Sunday, January 03, 2021

Movies Round Up 2020

A second year in a row of this annual post coming a few days after the new year is underway. Of course that's where the similarities end between the year that just passed and anything, ever. In fact I was in two minds about putting up this post at all, lots of normal things don't feel quite right at this point. Unlike the last five years I also stopped the quick Twitter reviews of the movies I watched, starting in April, as the pandemic fully emerged.

Anyway, we have completed a year, and we have watched a few movies. For many of us movies are a refuge from the humdrum of daily life, and in 2020 it was perhaps more so than ever before. Unfortunately the magical experience of watching these wonderful things on the big screen was not possible for most of us, but thanks to the OTT platforms really going over-the-top and into release overdrive, we managed OK. 

This is the 12th year of this tradition, and as always here's a recap of the prior years-

200920102011201220132014201520162017, 2018, and 2019.

Quality wise 2020 movies wasn't much to write about compared to the few exceptional years it had leading up to. But once again the pandemic definitely played a part in this as many movie makers decided to not release lots of movies that were planned, and pushed to 2021. This was true globally, however, an unexpected side effect, and not really sure if there's any causation/correlation involved here, the quality of TV shows continued to scale new heights. 

Back to the movies, and some anecdotes as always.

1. The number of movies I watched in a theater (in 2 months and a week) was 10. Was on a good track to compete against the record breaking 2019 where I watched 58 movies in a theater. Thank you AMC A-List for the memories.

2. I went on a streaming service subscription frenzy as the movies seem to be distributed across so many now, and ended the year with the following: Amazon Video, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Hotstar (Indian), HBO Max, Starz, Showtime, Hoichoi (Bangla), and likely a few I am forgetting.

3. The highlight of the year was surely the re-binge watching of the 7 (8?) Harry Potter series with my wife and daughter. As expected the 5 year old enjoyed till the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire was watched through scrunched up eyes, and the Order of the Phoenix is where the wizarding world lost a fan, for now.

Now time to take a look at the numbers.

Here is the Summary Table (in its 14th year) of movies released in the same year (2020 for this post) that I watched.

Year     # Seen    Hindi:English:Others   Top Rating  Avg. Rating
2007     32               22:10:0                           9.0             5.78
2008     30               23:7:0                             8.5             6.35
2009     24               18:6:0                             9.0             6.85
2010     25               16:9:0                             8.5             6.62
2011     22               15:6:1                             8.5             6.77
2012     28               12:11:5                           9.0             7.33
2013     28               14:14:0                           9.0             7.12
2014     16               10:6:0                             9.0             6.16 
2015     26               20:6:0                             9.0             6.55
2016     30               17:13:0                           9.5             6.98
2017     31               17:13:1                           9.0             7.03
2018     87               23:59:5                           9.0             7.29
2019     86               12:65: 9                          10.0           7.45
2020     38               16:20:2                           9.0             7.40

The split of the movies by source (not just 2020 movies) was as follows.

HBO Max12
Amazon Video11
Grand Total67

And now for rankings. As always, Top 5 Hindi and Non-Hindi movies of the year (released in 2020). Goes without saying, but still saying (redundant!) these are just from the 38 odd movies I watched, so FWIW. All images are courtesy of IMDb. The streaming updates below are valid as of Jan 2021.

Non-Hindi Movies (not including documentaries)

5. Bad Education

Hugh Jackman delivers one of his strongest performances as an educator/administrator, ably supported by a cast led by Allison Janey. Shcool District rankings, PTA meetings, and a little embezzlement of funds here and there makes for a compelling watch. Streaming on HBO Max in the US.

4. C U Soon

Reminiscent of Searching, the 2018 thriller seen through different device screens, this Malayalam suspense/mystery manages to grab our attention by the collar and sustain it till the end. A bit predictable towards the very end, but edge of seat stuff nevertheless. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video in the US.

3. Soul

Perhaps the most grown up of all Pixar movies till date, not only does this explore the deep questions of life, death, soul, life after death but also things like meaning of life, joy from work etc. Watching it with my 5 year old provided the fresh eyed curiosity I needed to see it from the other side. Life and death have become regular night time subjects now. Streaming on Disney+ in the US.

2. Driveways

There's always usually that one movie every year that warms the heart without having any big message to deliver, and Driveways is that one for 2020. Just a beautiful portrayal of a young boy and his single mom adjusting to a new neighborhood in a house where his aunt died and a few endearing neighbors. Streaming on Showtime in the US.

1. The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Usually when a movie comes this recommended the expectations work against it. But this is a special one. The raw energy, humor, pathos, and sharp dialogues explain the brouhaha. If like me you didn't know about the Chicago 7, don't let that deter you, going in blank can be perfectly fine for this one too. And of course, couldn't have come during a more apt time. Streaming on Netflix in the US.

Hindi Movies (not including documentaries)

5. Thappad

It's Tapsee's movie and she delivers. A stronger male role missed. A movie meant to question things at a very core level, and lead to tough debates and it succeeds in generating those conversationsStreaming on Amazon Video in the US.

4. Raat Akeli Hai

You think you know what's coming and then you have that "Ah, got me there" moment repeated more than once. Nawaz does his Nawz thing and makes it that much more watchable, but Radhika Apte wins this round with an author backed roleStreaming on Netflix in the US.

3. Axone

Can't blame yourself for not knowing that a movie about a pungent North East Indian dish is what was missing from your life all this while. As low key as it gets with performances so real I had to google the actors to confirm that they were actors in the first place. Also, best to not watch this when hungry. Streaming on Netflix in the US.

2. Ludo

While Anurag Basu's Jagga Jasoos worked for many, it just missed the mark somehow for me. This time around Anurag delivers with a very similar chaotic style, but the tetris pieces seem to fall better in place. The mad cap story doesn't runs from scene one shot one. The performances seemed to be ones where the actors were having a blast, and it showed Of course the different stories crossed path in a Priyadarshan-esque ending, but just because we saw that coming doesn't take away from the fun ride this turned out to be. Streaming on Netflix in the US.

1. Serious Men
I hadn't read Manu Joseph's novel of the same name on which the movie was based prior to watching it. And when the early twist came in the movie I sure wasn't expecting it. Difficult to curb within a specific genre this movie flourishes as it establishes its primary characters, their aspirations, and quirks. The 9 year old Aakshath Das is outstanding, and being a show stealer while sharing screen with Nawaz is no small feat. Streaming on Netflix in the US.

Final list of ALL movies watched in 2020 (including documentaries, in alphabetical order within groups)

Grade: Must Watch
The Trial Of The Chicago 7
The Test (Documentary)
The Kingmaker (Documentary)
Athlete A (Documentary)

Grade: Recommended
Tiger King (Documentary)
The Queen
McMillions (Documentary)
Uncut Gems
Totally Under Control (Documentary)
The Gentlemen
Sudani From Nigeria
Serious Men
Revolutionary Road
Raat Akeli Hai
Pain and Glory
Oceans Apart
Little Women
Invisible Man
If Anything Happens I Love You
Home Alone 2
Harry Potter And The Sorceror's Stone
Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Harry Potter And The Half Blood Price
Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets
Free Willy
Framing John Delorean (Documentary)
Family Tandoncies (Stand Up)
C U Soon
Blow The Man Down
Bad Education
Bad Boy Billionaires (Documentary)
Yes, God, Yes
Summer Hit
Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan
Palm Springs
Ordinary Love
Dwitiyo Purush
Borat 2

Grade: Read Summaries/Use Discretion
Yours Sincerely, Kanan Gil (Stand Up)
Wild Nights With Emily
What We Wanted
Vir Das: For India (Stand Up)
The Vow (Documentary)
The Swerve
The Social Dilemma (Documentary)
The Photograph
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Make Up
Made In China
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Dil Bechara
I Lost My Body
Gulabo Sitabo
Good Newwz
Dolly Kitty aur Woh Chamakte Sitare

Grade: Please Avoid
Angrezi Medium
Shakuntala Devi

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Movies Round Up 2019

First up, apologies for posting this on the 5th of Jan, 2020. Not only my miss, but also in the process 2019 became the first year since I started blogging 15 years back, that went without a single post. Holiday travel is to be blamed a bit but all excuses really. Anyway, moving on to the annual update.

This is the 11th year of this tradition, and as always here's a recap of the prior years -
20092010201120122013201420152016, 2017, and 2018.

The big story of this year for me was the sudden U-turn of quality cinema in Bollywood, which had been steadily picking up steam through the decade. This was especially amplified by some of the best international cinema had to offer (e.g. the much praised Parasite from South Korea and Shoplifters from Japan). Hollywood was a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of high quality content from surprising corners, while the stranglehold of Disney on the box-office was near complete with an Ironman grip - more billion dollar earners than ever before (and the all time highest earner, after a 2nd release - Avengers Endgame).

On the movie related personal front this year saw 3 changes to the movie chronicling efforts:

1. My movie review podcast Worth A Watch, launched in 2018, was revived in its new form as a collaborative weekly podcast with Shabeer Ahmad, Diptakirtiu Chaudhuri, and a few other movie loving friends. We slipped a bit again towards the end of the year but plan to get back to a regular weekly cadence soon.

2. The ratings had been on a 0-10 scale for over a decade, but realized this takes away from the finer points of the overall experience and makes it into a soulless ratings game. 2019 saw the switch to 4 ratings groups - Terrible, Bad, Good, and Great. However, here's announcing the next change starting 2020 - no more ratings, period.

3. Created a mega Twitter thread of all movies watched in the year which makes it for easy reading for anyone picking up at any point. Here's the 2019 Twitter Movie Thread. Received many responses from a lot of you, and this is something I plan to proceed with in the next year.

Now time to look at the numbers.

Here is the Summary Table (in its 13th year) of movies released in the same year (2019 for this post) that I watched.

Year     # Seen    Hindi:English:Others   Top Rating  Avg. Rating
2007     32               22:10:0                           9.0             5.78
2008     30               23:7:0                             8.5             6.35
2009     24               18:6:0                             9.0             6.85
2010     25               16:9:0                             8.5             6.62
2011     22               15:6:1                             8.5             6.77
2012     28               12:11:5                           9.0             7.33
2013     28               14:14:0                           9.0             7.12
2014     16               10:6:0                             9.0             6.16 
2015     26               20:6:0                             9.0             6.55
2016     30               17:13:0                           9.5             6.98
2017     31               17:13:1                           9.0             7.03
2018     87                23:59:5                          9.0             7.29
2019     86               12:65: 9                          10.0           7.45

The split of the movies by source (not just 2018 movies) was as follows.

Amazon Video9
Grand Total118
And now for rankings. As always, Top 5 Hindi and Non-Hindi movies of the year (released in 2019). Disclaimer: I haven't watched a few highly acclaimed movies such as Uncut Gems, Little Women, Bala etc but on the whole with 86 current year releases I feel I have done justice to most. Also, tweet reviews of every movie watched can be found the in 2019 Movies Twitter thread.

Non-Hindi Movies (not including documentaries)

5. The Peanut Butter Falcon (English)
How good was this movie? Not once you realize it's the directorial debut of  Tyler Nilson

 and Mike Schwartz, the camerawork is breathtaking, but it's the story, and Shia Labeouf and Dakota Johnson AND ZACK GOTTSAGEN - what a performance!

4. Us (English)
That truly rare 'spook'tacular movie which is more of a puzzle with layers that you Peele as you keep going back to it. Goes a step or two beyond Get Out in his social-horror wheelhouse. Writing, sound and of course performances raise the bar very high.

3. The Farewell (Chinese/English)
Moving, humorous, attention to detail & while set in China with a American-Chinese protagonist, was taken aback to see the similarities with Indian culture. Nai Nai wins & melts your heart, but the entire cast creates several moments that stay with you. 

2. Marriage Story (English)
How good was this movie and Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson? Breezy handling of the complex subject of marriage/divorce/custody makes this feel like a comedy, but the angst & anguish keeps seeping through the pores, with a climax to remember. Brilliant.

1. Parasite (Korean)
Social commentary, intelligent and wacky comedy that goes from ticklish to real dark real soon, to a second half that keeps getting better with every twist. Impeccable performances by entire cast and the house. As close to perfection as a movie can get.

Hindi Movies (not including documentaries)

5. Badla
Gets a three thumbs up Worth A Watch rating from Shabeer Ahmad, Diptakirti Chaudhuri, and me. Listen to our podcast for the details and let us know your thoughts. Streaming now on Netflix.

4. Gully Boy
Didn't go in very convinced about the plot and theme, and won't say I came out a convert as a desi (or any) hip hop fan, but that's the benchmark of a good work of art to keep you engaged through something you aren't necessarily gravitating towards. Strong performances by the core team.

3. Section 375
Bollywood's follow up to the 'No Means No' trendsetting Pink, and this one takes a more provocative look at the #MeToo movement. Some tense courtroom scenes, but at the heart of it, this perhaps defends #MeToo more than some more obvious movies and stories. 

2. Article 15
This hard to watch (but must watch) movie by Anubhav Sinha on India's present day caste based atrocities gets a [Great] from me. Link to podcast where Diptakirti, Shabeer and I discuss it (now streaming on Netflix worldwide). Link to podcast.

1. Sonchiriya

Maybe the biggest underrated Bollywood movie of the year. Superb performances, sometimes hard to watch, but you always remain invested, in various ways. Flipping through and mixing genres seamlessly throughout. Please watch when you can.

Oscar Predictions

The final segment of the post started from last year is the Oscar predictions. 5 movies that I feel will get a Best Picture nomination. My score last year was 3/5 (Got Blackkklansman, A Star Is Born, and The Favourite correct). This year's predictions are:

The Irishman, Joker, Parasite, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and Jojo Rabbit. 

We will know in a few days.

Final list of ALL movies watched in 2019 (including documentaries, alphabetically ordered)

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
A Crooked Somebody
A Private War
Ad Astra
All Is Well
Always Be My Maybe
American Woman
Angry Birds 2
Article 15
At Eternity's Gate
Avengers: Endgame
Billionnaire Boys Club
Bohemian Rhapsody
Brittany Runs A Marathon
Captain Marvel
Cold War
Dark Waters
Deadpool 2
Dragged Across Concrete
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Fast & Furious: Shaw and Hobbs
Fighting With My Family
Ford v Ferrari
Giant Little Ones
Gloria Bell
Good Boys
Gully Boy
High Life
Honey Boy
Hotel Mumbai
How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
If Beale Street Could Talk
Incredibles 2
It: Chapter 2
John Wick - Chapter 3: Parabellum
Jojo Rabbit
Kumbalangi Nights
Late Night
Leave No Trace
Lego Movie Two
Long Shot
Luka Chhupi
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Marriage Story
Missing Link
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Plus One
Queen & Slim
Ready Or Not
Richard Jewell
Section 375
See You Yesterday
Shubh Mangal Savdhan
Spiderman: Far From Home
Spirited Away
Stan & Ollie
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode II - The Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Sui Dhaaga
Super 30
Super Deluxe
Support The Girls
Terminator Dark Fate
The Art of Self Defense
The Breaker Upperers
The Farewell
The Front Runner
The Guilty
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
The Lion King
The Mule
The Mustang
The Peanut Butter Falcon
The Report
The Souvenir
The Two Popes
Toy Story 4
Vinci Da
We Have Always Lived In The Castle
Wonder Park
Working Woman