Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ek Thi Daayan (2013)

Before it succumbs to the Bollywood curse (ha) of a listless second half, Ek Thi Daayan is a shiver-inducing blast. We start with Emraan Hashmi's magician botching up a trick on stage, induced by hallucinatory visions. A strangely paced love song with Huma Qureshi later is followed by a trip to his childhood psychiatrist. The good doctor pushes our magician into his pre-adolescent past, in the months leading up to the death of his young sister. And then, for a glorious 45 minutes, Ek Thi Daayan soars like no other Bollywood horror film I've seen.

As our young child, our protagonist shows an unhealthy obsession with the occult. In one of the most spine chilling scenes of the movie, he takes an elevator ride with his sister down to hell - an act that may also have inadvertently summoned a witch. Atleast, that's what the kids believe Konkona Sen's Diana is - their single father on the other hand is besotted by her. Soon enough, Diana enters their home for good, and as far as the kids are concerned, the games begin.

The genius of this segment of the movie is the playful use of metaphor. Diana may just be a witch - but she could also just be the wicked stepmother our protagonist needs to project his anger on to. Konkona Sen is perfect for walking this tightrope of a performance - the brief flashes of menace across her face could just as well be the frustrations of a woman facing rejection from the children she yearns to reach out to. Particularly delightful is a sequence where she plays a game of hide and seek with the children - note the manner in which her voice floats from playful to spine tingling while still somehow maintaining an element of ambiguity. It also helps that this entire segment sparkles with humour. The kids in particular have great comic timing, aided by a witty script that knows enough about the horror genre to not take itself too seriously.

But, but, but.

The flashback only lasts for half the movie, at which point we are pulled back into the dour present. And it is here that the cliches begin to pile, dramatic deadweight sets in, horror movie logic becomes rampant. Kalki Koechlin's appearance gives the movie a jolt of energy, but the strange extended loop of the plot, and the overbaked climatic sequence squander that goodwill. Director Kannan Iyer has admitted that commercial considerations plagued the direction this film takes eventually, and that seems about right.

For a while, Ek Thi Daayan builds its power through the faint suggestion that nothing is at it appears, that the paranormal evil is just the other side of our lived experience. Besides Diana, Kalki's character could be a witch - or she could be an obsessive lover. Both narratives work, and the mere suggestion of ambiguity is the most tantalizing idea. However, rather unfortunately, the movie decides to come down rather hard one way, dumbing itself down and losing some of its potent first half magic.

Still, I'd say, go watch this one. Even half of a great movie that tries to overreach is better than the banality of cinema that doesn't try at all. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

And that's a wrap, folks: Remembering Roger Ebert

In the Mood for Love was a bit of an over-hyped affair if you ask me. A lot of people who are familiar with Wong Kar Wai's work rank it as one of the best films about love and loss ever made. And yet, when I finally got done to watching it in the internet centre at Nalsar with a friend, we were left a bit puzzled. It sure looked pretty, and we supposed there was something to be said for the hypnotic score, but in the end it felt mostly like an overlong snooze fest.

Disgruntled and feeling our faith in humanity's cinematic tastes fast eroding, we went straight to Roger Ebert's review of the film. It begins with the lines "they are in the mood for love, but not in the time and place for it". That felt about right, as right as a later line - "the thrust of Wong's film is that paths cross, but intentions rarely do". Reading these lines, retrospectively improved the film we'd watched. Finally we got to the point where Ebert notes - "Lovers do not notice where they are, do not notice that they repeat themselves.  It isn't repetition anyway - it's reassurance. And when you're holding back and speaking in code, no conversation is boring, because the empty spaces are filled by your desires".

And with those words, we felt In the Mood for Love transforming before our eyes, edging past the endlessly repetitive sequences we'd been exasperated by, and becoming a better, more worthy piece of filmmaking. In about 700 words, Ebert had managed to salvage a movie for us, had given us something legitimately beautiful that we could take away from it.

Weeks later, the same friend and I were watching Charlie Kauffman's  Synecdoche, New York back in the internet centre (we sure watched a lot of movies there).  This time round, we hadn't heard much about the movie. As we reached its brutally unflinching ending, we sat in silence, watching the end credits roll, not quite being able to articulate our thoughts. We knew we'd seen something astonishing, but how to adjectivize this emotion, how to frame it within the strictures of language?

And again, Roger Ebert came to our rescue: "We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes .... whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call "me", trying to brand ourselves a  person who can and should obtain these things.

In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them .... Hold that trajectory in mind and let it interact with age, discouragement, greater wisdom and more uncertainty. you will understand what Synecdoche, New York is trying to say about the life of Caden Cotard and the lives in his lives".

What made Ebert stand out from so many other critics, what initially drew me to his writing and made me seek out his reviews, was the manner in which he necessarily gleaned the best out of a movie. Where just about every other major critic seemed to be more intent in ripping apart film after film, pausing for breath at the Oscar lineup, Ebert was finding the good in  the movies left by the wayside.  He notes in his 4 star review of Romance and Cigarettes how it stands at 33% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter because "so many timid taste mongers have been affronted by the movie". Not him though - for him, Romance and Cigarettes was, "the real thing, a film that breaks out of Hollywood jail with audacious originality, startling sexuality, heartfelt emotions and an anarchic liberty. The actors toss their heads and run their mouths like prisoners let loose to race free". His hearty endorsement got me and my friends to watch what is one of the most enthralling musicals of all time, one that also manages to sneak in a scene of Susan Sarandon using the word "whoremaster".

Of course, sometimes this fervent need to see the good could go too far. I am baffled by his review of Prometheus where he terms it a "magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers". And to call The Golden Compass "a darker deeper fantasy epic than the Rings trilogy or the Potter films" is just ... I'm still trying to frame an adequate response to that gaffe. Then there were the times when he could really bring the sarcasm - his review of Valentine's Day tells us: "Valentine's Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it's more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date".


Ebert came to gradually define the way I watched movies.  I recall a glorious period of time where I could see no wrong in cinema, where I'd forgotten the bitter sting of disappointment because I could just somehow focus on the parts of the film that worked.  Sometimes I was more Ebert than Ebert himself. I will admit, for instance, to actively enjoying portions of Valentine's Day. And I don't just mean the bits with a shirtless Taylor Lautner, which, come on, even Ebert probably enjoyed. 

Lately, the Ebert in me has been fading, slowly replaced by someone more cynical, perhaps more discerning.  There is a set of criteria that my mind forces onto every movie it watches, and if it is unable to stand up to those standards, I am unable to defend it.  This doesn't fill me with any sense of pride or joy, and it is often frustrating. It is the reason why I am unable to be enthusiastic about The Dark Knight Rises, even with its somewhat exhilarating final hour, and why I couldn't quite heartily endorse Life of Pi even though there were parts of it that took my breath away.

Losing Roger Ebert means the loss of  one of the most enthusiastic cinephiles of our time. In his writing, there was droll wit and autobiographical verve. There were wonderful  insights into a life lived in the service of cinema. There was a desire, a need that leapt out from the written word, to ensure that you got up and watched that film he was recommending to you, everything else be damned. As his health began to fail him, there was sadness, extended reflections on mortality creeping more and more steadily into his writing.

Always, always, there was an unabashed love for the cinematic medium and its myriad possibilities.

So Goodbye Roger Ebert, and thank you so very much for letting me into your world for so many years. As I consider the prospect of not having a new review of yours to look forward to, I will think of the words of my friend Lawrence: "Three thumbs down". 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

A film that begins with an insurgent being tortured into revealing crucial intelligence? Surely they follow that with one of the characters making a speech about the wrongness of torture? What, there isn't so much as a single line about the futility of torture but instead they portray the torturers sympathetically, as non-sadistic people who take no visible pleasure in their task? There must have been a scene where the victim of torture is revealed to be utterly innocent at the very least, right? Nope, he's responsible for a terrorist attack. Then there can be no other conclusion except that Zero Dark Thirty is a pro-torture film! 

But see, I'm not referring to ZDT: Those are scenes from Gillo Pontecorvo's award winning film, The Battle of Algiers (1965) which is today acknowledged as one of the greatest films ever made and has the distinction of being one of the few films that was compulsory viewing for guerrilla movements and counter-revolutionary forces alike. The film gives the clear impression that Algiers dissidents were crushed thanks to information received through torture. Even though later reports from the Algerian revolution reveal that torture was not as instrumental in obtaining intelligence, it would be quite a stretch of imagination to call the film "pro-torture".

So why the double standards for Kathryn Bigelow's film about the hunt and eventual assassination of Osama bin Laden? The Academy Awards were handed out yesterday and ZDT has been properly screwed over in every category because of the controversy over its  depiction of torture and deviance from fact. Ironically, all accolades went to the utterly undeserving Argo which, at best, had a rather tenuous grip over the meaning of 'fact'. Before I watched ZDT, I was horrified that anybody would release a film that was pro-torture propaganda. Now that I have watched the film, I realize that Bigelow's brilliant film has been completely misunderstood; Zero Dark Thirty is among the best war/political films I've seen in recent times and is very reminiscent of The Battle of Algiers in the way it dispassionately, almost clinically, dissects the events surrounding bin Laden's death.

One of the first scenes from ZDT, when the detainee who was defiant through the torture sessions breaks down when he is handed a bottle of orange juice, hating himself for feeling gratitude towards his captors reminded me of a very similar scene in the beginning of The Battle of Algiers where the revolutionary is lying there, broken after the torture, and weeps when he is handed a French uniform. While it is difficult to watch a man being beaten into submission, it is downright heartrending to watch a man's dignity being stripped. In case you missed it, that was the film-makers humanizing the dreaded Al-Qaeda even as the torturers were de-humanizing them: something that Hollywood has been incapable of doing thus far.

Oddly enough, if you see what the critics are saying, they aren't saying tortu-- oops I mean enhanced interrogation techniques are not used by the CIA or that black sites don't exist; they're saying that the CIA didn't use torture to catch bin Laden. And the CIA doesn't use crude methods like dog collars! Those are the mainstays of low level military police, the CIA only use water-boarding and there are doctors monitoring the detainees' health! And torture doesn't even work, you guys so that's why ZDT is a dishonest movie. But for a film-maker, saying all of that in a movie is the easy, Oscar-baiting way out. The difficult question is:  what if it did work? What if torture did lead to the capture of bin Laden? Films are not about faithful adherence to events (and some are certainly more than just entertainment) but are about posing questions that we may not want to hear the answer to. To me, ZDT was not endorsing the view that torture did lead to the capture of bin Laden. To me, the film was asking us if robbing countless men and women of their humanity and dignity was worth the price of shooting an (allegedly) unarmed man in the head in the middle of the night; a man that hadn't been seen in years; a man that the US Government itself had lost interest in. All that the SEALS left behind were scared, wailing children and a blood stain on the floor, while patting each other on the back for getting Public Enemy No. 1. But the genius of ZDT is that  it never passed any judgment either way: there were no maudlin speeches about how sad torture is or any Col Nathan R Jessup/ army types telling us that reality is harsh and war needs torture. The film only asks us if we can afford the bill at the end of the meal.

If you are going to watch a film by a major Hollywood studio to look for the truthful version of a historical event, you're doing it wrong.

But more than anything, ZDT was a very personal film a woman's dogged pursuit of bin Laden. Maya (played by Jessica Chastain) has a hunch that she simply wouldn't let go of for 12 years-- even though she's been targeted by terrorist groups and everybody from her boss to the dog walker have asked her to simply let it go. And Maya keeps us and her colleagues at arm's length-- she texts during meals, she wont suck up the higher ups, rarely smiles and is a bit of a recluse. But at the end of the film, Maya when the goal she has been working for her entire adult life has been achieved, when she has nothing left except tears, we finally share common ground with her. Are there any of us that have not feared the utter emptiness that follows the achievement of one's life goals?  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Early on in this transcendent  movie, we find its lead trio at a late night car drive. A song comes up on the radio, a song which we know as David Bowie's anthemic Heroes, but one that they don't yet recognize. They instantly fall in love with it, and Emma Watson's character commands her step-brother  who is at the wheel to drive through "the tunnel", even as our wallflower protagonist Charlie looks on in confusion.  As they get to this tunnel, Watson stands up and spreads her arms above her head. Charlie looks up at her, watching in wonder as she is illuminated by golden streaks of tunnel light.eve Meanwhile, Bowie's chorus crashes and pulses.

"I feel ... infinite" he says.

That, precisely, is how the movie made me feel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower centers around Charlie -  His closest friend's killed himself the year before and he starts his freshman year painfully shy and alone, desperately counting down the days before he's able to get away. That is, until one fine night he summons the courage to sidle up to senior Patrick  at a football game . He's soon joined by Patrick's step sister Sam (Emma Watson, finally NOT evoking Hermione!) and before he knows it, the boundaries of his life start falling away.

This simple enough coming-of-age story is rendered extraordinary through the manner in which it zeroes in on relatable moments with considerable nuance, or the way in which its characters are so likeable without the movie trying any manipulative tactics to make them superhuman. The incalculable excitement of meeting and connecting with a group of strangers, the nervous joy of realizing a new set of friendships, and the terror of   losing them - Perks swings for the fences with its big bruising heart, and connects every single time.

It helps that it gets in a trio of great performances -    As our wallflower, Logan Lerman perfectly captures the awkwardness and subdued charm of the central character. He's also good with physical comedy - cue the part where he attempts to shuffle up to Sam and Patrick on the dancefloor, doing what can only be described as a variation of the snake dance. For Emma Watson, this is her first real post-Potter test, and she acquits herself remarkably. Her Sam is a character at once tough and vulnerable, self-assured and simultaneously on the verge of important realizations about herself. "We accept the love we think we deserve" says Charlie's English teacher, and it is a lesson that she in particular must learn over the course of the film. The revelation for me though was Ezra Miller's Patrick, whose livewire presence gives the movie a burst of vitality every time he's onscreen.

Ultimately,  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower does the remarkable feat of maintaining a tone of bittersweet melancholy through its running time, while also proving hilarious in its acute observations. Nostalgia permeates its frames - the movie somehow feels like a recounted memory, even though it is told in a present-day chronological manner. Fitting then, considering what a memorable cinematic experience it is.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Hobbit (2012)

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy was not perfect-- it was disappointing when Faramir went through that weird evil phase or when the hobbits did not get their moment of bravery in the end, but LOTR is tricky source material. Tom Bombadil hey-derry-dolling through the Old Forest would've raised eyebrows among Tolkien novitiates. What is important is that PJ's vision and devotion to the books was true and that's what makes the trilogy eminently rewatchable (I am one of those rabid fans that rewatches it annually). So you can imagine how excited I was when there was talk about making The Hobbit into a film. I signed the "Let the Hobbit Happen" campaign; I spent hours and hours scouring TOR forums for casting news; I wrote anxious blog posts about the studios' inability to shoot the movie; I must've rewatched the film trailer a few hundred times and yes, in the darkest moments, I doubted PJ's decision to split the book into three movies.

What I am building up to is the fact that I wrote this review before the film was even made, nay, in that moment when the stars were scattered into space. I utterly loved this movie. I am sad that there will be only 3 and I have to prepare to say goodbye to Middle-earth once again. I am also a little surprised that this film only has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Too much space has been wasted on discussing the "nausea-inducing" 48 fps format (who ARE these absurd, endolymphically challenged people anyway?). Was it somewhat jarring? Yes, for about 20 minutes. It is mostly forgotten by the time Bilbo is entertaining his dwarf guests. The way these critics have been carrying on about it, why you'd think it signaled the end of the world! The only thing that makes me less angry is that history does not remember the breast-beating Luddites who rued the end of the cave painting era ("Say what you will, but papyrus just doesn't smell like cave wall").

Among the many complaints about the LOTR films was how little background was given to the sad story of the Elves and minor characters being left out. Peter heard us. This time around, he gave the dwarfs a rich and textured history. We can no longer think of them as blundering, blustering ale-quaffing comic reliefs. We also finally begin to understand why dwarfs and elves mistrust each other.

A lot has also been said about how the Hobbit is only a 200-page book and how three movies cannot possibly made. See, this is why you shouldn't trust the critics. Apart from the fact that the film draws from the LOTR appendices, what people don't realize is that, in the book there are several crucial plot points that are dealt with in less than a paragraph. Take the Necromancer for example: in the book, there is barely any discussion about him even though he is so important to the tale. Can you imagine Gandalf saying, "There's a Necromancer who has never been mentioned that I have to go defeat or something. Okay toodles have fun on your quest! Try not to get killed!" In a good book you can say, "He was evil and everybody was afraid of him." In a good movie, you have to show it without saying it.

Is it a detailed and faithful adaptation? Yes. Is it overlong and plodding? Hell no! And I don't just say this as a Tolkien fan: the movie was well paced with several exciting battles and meditative scenes which raised this film above "action flick" status. The Goblin Town escape and the rock giant scenes were superb (and looked much better in HFR format, might I add). And Andy Serkis had better be nominated for his heartrending portrayal of Gollum. I realized that I had never really understood the line "But mercy stayed Bilbo's hand," till I found myself crying in the cinema hall.

few liberties have been taken (the grave of the Witch-King and Azog, for example) but these only served to make the plot more cohesive. In fact, the film-makers' eye for detail was obvious by how well they tied the LOTR films with this movie. The best part was how this film was barely about Bilbo and rightly so, because Bilbo takes some time to fit into his role as burglar/hero.  And Thorin! What a glorious heroic dwarf! Never even in my wildest dreams did I think that some day I'd have wild dreams about Thorin. True, Thorin and Co's avarice has been slightly downplayed; their intention to return to Erebor has been made more noble but if one reads The Hobbit, one does not get a complete sense of how revered Thorin was among the dwarfs. He's not a very pleasant character; Tolkien merely refers to him as "decent folk", "arrogant" and of "Durin's line" and we never understand what that means till the end of the book. It is in LOTR that we understand Thorin's sad history so I am thankful to PJ for treating these characters with so much respect.

My only concerns are that the dwarf Rings ought to have been mentioned by now and Balin as the Venerable Voice of Wisdom, seeing as Balin was the foolhardy dwarf who rushed off to reconquer Moria with a laughably small army a few decades later. Then again, people change and there are two whole movies left so I'll save my questions for the end of the class.

I can see why some have said that this film is inaccessible to non-fans. Gondolin blades are bandied about without telling us what Gondolin is; we aren't told why it is shocking that Belladonna Took's son should good-morning Gandalf. But these little things are meant for the enjoyment of fans and do not materially affect the understanding of the plot. It is possible that the reduced plot exposition may have left some moviegoers puzzled but I don't care because PJ made this film for me. If people refuse to improve their lives by reading Tolkien's books, they don't deserve this film.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

RWB's Top Ten Films of 2012 (And Then Some)

That's right folks, it's that time of the year when RWB furiously researched IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and tries to sound knowledgeable about movies!

2012 was a very busy year for me and I did not watch all the movies I wanted to. It was also a pretty unremarkable year in film. All the big well-advertised films did as expected, but there were such few films where you went in not knowing what to expect and came out as a different person. Still, there were plenty that thrilled. We've linked to the reviews that we wrote so you can read them again:


1. Cloud Altas: The best book adaptation of all time, and quite possibly one of my new all time favourites, there are so many reasons to love this movie. It is ambitious on a level that few films today are - whether it be in the manner in which it plays with narrative, toys with language,  or attempts to cast the same actors across six roles in six timelines and then somehow forge a connection between them. Most daring of all though, is the way it keeps its uncynical heart on its sleeve, culminating in a climax that is almost unbearingly moving. Once again, Cloud Altas is what I go to the movies for.

2. Kahaani: Satisfying in a way that few mystery thrillers are any more. A great, labyrinthine plot is aided by a constantly menacing sense of atmosphere and that fierce central performance by Vidya Balan. Throw in one of the great all-time Bollywood villains and that fantastic plot twist, and Kahaani rockets its way to cinematic greatness.

3. Damsels in Distress: If the first two movies on this list can list narrative strength as their USP, Damsels in Distress coasts by with barely a plot at all. A new girl is befriended by three strong willed women at a college. Their project: save people, and volunteer at the suicide prevention centre. Their chosen method: tap dancing, and at some point, inventing a new international dance craze. From this premise, the film just sort of coasts. But it coasts with dialogue worthy of early Woody Allen, a cast that is utterly charming and a sense of such joyous quirk that I couldn't help but grin through all of it. A trifle, but a great one.

4.  Eega: When I first saw the trailer, I knew I had to watch this movie, simply for how ridiculous the premise looked. I mean come on, guy loves girl, gets killed by another guy, is reincarnated as a fly, and exacts revenge. Also, the film was in Telegu, without subtitles, but who needed plot when all we were going to do was laugh at its inanity? Instead, turns out that Eega was one of the most inventive, witty and thrilling movies of the year, one that somehow managed to make an endearing, expressive character out of a computer generated fly and gave us a satisfyingly bloody revenge saga.

5. Chronicle: If you thought the found footage genre was done to death - and I know I did - along came this movie about three teenagers gaining telekinetic abilities that blew me away. What elevates the thrilling script is the manner in which the direction actually elevates the visual effects - as a critic noted, this movie somehow made special effects feel special again. The best example of this is a mid film sequence where a plane whizzes by our airborne heroes accompanied by the squeal of the audience.

6. Keep the Lights On: Amongst the best gay cinema I've seen in a while, the movie follows the course of a relationship that's marred superficially by alcohol dependence, but is really struggling with the larger problems of an emotional incompatibility. Dropping in on a couple at different moments of their slowly fraying relationship, there is a searingly powerful quality to the way the movie captures the growth and loss of intimacy between two men. It's the kind of gay cinema we need now, one that moves beyond a pre-occupation with questions about coming out or even homosexuality as such, but also stops short of simply inserting two gay men into a heterosexual story.

7. Ruby Sparks: What would you do if you wrote about the person of your dreams - and they came to life? Made by the people who brought us Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks starts with this interesting enough premise and then turns it into a fascinating exploration of what it means for us to even try to seek that perfect person. Its helped along by a typically low key performance by Paul Dano, and the refusal of the script to give us any easy answers.

8. English Vinglish: Sure its predictable, but it doesn't prevent this movie from being utterly charming. Anchored by a great performance by Sridevi, but also aided by the underrated and really quite fantastic ensemble, English Vinglish is a heartwarming winner.

9. Life of Pi: If Life of Pi had somehow just been about that middle hour in the sea, it would've easily made it to my top 3. These are visually stunning and viscerally terrifying sequences, aided by Ang Lee's excellent dialogue-less direction for the greater part of the hour. What isn't all that great is the faux-spirituality that opens and closes the movie, the ham-handed "Is there a God?" existentialism that we're essentially force fed, the often clunky dialogue writing. They rob a hypnotic movie of some of its power. Thank god (ha) for Richard Parker then.

10. Skyfall and  Cabin in the Woods: Two "genre" movies make my final cut, in part because they're sneakily not genre movies at all. Skyfall starts off as your typical Bond movie, but then takes a surprisingly moving detour into becoming a deconstruction of the role of intelligence agencies in general, and this man in particular. Judi Dench's M gets an extended role becoming the movie's Bond girl in a way, and the visuals - ranging from a laser light drenched silhouetted fight, to a bleak orange-fire burnished landscape finale - are stunning.

Cabin in the Woods is one of the best horror movies I've seen, mostly because it also manages to take a detour into becoming a question about why we indulge in a genre at all. With a crackling script by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, Cabin in the Woods deconstructs and scares in equal measure. It also has a murderous unicorn, which single-handedly (single-horndedly?) earns it its place.

Other Mentions:

Best Movie I watched this year that wasn't released in 2012: Chungking Express

Biggest Disappointment of the Year: The Dark Knight Rises

Most Rewatched Movie of the Year: Pitch Perfect (Glee with acapella, whee!)

Best first-half that is unable to sustain itself: Prometheus

Most purely entertaining movie of the Year, that I can't objectively call "good": Aiyyaa

Worst Movie of the Year: Dark Shadows, tied with the thankfully little-seen The Tall Man

Not seen at the time of writing but would possibly make it to this list: Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty)


10. The Dark Knight RisesNever has the weak, maskless alter ego been so brutally examined in the superhero genre. While some did not think of it as a worthy successor to The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was a fitting conclusion to Nolan's superb Batman trilogy with fantastic performances by Joseph Gordon-Lewitt, Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard. Besides, we have this series to thank for the upcoming gritty, red underwearless Superman film.

9. Gangs of Wasseypur:  At once a hilarious take on cinema's effect on the Indian masses and a documentary of India's dark coal legacy and the dramatic tale of a family and a film that required one to carry a slang dictionary, Gangs of Wasseypur was easily one of the best Indian films this year with scintillating dialogue pulled off with ease by actors like Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the well-chosen supporting actors.

8. Looper:  Of all the things one could possibly use time travel for, trust futuristic crime gangs to use it to send their victims back in time to be murdered and disposed off. Like any good time travel film, Looper kept you on the edge of your seat and had a climax that you never saw coming. Of course it had a few loopholes but nitpicking is so passé.

7. Lincoln:  I don't mind admitting that despite its heavy-handed editing of historical events and unnecessarily dramatic courtroom scenes,Steven Spielberg's Amistad is one of my all-time favourite films. Spielberg returns to what he does best with this biopic of Abraham Lincoln's final days. Daniel Day-Lewis is precise as ever, with his deliberate speech and ability to fascinate and irritate audience with the neverending anecdotes and quotes. It's films like these that make you want to beseech god to bless America.

6. Life of Pi:  It's a common complaint that since Avatar, few films have truly captured the magnificence of 3D. Life of Pi brought the magic back with jaw dropping vistas of oceans, thunderstorms, jelly fish, whales and night skies that will make you believe the film's theist message. The dialogue may have been a bit clunky and overwrought but who's listen when your eyes are treated to such a visual spectacle?

5. Chronicle:  If this is what the superhero genre is going to look like once they run out of comic books, then the genre is in safe hands. Chronicle tells the story of three high school students bestowed with superpowers and will leave you thinking about it for days after.

4. Moonrise Kingdom:  As Wes Andersononian as a Wes Anderson film can get, Moonrise Kingdom was a delight to watch! It was hilarious, funny and touching. Yes, it was what one may call quirky, but not in that contrived Zooey Deschanel way. And Edward Norton had better get a supporting actor nomination for this.

3. Frankenweenie:  Wes Anderson and Tim Burton are two of the most scorned directors today because they happen to love certain motifs. Frankenweenie, a remake of Burton's 1984 film had all the swirls, ghouls and zombies that one expects in a Burton film but did it feel like we had seen it all before? Not in the least. This was Burton's loving tribute to the horror film genre and if anything, reminds us why Burton is still at the top of his game.

2. The Avengers:  Dark and gloomy superheroes with dead parents? No thanks. Give us lots of superheroes, explosions and side-splittingly funny lines with a side of The Hulk. Hurry up with the sequel, Marvel Studios!

1. The Hobbit:  Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with this superb and faithful adaptation of the book. Initially, I wasn't convinced by the decision to split the book into three parts, but now I can see why it made sense and cant wait for part 2 and 3. While there has been some mixed reviews over the format and the length of the film, it remained true to the Tolkienian ethos and honestly, I don't know why anybody would want to complain about spending 9 gloriously immersive hours in Middle-earth.

Honourable Mentions:

To Rome with Love: A quintessentially Woody script that only suffered from the lack of an overarching theme. 

Skyfall: Gritty Bond is fine, but why did they just film The Dark Knight Rises with guns and Aston Martins?

English Vinglish: An adorable if mildly cliche-ridden film that was was a joy to watch.

Films that are great for a Boring Saturday Night, even if they aren't great films: 

Argo: Look, it was suspenseful and historically accurate and everything, but it is strictly watch on Star Movies at 9 pm stuff.

Men in Black 3Josh Brolin's awesome Tommy Lee impression is reason enough!

Films that could have been great, but lacked a certain je-ne-sais-quoi:

The Amazing Spider Man: It wasn't that it lacked good actors or a solid script, but this film did not manage to justify a remake so soon after the Sam Raimi trilogy.

Dark Shadows: Burton sure knows how to weave the macabre with the funny but it lacked that Burton quality that makes us shiver and weep and laugh at the same time.

Film that I loved even though, in my heart of hearts, I know that it was not a very good film: 

John Carter: I've already defended this film like it was my first born, so you can just read it here

Criminal wastes of time and money for everybody concerned:

Snow White and the Huntsman: I dont want to be a part of the Kristen Stewart Hate Wagon, but my god, she's a terrible actor who did her best to commit to a godawful script.

Barfi!I didn't hate it with a vengeance immediately after I watched it. But now that I've seen what 2012 has had to offer, the fact that Barfi was India's official Oscar entry just makes me hate it with a passion.

Have a great 2013, folks! May all your Oscar bets bring you money (unless you differ in opinion from us, of course).