Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Well, what do you know. Danish and I actually managed to enjoy some of the same films this year. Perhaps the world IS going to end next year after all! We may have bitterly disagreed on the merits of Contagion, The Tree of Life, The Ides of March and so many others but where's the fun if everybody in the world got along?  

Happy New Year, folks!

Danish's Top Ten 

10. The Source Code was a cerebral piece of science fiction with heart and a devilishly intriguing plot.  

9. Fright Night surprised me by how scary - and simultaneously hilarious - it managed to be. At a time when vampires are growing increasingly bloodless, this was a thrilling resurrection of the genre of yore.

8. In a year of shrill dramas and thudding blockbusters, Dhobi Ghat gave us a muted vision of the maximum city. Drenched in rain and coated in mellow guitar riffs, it was as unlikely (and perfect) an ode to Mumbai as Allen's reimagining of the Parisian nightlife.

7. 50/50 gave us the unlikeliest of genre mash ups - cancer comedy! - and made it work with charm to spare.

6.  Charm was also a prominent adjective for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which took a wondrous fantasy  conceit and combined it with a lyrical ode to a magical city.

5. and 4.  The Tree of Life gave us a vision of the creation of life, and Melancholia showed its destruction: both were transcendental pieces of filmmaking, by master film-makers working at the height of their powers. 

3.  A Separation was the best foreign language film I saw this year - the Iranian drama is remarkably complex and manages to dig deep into the well of its layered cast. 

2.  Beginners was suffused with wistfulness and hope, a hilarious and moving portrait of a gay man who comes out at the age of 70, and his straight son who struggles with commitment. Quirky and melancholic, this was Ewan McGregor at his sympathetic best. 

So that's the rest of the best - but what was the most purely enoyable cinematic experience I had at the movies this year? 

With the boy who lived, of course.  There were many, many ways for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to end up disappointing me. The preceding movies have had their fare share of disappointing moments. And yet, when it came to it, when it really really mattered, when we wanted, nay, needed a rip-roaring cinematic conclusion - well, they delivered. 

The Battle of Hogwarts was a slam-bang spectacle, but here more than ever, we got to see the giant beating heart of the franchise. When the Order of the Phoenix comes together to cast protective enchantments around Hogwarts  or when Lupin and Tonks stretch out their quivering hands towards each other or even when Harry walks up to Voldemort facing certain death .... oh  we knew what was coming, but it didn't matter; every Potter fan worth his/her salt got the cathartic emotional payoff they deserved. A roll call of goodbyes was weaved into the 2 odd-hour running time, but it never cut the momentum. Instead, we got one last glorious hurrah for everyone – Slughorn, McGonagall, Trelawney, Flitwick, Sirius, the Potters, the Weasleys, the Malfoys, Ollivander, Fleur, Neville, Luna and the rest of Dumbledore’s Army …  and everything – the Chamber of Secrets, the Room of Requirement, those pixies from Gilderoy Lockhart’s reign, even some final broomstick flight – every little detail that made up the wizarding world for us popped into the busy frames at some point.

“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic” says Dumbledore to Harry. For years, Joanne Kathleen Rowling gave us a constant supply of that magic – and the movies carried it on for a while longer. It’s over now, this  magnificent journey, and those of us who were middle school kids when the Philosopher’s Stone entered our lives are now caught in the vagaries of adult life.  There’s something heartbreaking about this, but I’m mostly thankful that we got to see this cultural phenomenon through.

And again, if it had to end - what a way to go.

Mischief Managed, Mr. Potter.

Honourable Mentions: 

Friends with Benefits was one of the best romantic comedies I've seen in a while; Wim Wenders' dance documentary Pina was a sight to behold; and Delhi Belly is probably the film that made me laugh the hardest this year. Also, Tintin for giving us that sustained string of animated thrills, and MI4, for managing the rare feat of being the best movie in a franchise at such a late stage. 

Lekha's Top Ten

10.  Contagion:  This is not a film likely to end up on many top ten lists because of what many have criticized as an overly realistic and almost documentary-like attention to detail. Despite all the characters behaving exactly like how non-movie people do and a perfectly reasonable approach towards apocalyptic scenarios, this film never lost that sense of drama and humanness.  Be it Matt Damon trying to give his daughter a childhood while trying to keep her alive or Marion Cotillard's pathos towards her kidnappers.

9. The Guard:  The best black comedy of the year, this film stars a foul-mouthed, racist but surprisingly smart Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) and a preppy, straitlaced FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who have revived the buddy-cop genre (like it could ever die!).  I also loved how this film so rightly points out how the proliferation of American pop culture has affected our perceptions of crime and investigation.  Whenever Don Cheadle introduced himself as a Special Agent with the FBI, people knowingly say, "ah, Behavioral Science Unit".  
I'd have done the same.

8.  X-Men: First Class: The Wolverine is going to have some serious competition for Hottest Mutant of the Year Award. Michael Fassbender's animal MAGNETISM (sorry, I had to)  with James McAvoy's charm have revived a series that everybody had pronounced dead.  While it may not be the best X-Men film we've seen, I'm very much looking forward to the next installment.

7.  Bridesmaids: One of the dark horses of the year,  Bridesmaids was a smart, funny film that despite targeting the female demographic, did not reinforce stereotypes. Is it the best ever film ever made? Probably not, but it's a good start.  If nothing else, it might make Hollywood desist from making pandering films like The Help.

6.  Source Code:  You'd think that watching the same 8-minute clip 20 times is going to get boring.  You'd think that a sci-fi film with time travel and alternate time lines is bound to be full of plot holes. But surprisingly, this film worked.  It was gripping, and will have you thinking about it even days later. If that isn't the mark of a good sci-fi film, then I don't know what is.

5.  Attack the Block:  It hasn't been called the District 9 of 2011 for nothing.  As much of a social and political commentary as it is an action film about alien invasion,  Attack the Block managed to be funny, scary and touching.  After monumental flops like Cowboys & Aliens and World Invasion: Los Angeles, it is heartening that a plucky little film showed the big studios how the alien invasion genre is done.  And with so much attitude.

4.  Moneyball:  I've watched a dozen movies about baseball, but that game is freakin confounding. That said, Moneyball was a surprisingly non-melodramatic but brilliant sports film.  This is one of the few movies where the focus was not on the players or even the coaches.  The general manager, who treats players like they're cattle; the scouts and analysts who build the team and see each player as merely a bundle of strengths and weaknesses-- they're the focus. What this film lacks in terms of training montages, it more than makes up for in gripping sequences where players are bought and sold in the matter of minutes. And Brad Pitt? Also (surprisingly) brilliant.  

3.  Rango:  Right from the start, Rango immerses you in this surreal, almost dream-like landscape.  It tells the story of a small village of animals in the Mojave desert, struggling to make ends meet with their dwindling water source and an administration that callously controls this water source for personal gain.  This hilarious and fairy-tale like animated film seamlessly brings together diverse elements like spaghetti westerns, cowboy motifs, mythology, mariachi owls and the economic recession. And Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrowesque character was not annoying for the first time in years.

2.  Paul:  Nobody makes fun of the nerds anymore except in an affectionate way.  Keeping with that trend, comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return as two English sci-fi nerds with a deep interest in UFO-logy. Like any decent film by nerds for nerds, it begins at the San Diego Comic Con and takes us on a proper road trip across America. Also on the journey are a young earth creationist (it IS America, after all) and a foul-mouthed, Reese's Pieces loving alien trying to phone home ("Why does everybody assume that I want to probe their anus? Am I harvesting farts? How much can I learn from an ass?"). 

1.  Midnight in Paris:  It isn't often that a top ten of the year list also has a movie that made it to one's all-time favourite list, but Woody Allen did it again. With his wonderfully nostalgic portrayal of '20s Paris, he confronts and comforts the Walter Mitty in all of us.  You say is it merely a confection?  Well, all I can say is, the wisest thoughts I've ever had have been over a particularly good macaron or cheesecake. 

Ryan Gosling in Drive/ The Ides of March:  Enough time and space has been dedicated to Ryan Gosling's photoshopped looking abs. Most cant believe that this suave hottie was the awkward man in love with a doll in Lars and the Real Girl.  While Crazy Stupid Love shamelessly exploited his sheer yumminess, Gosling managed to stand himself apart from mere eye candy with his intense performances in Drive and The Ides of March. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RECAP: 'Tis the Season to be Jolly!

It is that time of the year again: when you've lost all feeling in your extremities, when it is impossible to get a jot of work done in anticipation of the coming holidays, when the only reason anybody should have to get out of bed is to find a sunny spot on the balcony, when Judy is urging you to have yourself a merry little Christmas. Don't fight it; crack open that bottle of wine and get down to watching Danish and Lekha's List of Essential Christmas Films

This year, I'm adding Arthur Christmas to my list, which I'm told is deeper than your usual everything- horrible-till-Christmas-Eve-when-a-Christmas-miracle-happens-and-everybody-lives-happily-ever-after fare. If you want to mix things up a little, do watch this eclectic collection of free video clips and Christmas films.

Merry Christmas, folks!

Danish's One Cent:

NBC may have played Grinch this year and stolen Community from the mid season schedule, but not before the show gave us a Christmas episode for the ages- and then some. In Regional Holiday Music, Greendale's show choir director attempts to enlist the gang to perform at the Christmas pageant after the Glee club gets arrested for copyright infringement. That's right - the episode is both, a spot-on parody of Glee (we're going to Regionals everybody!!!) while simultaneously serving as a gut-bustingly funny musical in its own right. Oh wait, and it's ALSO a parody of the horror-invasion genre, as the Christmas spirit spookily latches on to the group, one by one. 

Oh Community. Don't go.

Friday, December 16, 2011


This is only half the cast.

 After a roller-coaster year of films ranging from awesome to meh, it is only fitting that 2011 ends with a deeply introspective film about the travails of urban life; a film that showed us that even though everything around us is designed to make us feel like we’re great and unique, they have the exact opposite effect on us.

Set in New York City on New Year’s Eve (would you have guessed?), this film follows the lives of a 100 characters, who are lucky/unlucky/happy/unhappy in love, family, work, philandering, etc.

Great scripts, properly fleshed out characters and witty dialogue are so 2010.  This film has such terrible dialogue uttered by shallow, one-dimensional characters with perplexing motivations, that it cannot have been anything but deliberate. Right there is the film’s true brilliance: the courage to point out that we’re drowning in an ocean of irrelevant information. Its lacklustre script is an allegory of our shallow, one-dimensional Facebook lives, and the gag-worthy memes we wearily link to, so as not to look like the fuddy-duddy who hasn’t got with the programme.

The greatest message one can take away from this film, is that we’re all sad, lonely and desperate people in December and only Hollywood is to blame for that. Thanks to vapid romcoms and Christmas fluff like that saccharine mess called It’s a Wonderful Life (starring the highly untalented Jimmy Stewart), it has become practically compulsory to meet someone cool and quirky and spend a special holiday moment with them. And as the clock ticks on, we’re supposed to make out with any person who happened to have been around for the last couple of hours– even if they look unwashed and then convince ourselves that it wasn’t oxytocin or Hollywood indoctrination, but was a Life-Changing Moment.  We’re supposed to convince ourselves that falling in love with somebody you’re stuck with in an elevator is the real McCoy and not Stockholm Syndrome.  There hasn’t been a braver film since Sunset Boulevard to show us Hollywood’s dark underbelly. In fact, New Year’s Eve is more than a film; it is an exposé.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be discussing some of the plots, so don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched the movie because you are waiting for the Director’s Cut DVD.

Perhaps the second greatest message one takes away from this film, is the far-reaching effects of bad parenting.  One the one hand, we see Robert De Niro dying of a terminal illness. His only wish is to see the ball drop in Times Square because it represents all the happy times he had with his daughter before he drove her away. His daughter Hillary Swank, is a VP of the Times Square Alliance and makes it her life-ambition to make sure that ball drops at 12, because she knows her dying father will be watching.  What cold-blooded revenge!  Instead of forgiving her father and spending his last days with him by reconnecting with him, she makes sure to only spend the last 10 minutes of his life with him when they see the ball drop together. The ball drop itself is a clear allegory of his dropping the parental ball and a representation of how her life has become defined by his callous parenting. On the other hand, we see new parents Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel generously but foolishly refuse a cheque for $25,000, which could have easily gone to their child’s college fund and ensured him a future. As the camera zooms in to the baby’s (apparently innocent) face, we see a seed of resentment glimmering in his big eyes. Chilling.

The film also warns foolish romantics about the dangerous myth of serendipitous love.  Why else would they have the woman who played Carrie “Cupid has flown the co-op” Bradshaw fall in love with a lothario? On the one hand, we have Sarah Jessica Parker (a divorced mom) and Josh Duhamel (a rake) who had one conversation a year before and then decide to meet again the next year, despite not knowing each other’s names or situations. On the other hand, we have Zac Efron (a surprisingly well-connected FedEx employee with a magical bike that can avoid New Year’s Eve traffic in Manhattan) and Michelle Pfeiffer (a mousy little woman) who join forces to complete Pfeiffer’s extremely pedestrian list of resolutions. Not only is this another example of the horrible longing for love that Hollywood wants us to feel so we’ll keep buying DVDs of Miracle on 34th Street, but it is also extremely obvious that one of the four will turn out to be a serial killer and/or a secret-cam perv (possible gritty action sequel? Fingers crossed!).

A-list actors in cameo roles in a film where every main character is also a cameo role may initially strike one as incongruous. What is the purpose of having Alyssa Milano, Cary Elwes and John Lithgow in supremely inconsequential roles that could have been ably performed by set extras, you ask?  Why, it is nothing but an allegory for the groupie-culture urban society engenders, and the immense amount of peer pressure we’re under all the time. Obviously, when Alyssa, Cary and John discovered that every single Hollywood A-lister ever was in this movie and that the premier party was going to be rad, they shed every last ounce of dignity and took on two-line roles.  Not since Requiem for a Dream have we seen such a powerful (and effective) anti-drug message.

A few minor quibbles: Not enough time was spent on the highly necessary ‘War = :(' plot line. That undercurrent of racist tension so beautifully captured by Sofia Vergara and Russell Peters by portraying annoying racist caricatures would’ve received an Oscar nod, if only they had received more screen time.  The excessive amount of product placement in the film grew tiresome. But I suppose it is naive to expect a film set mostly in Times Square to not milk that hormone-injected cash cow.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Early in  The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan's fiesty Silk tells a detractor that he should probably keep all his conceptions about the art of cinema aside, for there are three things that the public wants to see: "Entertainment. Entertainment. Entertainment." It's a formula that the makers follow well enough, and yet - The Dirty Picture is a frustrating experience in the most heartbreaking manner possible. Here is a movie that starts off as great, with a cracker of a opening half, then suddenly loses steam and just sort of chugs half-heartedly to the end. So one part of the movie is just so good that you want to implore everyone and their dog to run to the nearest theatre - but there's the obvious reservation about what the sum of the individual parts entails. 

But let me try.

The movie's not-so-secret weapon is Vidya Balan, who gives the most astonishingly fearless performance of her career, and has an absolute blast doing it. She's helped in large part by that kicker of a script - it's essentially a barrage of one liners and marvelously bold innuendos that force you to gasp in horrified, convulsive laughter. Balan simply owns every single piece of fiery dialogue she's given, and lets her body language do the rest. Silk is a woman uninhibited in every way possible, and in one of the more courageous portrayals I've seen from a Bollywood actress, Balan flaunts her curves, her stomach that threatens to spill out of her tight jeans, her tongue languorously caressing her lips. There's a lot of flak that the actress has gotten following her acclaimed performance in Parineeta, including the oft-mooted point that she's probably best suited to the soft doe-eyed all-Indian-female role. To see her tap into something of this nature with such success is the biggest joy of The Dirty Picture. 

The other attribute that gives the first half its potency is the many ideas about cinema and the audience that the movie throws at us. A hungry Silk has 5 rupees to get something to eat - but the sight of a new movie starring her cinema idol has her scurrying to the cinema hall and devouring the joy of the movies instead. There's the constant tension between the diatribes offered by various critics and the adoring masses; there is the editor of a gossip rag who admires Silk as much as she constantly slanders her;  and in one of the most interesting scenes in the movie, a rant by Silk at an awards ceremony about who's the hypocrisy of the audience who exalts her and despises her sexuality at the same time. This final pre-intermission sequence sets you up for all kinds of exciting possibilities regarding the direction the movie might take, and I for one spent the intermission salivating at the ways in which the movie would take its ideas forward.

Unfortunately, The Dirty Picture's ambition sort of trails off there. It's interested in making the big speeches but not quite exploring the ideas behind them. It sets up romantic subplots that don't seem to go anywhere, and the riches-to-rags portion that it inevitably has to deal with is strangely unconvincing. It doesn't help that Tusshar Kappor hijacks the second half with some truly atrocious acting, and Emraan Hashmi's dormant character suddenly pushes himself into the movie in the closing twenty minutes (this includes the most abrupt sufi love song I've had to face in a while). There's an interesting narrative conceit where a character who despises our protagonist gets to relay her tale to her: but again, the character's motivations for disliking her are so poorly etched, his own anger so lazily realized, and his obvious turnaround so abrupt that it just doesn't work.  There's also a relentlessly overbearing head-thumper of a score that starts out as charming throwback to the movies The Dirty Picture is gently ribbing, but then just kind of gives you a headache. 

And that ending!!! It's - just - wrong. It feels like it's imported from a completely different story with a different sensibility, and even though I'm informed that was indeed the conclusion to the real Silk Smitha's story, I'm sorry but it just doesn't work. A movie that takes so many creative liberties otherwise cannot use the "this-is-all-biography" angle to shoehorn in something that feels so egregiously against its spirit otherwise. Tarantino for one realized this when he (spoiler alert!) decided to kill off Hitler in Inglorious Basterds' rip roaring climax.

That said, I'm still going to recommend this movie. Watch it for Vidya Balan giving the finger to a panoply of critics and discerning audiences (how meta!) and watch it for the sensational dialogue. If possible, walk out in the intermission and don't come back.