Thursday, December 17, 2015

Movies in 2015 - End of Year review

I would say 2015 has not been a great year for movies but then I also have to confess that I've not watched as many this year as in the past. Why? There have been changes in both my professional and personal life & I've also become older and lazier so it’s easier to sit at home and watch sitcoms and TV shows than drag my ass to go to a mall, pay Rs. 60 for parking, Rs. 150 for popcorn and Rs. 300 for a ticket and then be disappointed....However, despite the slim pickings, below are 15 movies that I really liked for whatever reasons.

Note: I try and watch as many regional language films as possible but this list is limited to Tamil, Hindi and English which contribute ~90% of my viewing choices

The countdown begins

15      Tanu weds Manu Returns          (Hindi)

Clearly Bollywood is not known for churning out decent sequels but this is an exception though I still like v1 more. What works for this movie is the superb writing except for the first 15 minutes. Some of the really funny one-liners delivered in Punjabi went over my head not helped by the lousy audio in the lousier print I watched (ooops) but Pappi and Chintu were a real hoot and Kangna is the finest actress of her generation (well, I think i will contradict myself later so let’s make it one of the Top 2) so in hindsight, this would definitely count as one of the more enjoyable 2.5 hrs spent this year. 

      Detective Byomkesh Bakshi     (Hindi)

I actually thought the plot was reasonably complex, the performances top notch, the period detailing perfect and for someone who hadn't read or seen earlier versions of the titular character, the overall experience was cool. Dibakar is a steady hand, an accomplished director and I hope the relative lack of commercial success of this film does not deter him from pursuing this series further. 

      Mad Max: Fury Road    (English)

I've not seen the earlier franchise starring Mel Gibson and for any others whose first taste of this post-apocalyptic fiction was through the film, I am sure the reaction at the end would have been "WOWWWWWWWWW". 

This is one movie where I literally heard my heart pounding so fast that I thought I was gonna have a heart attack any second. The visuals, the stunts, the choreography and cinematography are mind-blowing. Why is the movie not higher in my list? I can only take that much over-the-top....Whew....

If you’ve not seen the movie, check this scene below to help you make up your mind J

      The Martian         (English)

Another worthy addition to the awesome space adventure movies that have come and gone in the last 2 years (Gravity, Interstellar to name others), what worked for me was the way Ridley Scott underplayed the melodrama and action scenes. This one works more on your mind than on your heart strings and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I know this probably doesn't make much sense but for people who've seen this movie, I am sure you can relate to what I am saying.....and the 3D is a real bonus. 

      NH 10 (Hindi)

This one haunted me for days after I came back from the theatre. We all read about it in the papers and also hear the debates in TV about khap panchayats, hot blooded hooligans and honor killings but very few movies make you sit up and notice how horribly different life in India can be in a 50 kms radius. A couple of dialogues from the movie had me writhing in my seat in unease

"Yahaan bijli paani to pohacha nahi, constitution kya khak pohachega." 

 "Aapki democracy na Gurgaon key aakhri mall pe khatam ho jati hai." 

...and rightly or wrongly, the above scene actually helped me make a career choice. 

When a mainstream actress like Anushka Sharma steps out of her comfort zone and not only acts but also produces a film like this, you know there is hope for the industry. Doff my hat, ma’am. Also, we need to see more of Navdeep Singh please.

10      Demonte Colony   (Tamil)

I am generally not a big fan of the horror genre (maybe coz I am easily spooked) more so in Tamil where the bar is as high as Kanchana but this was one well executed film. Lack of big name stars who do not distract from the story, no unnecessary songs, no needless heroine and a reasonable running time all contributed to what was a highly enjoyable ride. If only the BGM did not follow the usual cliche of "Louder is better", this would have been even higher in my list. Arulnithi makes some interesting movie choices so its high time the industry took him seriously and gave his films better releases and more publicity as compared to a Siva Karthikeyan or a Vimal. 

9        The Man from U.N.C.L.E        (English)

So it wasn't a typical Guy Ritchie probably didn't have as much swagger as his earlier ventures but it still had enough going for it to give patrons like me a great 2 hours... Check these 2 early scenes in the movie (minor spoilers)

A zingy sound track, a zany plot, 2 lead actors who played off each other fantastically well - what's not to like in this one. Sometimes I "love" movies for the craziest reasons and there is a sequence at the start where German dialogues are sub-titled for the audience in English and the font used was AWESOMEEEEE....  I am not kidding, it’s not the same scene but you can check it out here

8        Talvar         (Hindi)

By now, we've all seen or heard about how incompetent officials can completely bungle investigations, how media coverage can radically cloud and shape public perception, how egos can subvert the search for truth, how societal class differences can ingrain so much bias but what this movies reinforces strongly is how things do not look like they will change (Salman Khan, Peter Mukherjea and so many other stories have hit the headlines after this) and how all of this shit could happen to any of us....and that truly truly scares me. 

7        Kaakka Muttai      (Tamil)

Small is beautiful. You don't need a budget, you don't need stars, all you need is a simple story narrated straight from the heart. ....and the next time, a Kollywood producer eats a pizza, I hope he remembers this.  Kaakka Muttai is a gem that will stand the test of time and my special thanks to Manikandan for re-introducing us all to the curiously spelt Iyshwarya Rajesh. Boy, can she act!!!!! 

6        Inside Out   (English)

I will not be going out on a limb if I claim today that Pixar was, is and will always be studio no: 1 for animated movies. Inside Out is another outstanding addition to their incredible collection of modern day classics. Brilliantly crafted & magically voiced, Inside out explains how emotions inside our head color our memories and shape how we behave with the outside world. Inside Out is many things - thought-provoking, poignant, sweet, funny - but its also bloody damn cerebral and entertaining and that for me, is an absolute clincher.  

5        Bajrangi Bhaijaan (Hindi)

Contrary to what many would like to believe, a good masala movie is the most difficult one to make. You’ve got to get the ingredients (action, comedy, song and dance, drama) absolutely right in terms of proportion and then convince actors/stars to sink in their teeth and give it their all to pull off some of the most outrageous stuff….

All of this means I give Kabir Khan absolutely no credit (surely the producer’s purse strings and Salman Khan is what must have convinced Kareena, Om Puri and Nawaz to sign up before hearing the storyline) and all of the kudos for BB’s success goes to K V Vijayendra Prasad. N-O-W we know story-telling goes deep in the Rajamouli family.  The meta theme of the hero being a righteous, god-fearing, good-Samaritan who can do no wrong tying up so well with Salman’s real life story arc was a masterstroke.

And yes, whoever thought 7 decades of political problems with our noisy neighbours could be solved so easily. While all of us smiled and shed a tear and pinched ourselves to see if what we were seeing on screen was really true, the box office collections ensured that the producers laughed all the way to the bank…and who would grudge them too for providing us wholesome entertainment. Bravo !!

Here, go have a cry and remember, you're not alone J

4        Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation      (English)

I used to be a B-I-G fan of the Bond movies but the MI franchise is fast replacing them as the de-facto guilty pleasure I like to indulge myself once every 2-3 years.
Tom Cruise completely owns Ethan Hunt now and one cannot but marvel at a 53 yr old dude continuing to perform daredevil stunts, each one more ludicrous than the previous. His camaraderie & chemistry with the sidekicks like Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner is crackling and (I never thought I would say this) the opening sequence here is more fun for me than Spectre (ok, sue me).

The plot is not very complex and execution is pretty much by-the-number but who cares as long as the popcorn keeps coming and time flies by. Check out the video below giving details of my favorite scene in the movie.

3        Baahubali   (Tamil)

Words and phrases like Magnum-opus (Kochadaiyaan…hehehe), Epic (Puli??), All time classic (Raja Rani…ROFLLLLL) are bandied about too frequently these days but I will risk criticism and say that Baahubali deserves all of these tags and more.

In a movie of many firsts and greats, what struck me most was Rajamouli’s humungous vision and then the ability to translate that into flawless execution at such a grand scale. We read so many great books, hear awesome stories and then feel disappointed when they make it to reel. Baahubali must have been a tale that Rajamouli wanted to tell for years and his passion and love for the story shows coz when we, the audience, finally see it, we are left gasping for breath.  

What is a set, what is real and what is CGI is often so difficult to delineate that one is amazed at the technical peaks our cinema has scaled. 

Part 1 was released in Bangalore with 90% prints in Telugu, 9% in Hindi and 1% in Tamil so had to watch in on television but Part 2 is an experience I’d rather savor in a giant screen than in my 32 inch TV.

Till summer 2016, one of the biggest mysteries of 2015 – why did Katappa kill Baahubali – will have to remain unanswered.

2        O Kadhal Kanmani        (Tamil)

*start of rant*

I am incredibly biased when it comes to Mani Ratnam but that isn't the reason why OKK comes 2nd in this list. Its just that after seeing the Pyaar Ka Punchnaamas & Hunterrrs of Bollywood masquerading as representative of Young India, its refreshing to see a  59 yr old who blew away my generation through Mouna Raagam in 1986, captured the imagination of the next through Alaipaayuthey in 2000 still get the pulse of the youth right in 2015 through OKK and prove himself relevant in the modern context.

The moneybags who dominate Kollywood these days have identified 8 special days where star movies can release. Back in the days when I was growing up, there were only 4 festivals we celebrated every year - Pongal, Diwali, a Mani Ratnam release and a Kamal/Rajini release depending on which side of the divide you belonged to. For an icon like Mani Ratnam to keep inventing and reinventing himself and still entertain millions speaks volumes for his versatility and caliber.

OKK is his gentle reminder (no obscene middle finger gestures from this gentleman) to his critics that he still has his mojo.

Btw, on the other criticism that I keep hearing about how OKK didn’t tackle the core issue seriously, here is my irritated response - The movie looks at today's youth and the choices facing them and gives you some perspectives on how they make decisions (their thought process, their influences etc). The movie was not meant to be a serious commentary on living in with pros and cons analyzed to death. Period.

*end of rant*

I genuinely liked OKK so much that I watched it twice on screen within a few weeks of its release. So what did I love about the film (hmmm….reliving the movie now through this post) - pretty much everything that we have come to associate as Mani Ratnam tropes

  •  The meet cute - railway station and church scenes
  •   The two leads - what incredible talents, what amazing chemistry
  •   The songs - their lyrics, placement & visualization - helped so much in moving the story fwd. Malargal Kaetaen is so moving, Naane Varugiraen is poetry at its peak, Parandhu Sellava is so imaginatively pictured
  •  The cinematography - yes, it was colourful, picture-postcardish but given that was the palette choice made, it was still wonderfully shot. That segment around Maula Wa springs to mind immediately
  •  The climax conflict - shot in pouring rain, the pain, anguish, confusion and insecurity is so brilliantly acted out through looks and glances
*sigh* Oh, to be young again !!!
  • I - 2 yrs that Vikram will never get back in his life but then is that necessarily a bad thing...and Shankar has another flop. The start of the end?
  • Yennai Arindhaal - another long, snooze fest from GVM who keeps rehashing his own movies again and again and again and again get where I am going with this. The name Hemanika was probably the one original thing in the whole film
  • Enakkul Oruvan - should have probably seen Lucia first but honestly this was one trippy movie which confused the heck out of me. I still don’t get parts of it. Maybe I should be the one who first screams "The emperor aunt wearing clothes"
  • Uttama Villain - a fantastic concept gone awry purely because Kamal tends to go way overboard with his smart ideas and I-am-too-intelligent-for-you touches
  • Dil Dhadakne Do - how the mighty have fallen !!! Luck by chance was simple yet endearing but with every subsequent venture, Zoya has been slipping down the slope. This story of the rich and famous had me yawning 10 mts in and even a loutish Ranveer could not salvage this wreck.
  • Baby - ok, this is not a bad movie but what was all that hype about? For movies dealing with Dawood and mafia/underworld, D-Day was better, much better despite it starring Shruti "shudders" Haasan & Arjun "Teakwood" Rampal. Akshay, Rana and Taapsee are an odd team who just don’t look like a unit together.

Amongst other must-watch movies, I didn’t get a chance to really get down to watching the below movies...

  • Piku, Bombay Velvet, Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, Masaan, Titli, Shaandaar
  • 36 Vayadhinile, Maya, Kuttram Kadithal, Darling, Bench Talkies
  • Bridge of Spies, Cinderella, Trainwreck, Spy, Tomorrowland

*and now for the movie of 2015.....drumroll.......*