Life Of Navin

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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.

#CurrentMood Alors On Danse

"The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as only hatred can weld two creatures together. This is all I can discern clearly in this measureless universe where my adventure takes place."
Albert Camus

This Kind of Thunder Breaks Walls...

You truly defined the jilted generation. The sheer earth-shattering energy will be missed.



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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