Sunday, January 07, 2024

Movies Round Up 2023

2023 was the year of major blockbusters in India, led by Shah Rukh's mind-boggling comeback with Pathaan, Jawan, and to some extent Dunki. In Hollywood it was the year when new franchises were born with billion dollar collections (Barbie, Mario) and when Christopher Nolan delivered the first near billion dollar A rated Oppenheimer. The good movies continued to flow, and the scales continued to tilt further to the side of streaming. 

Personally I didn't continue my streak of 100+ movies a year and stopped at 94. Watched and enjoyed way more movies in the theater than in the pandemic years. Also, as it's the first day of 2024, it means I have been lazy with my annual post so let's dive in.

This is the 15th year of this tradition, and as always here's a recap of the prior years.

200920102011201220132014201520162017201820192020, 2021, and 2022.

Let's move on to the usual metrics we review before we get to the piece you're waiting to read and disagree vehemently with me on - the actual year end wrap up.

Here is the Summary Table (in its 17th year) of movies released in the same year (2023 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
2021     53               15:34:4                           9.0             7.20
2022     67               21:38:8                           9.0             7.30
2023     51               20:29:2                           9.0             7.50

The split of the movies by source (not just movies released in 2023) was as follows. The fact that I watched more movies in the theater than in any streaming service has to be one of the personal highlights of 2023.

Amazon Video5
Grand Total94

And now for the annual ratings. No documentaries are included as they can be found in the Books, Shows, and Documentaries post for the past few years..

Gentle reminder these are based on just the 51 movies I watched in 2023 that released in 2023. Also, my blog my rules but our discussions. Here we go. All images courtesy of Wikipedia. All summaries courtesy of Bard.

Non-Hindi/English Movies

2. Full Time (Language: French, Director: Éric Gravel)

Harried single mom Julie juggles a demanding hotel job, childcare, and financial woes in Paris. A citywide transport strike throws her precarious routine into chaos, pushing her to the brink. Desperately clinging to a potential career change, she makes frantic choices against the clock. Each moment becomes a race against time, testing her resilience and exposing societal pressures. Full Time delivers a raw and intimate portrait of one woman's struggle for stability in a system stacked against her.

1. Past Lives (Language: Korean, Director: Celine Song)

Childhood friends Nora and Hae Sung in Seoul are torn apart by Nora's family's emigration. Years later, they reconnect online, navigating years of missed time and unsaid feelings. Their virtual romance blossoms, then faces obstacles as individual dreams and ambitions rise. Reunions in adulthood, both online and in person, stir the question of "what if," testing their connection. "Past Lives" examines longing, loss, and the enduring power of a first love across continents and time.

English Movies

5. Killers of the Flower Moon (Director: Martin Scorsese)

In 1920s Oklahoma, the Osage Nation strikes oil, making them wealthy beyond belief. But their mineral rights become a target for ruthless opportunists and local power players, led by the corrupt cattle baron William Hale. A string of mysterious deaths begins to plague the Osage, shrouded in secrecy and fueled by greed. Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), a headstrong Osage woman, witnesses the horror firsthand as her family falls victim. Enter J. Edgar Hoover, the ambitious director of the nascent FBI, who sends his top agent Tom White  to investigate. White navigates a web of deceit and violence, determined to find the truth. Amidst the chaos, Mollie finds solace in her relationship with Ernest Burkhart, who becomes instrumental in her fight for justice. But their love story unfolds against the backdrop of constant fear and loss. The pursuit of justice exposes the dark underbelly of American history, revealing the systemic biases and injustices faced by the Osage people. Killers of the Flower Moon leaves a lasting impression, a testament to the enduring fight for truth and the pursuit of a just reckoning.

4. Blackberry (Director: Matt Johnson)

Nerdy Canadian pals invent the iconic BlackBerry, revolutionizing email on-the-go for workaholics and celebs alike. BlackBerry dominates, becoming a status symbol and fueling a "crackberry" addiction to constant connection. Apple's iPhone arrives, shaking BlackBerry's core with its sleek design and intuitive interface. The founders clash over strategy, clinging to email while rivals conquer the broader smartphone market. BlackBerry stumbles, ultimately losing its crown, leaving a cautionary tale of innovation, hubris, and the ever-shifting sands of tech. The film blends humor and drama, offering a fictionalized yet insightful look at BlackBerry's meteoric rise and tragic fall.

3. Cocaine Bear (Director: Elizabeth Banks)

 A drug smuggler's plane mishap scatters bricks of cocaine across a Georgia forest, and guess who finds them first? Yep, a 500-pound black bear. Powered by blow, the bear goes berserk, ripping through campers, hikers, and anyone unlucky enough to cross its path. Meanwhile, a hilarious cast of characters converges on the woods: cops searching for the missing stash, a park ranger with a soft spot for animals, and even a couple of curious teenagers who stumbled upon the wrong picnic. As the coke wears off and the bear comes crashing down, the fight for survival reaches fever pitch. Who will make it out of the forest alive? Based on a (mostly) true story! Believe it or not, the film takes inspiration from a real 1985 incident where a bear did indeed ingest cocaine. But trust us, the movie takes things to a whole new level of absurdity.
2. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (Director: Kelly Fremon Craig)

11-year-old Margaret grapples with puberty, faith, and fitting in after moving to the suburbs. Through friends, family, and her own inner musings, she navigates the trials of growing up, from bras to boys. Her supportive mom and sassy grandma offer guidance, laughter, and contrasting perspectives on life. Margaret ponders the existence of God, seeking answers to complex questions about life and identity. Ultimately, she learns to embrace herself, celebrate individuality, and find her own path in the world.

1. Oppenheimer (Director: Christopher Nolan)

 The film opens with a young J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) battling internal demons while studying physics in Europe. This sets the stage for a complex protagonist, brilliant but burdened by the potential consequences of his work. The discovery of nuclear fission in 1938 throws Oppenheimer's world into chaos. The fear of Nazi Germany weaponizing atomic energy pushes him to lead the Manhattan Project, the race to build the first atomic bomb. Recruited by the US government, Oppenheimer gathers a team of brilliant scientists at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The film delves into the intense pressure, ethical dilemmas, and personal sacrifices faced by these individuals. The successful detonation of the Trinity test in 1945 marks a turning point, leaving Oppenheimer forever haunted by the destructive power he unleashed. The film explores the moral complexities of his creation and its impact on the world. The film's final act portrays Oppenheimer's later years, grappling with the fallout of his decisions and advocating for international nuclear control. His legacy remains a subject of ongoing debate, leaving audiences to ponder the lasting impact of the atomic age.

Hindi Movies

5. Afwaah (Director: Sudhir Mishra)

Politician's leaked bigotry sparks chaos, driving his fiancée Nivi to flee. Nivi stumbles upon Rahab, a kind stranger, but a photo fuels a "love jihad" rumor. Trapped in the viral lie, Nivi and Rahab face mob attacks and political manipulation. Their struggles to clear their names highlight the devastating power of fake news. Hope glimmers amidst the hate, as their resilience and bond offer a counterpoint to societal divides.

4. Pathaan (Director: Siddharth Anand)

Pathaan, a retired Indian agent, is recalled to stop Jim, a rogue mercenary with a vendetta against India after Kashmir's special status is revoked. Teaming up with former RAW partner Rubai, they face betrayals and thrilling action sequences as they chase Jim across icy peaks and bustling cities. Jim unveils a deadly virus threat, forcing Pathaan to confront his past demons and recruit his old team for a final stand. Sacrifice and loyalty clash as they race against time to stop Jim from unleashing the virus on India, leading to a climactic showdown. Pathaan emerges victorious, proving that no matter the odds, patriotism and unity can overcome any threat.

3. Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (Director: Karan Johar)

As this is the only movie in several years that I reviewed in a dedicated blog post, plugging the post: 

2. Sirf Ek Banda  Kaafi Hai (Director: Jayprad Desai)

Tenacious lawyer PC Solanki fights for justice. Inspired by real events, it follows Solanki's five-year battle against a powerful godman accused of sexual assault on a minor. One man vs. the system. Solanki faces intimidation, threats, and witness tampering, but his unwavering belief in truth fuels his fight. Powerful arguments and emotional testimonies keep you on the edge of your seat as Solanki exposes the corrupt system protecting the abuser. Manoj Bajpayee shines. His brilliant portrayal of Solanki's dedication and humanity anchors the film. Message of hope. Despite the challenges, the film ultimately celebrates the power of one person's resolve to stand up for the right cause.

1. 12th Fail (Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra)

Young Manoj in rural India dreams of success, but initially succumbs to the local culture of cheating in exams. An honest police officer disrupts the cheating, causing Manoj to fail and leading him to reassess his values. Inspired by the officer's integrity, Manoj sets his sights on becoming an IPS officer himself, facing numerous challenges in poverty and language barriers. He navigates the competitive world of UPSC exams with grit and determination, meeting a fellow aspirant who becomes his support system. Ultimately, Manoj triumphs over adversity, achieving his dream and proving that failure can be a powerful springboard for success.

Here's the final list of ALL movies watched in 2023 (in alphabetical order within groups. Movies listed above removed to avoid duplicates)

Grade: Must Watch
12th Fail
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Argentina, 1985
Cocaine Bear
Past Lives
Petite Maman
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Triangle of Sadness

Grade: Recommended
An Action Hero
Asteroid City
Full Time
Ghawre Bairey Aaj
Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio
Joy Ride
Killers of the Flower Moon
Last Night In Soho
Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani
Sirf Ek Banda  Kaafi Hai
The Fabelmans
The Killing of Two Lovers
The Swimmers
The Whale
Vikram Vedha

Grade: Read Summaries/Use Discretion
A Thousand And One
Across The Spiderverse
Armageddon Time
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
Byomkesh Gotro
C'mon C'mon
Catherine Called Birdy
Chor Nikal Ke Bhaaga
Drishyam 2
Dumb Money
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Durgeshgorer Guptodhon
Ek Je Chhilo Raja
Emily The Criminal
Everything, Everywhere, All At Once
Fair Play
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3
Infinity Pool
Jaane Jaan
Kho Gaye Hum Kahan
Lust Stories 2
Marcel The Shell  With Shoes On
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1
Official Competition
Polite Society
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Quiet Girl
Red Rocket
Rye Lane
Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video
Shazam: Fury of the Gods
She Said
The Banshees of Inisherin
The Eken
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Killer
The Little Mermaid
The Menu
The Novice
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Grade: Please Avoid
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Books, Shows, and Documentaries - 2023 Wrap Up

Excited to share the 3rd post of this newly created annual tradition (2021, 2022) - My Favorite Books, Shows, and Documentaries. Unfortunately I had to remove the Podcast section after adding it in 2022 as I almost heard the same shows again, and will still recommend all of the ones from last year.

Note: Unlike for my movies, shows, and documentaries lists where I keep "released this year" as the eligibility criterion, the books list is not restricted to just books released in that year, but books read in that year.

Books (all book pictures from Goodreads) 

Total books read in 2023 - 23. Full list available here. Feel free to add me as a friend on Goodreads.

5. Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): Checks all the boxes of a simply good book. You're invested in the characters from the get go. The time travel angle adds a fresh angle to the whodunnit. The going back a few months, years, and decades is also filled with meticulous nuances of the life from the recent and not very distant past. You keep guessing on what our protagonist will find out, as much as what you truly want.

4. The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World by Tim Marshall (Non-Fiction: Geography)

My review (from Goodreads): Strong follow up to the same author's 'Prisoner's of Geography' from a few years back. In the Power of Geography Tim Marshall takes us through some specific examples of countries e.g. Australia, Turkey, UK, the Sahel etc and explains why and how their geographies have been both their strengths and weaknesses in various cases. Some of the more obvious ones would be oil availability in the middle east, while the same abundance of riches in several African countries have been a curse. It felt like a continuation from where he left off in "Prisoners..." and while I may not retain all the details a few months from now, as the explanations provided were logical and some interesting tidbits throughout the book, made for an engrossing read and you will be better off even subconsciously by having a deeper understanding of the world.

3. Yellowface by R. F. Kuang (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): In R.F. Kuang's satirical novel Yellowface, aspiring writer June Hayward seizes the opportunity to present an unpublished manuscript as her own, catapulting her into literary stardom. However, her literary masquerade unravels amidst social media scrutiny, literary investigation, and a haunting ghost story (well, sort of). Through Kuang's thought-provoking prose, Yellowface challenges readers to question the ethics of literary appropriation, the impact of online personas, and the true nature of artistic inspiration.

I found the book compelling and while I won't say I was swayed wildly across the pendulum, I could see what the author was trying to achieve through the story and she manages to do so successfully.

A thriller/mystery quite distinct from your regular ones.

2. Unstoppable Us, Volume 1: How Humans Took Over the World by Yuval Noah Harari (Non-Fiction: Everything)

My review (from Goodreads): This is the kid's version of Sapiens, which is one of my all time fav. books. If you have a kid below the age of 13 you should read this one to them, if not then read it by yourself. It talks about the evolution of our species, from well before the stone age, till the time we became the big dogs on earth, and how we did so without size or muscle power. A hard read in places and kids can feel a bit scared of the chapters that talk about hunting and killing animals, so please use your judgement based on your child. My daughter and I can't wait for Volume 2. 

1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Fiction)

My review (from Goodreads): I am a sucker for stories that span across eras with our characters growing and evolving to different versions of themselves. Tomorrow 3 is a solid example of this genre. The protagonists are relatable and interesting even if not always likeable. The rapport they share are similar to ones you would have shared with some friends, and their life charts out in ways expected and then there are the twists. You feel for them and want to drill sense into them at time. The writing is engaging without trying too hard. The hype was worth it.


Shows (all images courtesy IMDb and summaries by Bard)

Total shows watched in 2023 - 14

5. Kaala Paani (Hindi)

Summary: Kaala Paani is a Hindi-language survival drama web series set in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The series follows a deadly epidemic that threatens to wipe out the population. A mysterious illness spreads through the Andaman Islands' water supply. Dr. Soudamini Singh races to find a cure, but authorities ignore her warnings. The islands are quarantined, and the population struggles to survive. The epidemic is eventually stopped, but at a great cost. The series is a cautionary tale about the dangers of environmental destruction.

4. Beef (English)

Summary: Road rage sparks a dark, escalating feud between struggling contractor Danny and frustrated entrepreneur Amy. Secrets, betrayals, and violence spiral as they target each other's vulnerabilities. A car crash forces them into uneasy alliance, revealing their shared pain and unmet dreams. Forgiveness and understanding emerge despite the trauma, offering them a chance to heal. 'Beef' serves up a raw, darkly comic journey through anger, revenge, and unexpected compassion.

3. Dahaad (Hindi)

Summary: Sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati investigates a series of deaths where women are found in public bathrooms. The deaths first appear as suicides but as the investigation progresses, Bhaati realizes that there's a serial killer on the loose.

2. The Last of Us (English)

Summary: Twenty years after a fungal apocalypse, hardened smuggler Joel escorts 14-year-old Ellie, immune to the infection, across ravaged America. Their bond deepens amidst brutal violence and lurking infected, but Joel's trauma threatens their journey. Hope emerges with potential rebels, the Fireflies, seeking Ellie's immunity for a vaccine. Betrayal and loss shatter their trust, forcing Joel to make a life-altering decision to protect Ellie. In a world shrouded in darkness, a fragile hope survives through their complex and unwavering bond.

1. Succession (Season 4) (English)

Summary: Season 4 of Succession throws the Roy siblings into a global chess match as Logan's health deteriorates. Kendall, desperate for legitimacy, pursues a hostile takeover while Shiv navigates the political minefield of Waystar Royco's legacy. Roman, emboldened by a surprise promotion, revels in chaos as Connor schemes for the presidency. Kendall's reckless pursuit backfires, leading to a public meltdown and a humiliating shareholder vote. Logan, ever the puppet master, uses the crisis to tighten his grip, forcing alliances to shift and loyalties to crumble. Meanwhile, Gerri navigates the power vacuum with serpentine grace, and Cousin Greg emerges as an unlikely kingmaker. As tensions rise and betrayals multiply, the siblings are left grasping for power, forced to confront the true cost of their ambitions and the legacy they fight to inherit. The season culminates in a shocking cliffhanger, leaving the Roy family on the brink of fracture and viewers gasping for more.


Documentaries (all images courtesy IMDb and summaries by Bard)

Total documentaries watched in 2022 - 20. 

3. The Romantics (Hindi/English)

Summary: "The Romantics" is a documentary series that explores the history of Indian cinema and its impact on the country's culture. Through interviews with some of the biggest names in Bollywood, like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Ranbir Kapoor, the series dives into the evolution of Indian cinema from its early days to the present.

The documentary explores various themes, including how Indian cinema reflects Indian society, tackling social issues and promoting cultural understanding. It also highlights the unifying power of cinema, bringing people together from different backgrounds through shared experiences.

"The Romantics" is a love letter to Indian cinema, celebrating its rich history, cultural significance, and enduring impact on the lives of millions. It's a must-watch for anyone interested in Indian cinema or the power of film in general.

2. Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street

SummaryWall Street titan Bernie Madoff built an empire on a lie: a colossal Ponzi scheme. The 2008 crash exposed his web of deceit, leaving a trail of ruined lives and shattered trust. This docuseries explores the rise and fall of the "Monster of Wall Street," from his meteoric success to his chilling downfall, revealing the human cost of financial greed and the dark underbelly of Wall Street.

3. The Hunt for Veerappan

SummaryDeep in South India's forests, Veerappan, a ruthless poacher and smuggler, reigns. The 1990s echo with his crimes: elephant slaughter, sandalwood heists, and audacious kidnappings. Two states unite against him, forming a special task force. The ensuing manhunt spans two decades, twisting through dense jungles, political games, and shifting loyalties. Veerappan, hailed as a Robin Hood by some, terrorizes others. The documentary dissects the myth and the man, weaving in the voices of his wife, police officers, and villagers caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, the bullet-ridden saga confronts the legacy of a criminal king and the cost of bringing him to justice.