Life Of Navin

Random Musings, Random Bullshit.

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Movies of 2022

Well, it's that time of the year again isn't it? After a year that's brought us some incredible movies, it's time for the much awaited (or so I've been told) list of my favorite movies of 2022. I genuinely felt that this year was the first year since COVID began when movies really kicked back into high gear. So many great movies across the year that picking a single "Best Of" list really doesn't do justice. But let me try my best to put across my opinion nonetheless. Here we go!:

13. Rosaline


The story of Romeo and Juliet has been hashed and rehashed over and over for centuries at this point. But have you ever heard the story from the perspective of Romeo's ex-girlfriend, Rosaline? That's the one-line pitch for this quirky movie, which pretty much went under the radar this year. This genre of modern-day takes on classics is a guilty pleasure of mine, and if you add in some great comic timing, paired with a really fun jilted-girlfriend performance by Kaitlyn Dever, then you have yourself a very enjoyable watch!

12. Happening

Annie Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, wrote the book that this movie is based on, which deals with the topic of an unwanted pregnancy in a country where abortions are illegal (1960s France). What should, in any decent democratic state, be a simple, straightforward process to give someone authority over their own body is unfortunately rarely the case. In a landmark year where the gReaTEsT DEmOCRaCY has taken away the rights of half their population's to choose, it really goes to show how history can be cyclic.

Three other movies that deal with the theme of women dealing with a system stacked against them from this year that I enjoyed were Saani Kaayidham, Gargi and Qala. In each of these, the central themes couldn't be more different from each other, nor could the director's vision. But all three movies tell stories of resiliency in the face of sheer adversity, led by excellent leading actors.

11. Triangle of Sadness


No annual "best of" list is complete without a dark satirical comedy cementing it's place in it, and boy oh boy, is Triangle of Sadness the most juicy satire you'll see all year! Since Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund has carved out a name for himself as a director to watch out for, and Triangle of Sadness really does deliver on that promise. The story, which starts off on a cruise-liner for the super-rich, deals with the class divide in a delightful way, and will leave you in splits when you watch it, but then kicks off an eternity thinking of the layers below the surface.  And while the movie does leave you with a bit of an open ending, it's been interesting to discuss with friend how they interpret the ending, because it's a glimpse into their rationalization rather than the movie itself.

If you are a fan of quirky, satirical movies, then another fun movie from this year was Official Competition

10. Bullet Train

Cinema is all about escape, and no genre of cinema promises more escape than the action thriller/comedy. And you've got to admit, in recent years, the bar for action movies has been quite high. And for me, the movie that defined the genre this year was Bullet Train. The John Wick series is such a guilty pleasure for me, so when the new David Leitch movie came out, it was a must-watch! Set almost entirely on a single train (Snowpiercer vibes anyone?), the movie tracks a bunch of zany characters, connected to each other in one way or another, culminating in action set pieces that are oh-so-beautiful interspersed with a tonne of out-and-out comedy, and callbacks that'll give you major whiplash in all the best ways!

I maintain a list of movies that I enjoyed watching through the year, and the first movie that made it on was Ambulance which is in the similar genre, and truly Michael Bay doing what Michael Bay does best. And of course, Top Gun Maverick is another movie in the same genre from this year that deserves a watch! Monica, O My Darling and Knives Out: Glass Onion are other Action comedies I enjoyed this year

9. The Fabelmans

I'm an absolute sucker for movies that tell stories that are very personal to the director, and who better to tell a story about his own life then the king himself, Steven Spielberg. The Fabelmans is a story of a fictional family, but is based closely on the director's own childhood and details the coming-of-age story of a kid who loves movies and the extents he'll go to in order to be able to do what his heart tells him to do. Like classics like Cinema Paradiso, this movie is a love-letter to movie-making as much as it is the story of a cinema-obsessed child in a dysfunctional family in 1960s USA. As someone obsesses with movies, watching The Fabelmans was a throwback to the freedom and obsession that only young adulthood can provide.

Two other movies in a similar vein I enjoyed watching in 2022 were Licorice Pizza and Chello Show (Though the latter is a bit too "inspired" by Cinema Paradiso for my liking)

8. Love Today

 
Modern relationships are rarely captured well in Indian rom-coms, with most movies being written quite obviously by middle-aged teams trying to capture what modern relationships look like. And this means just randomly throwing in some Millenial/Gen Z lingo for brownie points and calling it a day. But out of the blue, a movie like Love Today comes out and shows you how it's done. The premise is simple: A girl's father asks the couple to exchange their mobile phones with each other for a day as a precondition to accept their alliance, and all hell breaks loose. But the execution is where this movie shines! Fron the creative editing and jumpcuts, to the quirky background score, to the incorporation of tech in the movie, to storypoints that'll have you laughing out loud, Love Today manages to craft an interpretation of a RomCom that I hope more folks try to emulate. Hattip to Pradeep Ranganathan, who both directs the movie and plays the main doofus protagonist of the movie

7. The Batman

This was finally the year when it happened. "Peak Superhero" was finally reached, and specifically with the MCU, it felt like I'm officially too old to see more CGI-heavy rehashes of the same story from the Russos. But like The Joker from a few years back, a new, refreshing take on the caped crusader was just what the doctor ordered! The Batman was by far the best superhero movie of the year IMO. I loved Matt Reeves' take on the hero, and returning him back to the detective roots was such a great creative decision (from whatever it is that the awful Justice League batman was). While I did initially have reservations about the choice of Pattinson as Batman, the screenplay of this entire movie played very well into his strengths as an actor. Not to mention Paul Dano in a very unique interpretation of The Riddler that was the cherry on the cake!

6. A Hero

 
From a superhero to a movie where performing a heroic act creates the central tension in the film. A Hero is another installment of the "slice of Iranian life presented in the form of a story" series of films by Asghar Farhadi (of The Salesman and A Seperation fame) that deals with the ramifications of a "heroic act" that a prisoner performs while out on parole. There's few directors who manage to meld in distinct cultural markers of their cultures into their movie-making (Panahi being the obvious other name for Iranian cinema, and Zhangke for Chinese cinema), and with A Hero, Farhadi shows how he has perfected the balancing act of telling a story while offering a glimpse into society that it's based in.

5. Kantara

If you are from India, then you should just skip the next two movies on the list because you've probably heard enough about these movies for the better half of the last 3-4 months. But heck, the praise for both is extremely well deserved. Kantara by Rishab Shetty, who's also lead actor in the movie, is a movie that takes the much-explored "bad-landlord good-villagers" trope and blends together with elements from local mythology/folklore into a spectacle that's been causing waves across the country for months. Having grown up being part of the Dakshin Kannada culture and having experienced events like Bhuta-kola and others personally, seeing a action fantasy that incorporates these into it's story with arguably the best cinematography and sound design that Kannada cinema has ever seen was absolutely surreal. The movies I most closely compare Kantara to are Jallikattu and Tumbbad, both of which have made it onto my yearly lists in the past for many of the same reasons that I loved Kantara!

Kantara does have it's fair share of elements of horror, but this has been a great year for horror fans nonetheless with movies like Hatching, Nope, and Smile providing plenty of spooks.

4. Vikram 

 
If Kannada cinema delivered us Kantara, then Tamil cinema was not one to be left behind with Vikram. Yes, I know all the problems this movie has. Yes, it may not have a deep social message behind it. Yes, it's "massy" in the most massy way possible. But I'll fight anyone who'll say Vikram wasn't an absolute blast of a movie. Kamal Hassan + Fahadh Faasil + Vijay Sethupati (+ Suriya being a tease) in a movie directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj and music by Anirudh Ravichander. What more can a Tamil movie fan ask for? Heck, I walked out of this movie and hummed "Plata o plomo" for a week. If there's one cinematic universe I'm in for for 2023, it has to be the Lokiverse (and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds as well... bite me! 😆)

Speaking of massy, two other mainstream movies I enjoyed this year were 83 (which I still can't believe flopped quite badly), and Sita Ramam (which is a great example of romantic dramas done right)

3. Boiling Point

Folks who know me know my relationship with cooking that has developed over the years into a skill I want to master, and an escape I need to have. And as such, movies and documentaries based around cooking always pique my interest. Boiling Point is just that. The movie is a one-shot movie set in a restaurant over a single night, moving from person to person, between the head chef, the sous, the managers, the servers, the dishwashers, and the guests. I have a few friends working in the food industry, and their anecdotes of working in a professional restaurant aligned with this movie quite a bit while making me feel extra-cushy about my "sit in shorts and work with code" career. Boiling Point hammers in the stresses that hover below the surface of most restaurants. I promise you'll not complain about tardy waiters or food taking too long for a few weeks after watching this movie!

Another excellent movie based on the theme of food is The Menu, which features Ralph Fiennes as as mysterious chef at an exclusive luxury restaurant where a select group of people get invited for dinner.

2. Everything Everywhere All At Once 

 
There was one movie about multiverses that was heavily publicized this year, and another one that was actually a great movie. The latter was Everything Everywhere All At Once. I really don't know how to even explain this movie to someone to get them interested in it, so I won't even try. Just know two things: 1) That this is a movie about a middle aged woman who discovers she can jump between multiverses and 2) That when you will walk out from this movie, you'll come out with a wide smile, a blown mind, and a full heart! Michelle Yeoh puts forth an incredible performance as the protagonist, but is supported equally well by Ke Huy Quan who playes her husband. The Daniels' are slowly proving their mettle as the Absurdist duo (their previous feature was the whimsical Swiss Army Man). As an addon, you have to see this WIRED feature on how they've mastered the art of building CGI on a budget in an age where Bollywood struggles even today with basic CGI.


1. Tár

 
A movie that I keep debating about with Arch is the 2014 movie Whiplash, which is one of my all time favorite movies. And the debate is always the same. Do the results justify the methods when we're talking about the process of learning? Tár deals with the same subject but modifies the question a little to ask: Does brilliance justify the behaviour that it comes from? We've heard all the stories of Steve Jobs being an A-hole which many folks justify would justify with some variant of "He deeply cares about the product hence...". Or everytime you see The Shining, and knowing that Kubrick pretty much psychologically tortured Duvall, which translated into one of the best pieces of acting. And of course the eternal question of "Can you seperate the art from the artist?". Tár attempts to explore some of these questions through the story of the titular Lydia Tár, who's a world famous orchestra conductor. Cate Blanchett pulls a powerhouse performance in this (I'll be surprised if she doesn't win the Oscar for this role). Long after the credits roll, you'll be left pondering about the questions this movie raises!

Honorable Mentions: Gehraiyaan, After Yang, Jalsa, The Northman, Kaun Pravin Tambe?, 7 Days, Chup, Prey, The Banshees of Inisherin, All Quiet On The Western Front, Fresh, Pleasure, Jana Gana Mana

All in all, 2022 was a momentous year in terms of the world returning to a semblance of normalcy after a couple of crazy years. And it looks like 2023 is only going to get bigger and better! So as always, here's hoping that 2023 brings with it more great experiences for everyone and I hope to see you all the movies!

Movies of 2021

Well, it's that time of the year again... Another year in the pandemic, though to be honest, this year felt less surreal than the last. Or maybe we've just learnt to find traces of meaning in this kakfkaesque world, with lifestyle adjustments, both big and small, defining the year for us. Thanks to this constant sense of dread (which got triggered even more with the second wave which hit many of my direct gaggle of friends and family), 2021 was the first year in a long time when I didn't visit a movie theater even once over the course of the entire year. 

Yet, the ever-growing number of OTT platforms (along with our friends at the bay of pirates 😉) ensured that noone could complain about being bored at least. 2021 was a fun year at the movies, so without saying much else, here's some movies I enjoyed watching this year:


13. Lamb (trailer)

  

Nordic cinema has seen a revival of sorts over the last few years with their movies getting distributed much more widely, both by OTT platforms and traditional media houses. And what I love about a lot of Nordic movies are the whimsical horror movies that come out of there (I still tell everyone I know to watch Dead Snow). Lamb falls bang within this genre. The movie centers around a couple in Iceland who discover an unnatural birth in their sheep pen, and then raise the creature as their own child. A really fun mashup between folklore, fantasy, horror and drama!

If you enjoy Lamb, this year also had Malignant, which was a fun James Wan directed horror flick (which also extensively uses an excellent cover of one of my fave songs), and Titane, which is an excellent entrant to the school of French body-horror!

12. The Mauritanian (trailer)

The Mauritanian is based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was arrested and held at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years with no charges filed against him, simply because the army claimed he was part of Al Qaeda. "Innocent until proven guilty" is simply a phrase unless it is actively practised. And in an age where the government in India seems to be inching closer and closer to using draconian laws as a catch-all against all dissent, this movie hit much harder.

The Mauritanian stars the always charming Bumberdit Clunderbash as the army prosecutor prosecuting Slahi. If you enjoy his movies, you should also check out The Courier which came out this year, which is based on another true story of espionage during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

11. Mandela (trailer)

  

South Indian cinema is an absolute beast that's just grown leaps and bounds over the last decade. And Mandela was one of the finest political satires I've seen in a long time. A village where 2 fighting upper-caste factions realise that the deciding vote in the village election will be that of the low caste village barber is such a great premise, and executed to near perfection. Yogi Babu truly shines in every frame of this movie!

Some other really good South Indian movies at the interesection of politics, religion and caste that came out this year were Nayattu, and Kuruthi (end of the day, we're all Prithviraj Sukumaran stans, aren't we?)

10. The Trip (trailer)


 

Another entrant from Scandinavia in the list, The Trip is the story of a couple that plan a trip to a remote lodge, but unknown to them, each is planning to kill the other on the trip. The movie is a laugh out loud riot, and reminded me quite a bit of Papa, sdokhni, which was on the list last year.

Some other comedies focussed on couples at odds with each other that came out this year which you'd also enjoy are Together and Ikkat, both of which focus on couples cooped-in together during the covid lockdown, the former in the UK, and the latter in Namma Bengaluru!

9. Shiva Baby (trailer)

Ever been at a family function where you feel like you are the only person that doesn't belong there? Well, that's the foundation that Shiva Baby builds itself on. What do you think would happen if a young, confused, bisexual, jewish lady attends to a family function where other invitees include her lesbian ex-lover, her ex-sugardaddy who's just had a kid with his new wife, and a never-ending slew of relatives who want to know what's new in her life and just want "to help her out"? So much to unpack here, yet done so beautifully over the course of this movie, shot almost entirely in the house where the function is taking place. And to think this was the director's debut is just a cherry on the cake!

Another movie which, like Shiva Baby, centered around a single location was Malcolm and Marie, which focuses on a couple in a house over one night (who said you can't make movies in a pandemic?), and stars the incredible John David Washington and Zendaya going through waves of equally intense love and hate.

8. Lapsis (trailer) 


Lapsis was a movie I went into without knowing what to expect at all. But it's stunning how Noah Hutton takes elements that we are familiar with, such as the gig economy, robotics, and high speed internet, and pushes it in quirky directions. In an age where Sci-fi is more and more about movies made on a grand scale, movies like Lapsis (and Cargo and Android Kunjappan from last year) truly show that storytelling can shine brightly in a landscape filled with expensive CGI.

Other Sci-fi movies I enjoyed this year include Dune (though tbh I thought it was quite overrated... or maybe it was just the lack of a theater experience), Churuli (whose ending I'm still trying to wrap my head around), and  I’m Your Man (which was another relatively small budget German movie, which was quite reminiscent of the 2013 film, Her).

7. The Novice (trailer) 

 

The Novice is a movie about a freshman who joins her university rowing team. But more than that, it is a movie about what happens when you try to make "excellence" part of your identity, especially in a world where that word means something different to everyone. It's about the sacrifices made to be the best, and the absolute lows felt when your best is still not enough. It's about the process of trial by fire, anguish, self-flaggellation, and near-insanity. If you resonate with movies like Whiplash and The Social Network, you'd like this movie as well. 

Two other movies from a similarly focus on people blurring the line between focus and insanity are The Disciple, which is probably my second-favorite Chaitanya Tamhane movie after Court, and The Alpinist, which is a Free-Solo like documentary about Marc-André Leclerc.

6. Nine Days (trailer)

Some movies make you laugh, some movies make you cry. But some movies just make you sit back and think. About love. About life. About what it means be alive. Nine Days is one of these movies. Set in a fantasy land where souls are "interviewed" before being selected to be sent to earth to live is such a surreal concept in itself (though quite parallel to Pixar's Soul), but what makes this movie click is completely down to Winston Duke's incredible performance as the arbitrator. This movie captures the essence of life, with all of its complexities oh so poignantly.


5. Tick, Tick... Boom! (trailer) 

 

I'll be the first person to admit that I had no clue who Jonathan Larson was. Heck, my knowledge of Broadway itself is pretty much limited to a handful of names crumpled somewhere at the back of my mind. So I went into Tick, Tick... Boom! expecting it to be a nice, light musical but boy was I wrong. Massive credit to both Lin-Manuel Miranda for directing this and Andrew Garfield for his portrayal of Larson, and the trials and tribulations he goes through while trying to get the eponymous play onto Broadway for a decade, while life seems to move on from him. 

The multi-talented Garfield (Holland can dance, Garfield can sing, the ball is in Tobey's court now) is incredible as Larson, and manages to capture so much of the constant struggle Larson went through, and the single-mindedness with which he approached things. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Larson is arguing with his girlfriend while simultaneously thinking if he could write a musical number about the fight. This movie sent me down a multi-week rabbithole of reading all I could about Larson and his work, as any good biographical movie should!

Two other biographies that came out this year that I thought were incredible were King Richard, which is about Richard Williams, and his "plan" to make his daughters the world's best tennis players, and Spencer which follows Princess Diana over Christmas with the Royal Family. Will Smith and Kristen Stewart, respectively, deserve massive praise for their roles in these movies.

4. The Father (trailer) 


 

Dementia is such a saddening condition, and unfortunately, way too many of us end up encountering people who suffer from it, in some form or the other, during our lifetimes. The worst part about the disability is that you are constantly second-guessing yourself, never quite certain if your brain is playing tricks with you or not. And like so many other diseases, the condition is hard on both the victim as well as the family. The Father is a movie that focuses on this condition, and Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father in the movie. 

The director chooses to tell the story from the titular character's frame of reference, so you are constantly disoriented by the dementia he faces and the effects it has on him. It's a movie that'll break you (especially that final scene), and leave you shattered when the credits roll. Don't watch this if you are already feeling low, because this movie will ruin your day.

Along the similar lines of memory lapse is the Greek film, Apples, which takes place in world where a world-wide pandemic causes people to have sudden amnesia. Another great story-led film, that deals with memories, and how they impact the people that carry them.

3. Minari (trailer) 

Stories about immigrant families have become a bit of a trope at this point, but every now and then, a movie like Minari comes along, and reminds you why the trope exists in the first place. Minari is about a Korean immigrant family in Rural USA, trying to build a life, and live the so-called American Dream

I think the reason Minari really works is because there is so much of the director's own lived childhood experiences that come through in this movie, so the movie never really has to make massive moments, but clicks throughout simply showing the work that goes into assimilating into a foreign land without losing one's own identity. 

The Justice of Bunny King and Eeb Aalley Ooo are two other movies from this year that tackled similar topics, about how we treat those who are less fortunate than the average joe, and how societies treat those different to the status quo.

2. Bo Burnham: Inside (trailer)


 

Remember those two years when you were locked in at home, constantly on edge, unsure of what the future held, and whether "normalcy" itself was a concept that we would have to redefine? How did you spend your pandemic years? Well, Bo Burnham sure as hell found a way to create art in the middle of the pandemic. And not just any art, the dude managed to sit alone in a room and pretty much capture the entire essence of what the pandemic felt like to most of us, in all of it's whimsy, depression, excitement, rage, and agony.

Bo is one of those artists I have so much respect for, because whenever I feel like I've achieved something in life, I find myself going back to see what Bo is up to, and constantly being in awe of the stuff that he's putting out, and I feel like he's one of the few master artists that have managed to capture the voice of my generation so well, imbibed of course with his own whimsical style. Special shout-out for the scene where he celebrates his 30th birthday during the pandemic (hard relate there), and for giving us the song that automatically plays in my head everytime Bezos shows up somewhere.

As an aside, another movie that again made fine use of pandemic-induced filming restrictions like Inside and Malcolm and Marie was Language Lessons. The movie is basically just conversations between two people learning Spanish on Zoom, but is a very sweet movie.

1. The Great Indian Kitchen (trailer) 

If there's one movie that truly, truly needs to be watched by every single man in India, it's The Great Indian Kitchen. As someone living in a country where the patriarchy rears it's head ever so often, it's quite easy to forget how a lot of privileges I enjoy are only thanks to, in large part, my gender. And post-marriage, it's also been quite surprising to have even so-called educated folks (including, amazingly, a lot of women) say silly, openly misogynistic things, quite matter-of-factly to me and (more often) my wife.

The Great Indian Kitchen makes incredible use of repetition, and slow shots to drive home the point of how life differs for men and women, how societal expectations shape lived experiences, and how monotony, routine, and sacrifice is just another expectation from a woman after marriage. I was constantly squirming in my seat through this movie, since I could point out countless similar incidents in my own extended families where these expectations hold even today. So while it was a fictional movie, it hit a bit too close for comfort. Feminism, as a concept itself, has so many definitions, but movies like this show us that while a certain segment of folks may feel more empowered today, we have a long way to go in the journey to equality.

Two other movies that deal with similar stories are Biriyaani, which talks about the life of an married muslim woman in Kerala, and Sabaya, which is a chilling documentary about Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS to be used as slaves.

Honorable Mentions:

I Care a Lot (Rosamund Pike + Peter Dinklage. What's not to like?), Cinema Bandi (A heartwarming movie about movie making), Kala (For the excellent fight sequences), The Suicide Squad (For the fresh breath of air from DC after all the dark, brooding movies), Coda (A movie about a deaf family and a daughter that love singing), Dead Pigs (A Jia Zhangke-esq movie about rural and modern China colliding), Luca (Just Pixar doing Pixar things), This is the Year (For a feel-good YA rom-com), Love Hard (For a feel-good adult rom-com), French Dispatch (Because it's Wes Anderson... duh!)

On the whole, 2021 was a fine year at the movies, and I'm glad that the world seems to be finding it's footing again while that microscopic maniac mutates along. Of course there'll be missteps along the way, and I'm sure that 2022 will have just as much, if not more, in store for all of us. But as the saying goes, here's hoping that everyone expects the best, prepares for the worst, and cherishes every moment in the year ahead. Happy New Year!

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Footnote: Never realised that these random yearly movie reccos are something that some folks actually look forward to. So a tip of the hat to the folks who pinged me over last few days asking where this year's reccos are 🤠

Movies of 2020

2020 has been a crazy year in more ways than one. Who would have thought that most of the world world would be forced to stay at home for a majority of the year, making Dalgona coffee (remember that?), baking sourdough bread, and basically calling the bluff on every company that said "We don't allow remote work since it allows people to slack off". 

Despite the crazy number of movie releases that got pushed out to 2021 (since not everyone has the confidence of Chris "I-shot-in-imax-toh-dekho-theater-mein-bc" Nolan), 2020 ended up being a good year at the movies. Personally, thanks to big budget movies getting moved out, it made space for me to discover so many smaller studio houses and directors, who would have gotten overshadowed otherwise. 

Anyway without much further ado, here's my list of mt fave movies from 2020 

13. Cargo (trailer)

Something I absolutely hate about both horror and sci-fi films made in India is how we try so hard to retrofit unfamiliar western concepts into our movies. This is why movies like Tumbbad are such a breath of fresh air. Cargo falls within the same realm. It's a sci-fi movie made on a small budget, but so uniquely Indian in it's storytelling that you can't help but want to tag along on the journey. Shweta Tripathi and Vikrant Massey are great protagonists, but the questions this movie poses sticks with you long after the end credits have rolled.

12. Happiest Season (trailer)

Almost every year, in the crowd of predictable, "timepass", rom-com movies, there will be a few movies that stay with you. Last year, it was Always Be My Maybe, and this year it is Happiest Season. This movie is a cheesy, formulaic, fun, heartfelt rom-com, but still manages to stand out from the pack nonetheless.

Other similar genre movies that you may enjoy from this year is Palm Springs and the Netflix Series Dash & Lily. Also, if you are an Aubrey Plaza fanboy like me, then you should also check out her other release this year, Black Bear, which falls well within Aubrey territory.

11. Swallow (trailer)

This was a movie I was really looking forward to since the trailer first dropped last year, and while it had very mixed reactions overall, I personally loved it. Swallow follows a woman who has a growing urge to swallow household objects (Pica), and the list of objects becomes more and more dangerous. Haley Bennett is brilliant in the lead role here, and watching her give in more and more to her urges is weird. In many ways, this movie reminded me of Raw, which follows a similar storytelling format. Embrace the queasiness that this is bound to induce! 

10. Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 (trailer)

Yes, I know this movie technically came out very late last year, but I caught this in January, and knew right then that this would be making the list. A grumpy old man living in rural Kerala is gifted a humanoid robot by his son who's working abroad. Again, this was a movie which manages to circumvent expectations quite a bit and tell a heartwarming tale of friendship, love and companionship. The budget for the humanoid bot in this movie is likely less than what Marvel spends on coloring the Hulk green, but that doesn't stop this from being a great watch! And as a bonus, you get to see an Android wearing a Malayali mundu for a good part of the movie :D

9. Vir Das: Outside In (trailer)

Vir Das has always been among the smarter comedians in India, and he seems to have cracked this unique ability to connect with both an Indian as well as a global audience. Outside In is his latest special, which follows a very simple format: Through shows done completely via Zoom, he asks participants from around the world one question: "Once the pandemic is over, what is the first thing you would do?". This is interspersed with what Vir himself was going through behind the scenes during the course of these shows. For me, this was very cathartic for two reasons: First, it really underlines how the entire world are all fighting the same thing, and second, how our human experiences are so varied yet fundamentally similar.

8. Papa, sdokhni (trailer)

Anyone who knows me knows how I'm a sucker for dark comedies, and the Russian film Papa, sdokhni ("Why Don't You Just Die" in English) was such a crazy ride! Shot almost entirely in one apartment, there's a certain playfulness that the director uses throughout. The movie's quite violent and gory, but cartoonishly so. Most Russian movies I've watched in the past have been of a similar genre/tone, but in the last few years, it's been great to see Russian filmmakers make great strides in different genres (in fact one of my all time fave hacker movies is Khottabych from 2006). 

I found out a few weeks after watching the movie that the director, Kirill Sokolov, was 29 years old when he made this movie! *insert existential-crisis here*

7. Guns Akimbo (trailer)

Since getting done with Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe could easily have retired and lived a comfy life in a mansion on some island. But I love that instead, he's constantly been experimenting with the most bizarre storylines, be it in Swiss Army Man, Horns and now Guns Akimbo. Ever since the meme-worthy images that leaked out 2 years back, this movie has been on my radar! Summary: Gamer dude wakes up with 2 guns bolted to his hands and has to fight against the craziest, most psychotic killer (the oh-so-gorgeous Samara Weaving) in a livestreamed fight to the death. 

This movie gave me strong vibes of The Tournament, so catch that as well if you enjoy this genre!

6. Bacurau (trailer)

It's hard to really explain what Bacurau is really about. It's partially a uniquely Brazilian take on the classic western, it's partially a statement against the political class, it's partially an anti-colonialist movie, and it has components of sci-fi as well! How the directors manage to create a story from these elements, I really don't know, but Bacurau is proof that you can. A village in Brazil rallying against forces that want to wipe off it's very existence makes for an excellent watch, especially since it will surely push you down the path of understanding more about the socio-political climate the movie explores.

Another excellent film that explores similar themes of political apathy and corruption is the highly rated Romanian documentary Colectiv, also from this year.  

5. Dick Johnson is Dead (trailer)

"Sucker-punch right in the feels" is what the friend who recommended this movie to me had said, but boy, was I unprepared for this. Dick Johnson is Dead is a documentary in which filmmaker Kirsten Johnson helps her father, Dick, prepare for his worsening dementia and eventual death, by staging different ways in which he could die. The whole concept is dark, and very honestly, I initially felt super uncomfortable feeling that Kirsten was using her father as a prop. However, as the movie goes on it really does grow on you, and culminates in a final 20 minutes which truly left me in tears.

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (trailer)

Aaron Sorkin is pretty much the best when it comes to crafting stories that keep you glued to your seat, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is no different. However, the reason I really connected with this movie was also because of the parallels that exist between this story, which is based in the aftermath of the DNC convention in 1968, and the current political climate in India. Dehumanization of anyone whose political ideologies are not in line with those in power, lumping together everyone against the government as one homogenous blob even if they are radically different ideologies, moral corruption at the highest levels and more. It was ridiculous to learn that some of the movie's most disturbing actions were actually fairly watered-down compared to what actually transpired. 


Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne are standout performances in this. And it feels so weird to say this, but you should also catch Sacha Baron Cohen's other great performance this year in Borat 2, which explores the same political disconnect, through a vastly different lens.

3. Soul (trailer)

It's funny that Jazz lies at the core of Soul, because the movie feels quite a bit like a jazz composition, with a mishmash of ideas, concepts, and motifs that really need to be molded together well in order to work. And after a string of movies that were very hit or miss since Up (arguably the best animated movie of this century, unarguably containing the best 2 minutes of animated storytelling), it felt that with Soul, they've hit it out of the park! The intersection of purpose, talent, and passion is such a fundamental question to tackle, and Soul manages this so well. I personally loved how they show how thin the line between being "in-the-zone" and "soul-sucking obsession" can be, and that resonated very strongly with me (sadly, you see that line only in retrospect). I was overcome with emotions through this entire movie.


2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (trailer)


There's nothing in Never Rarely Sometimes Always that I can connect with directly, and yet I feel so strongly moved by this film. It tells the story of a seventeen year old who finds out she is unintentionally pregnant, and wants to have an abortion. The USA is truly ridiculous in terms of abortion rights (any topic + uninformed politicization = 💩), and this movie brings out the gut wrenching journey she needs to take from orthodox Pennsylvania to New York, accompanied by her cousin. I think it's the circle I surround myself with, but I've never understood the logic behind denying someone control of their own body, and this movie, through a fly-on-the-wall perspective cemented that all the more for me. Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder truly deserve all the praise for their performances in this. As Sucharita says: "Women telling women stories" is unfortunately still a rare but powerful genre so more power to movies like this which not only focus on women, but are also produced and directed by them.

If you are looking for a more fun-take on the same core story, then check out Unpregnant, which also came out this year. Another movie tackling similar viewpoints is The Assistant, which is an underrated gem of 2020.

1.The Platform (trailer)

Wow! Just wow. There's really nothing to say about The Platform (El Hoyo), which hasn't been said already. Like Parasite last year, The Platform manages to be a compelling critique of modern society, while being a kickass movie in itself. Even at a conceptual level, I'm in awe of how this movie might have come about. Such a simple but clever concept combined with great storytelling and performances. "Edge of your seat" is an understatement for this movie. The Platform is one of the finest exposes into human nature and psychology. This movie somehow manages to walk the balancing rope showing the worst of both capitalist and socialist ideologies, while having enough subtle allegories, to keep you thinking for weeks after you are done watching this. Not for the faint-hearted, but truly a masterpiece!

Honorable mentions:

Ludo (I already said I like dark comedies), The Whistlers (Thriller with a new form of communication), Bill & Ted Face the Music (Leave your brains at home, stoner fun), Freaky (Leave your brains at home, freaky friday fun), Beanpole (Fine example of the genre of movies I usually associated with Russia), Another Round (Can alcohol really be the cure for productivity?), Babyteeth (coming-of-age for a terminally ill teen without the cheesiness), Bad Education (What if the face of the organization was embezzling them internally), Kadakh (Your friends are at your home but you have a secret to hide), AK vs AK (Just for the sheer audacity... Kudos to both AKs), Dia (A twisted Kannada romantic movie), Welcome Home/His House (Both great horror movies centered around houses), The Hunt (Supremely divisive, extremely fun), The Call (Sci-fi timetravel thriller), Lootcase (What would you do if you found a suitcase full of money?), Chintu Ka Birthday (Heartwarming movie about a family in war-torn Iraq), Blow The Man Down (When everyone knows everyone, are secrets really secret?)

All in all, 2020 is a year I'm sure most people want to forget for a whole tonne of reasons, but at the same time, it's also given us a lot of time to introspect and think about what really matters (I have a whole other post about this, hopefully will publish that soon as well). Looking over the list, I felt that a lot of movies that resonated with me this year, especially in the second half of the year, tended to be more grounded, human stories. Either way, irrespective of if 2020 has been the best year of your life or your worst, I hope that 2021 brings with it more growth, be it personal, professional, or otherwise and of course more stories that capture those emotions. :D

Movies of 2019

Well, another year, another set of amazing movies. 2019 was a great year for movie lovers, and brought a lot of great stories to the forefront, both from indie filmmakers as well as massive studio-led productions. Sure, there still exist the Housefull4s and the Pagalpantis, but between the influx of OTT platforms (Netflix/Prime Video/Hotstar/Mubi) and the ongoing globalization of cinema, which makes even the most esoteric movies accessible at the click of a button, it's a great time to be a movie buff!

Without further ado, here's the movies I absolutely loved from the last year:

13. Always Be My Maybe (trailer)
I think the romantic comedy genre has been badgered to death over the last decade with the same formulaic recipe being dished out over and over and over. Always Be My Maybe plays to the formula, but there's so many small things that they get perfectly right that you can't help but end with a smile on your face. Maybe it's just the vibe of San Francisco that they get perfectly right (One of two problem-ridden cities I love), or maybe it's just the Keanu Reeves extended cameo (which is by far my fave cameo in any movie this year), but just take my word on this one, and enjoy the ride.

12. Jojo Rabbit (trailer)
There's always one movie in my list which I struggle to find a decent synopsis of. This year it's Jojo Rabbit. So let's see: A Taika Waititi movie about a pre-teen German youth nazi in WWII Germany who has an imaginary friend who is the Führer himself (played by Waititi himself). Yes yes, it's true, but barely does justice to what is by far the craziest story you'll see on screen this year. It's funny, it's tragic, it's wild, and basically just everything that you'd expect from a Waititi flick.


If you like Jojo Rabbit, and are looking for more wackiness, you'll probably also enjoy The Art of Self-Defense

11. Ash is Purest White (trailer)
Jia Zhangke is another director who has rarely disappointed with his storytelling. His depictions of the intermingling between Modern Day and Traditional China, and the fallouts, the despair, the changes in relationships (for good or bad) that follow, have such a nuanced take on a culture that I've been fascinated by for the last couple of years.

Another movie which explores similar domains and is just as elaborate (with a sad real-life incident that grounds the movie) is An Elephant Sitting Still.

10. Shadow (trailer)
Another Chinese movie in the list! But truly a well deserved entrant. There's probably a handful of movies that can build out a movie from a minimalistic color-palette the way that Shadow has. Chinese period fantasy-based movies usually tend to be very similar to Indian period fantasy-based movies: Pointlessly cringey CGI, over the top acting, and very meh story lines. But like Tumbbad last year, which did it for Indian period fantasy, Shadow builds from the ground up (rather than borrowing from what came before) to build an amazing story.


I know I just said this 2 sentences back, but what an amazing color-palette! Kudos to the set designers, cinematographer, make up and visual artists who came together to speak the same visual language.

9. Us (trailer)
Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame) came into the limelight last year with the surprisingly dark Get Out, But I personally feel his latest film Us is what cements him more firmly into the "directors who get horror" group. Us, like Get Out, starts off normal, but just keeps building up into something darker and darker.

Big ups to the entire primary cast of Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex (and especially the latter two), for performances that made my skin crawl multiple times.

8. Ready or Not (trailer)
Every once in a while, you want to just sit back and watch some shit go down. And for that mood, Ready or Not is oh-so-satisfying! A simple concept: A newly-wed bride is made to play a game of  hide and seek with her new family, which she soon realizes is not a game but a hunt.


It's funny, it's wacky, it's gory, it's everything you'd want in a dark comedy horror thriller. Samara Weaving (aka "Sasta Margot Robbie") does a great job of holding the movie together, but the other characters of the family are what bring this movie to life.

If you liked this, you'll probably also enjoy Knives Out and Polar (the latter even more so)

7. Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota (trailer)
Some of the most fulfilling movie-going experiences are films made by film lovers for film lovers, and Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is a perfect pick for that title this year. Vasan Bala grew up watching a tonne of movies and that shows in the lovely trope-filled, fun ride which redefines the superhero movie genre with a refreshing twist. Abhimanyu Dassani does a great job as leading man, but the show stealer is Gulshan Devaiah (who plays two characters in the movie, but shines as Jimmy). The child actor who plays a young version of the protagonist is great, and a quirky soundtrack rounds up the lovely package!

A similar take on the superhero genre this year was Shazam!

6. Jallikattu (trailer)


I watched Jallikattu after hearing rave reviews about it from friends, and I'm so glad that I did.

Malayalam cinema is truly leading the way when it comes to experimental cinema and Jallikattu is a masterclass in it. Director Lijo Jose Pellissery (and his cinematographer Girish Gangadharan who deserves special mention) takes us on a journey over a couple of hours exploring mob mentality and devolution to primality in the simplest of settings. The last 30 minutes, with the background track, the denial of rationality, and the visceral ending is something that's hard to forget.

5. Avengers: Endgame (trailer)
Ah, this just had to be in my list for the year. The end of an era. Truly the end of an era. I vividly remember watching the first Iron Man movie with friends and being amazed at what we saw on screen. Since then, a decade has passed and I've literally grown up with many of these characters (I  think everyone from my generation has been in a Whatsapp group called The Avengers at some point).

I'll miss you 3000
Sure there are plot holes and logical inconsistencies. But who cares? This was truly the end-of-an-era summer blockbuster we deserved. This was not just a movie, it was an experience. I laughed my ass off, I cried my tearducts dry, I cheered till my throat was hoarse, I recognized and appreciated the callbacks to previous movies, all alongside a hundred other people who shared the same emotions with me. It really feels like a decade long arc for Marvel has ended, and even if I don't ever watch another movie from the universe, I know I take back a tonne of great memories. God damn you Russos, I love you 3000.

4. Marriage Story (trailer)
Another movie that's close to my heart from 2019 is Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which was succinctly described as "a movie about love told through the lens of divorce". Relationships can be hard, but at the same time can be the most fulfilling experiences you'll ever be in. What I love about this movie is that though it centers around divorce, there's barely any fighting in the movie. There's one (yes, one) fight in the whole movie between the protagonists, but the way the scene plays out makes it one of my favorite scenes from the entire year. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson is what is (by far) their finest roles.

On a related note: Not a movie recco, but the music video for Prateek Kuhad's Cold/Mess explores similar themes: How every relationship changes you in some small and not-so-small ways (brownie points for whoever had the idea to have the couple separated but eating Lemon Tarts at the end of the video)

3. Joker (trailer)
I told someone that the reason I loved Joker was because my expectations from it were so sky high that even if the movie was A-, it'd feel like a letdown. But damn, I didn't expect to be punched in the stomach so hard by the movie as it did. Todd Philips (who I admit I was skeptical about directing a Joker movie) builds a world so grim and so vivid, that you truly immerse yourself in the journey Arthur Fleck takes.


And damn, that performance by Joaquin Phoenix, just give this man every acting award there is. The last time a role of the power-insanity duopoly was played this well was probably Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. I still have so many unanswered questions about the movie and the way in which Arthur is used as an unreliable narrator throughout the movie means that the origins of Joker (if this is even supposed to be the same Joker as in the comics) continue to remain shrouded, just as it should be.

2. Gully Boy (trailer)
This is probably a divisive opinion, but Gully Boy was a masterpiece for me. I watched the movie 4 times with different groups of people, and each time I was pulled into the world of Murad. Zoya Akhtar really knows how to write great characters, and build a world around them. Gully Boy is as much about the world of Dharavi as it is about the characters.

Excellent performances across the table (Sid Chaturvedi and Ranveer Singh especially, but also a lot of the minor characters), the best movie soundtrack of 2019, and that brilliant ending scene with the closeup of protagonist, who has more than he ever hoped for, yet has a look that screams insecurity (Imposter syndrome? Life?).

1. Parasite (trailer)
Just like Thoroughbreds last year, I think the moment I knew Parasite is going to be in my top 3 favorite films of the year was the moment the end credits started rolling. And I've been thinking of the movie so much since then (and have become the annoying guy who recommends the same thing over and over again until you watch it), that it goes without saying that Parasite is my favorite movie of the year. Every single scene in this is perfection. For every movie in the list, I can find something I didn't like, but no matter how hard I try, I come up short for this. I genuinely feel that decades down the line, we'll look back at this movie as an exemplary example of moviemaking.


There's people who've dissected bits of the movie to try to explain why Parasite is brilliant (Accented Cinema & NerdWriter have some great videos on this), but I think it's a perfect combination of the class conflict, visually driven cinema, focussed character development and just the right amount of environmental events. And damn, that house is a central character in itself (and given me serious #HouseGoals). Take a fucking bow Bong Joon-ho!

Honorable Mentions you should watch even though they aren't mentioned above: Stan and Ollie (drama based on the later years of the comedic duo), Fighting with My Family (wrestling family kid gets to try out for the WWE), Aladdin (a fun Will Smith movie which has a prince and princess), Once Upon a Time In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino's homage to the late 1960s), Peanut Butter Falcon (Adventures of an autistic person and his nomadic friend), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Historic drama with forbidden love), Super Deluxe (which would be in the list above if not for one story arc), Chhichhore (3 Idiots-like college camaraderie tale), Guava Island (for showing glimpses of paradise), John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (Just the right amount of ridiculous Baba Yaga-ness) and The Wandering Earth (Liu Cixin's short story built into a CGI-loaded blockbuster)


Overall, 2019 brought lot of great stories to the big screen, gave a lot of reasons to cheer along  with and was an excellent high note to end this decade of movie making on. I look forward to see where cinema takes us over the next year and decade.

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Prologue

Finally after all these years, here's to the beginning of what was there, what is there and hopefully what will remain!! So here are my thoughts & words -Online!!

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