Following the ‘tradition’ from last year, this is a list of movies that I watched this year, and liked. I tend to do at least one every week or so, but it has been more of one every 2 weeks. I like crashing early (not necessarily translating to being an early riser), so one of the key factors in watching a movie, even on a weekend night, is the length. I love movies that are less than 2 hours in length. The sweet spot is around 100 minutes. Some just work despite their length. Spirited Away, which I re-watched yesterday is an example. Even at slightly over 2 hours, by the time you get some release to look at your watch, it’s almost an hour into the movie!
This year I managed around 30 movies, which is a bit more than once a fortnight, of which 16 are listed here. One in the list, Interstellar, is something I watched in a Movie Hall. This was almost 6 months after its release and INOX in Magrath Road was running a sole show every day morning at 10:40 AM. I finally managed to get myself out of bed early enough on a Sunday to head there for this. The timing was excellent as it was taken off by the next weekend. Needless to say, one of those movies that are best watched on a big screen.
Anyway, here’s the list of those I loved. Again, there is no ranking, just a bunch of them dumped here.
1. Interstellar (2014)
I don’t really need to add much here. One of my all time favourite movies. It didn’t necessarily work well with my acrophobia, or my fear of flying. Or my fear of going away from home and not getting to return. And of course, all that crazy ageing because of a black hole! It was a hard movie to watch, and something that I still watch with my heart in my throat.
I don’t think it released in India at all! I loved the concept, of shooting a movie with actors as they age, or in this case, as they literally grow up! And it’s so easy to have gotten lost within these concepts. But the script works, and stays strong right till the end! And that’s where the strength of the movie lies. It’s also pretty lucky that the actors were all around for all those years, and nothing untoward happened to any of them! Just cannot recommend this enough!
3. Station Agent
I watched this for Peter Dinklage. Long before Game Of Thrones, was this movie of 3 lonely people going about their lives, approaching it differently in each case, and finding solace in their unlikely friendships. The narration is pretty laid-back and doesn’t hurry anywhere, right till the end. And there are no easy answers, as is typical of Hollywood, and the movie doesn’t give you any. To quote the Beatles, it’s mostly “I get by, with a little help from my friends”. And of course, watch this for Peter Dinklage.
4. Ghost World
Think a whole blog post on it would suffice, so will just link it again here. Almost a Coen Brothers dark comedy, this.
Last year I had clubbed all the Ghibli movies under one header. This year, I finished all the Ghiblis and explored a bit of other Animes too, mostly by Satoshi Kon.
5. The Tale of Princess Kaguya:
This is one of the last movies made by Ghibli Studio. And one of my favourites too. I love the way the entire movie is drawn. It is almost like someone is playing with crayons. And the way movement is captured is delightful. The slower ones are normal, but note the scene where the Princess runs away from her foster family. And of course, with Ghibli, the whole thing is backed by a solid script.
6. The Wind Rises
This was one of the hardest Ghibli movies for me till date. I expected it to follow the usual trail and narrative of having child protagonists or strong childhood elements. This is more a biopic of a Japanese Aircraft designer, and while dealing with aircraft mostly, it also gives you an idea of Japan around the time of the war, the war machine it was and life at that time. It is much longer than the usual Ghibli movies, it just feels longer as biopics tend to. It didn’t help that the copy I had was pretty bad and didn’t have proper subtitles. Also happens to be the last one from Miyazaki before he retired.
7. From Up on Poppy Hill
This was typical, lovely, Ghibli fare. Childhood, growing up, school and its vagaries and triumphs. Just enough to be different from their other movies, and just enough to give you that feeling of warmth.
8. The Girl who Leapt Through Time
Not from Ghibli. Typically Japanese take on time travel. The setting is a school and the time traveler is a student and her travails and dilemmas dealing with what is initially a boon, but fast turns into something she struggles to control. The movie works because of the typically teenage problems she confronts and how having something that’s special doesn’t give her a way out, eventually forcing her to face her troubles head-on.
9. Perfect Blue
Gory! This is what you first hear about Anime. A psychological thriller, but doesn’t shy from going all gory on its viewers. None of the feel good school settings or growing up stories here. It reminded me of another movie I had watched a few years back – Paprika. Wasn’t too surprised that Satoshi Kon was the director for that also.
10. Millennium Actress
Another Satoshi Kon. But this time a lot easier on the eyes. And the brain, to some extent at least. An actress who disappears from the movie world, at the peak of her career traced down by a documentary maker. Her past, and her quest for someone through her films told through conversations with him. I expected to be bored. But these are people at the top of their art.
I was pretty surprised that I hadn’t heard of Ozu until this year. I had 3 years of Netflix when in the US, and I expected to have, at least, come across his name. During those years I made myself watch a lot of Kurosawa movies, sometimes getting them, mostly not, trying to get to the end, to be analysed later. Having a pretty good memory always helps here.
With Ozu it was much easier and such force-feeding unnecessary. But then this is me after all these years of watching movies. How I would have received his movies at that time, I can only speculate. Having said that, Ozu is far more accessible, his stories straight out of real life. Fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, uncles, aunts. It is almost a template for Barjatiya movies, except that they are exactly what a Barjatiya, or any Bollywood director, or even a Hollywood director cannot make. There is that aversion to things happening, events only referred to before they happen and then again after they happen. And they all happen, like all those vacations that you plan and take, which are more often than not likely to happen as per plan. And someone observing your life through Ozu’s camera can only see the before and after simply because the camera never left your house. These same uncles, aunts and sundry, are normal people. They have the best of intentions for you, but not necessarily the right approaches. They also know other people, through lives they lead off the screen also. Basically, every day life, as you and I experience it.
Note on the trailers: they didn’t have trailers back then. So kindly adjust.
11. An Autumn Afternoon
This was my first Ozu, and am glad I picked this one. Most importantly, this is a colour film, unlike his earlier Black and White ones. It made a world of difference getting used to the themes and the way things flow. The story is about a father and his daughter, and his needing to get her married. He’s happy to maintain the status quo, with his daughter taking care of him and his youngest son. His daughter-in-law and other friends, however, have other ideas and goad him into getting into the “hunt” mode. Was pretty surprising how similar Japan at that time is to India now.
(Trailer: It looks like a long trailer, but it’s actually 2 trailers one after the other!)
12. Tokyo Story
Most lists of greatest movies ever made, have this among the top 5 or 10. Hard to see why not. The movie is very subtle, and doesn’t really seem to say anything. Everything happens below the surface cloaked in a mask of politeness and civility. An elderly couple making a trip to see their children. This is post War japan, where everyone is working hard with little reward. There are grandchildren 9 years old whom the grandparents haven’t met. Communication is only through letters with visits barely done once every few years or more. And in this setting, you have a gentle meditation of growing up, children becoming adults, adults growing old, the old passing on. And in that, compassion, respect and finding the time for it in the madness of trying to make a living. Watch it for the excellent Chishu Ryu, who also plays the father in ‘An Autumn Afternoon’.
13. Late Spring
Again, the same combo of actors: Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. As father and daughter this time. The themes are pretty similar to ‘An Autumn Afternoon’, but is a bit more complicated in that the status quo looks happy for everyone and someone comes along and challenges that as unsustainable in the long run. At the end of it one person gets a raw deal, if you look at it that way. In fact Ozu makes you look at it that way, even though what transpires is as per the natural order of society. I liked it more than ‘An Autumn Afternoon’. There is no trailer as such, so make do with this poster please.
14. The Only Son
There is a kind of melancholy pervading this movie. A son who wants to study and a single mother who struggles to put him through his higher education in Tokyo. Years later, she arrives in Tokyo to see that his education hasn’t amounted to much, and he’s going through the usual struggles of middle-class living in pre-war Tokyo. Even the teacher who convinced her to help her son study further is now washed up, and is a cook in a small restaurant. Also, my second most favourite Ozu film after Tokyo Story. Again, no trailer, only poster.
These are two movies that I picked up due to various reasons, not all of them straightforward. I usually go to Roger Ebert’s great movies list and try to pick something from them. This list is also what led me to Ozu.
15. The Broken Circle Breakdown
I stumbled on a version of the song “If I needed you” on youtube which was from this movie. This got me interested in the movie and I downloaded it a year ago, but managed to get around to it only this year. The story is about a couple who fall in love passionately, get married, and have a child, a girl they love with equal passion. It is a seemingly happy family where nothing can go wrong. Then the daughter gets diagnosed with Cancer when she’s six and eventually succumbs to it, leaving her parents devastated and struggling to come to grips with it. This is when their differences, the husband being a rational atheist who hates religion with a passion, and the wife, who is more spiritual, and likes to cling on to things, starts showing up. What makes the movie even more amazing is the bluegrass soundtrack. The couple being a part of a bluegrass troupe the movie is suffused with country songs, and sung by the lead actors themselves.
Okay. This is the last one. I don’t think I can write anymore.
This movie took a while to get used to. And it kept raising questions long after it was over. What if you’re locked in with someone who doesn’t talk? And you can’t stop talking yourself, because you’re creeped out by the silences? Will it lead to insanity at some point? What makes the movie even creepier is the photography. At times, it reminds of “2001: A Space Odyssey” as random images get thrown on the screen. At times, the movie is frustrating, and you really want to get the one who’s stopped talking to say something!
No Hindi, Tamil or Malayalam movies this time on the list. Somehow, ended up not watching any. Not by design, of course. There are quite a few on my to-watch list. Hopefully, next year.
The rest of the movies can be found in this list here.