Very few Hollywood stars transition to become directors. But the ones who do, do exceedingly well.
Of the very short list of star actors-turned-directors, at least four have received Oscars for the films they directed and starred in — Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Mel Gibson. And now Bradley Cooper, with his stunning directorial debut, A Star is Born, is soon going to join their ranks.
Hollywood has had a long-running love affair with A Star is Born since it was first written and directed by William Augustus Wellman in 1937. Wellman’s film, in technicolour, won the Oscar for best story and has since been made thrice.
In 1954, the story of a matinee idol falling in love with a struggling but very talented singer starred Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976, it starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
Cooper’s film, which stars him as Jackson Maine and Lady Gaga as Ally, comes closest to Streisand-Kristofferson’s film whose song, Evergreen, won the Oscar and Grammy that year. But reports have suggested that the film’s script this time draws generous inspiration from rock star Kurt Cobain’s life.
Cooper's character Jackson, a true-to-his-roots singer, is at his peak, singing to packed audiences, but also beginning his decline, one booze bottle at a time. The fact that his hearing is steadily receding adds to his frustration, and binge drinking.
The film, which was originally to be directed by Clint Eastwood and star Beyonce, was rejected by Hollywood’s top marquee names — Leonardo di Caprio, Christian Bale, Johnny Depp and Will Smith — probably because the lead character is stripped of all glamour and is a pathetic specimen of a gorgeous, talented man gone to seed.
In a competition of unreasonable gorgeousness, Bradley Cooper will easily beat all of them hollow. And now at the Oscar roll-call.
Cooper’s warm embrace of the frumpy, unkempt character of Jackson Maine is unflinching. And he seems to begin to breathe and live a little only when he meets Ally, a singer at a drag bar.
It’s love at the very first sight done in tight, intimate frames that are beautiful, delicate and cracking with the heady rush of a budding romance.
Jackson’s gaze, as he watches the spunky, full of life Ally sing, scream, punch a man at a bar, is what gives the film its gently pulsing heart. And later, as Jackson dodders on stage, embarrassing himself and Ally, Lady Gaga grabs hold of the film and gives it a high-octane emotional ending that will stay with you for a long time.
Cooper’s direction and acting are stellar. A Star Is Born is a tender, intense, tragic love story mounted on an epic scale. The concert scenes, the romance between Jackson and Ally, the eventual unravelling is an emotional journey that the Oscar jury is going to find hard to resist. And then there is Lady Gaga. If Barbra Streisand is calls out her name to hand her the Oscar, it’ll be a fitting end to a story’s cinematic journey.
I predict at least three Oscars for A Star is Born. One for Cooper, one for Lady Gaga and one for the film’s exceptional music. At least three.
Mexican film director Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a black and white film set in 1970s, is a masterly piece of art from a director whose technical talent matches his brilliant storytelling.
The film’s story, an intimate account of Cuaron’s own childhood, is set in Mexico City, with the Corpus Christi massacre of 1971 forming a set piece that emotionally charges the otherwise calm, meditative film, and twists it in a direction that seals fates.
Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, is the live-in maid and nanny at the house of Mr and Mrs Gutierrez, an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City's Roma district.
When Sofia's (Marina de Tavira) husband, a well-regarded doctor, and Cleo’s boyfriend take off, the two women are left to take care of the kids and themselves.
Against the backdrop of Mexican students’ movement, Cuaron gently, but with clarity explores how the two women come to depend on each other even as the strong class and ethnic divide keeps them apart and in their designated places.
Aparicio, a preschool teacher, is the heart of Roma. She is the maid, but she is more than that. She takes the place of Sofia’s partner, companion, but she is also, always the maid.
In February 2019, when Alfonso Cuarón is called on stage to accept an Oscar, the Cannes Film Festival may be forced to rethink their rules.
Roma, acquired by Netflix for distribution, precipitated the battle between the Cannes Film Festival and Netflix in May this year. The film was rejected on the basis of a rule that Cannes refused to abandon, and Netflix refused to agree to — all films showing at Cannes must have a theatre release.
Now Netflix is in talks for a theatre release, but for Cannes, Roma will forever remain a distressing reminder of an ego battle that cost it an exceptionally film.