This has been an excellent year with the movies. I made one of the best decisions this year: to stop watching commercial movies that were quite obviously crap. One of the consequences of growing older is that it finally becomes clear to you what you like and you can start to really savor that fine stuff. There is simply no reason to be compelled, at some level, to watch what everyone seems to be talking about.
The bazillion-dollar graphics-laden sequel-bound lowest-common-denominator crap is what hogs all the attention. But if you skip past that, the rest of the field is actually getting better. With a growing TV and multiplex audience, lots of fresh stories with good implementation are coming from India. With the availability of subtitles and internet based distribution, there is a virtual smorgasbord of movies from different countries available for your tasting.
The following, in no particular order, are what I believe to be the best amongst the movies I saw this year. I found these movies to be brilliant in every way: entertaining, engrossing and stimulating. I hope you will see a few of these movies sometime.
A Simple Life (桃姐)
The last act of a relationship between an old maid and the guy she cared for since childhood. Made me a huge fan of Andy Lau and Deannie Yip. Lots of moving moments and slices of what life essentially is.
A failed cellist moves back to his home town to take a job of preparing the dead for cremation ceremonies. Death is one of the best subjects for a movie and Departures is loaded with symbolism. The background score is full of beautiful cello tracks.
I Wish (奇跡)
Discovering Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda was one of the highlights of this year. I loved I Wish so much, I ended up watching all his movies. I cannot imagine how he gets children to act so naturally, but they simply do in his movies. Here two brothers living in different Japanese cities, due to their parents’ separation, make a journey to meet midway. Left me all giddy with childhood memories.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring
This has one of the most stunningly beautiful and tranquil settings for a movie. Quite apt since you go through the cycle of life watching someone grow from child to adult. Very meditative and a fantastic movie to discuss with friends.
I did not watch any movies growing up. So, I am going through old Hindi gems at a glacial pace. A lot of good movies seem timeless. The gender, family and social issues at the heart of Aandhi seem much more relevant today than when it was made. And I do not even need to speak about a few of the songs, they are just perfect.
Summer Hours (L’Heure d’été)
Another movie with death, this one is in France. The children have to decide what to do with their mother’s rural home and possessions after she passes away. So many bright and happy memories are linked with the place of our upbringing.
Veteran actors, and yet they seem to be in their prime. Such good performances.
Thrilling plot, noisy and colorful Kolkata aptly matched by fine acting by Vidya Balan, Nana and Nawaz.
Tokyo Sonata (トウキョウソナタ)
A Japanese salaryman’s family slowly implodes after he loses his job. Top notch acting.
Intense, nailbiting and intelligent. To this day, I feel queasy thinking about the plight of the cop who is left no choice but to continue his life of crime.
Martin Scorcese’s remake, The Departed, feels like utter junk once you see the original. With the easy availability of subtitles today, there is simply no reason to not watch the originals.
In a future where your class is decided by your genes, one guy tries to steal his way through the ranks. I do not need to stress the parallels with current state of society.
Totally raises the bar for any modern war movie. One of the most edge-of-seat movies I’ve seen.
Despite its flaws, small town India and the frustrations of childhood are well depicted. As a bonus, the songs turned out to be earworms.
Still Walking (歩いても 歩いても)
Another masterpiece from Hirokazu Koreeda. A happy family, but underneath they’ve never forgotten the death of their elder son, who drowned saving another kid. Family dynamics, the internal tensions, emotions, feelings, the Asian way of expressing indirectly, all brought out in perfection.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
A documentary that follows one year in the life of fur trappers in remote Siberia. The changing of seasons, the desolation and the peace.
That is it! Hoping for another good year of movies in 2014 😊