and Supriya Pathak. Every teenager who at some time found themselves drifting and couldn’t bring themselves to care will relate with Sid, his frustration, his unspeakable regret and his wrathful outburst.
In terms of performances, everyone is at the top of their games, with Konkona Sen being an obvious best. Supriya Pathak and Anupam Kher are also brilliant, in roles so well played out, that you often forget that it’s a scripted drama. The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, and more specifically the background score and the track Iktara, both composed by Amit Trivedi, are enjoyable and help greatly with the flow of the film.
The movie is not without faults of course. Ranbir Kapoor, in perhaps the most well suited role of his career, for the most part, does a fantastic job of being the very likable vagabond. In some scenes however, especially of a more serious tone, he does tend to be a little too earnest. In addition, Mukherjee tends to resort to plot clichés to further the story more often than necessary. Finally, the biggest letdown came in the form of the only article written by Aisha that we get to hear. Not only is it impertinent to her column name, but following the build up, it is very disheartening to be given only a crushing RJ’s sermon when we expect a writer’s epiphany. If God is in the details, Mukherjee loses several opportunities to make the movie a beacon, satisfied instead with standard cinematic cop-outs.
In a climate of unoriginal plots and recycled characters however, Wake Up Sid is worth watching, maybe even renting for a second viewing. Full of hope, optimism, and a sheer feel good feeling, it makes you want to be young again. It makes you want to walk in the rain, click photographs in Chor Bazaar, trade your mundane job for a day at Mumbai Beat, but most importantly, it makes you want to, especially for Bombay natives, find a moment to enjoy just being.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Australian Open: Final Weekend Predictions

I didn’t have great luck with my predictions on Day 1 but in my defense, it had been long since we had them play a Grand Slam (especially given the hectic tennis calendar). Nonetheless, I’ve had better luck since and am here with my predictions for the final weekend.
The matches we have, and my predictions for the winners are:

Mixed Doubles Final:
Ekaterina Makarova and Jaroslav Levinsky v/s Cara Black and Leander Paes
The unseeded Europeans come up against the top seeded pair in this final. Black and Paes had a tough semi final and at many times looked like they could be out of it, but came through after two tough tie breaks and a super tie break. In sharp contrast, Makarova and Levinsky cruised through the first set without dropping a game, lost the second set and came back strong to win the super tie break 10-8. It’s a tough call between the two, but I think the pair from India/Zimbabwe will pull through, if only on experience.
Prediction: Black and Paes in the super tie break.
Men’s Doubles Final:                                               
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan v/s Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic
Both the ladies and the men’s doubles finals have the World Number 1 and 2 teams facing off. In the ladies side, it was the number 2 pair of the Williamses winning it, but it may be a different story here. The Bryan brothers are high on confidence, it is their first Grand Slam tournament since they got back their number 1 ranking, and they’re hungry to hold on to it. Both teams had tough quarter finals, making it through on tie breaks, but the Bryans did it a little bit better. They should be adequately rested for this final though, having relatively simple semi finals. It’ll be interesting to see who takes the first set, as it may set the tone of the match.
Prediction: Bryan and Bryan in the three tough fought sets.
Ladies Singles Final:
Serena Williams v/s Justine Henin
The wildcard Justine Henin has shown the true spirit of the game. Coming back after her 20 month self imposed exile, Henin in already in her second consecutive championship match. On the way to the Aussie Open Final this year, she has claimed the scalps of Jie Zheng, Elena Dementieva (in the second round, no less), Yanina Wickmayer and Nadia Petrova (who took out reigning US Open queen, Kim Clijsters). She’s toiled through some of them, used tact through others, but in her semi final match against Zheng, she used sheer class and brilliance and walked all over her opponent 6-1, 6-0, not dropping a single game after the opener.
Serena Williams however, is quite another story. She’s a genius player, she’s a fighter, and she’s a winner. Defending champion here, she recently became world number 1 and is the top seed also. She just defended her doubles crown with sister Venus. And she is looking for her fifth Australian Open Championship. She had a tough match with Na Li in the semi final, but came through after two tie breaks. She knows the ropes, she has the experience, and she has the desire.
It’s as tough a call as any between these two with Serena leading the head to head 7-6. It is interesting to note though, that in the last five times these two have played each other, as well as the last five Grand Slam meetings they’ve had, Henin leads 3-2. This is the first time they play each other in the Australian Open, but as Henin said, if she wants to become a Grand Slam champion again, it is only fitting that she beat the best in the world to do it.
Prediction: Henin in three sets.
Men’s Singles Final:
Roger Federer v/s Andy Murray
The match that everyone wanted at last year’s Wimbledon will finally be played out on Sunday at the Rod Laver Arena. Andy Murray, the longest time contender has to prove he isn’t in fact just another pretender. Federer has a chance to make it 16.
Andy Murray has made it quietly through his draw. Without much fuss, without much expectation, the Scottish lab, who had a relatively flip floppy last year, rising as high as number 2 and subsequently falling to 5, has made it through to the final, pretty much unscathed. The one big hurdle in his way, defending champion Rafael Nadal, succumbed to a knee injury in their quarter final, and Murray must’ve heaved a sigh of relief. Marin Cilic, who had to go through Juan Martin Del Potro and Roddick, not to mention a brilliant Bernard Tomic, could not match the Scot in their semi final, and despite his early lead, and perhaps due to fatigue from his many five set matches, fell to Murray in four sets. For the second time in his career, Andy Murray is at the brink of tasting Grand Slam success.
Roger Federer has had the toughest draw amongst the top seeds, starting off with Igor Andreev. He dropped a set to Andreev, but shook off the early nerves, and marched on 6-0 in the fourth set to wrap up the match. He had an easy couple of matches against Victor Hanescu and Albert Montanes before he reached the round of 16. Federer was placed against former world number 1 and 22nd seed Lleyton Hewitt. The difference in their rankings wasn’t key though, as everyone knows a Grand Slam Champion on a good day is as good as any other player in the world. Federer played unbelievable tennis though, and walked out of that match in straight sets as well. Federer’s biggest challenge also came in the quarter finals. Playing the always dangerous Nikolay Davydenko, who beat him in their last two meetings, Federer himself admitted he was worried his streak of 22 consecutive Grand Slam Singles Semi Finals might be broken. The match started off on a misstep though, and the harsh sunlight and a slew of unforced errors, meant the World No. 1 was down two breaks on his way to losing the first set. The second set seemed to follow suit, until at 2-3, and down a break, something happened. Federer went on to win the next 11 games on his way to leading 2-6 6-3 6-0 1-0. The fourth set was tough though, as Davydenko fought back, and the two traded breaks until Federer finally found a way to wrap things up at 7-5. The semi final was as easy as it could get as Federer routinely broke the Tsonga serve, without offering a single break chance on his own service. In straight sets, and perhaps his best form of the tournament so far, Federer won 6-2 6-3 6-2 in less than 90 minutes.
Murray leads the head to head, 6-4 but in their only other Grand Slam meeting at the 2008 US Open Final, Federer won in a relatively simple straight sets. Federer also recently broke the Murray four match winning streak against him with back to back wins in Cincinati and London. With their current tournament form, and Federer’s ruthless annihilation of the otherwise brilliant Tsonga, it’d be hard to place a bet against him.
Prediction: Federer in three or four sets.

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Meryl Streep – a delectable Shiraz?

If there are two actors who’ve had a great year this year, they’ve been Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock. While Sandra Bullock made the world stand up and take notice of her ample talent as an actress in ‘The Blind Side’, it was her incredible star power that made ‘The Proposal’ her highest grossing movie (till then, ‘The Blind Side’ has since gone past it.) Meryl Streep on the other hand, had a year that only Meryl Streep can have. In movies with stellar casts (she had Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci in ‘Julie and Julia’ and Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in ‘It’s Complicated’), she still made the respective films, unequivocally Meryl Streep vehicles. Whether it was her coquettish charm in ‘It’s Complicated’ or her ebullience in ‘Julie and Julia’, she became the women she portrayed, and made us fall in love with them, and her, in the process. Yet who has really loved Meryl Streep?

It's Complicated - Meryl Streep and John Krasinski
Now don’t get me wrong. I do not judge women by their appearance alone. And yet there is a part of me, like there is of most any man, which wants the package to be pretty. For years though, she was all that as an actress, she was ‘Julia’ and ‘Sophie’ and ‘Joanna Kramer’, and we all loved these women. For their strength, for their resolve, but did we really fancy the woman who played them? Maybe some of you did, but a stern looking serious Yale alum isn’t my idea of an ideal prom date. Meryl could be an Oscar staple, but pardon my saying this: she really wasn’t a tabloid-worthy knockout.
Something happened though, somewhere along the way. From being the long suffering wife, the mother with a choice and the victim of unrequited love, Streep began treading the steps of comedy and irony and sardonicism, without leaving the comforts of her inherent ability to morph into another character and make it her own. Some say it was the time her career had its “slump”, but really, Streep was doing something no actress had done before, she was redefining the limitations of an actress of progressing age.
When most of her colleagues, including such names as Jessica Lange, Glenn Close and Diane Keaton were waiting for movie scripts to find a way to them, Streep was trying roles that no other could do. She could be a Suzanne Vale in Mike Nichols ‘Postcard from the Edge’ with the same consummate ease that she had in being Lee in ‘Marvin’s Room’. Never one to shy away from playing significant parts with smaller screen time, she blew the room away with such films as ‘Adaptation’ and ‘The Hours’.
In the midst of all this, when everyone else her age was busy getting botox shots and facelifts, Streep had God to thank for her being busy, because as a result, she forgot to get the “makeover”, that almost always leaves a woman more ghastly than she could ever have been. Perhaps it was her pride in being able to emote, and her reluctance to part with her real expressive face, or perhaps her strong family life, and stable living situation. Whatever it was, Meryl Streep was doing what no actress had done before, and no actress seems to be willing to do again; she was aging gracefully.
Then there came ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. The actress best known to bedeck her mantelpiece with reminders of holocaust tragedy and broken homes chose to be Miranda Preistly. She wore the couture dresses and called Anne Hathaway fat. She infused into her character an authenticity that one wonders if even the legendary she-devil Anne Wintour could muster. Soft spoken as they come, she laced her every word with such quiet ferocity that you could feel the hairs on the back of your neck on edge every time she walked on to the screen. And an amazing thing happened then: she STILL got an Oscar nomination. And even more amazing than that was: suddenly, Meryl Streep, an almost sexagenarian, became inexplicably hot.
She was Meryl Streep yet, and she followed up the comedic punch of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ with some fantastic dramatic performances in films like ‘Rendition’ and ‘Lions for Lambs’. Yet she knew she wasn’t done. She had given spark to the candle of unassuming sex appeal that only a powerful woman can exude, and she knew she had to let it burn. Once having quipped that she would “rip out (Madonna’s) throat” for getting the role of Eva Peron in ‘Evita’ over her, Meryl made ‘Mamma Mia!’ her first musical. Shot in the lovely islands of Greece, and receiving lukewarm critical response, Streep still demonstrated that she had found the nerve of her audience. At the ripe old age of 59, she got the biggest box office success of her life, and the highest grossing British film of all time, with over $650 million globally.
After years of speculation of succession, the heir to Betty Davis’ throne had made it plenty clear that she was not ready to give it up to a pretty young thing yet. She went back to her theatre roots with John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own play ‘Doubt’, and with a formidable cast (almost all nominated for acting awards for the film), Meryl Streep came back to her winning ways, notching up records for nominations in both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.
Her cutest moment was yet to come. And then it finally did. Not in ‘Julie and Julia’ for which she will no doubt land an Oscar nomination, and potentially even scrape up her third win, but in Nancy Meyer’s ‘It’s Complicated’. A tradition of Meyer’s casting Keaton in her films was broken when she chose Streep for this material. And boy, did she play her cards right. Whether it was running out of a plastic surgeon’s offices or proclaiming in the most adorable manner, “I’m a bit of a slut, aren’t I?” Streep did it all. She even braved some rather risqué jokes for a lady of her age and stature. And therein lays the true beauty of this landmark movie star: she knows her way around the block. Not once did she seem vulgar or inappropriate, not once did she cross the line into Anne Bancroft land. She looked and acted better than she ever had before, and showed unarguably why she has the longevity she has had.
And today, though I wouldn’t have said it before, I’m unashamed in saying that even though I know it is inappropriate, given our age differences, I have the biggest crush on Meryl Streep. Sure she’s Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Karen Silkwood, but she’s also Jane Adler and Donna Sheridian, and boy, are they cute? Accepting her award for ‘Julie and Julia’ she said, “I’ve played so many extraordinary women over the years, that sometimes I get mistaken for one.” I can’t help but think she’s crossed over, and like the finest Shiraz, she just keeps getting better.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movies I’m Most Anticipating in 2010

Cinema was far from its best in 2009. With the exception of at most a meager two dozen or so, there were mostly disappointments pouring out of all the film studios. Will 2010 follow suit, or can we expect a year of luminous filmmaking? Many big guns are entering the field with their products in 2010 and you can look forward to the likes of Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher etc. when you talk about cinema in the first year of the next decade. Here are the 20 films I’m booking my tickets for.

1.    Inception – Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan. The man could direct a mint commercial and I would anticipate its release. But what can you say when he goes back to cerebral films after the cult classic Memento? And then when he casts Leonardo Dicaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ken Watanabe, can you even speak through the saliva accumulating in your mouth? For those that want more, “your mind is the scene of the crime”.

2.    Robin Hood – Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott and Russel Crowe in a period epic the world loves; takers anyone? Will the Gladiator duo be able to recreate the magic of that now legendary film? After a fantastic first trailer, you can bet I’m dying to find out.

3.    Clash of the Titans – Louis Leterrier
Liam Neeson has a busy and big year. After this film, he has The A Team to look forward to. Playing Zeus here with the Avatar wonderboy Sam Worthington as Perseus, this has gore, Gods and entertainment galore, and is definitely a film to watch out for.

4.    The Expendables – Sylvester Stallone
2010 has a slew of super-violent films coming out, all with promise. Who knows more about violent films than Sly Stallone? Leading a band of mercenaries including the wrestler himself, Micky Rourke, Stallone has written and directed The Expendables, and could well be on his way to another Rambo like experience. I’m in for the ride.

5.    Iron Man 2 – John Favreau
Nobody expected much from Iron Man until the stir at Comic Con. Everybody wrote off wild child Robert Downey Jr. until he redefined cool. Now with Iron Man 2, this is the franchise that the world is most excited to watch, especially since the Batman series remains dead until further notice. With Scarlett Johannson stepping into a role originally envisioned for Emily Blunt and Don Cheadle and Mickey Rourke adding thrills, this may be the blockbuster of the coming year.

6.    Shutter Island – Martin Scorsese
This film has confused many. Originally thought of as a chance at the 2010 Oscars, its release was pushed back until March, making many speculate that it isn’t much more than popcorn cinema. Yet, with another brilliant director actor duo in Dicaprio and Sorsese, and an all star cast joining in, there is bound to be curiosity about the first film Scorsese is headlining since his Oscar with The Departed. I, and scores of other fans, will definitely be lining up at the box office to follow Ruffalo and Dicaprio through their adventures on Shutter Island.

7.    Buried – Rodrigo Cortés
Premiering at Sundance this year, Buried could be anything from a fantastic character study to a breakthrough for the clearly talented but under achieving Ryan Reynolds to possible a cold turkey. However, there is no questioning the fact that the story of an Iraq veteran finding himself buried alive in a coffin is intriguing to say the least. For the sake of experimental cinema, one can only hope that this film is a taut thriller and a breakout for the indie circuit in the coming year.

8.    Toy Story 3 – Lee Unkrich
Who amongst us can say Pixar and not think Toy Story. In a year when Shrek comes back with the closing chapter, the story of the toys and their future in a college headed kids life is still the most exciting animated feature of 2010. Revolutionizing animated filmmaking and placing Pixar on the map, it will be interesting to see how this follow up feature can stack up to the expectations.

9.    Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky
Aronofsky is amongst the most inventive of contemporary filmmakers. Whether it be the obsession of Pi, the decadence of Requiem for a Dream, the complexity of The Fountain, or the intensity of The Wrestler, he’s proven to be more than up to the task in all his previous features. Now working with the enchanting Natalie Portman and smokin’ Mila Kunis in a complicated story of ballerinas and jealousy, Black Swan, sight unseen, is already thought to be exciting enough to add credence to his auteur status.

10.    Green Zone – Paul Greengrass
This list is littered with films of repeat director actor combos. The last time Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon worked together in a film, it was the incredible 2008 thriller The Bourne Ultimatum. Even though the fate of that franchise is hanging in the balance, these two have re-united to tell the tale of an Iraq veteran who takes on the world to prove his point and stay alive. Heck, if they did it with the Bourne films, they could do it again.

11.    Date Night – Shawn Levy
Tina Fey, Steve Carrel, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Marc Wahlberg all star in this caper film that may be cheesy and campy but for sure will be funny. Even in the worst case scenario, we’re looking at the sheer genius of physical comedy that Fey and Carrel are, and that should be enough to sit through the film. I’ve read an early draft of this film’s screenplay, and whilst not particularly genius, it is nonetheless not without potential, and with rewrites and improvisation, could make for a great comedy in the ilk of The Pineapple Express.

12.    From Paris With Love – Pierre Morel
I know nothing of this film’s story, except that it stars Jonathan Rhys Myers and Colin Farrell. Neither of them are the reason I’m excited to watch this film though. After THOROUGHLY enjoying Morel’s last feature Taken with Liam Neeson, I cannot wait to see what he churns out this time around.

13.    The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick
Another film I know little about, I’m trying to stay ignorant of the film’s plot, and waiting to experience it when I finally get to watch it. Earlier anticipating a 2009 release, this film should see the light of day sometime next year, and with the potent combination of Terrence Malick, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, it should definitely make the conversation when it comes to award season. Until then, it finds a place on my list of most anticipated films next year.

14.    The Fighter – David O Russell
Christian Bale is an incredibly physical actor, dedicated to his craft, to say the least. Mark Wahlberg has potential, and has paid his dues. Together in a film about a boxer and his brother and coach, these two have the acting chops to make this film an enjoyable experience. Do they have a script to back them up? Difficult to tell, but should be interesting to find out.

15.    The Social Network – David Fincher
In my opinion, the worst film made by David Fincher is the multiple Academy award nominated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That’s how much I enjoy his films. When working off a script written by one of my favourite screenwriters Aaron Sorkin, involving courtroom drama and college life, with a promising performer in Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network is one to watch out for. It will definitely be a rabble rouser, given the incredible popularity of its source matter, the networking site Facebook, and the script by Sorkin has landed the second place on the famous Black List of scripts to watch out for.

16.    Hesher – Spencer Susser
Another Sundance entrant, Hesher stars Joseph Gordon Levitt in the title role, of a loner weirdo. Natalie Portman co-stars and that’s about all I need to know to look forward to the time this film lands. It looks relatively dark, and that doesn’t bode well in terms of finding distribution, but if Precious could find its way to cinemas, who’s to say this film won’t? It should be interesting to find out whether it is any good though, and Portman, doubling up as producer as well, should be hoping for good notices at Sundance to further this film.

17.    The Town – Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck had a fantastic first outing as a director with the (IMHO) brilliant Gone Baby Gone. It was intense, engaging, well written, directed and acted. In his sophomore effort behind the camera, Affleck is back in Boston with a bank robbery tale. With Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm and Affleck himself starring, this could be a lighter film than Gone Baby Gone, but not necessarily less appealing.

18.    Arrested Development – Mitchell Hurwitz
This has been an anticipated movie for years now, and may not even find a release in 2010. And yet, as a loyal fan (one amongst many vocal millions), I steadfastly hold this in my most anticipated films, until it finally sees the light of day. It doesn’t matter what the story is, as long as the film comes out, with the original cast of the TV series, and Mitchell Hurwitz steering the ship.

19.    Rajneeti – Prakash Jha
The only Hindi film I’m looking forward to in the coming year, Rajneeti is very exciting for Indian cinema. Being helmed by Prakash Jha, the maker of the thoroughly entertaining, yet topical and socially relevant Apaharan and Gangajal, this film once again unites Ajay Devgan with the director, along with the fresh faced Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Both Ranbir and Katrina are coming off hot streaks at the box office, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can get the cash registers ringing on this film as well.

20.    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – David Yates
There is no reason for this film to be here, not because it doesn’t deserve it, but because its existence precludes its anticipation. The sixth film of the franchise grossed over $900 million and we’re all waiting to see if the final movie (or even just the first part of the final movie), much like the final book, can exceed all expectations. My bet is on yes, because even though the movie franchise cannot match the books, David Yates did a fine job in the Half Blood Prince, making it the most tolerable of the Potter films, thus far. Entrusted with the final film, he knows that the world’s eyes are on him, at least until the final Twilight film, that is.
Are yours the same? Do you think I’m putting too much stock in any film? Sound off below.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Australian Open 2009: Predictions for Day 1

Tennis Tidings

It’s Grand Slam season again. The Australian Open, Grand Slam tournament of the Asia Pacific kicks off proceeding with action including Clijsters, Henin, Sharapova, Nadal, Roddick, Murray, Cilic and Del Potro. Federer will headline play on Tuesday, but for now, these are my predictions for Monday, Day 1.

The Rod Laver Arena this year is getting its first hit from 2008 Ladies’ Champion Maria Sharapova. Back after a long injury break, Sharapova has not lost a match here since lifting the trophy. It’s interesting to note that Clijsters hadn’t lost a match at the US Open before her comeback, and she’s defending champion now, so Sharapova would be hoping for the same kind of fortitude as she heads into the tournament. She faces Maria Kirilenko in Round 1. Having played her three times before, Sharapova’s emerged victorious twice, retiring whilst trailing 1-2 in the second set of the semi finals in Beijing in 2005. The two haven’t met since 2006 and Kirilenko has plummeted to 58 in the world rankings. And yet, all the matches between these two have been hard fought, and so, I think, will this one.
Prediction: Sharapova victor in two tough sets; one of them going to the tie break.
Other matches on Rod Laver Arena:
Easy wins for Clijsters, Nadal, Murray and a tough fought three set win for home favourite underdog Jelena Dokic.
Other ladies’ matches to watch out for:
Justine Henin on her comeback trail should wipe the court of Hisense Arena with her compatriot Kristen Flipkens.

Anna Chakvedatse should upset number 12 seed Flavia Pennetta is she were to play with any of the class that had her in the top 5 of women’s tennis. Not likely though given her recent showing.

COURT 6 – 1100
Stepanek is on great form, ending runner up to Roddick at the Brisbane International. The big serving Croat Karlovic is a danger to anyone receiving who isn’t named Federer. Stepanek has not yet lost a match to Karlovic, and probably won’t if he plays anywhere near his best, but you can expect this to be a long match, with plenty of easy service holds, especially for Karlovic. The two had an incredible Davis Cup match last year, going to 16-14 in the final set, all the others having been decided on tie-breaks. Stepanek can run down almost anything, and is a veteran of the long drawn match whilst Karlovic has, well, probably ace number 40 for the match, all set up.
Prediction: Very tough to call, despite Stepanek’s class on paper. I’m picking Stepanek for the win, in 4 sets, with three going to the wire.
Other men’s matches to watch out for:
Marin Cilic playing veteran Fabrice Santoro who is “not playing a comeback” match. Expect Cilic to win easily, on the back of his Chennai defense.
Not much excitement on the first day of the men’s event, with probably easy wins for Roddick, Del Potro and Monfils.
There should be plenty of excitement for the local crowd to watch Bernard Tomic play. Last year he was the youngest man to make the second round. He shouldn’t do much better this time, but you can bet he’ll command a crowd nonetheless when he takes Margaret Court Arena after the Wickameyer match.
The only possible upset could be James Blake. Playing former runner up Arnaud Clement, Blake could fall, but likely will prevail as well.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Most Disappointing Films of 2009

Never has there been such a disappointing year for Indian cinema, or maybe there has been, and I’m just blissfully ignorant. In either case, 2009 will be remembered for being the year of the dead. There were more than a bunch of big releases and tons of hoopla, and except for a miniscule minority, we had a gigantic batch of damp squibs. Here’s a list running down the films that let me down the most, and hence are the most disappointing of the year. Most of these came with big expectations, and a few let down even the sharply tempered expectations that were there from them. As per usual, this starts with the disappointment that mattered the least (aka the expected letdown) to the one that mattered the most (aka the shocker).

     10.       London Dreams
Vipul Amrutlal Shah is not a name you associate with genius, and yet he has enjoyed a blessed run at the box office with Akshay Kumar headlining all of his previous projects. This time he chose instead to go with Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan. If that didn’t serve as a warning signal, this should have: both actors, well into their forties were playing aspiring rock musicians making it big in…wait for it…London. Anyone who tells me they expected Rock On definitely needs some lessons in controlling their expectations, and yet, this abysmal film did not allow for even the tiniest glimmer of redemption. It is hard to decide whether to talk about the awful awful turn by Ajay Devgan or the uselessness of Ranvijay Singh and the other joker whose name I really couldn’t be bothered to find out. Or should I instead turn to the absolutely nonexistent screenwriting and the despicable dialogue. I actually really enjoyed a couple of tracks from the album, but even the music of Shankar Ehsaan Loy and the sometimes enjoyable, sometimes hammy performance of Salman Khan couldn’t save this film from being a disaster. As a parting note, would someone PLEASE tell me what Asin’s exact role in the band was, or should I resign to Ranvijay’s inane brief to her about “playing along” or whatever?

9.       Tum Mile
Now not a lot of people had big expectations from this film. I didn’t either. Until I heard the plot. They were taking the crazy cloudburst that all but drowned Bombay on the 26th of July, 2005 (and incidentally had me stranded away from home for 48 hours also), and unlike most event based films, using it as just a backdrop to tell a love story. All I have to say after sitting through the 140 minutes of this nightmare is, what a bald faced lie! I don’t even want to go to the synopsis, or the clear lack of direction, because essentially, the film had NOTHING to do with its premise, and was used only to lure people into watching the movie. If I ever met the makers of all the world’s most terrible cinema in one room, Vishesh Films will be the ones I’d most want to sue for my admission fee and that valuable part of my life. Suffice to say the film made absolutely no sense, and even to date has me seething in rage.

8.       What’s Your Rashee?
This is going to be the shortest of my rants, I think. I watched this movie to see twelve Priyanka Chopras, but I didn’t realize I would see absolutely NOTHING else. The longest bore-fest I have ever sat through, I am genuinely curious to know who seconded Ashutosh Gowariker’s harebrained idea to include a separate LONG song for each incarnation of Chopra or who thought that telling a story of a plan to usurp money by marrying someone you barely know would be wholesome entertainment. And yet, the biggest question remains why I didn’t walk out of the cinema ten minutes into this film. God knows I won’t get those hours back again. Ever. Again.

7.       Paa
Paa is another conundrum for me. On the one hand, I really do think that Paa has some of the finest acting this year in cinema. On the other, it is only painfully obvious from movies such as Devdas, that good acting is not enough to make a film. Not only did Paa have a painfully weak script, but also it fell into all the trappings of dialogue writing and ended up being too clever for its own good, or at least too clever for my enjoyment. The repartee, especially by Auro’s bespectacled friend in the movie, in fact, gets grating for you, and even Auro, played cleverly by Amitabh Bachchan is too astute a twelve year old towards the end. And my biggest issue with the film of course, was its paralyzing climax. If I had to sum up my problems with the movie, I’d say it was mainly the last half hour or so, which could be called “the painfully long and so unfunny dying of Amitabh Bachchan, Auro and my faith in God."
Damp Squibs '09

6.       Dil Bole Hadippa
If I had to rank DIl Bole Hadippa simply as a movie, it’s be somewhere at the bottom of the pile, much below Paa. The reason it ranks as a greater disappointment is because I had greater hopes, or at least different hopes from it. Whilst I watched Paa knowing that it would be a pretentious film, I deluded myself into believing DBH would be a good film. Call me a schmuck, but when a talent like Rani Mukherjee makes a film after a long gap, I cannot help but expect entertainment. And on that count, it let me down. It also let Mukherjee down in fact, who ended up being the only one not culpable for lulling me into a comatose state through this snooze fest.

5.       Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahaani
Now this one and the next are a little complicated. I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t a list of the worst films of 2009, but the films that disappointed me the most. I actually laughed quite a bit the first time I watched the film, not because it was hilarious, but because it was innocent, clean fun, and both the leads were very comfortable with the material. And yet, being the comedy follow up by Rajkumar Santoshi to Andaz Apna Apna, which is a cult classic and sheer comedic genius, this film doesn’t come close to matching up. I watched it the first time and enjoyed it, but by the second viewing, it did get a little arduous.

4.       3 Idiots
Once again, a film that I didn’t hate, just felt HUGELY disappointed by. From the outset I had tempered my expectations from this film, especially because both Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani had disappointing last films (Ghajini and Lage Raho Munnabhai). And yet, somewhere in the midst of it becoming the highest grossing Indian film (I have issues with that tag as well, but that’s another story), and getting superlative reviews, I did get drawn into the excitement. My fault, I know! Apart from the brilliant Aamir Khan, who outdoes himself over and over, this film was poorly written, clichéd, uninspiring and just a tad too preachy. It had some fantastic moments, most of them courtesy Aamir, but that doesn’t save the film, not for me at least.

3.       Love Aaj Kal
Before 3 Idiots came along, I believe this was the highest grossing film of the year. This was also amongst the most fresh stories I’d come across. Imtiaz Ali has a very fascinating way of treating the same basic love story. Whether it was Socha Na Tha or Jab We Met, he brought out the fun of being in a relationship, with witty dialogue, intelligently written situations, subtle comedy and honest writing. In Love Aaj Kal, he made his most ambitious work, with parallel plots and a modern narrative. None of it came together cohesively though, and what could have been an edgy film ended up melodramatic and boring. It didn’t help that he cast a forty year old man who looks his age opposite a twenty something who acts her age. None of it worked, and even though it wasn’t Tum Mile bad, it became bleh, and isn’t that a worse fate for a film?

2.       Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year
Yet another film I was whetted to watch. And yet another film I wish I had less hope from. Much like Imtiaz Ali, Shimit Amin fell prey to the third film curse. After making two diametrically opposite films in Ab Tak Chhappan and Chak De!, he tried to make a simple smart film. Some of the film was intelligent, some of it too intelligent, and most of it overwhelmingly soporific. Ranbir Chopra tries to be earnest, Gauhar Khan is definitely the most effective, but none of it can change the fact that this isn’t entertaining. I thought Jaideep Sahni did a fine job of the office humor and lingo in the beginning of the movie, but it didn’t add anything to the film, which tried to balance the beam between mainstream and art, and remain socially relevant (read: preachy). In the end, Kapoor, Amin, Sahni and Yashraj ended up in the mess of its box office failure. And I get it. I do.

  1.   Delhi 6
Finally, the biggest debacle of the last year: Delhi 6. A film that had amongst the best music scores of the year, crazy buzz, and the burden of being the follow up to Rang de Basanti. Personally, I got the film. I loved the intent of Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra and thought it was definitely a relevant theme. I wish he had worked on the script more though. It was choppy, and unremarkable, even annoying in bits. And the lead casting was an awful mess. To say that I enjoyed Waheeda Rehman the most in the movie should say it all, considering she had a measly three scene part.

So those were my ten. The movies I wish I hadn’t placed my hopes on. Do yours match mine? Did I miss any? Weigh in below.

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Movie Review: Chance Pe Dance

Light, frothy, but that’s about it...

The Review Section
Chance pe Dance is the third collaboration between actor Shahid Kapoor and director Ken Ghosh. And much like Ishq Vishq and Fida before this, Kapoor is almost the only good thing in the movie. Almost. The fresh faced Genelia D’Souza thankfully replaced Jiah Khan and, in my opinion, is the only reason I enjoyed Chance Pe Dance more than Ghosh’s earlier two films.
The story is one you’ve heard before, most recently in the 2009 release Luck by Chance. Kapoor plays a struggling actor who travelled from Delhi to Bombay to become a hero, because, well, everyone from his birth thought he should be. Not the film industry though. Much like the thousands who come here every year, Sameer Behl (Kapoor) goes from audition to audition, most often getting passed over by a less talented but better connected pretender. Eventually though, the contender gets his due (obviously), and we spend two predictable hours finding out how. Sonia Sharma (D’Souza) is a budding choreographer who crosses paths with him over and over, becoming his life coach and girlfriend in this milieu.
To his credit, Ghosh keeps the story light, with no unnecessary emotional drama. Sameer has a good relationship with his father despite his career choice, he never faces too bad a scrap, and even when the going really bad, he doesn’t forget to wear his designer glasses or his smile. The humor, scattered generously through the film, isn’t particularly intelligent, but then, neither are the characters, and the sheer likability of the two leads helps you wade through it, relatively dry. Another positive in this film was the way Ghosh has chosen to shoot his non-dance songs, two in particular. In the track Rishta Hai Mera, he shows the aspirations and ambitions of the characters by making them larger than life, using digital imagery to make them sit on bridges and walk taller than buildings. Whether this device has been used before I cannot say, but in this track I felt it worked really well. Also, in the romantic number Pal Mein Hi, he uses a warm yellow filter which I feel added a certain ambience without being overbearing as in Ram Gopal Verma “blue” films.

Chance Pe Dance

The film is far from perfect though. Kapoor has always been one of the best dancers in the Indian film industry, having trained and instructed under Shaimak Davar, and this is the first dance film that he has made. It is a wonder then that the actor was satisfied with this film as his first out-and-out display of his immense talent on the dance floor. Despite the posters of Michael Jackson, So You Think You Can Dance and Chicago that adorn his walls throughout the movie, there is barely a glimmer of great dance. Even for D’Souza, who is supposed to be the choreographer, neither is the opening sequence jaw dropping nor is anything else. What was most distracting though, was the terrible, angle shifting and frame cutting that is used in almost all the dance sequences, including the one at an inter school dance competition. None of it was worthy of a dance movie.
Most of the first half was a drag, because while well conceived (if that were possible in the clichéd setup, that is), it was very loosely written and not engaging. The dance numbers were few, far between, and far away from being fierce or fiery. The music, whilst not annoying, lacked a certain punch. There was a moment, about five minutes before the interval though, that the situation came to a boil, and one could almost smell a satisfying second half. No such luck though, as the crisis that we anticipated an entertaining solution to, resolved itself too soon. And so Ghosh thought it was wise to add more twists and turns at breakneck speed, until you just want it to end. There is not a worse scene than Behl’s final acting audition though, and it was at that point that I think the film slipped half a grade point in my mind.
What struck me the most though, was that, even though Behl complains about his being overlooked and all the other sad things in life (a scene I thought, by the way, Kapoor performed remarkably well), there’s a scene towards the end, where his father, sitting in faraway Delhi, can’t switch a channel without his son being on it. There could’ve been a less subtle way to bring him to his destiny I suppose, and am therefore just glad that Ghosh did not know of it.
To be completely fair, I think Chance Pe Dance is not without merit. It struck me as a better film than Luck by Chance, and could’ve even been in the league of Jab We Met had it been handled better. Of the leads, Genelia is cute, fits her role to a T, and perhaps would’ve been even more likable had she had a more substantial part. Shahid Kapoor does a very good turn as well, which is surprising, because in the trailers it seemed like he was hamming his way through the film. His hairstyle though, is another thing. Until the final scene in the film, where he finally gets them cropped, Kapoor is carrying forward the disastrous mop of Dil Bole Hadippa. So, would I recommend that people watch the movie? Yes, I think, mainly because it only promises to be a frothy romantic comedy, and does deliver in part on that. Is it fair to call it a dance movie? No, and that is my main problem with it. Like Aaja Nachle before this, the producers failed to work on their basic premise, which was to have great dance. With dancers in the league of Madhuri Dixit or Shahid Kapoor in this instance, and stories revolving around their dance, it seems criminal to shortchange them in the choreography department. Even the Dil Bole Hadippa mix was better choreographed. So if you’re looking for a desi Step Up, I would rather sit at home and watch an episode of Dance India Dance.

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Tennis Tidings

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to the new Tennis Season 2010

1.       New Targets for Federer:

For many, the last words on the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate were said when Federer claimed his 15th Grand Slam title and decimated the record everyone thought would stick. This especially was momentous because Federer only just buried his demons in the red clay at Roland Garros. And yet, there are some records, perhaps not as significant, but substantial enough to motivate the champion to enter this year with the requisite hunger and desire.

The two records that’d place Federer in a league of his own: a) 7 Singles titles at Wimbledon, currently held singularly by Sampras, and b) the highest number of weeks at the top of the World Rankings, also held by Sampras.
The two time periods to look for these records to (hopefully) fall:
14th June, 2010 (Highest number of weeks at the top). Possibly just after the Garry Webber Open at Halle.
4th July, 2010 (Tie for highest number of Wimbledon titles).

Will these targets be enough to bring out the best in Federer? Check back on the aforementioned dates.

2.       A Ladies Singles Field to Look Out For:
Serena Williams is at the top of the rankings. Kim Clijsters the defending US Open titlist. Maria Sharapova is back to tennis full time. Dinara Safina is on the comeback trail. And the biggest news of all: Justine Henin is back in the game. What happens to Ivanovic, Who’s going to win what? Who’s going to disappoint? Will we finally find a real number 1? Big questions, and a very big year, as after two years of scrambling for a real dominator, women’s tennis is back in the big league.

3.       Del Potro the successor or Djokovic the victor? Is Murray even in the conversation?:
After shocking Federer in the US Open final and making it to the final of the ATP World Tour Final, Juan Martin Del Potro, at 22 years of age, is at the right stage to distinguish himself from the rest of the field. Definitely in contention to make himself available for the podium at at least two Grand Slams this year (French and US Open), Del Potro could be poised to take over the reign (if that will happen ever again in the VERY competitive men’s field) if and when Federer and Nadal do move on from tennis. Will he? That’s another question.

Djokovic had an awful start to the year, an incredibly heartbreaking clay court season (coming so close so many times), became irrelevant through the third quarter of the year, and making a strong statement towards the end. He deprived Federer of his home title at Basel, and destroyed Nadal en route to winning the Paris Masters. Even though he couldn’t qualify for the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour Finals, he made light work of Nadal yet again, and was the only man to beat eventual victor Nikolay Davydenko. He could not defend his Australian Open title or his ATP World Tour Final Title last year, and he has the hunger to go the extra step. After a patchy 2009, could this be the year Nole rises above the number 3 ranking he’s steadfastly held three year ends in a row? Only time will tell.

Andy Murray. Perhaps over-estimated, or maybe under-achieving, Andy Murray is on the brink and depending on where the scales tilt, could either be headed for greatness or be marooned in Henman land for evermore. They said he would win Wimbledon. He didn’t. He said he has made a habit of beating Federer, and yet lost on the two most significant meetings they’ve had this year, at the Cincinati Masters semi-final and the ATP World Tour round-robin. With amongst the greatest natural games in current tennis, Federer still believes that Murray has never beaten him on his terms. And when Federer says something, I for one, believe it.

4.       Nadal and the question. Is a fat lady singing?:
I like Rafael Nadal. I didn’t before, for reasons more than one, but when he hugged the crying Federer on the podium after the Australian Open, and when he fought and fought through the craziest semi-final against Verdasco, and when he had another mind-numbing clay court season, owning everything all over Europe, I couldn’t help it, I was firmly in his corner. A great guy, a superlative tennis talent, an awesomely hard working player evolving his game and dominating for a while the best that there could be, Nadal was winning the world over. Agassi said there could finally be a player who could win the calendar year Grand Slam, and it wasn’t Federer as we all had wished. And then there was Madrid. Nadal lost to Federer, and whilst we all exhaled for Federer’s lone victory, we couldn’t estimate what would happen next. Losing to a resurgent Soderling in the French Open, Nadal seemed wounded, but no one really worried. Until the break, the tendinitis and his inability to defend his Wimbledon crown. What followed was a painful recovery and some heartbreaking losses in the last part of the year. He lost his number one ranking, but did he lose his confidence? Will Nadal hold firm, or is he going to end up like the man whose records he chased (Bjorn Borg). It will be interesting to see how the year pans out for him, starting with his defense of the Australian Open. And tennis lovers everywhere will be hoping for him to find his way back on the road to the highest echelons of sport greatness.

5.       Four Grand Slams. Eight Titlists?:
2010 may be the year when the men’s field suddenly widens. For years now, Federer has had a stranglehold on the Grand Slam circuit, making it to 20 out of the last 24 finals, winning 14. In 2009, he faced four different opponents at four different events, winning and losing equal number of times, with three out of four matches going to the fifth set. And yet, as 2010 opens, Federer is entering his 29th year, and the odds are stacked against him. Can he hold on to his omnipotence on the big stage, or will it be a year when anyone can win anything? Almost everyone has a strong chance this year, with Djokovic making a strong case for the hard courts at the Australian Open and US Open, Del Potro with a chance at the French and a possible defense of the US Open, and Murray and Roddick always lurking at Wimbledon. Nadal of course will, depending on the extent of his recovery, remain a threat throughout the year.

The women’s field ofcourse is even wider open. With the return of two stalwarts in Clijsters and Henin, and the injury recoveries of Safina and Sharapova, the tour may see a bit of a shuffle before finally settling into a definite world champion. Serena will be looking to start the year on a strong note, and as world number one, will be seeded to defend her Australian Open crown. Henin may take some adjusting, but she WILL be the player to beat at Roland Garros. Venus Williams has made a habit of pocketing the Wimbledon titles, and will have a bigger shot at winning than the defending champion Serena, but you can’t discount Henin here as well. Twice a runner up, she has already stated her motivation to return is to finally win her long desired career slam completing Wimbledon title. And for the year ending US Open Championships, there’s the defending champion Clijsters, Sharapova, Safina, Williams and maybe even a newbie like Oudin looking to walk away victor. No matter how the year pans out, it’s definitely going to be more entertaining, and perhaps, after two lackluster years, ladies tennis will justify its now historic equal prize money.

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