I wish I could make this a list of my favourite films from world cinema. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t watch many. Next year however, I should be able to come up with a more inclusive list. For now, my top 10 from Hollywood. Keep in mind that this is my opinion of the best I saw in 2014, not necessarily released in the same year.
If there is a ‘Sanjay Leela Bhansali’ in Hollywood, it surely is Wes Anderson. A comparison unfair to both, but for persons unfamiliar with Wes’ unique narrative style and grand visuals, this is a start. The Grand Budapest Hotel combines satire, comedy, a bit of theft, history and mixes it thoroughly, garnishing with opulent sets and colorful scenery. The result? An enjoyable cinematic experience! Ralph Fiennes turns in a fantastic performance as a concierge of the said hotel, whose duties go well beyond the mundane…how he gets framed for murder of one of his guests and proves his innocence forms the crux of the tale. Supported by an able starcast, Ralph leads the movie into my personal top 10!
This is not a movie that many would like, but I for one found it quite intriguing. The movie is metaphorical, and as it progresses, one starts speculating on what is actually going on. Turns out that you would have to wait for the very last scene for it to make sense…and then you would want to watch the movie again, this time, better informed! Its like the Sixth Sense…the whole movie flashes by in the last scene and then you just have to press rewind (at least in those days of cassette tapes one had to…).
‘Chaos is order yet undeciphered’ says the opening line. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the central character(s) , one of them a history professor and another, a small time movie actor. The professor rents a movie to watch and is surprised when he sees his look-alike on screen. What transpires next is best left unsaid. Watch it.
Richard Linklater (the Before…trilogy) needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, Before Midnight and Before Sunset…suggest that you stop reading this right away and go watch them!
This movie however, is more than just a movie. Its like a real-life Truman Show. Linklater filmed this movie over a span of twelve years, chronicling the journey of a young boy into adulthood. It also stars Linklater favourite Ethan Hawke.
As I understand, this kind of project has never been attempted before, and for that, I give full marks to Linklater. Watching the boy ‘grow up’ in front of your eyes, his dealing with the various issues that one faces during boyhood and the early teens, is almost surreal. Yes, the movie gets a bit slow during the third act, and at a running time of 165 minutes, it isn’t exactly concise…yet i feel that the scope of the movie justified its length. A great watch!
Ethan Hawke makes a second appearance on my list, this time through an Australian science fiction movie. There are science fiction movies and science fiction movies…this is the latter. Requiring a certain degree of intelligence (sorry fans of Transformers and everything Michael Bay), the story travels back and forth in time and revolves around a plot to bomb New York City. Director duo the Sperig brothers keep the narrative tight and the viewers guessing…and its only in the ending scenes that the whole movie unfolds in front of you (quite a fan of this genre btw). Some concepts can be quite mind-bending, but common, this is science fiction! Until proven fact of course 🙂
An unlikely movie to make an appearance here, but I was pleasantly surprised when I watched Guardians…superhero franchises are super strong in Hollywood, with nearly every comic character turned into a series of movies ( some fortunately, like the Green Lantern, we may be spared the ‘pleasure of a sequel’). Guardians features the Marvel comics superhero team of the same name, with Chris Pratt leading the pack, and Zoe Saldanha (does she always look blue or green or orange in every movie??), MMA star Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel (as the voice of the lovable Groot). But the cake and the bakery belong to Bradley Cooper, the voice of Rocket, a genetically engineered raccoon and bounty hunter. Boy, he makes you whistle when he comes on screen! Arguably one of the best written characters in Marvel comics.
The movie is bolstered by a fantastic soundtrack, aptly titled – Awesome Mix Vol. 1, a compilation of hits from the 70s and early 80s. The last scene has the promise of a sequel…by unveiling Awesome Mix Vol. 2…we are waiting!
A simple romantic story, this one. Keira Knightley plays a singer-songwriter who is discovered by a struggling record label executive (Mark Ruffalo) and collaborates with him to produce an album recorded in public locations all over New York City. Adam Levine, the lead vocalist of Maroon 5, makes his acting debut. The songs are very soothing, the acting mellow, and a good feeling prevails over the whole movie. Keira surprised with her singing abilities (yes, she sings the songs herself) and Levine does a commendable job. There is this one scene, where Kiera sings and Mark watches her…and imagines a whole band playing around her and this lifts the song to a greater height…this scene will stay with me for a long time…
This movie is again a simple story about the owner of a restaurant (Om Puri) landing in France with his family, after a tragedy strikes him in India. Here, he resolves to open an Indian restaurant bang in the middle of the French countryside, much to the chagrin of his family (except the hero of the story, one of his sons) and the owner of a French Michelin star restaurant (Helen Mirren in a delightful role) situated opposite. Helen and Om are seasoned actors, and their performances reflect that, but for me, the star of the show was Charlotte Le Bon, who plays and aspiring chef and the hero’s love interest. She brings a very soothing presence to the character, and her understated performance lifts the film. Enjoyable!
This was a movie that I was waiting to see, not because I had read the book, but because of the buzz around it. Wasn’t in vain. Ben Affleck turns in one of his career best performances, but it’s Rosamund Pike who leaves the lasting impression. Carrie Coon also does well as Ben’s sister, and Neil Patrick Harris shines in a brief but pivotal role. The movie revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Pike’s character, and how her husband (played by Ben) becomes the prime suspect. But is all like what it seems?
One takeaway from the movie – I will now surely read the book!
Two words – Luc Besson. Another two words – Scarlett Johansson. The resulting two words – Fantastic cinema!
Luc’s Leon: The Professional has been one of my all time favourite movies, and Scarlett’s performances have always interested me. This movie has both, and the best of both. Luc zips through the movie so fast that the short running time of 89 minutes feels even shorter, much like an episode of 24 (the TV series)! The story presents an intriguing concept – what if we were able to utilize much more of our brain capacity? 20%? 40%? 100%? Scarlett Johansson plays the unlikely victim who, due to a strange mix of circumstances, gets the ability to utilize much more of her brain capacity than ordinary humans. All while being chased by a drug gang. The resulting car chases and fight sequences are typical Besson…fast paced, heart-in-the-mouth kinds, and a lot of bullets and guns. And it gets over so fast that you are left thirsting for more! Watch it, if you haven’t already. Girl power rocks!
No prizes for guessing this one. Christopher Nolan hits the ball out of the park (or should I say galaxy) with this science fiction extravaganza. Mind you, this is science fiction, not science fantasy, so everything shown in the movie is based on actual science! And so the black hole with the shining ring around it (its called gravitational lensing, if you are interested), the tesseract, the extreme gravity causing slowing of time…everything is based on actual science. In fact, the makers have come out with a book – The Science of Interstellar, written by Kip Thorne, who was the consulting scientist for the movie.
Story? The basic premise of the movie is intergalactic travel, through a wormhole open near Saturn. reasons? Well, as usual. To save the Earth. Treatment? Nolan brings in the emotional element in huge doses and for me, that really worked. The relationship between the protagonist ( Matthew McConaughey in yet another career-defining role) and his daughter (played by three different actresses ) was very touching, and well portrayed. The special effects? Those are pretty good nowadays anyway, and this movie is no exception. Any flaws? Well, if I had to be picky, it would be McConaughey’s odd way of speaking (he swallows words, sometimes whole sentences). Nevertheless, the best movie I have seen in a long, long time!