Monday, November 19, 2018

Scenic Beauty Beyond The Numbers

For over a decade now I have noted down every movie that I have seen, with a rating out of 10, and at least a tweet sized review. I crunch these ratings at the end of every year and come up with my own Top 5/Top 10 lists, keep the entire data set public and so on. Point being I thought not only do I take my movies quite seriously but also share my thoughts on them generously, maybe even to the point of coming across as a bore to many friends.

However, yesterday a good friend of mine (and a guest blogger here) - Abhishek Paul (a highly underrated blogger himself and a treasure trove of Twitter RTs) mentioned something that made me question some fundamentals about my relationship with movies. He said he can't predict whether I will like a show/movie or not, unlike about most of our friends who are more predictable. Now, not being predictable is a compliment nine times out of ten. This was the tenth. He elaborated that he's aware of my ratings of hundreds of movies, and perhaps some big-data/ML/AI (whatever your favourite term for that kind of stuff is) algorithm can predict what I will enjoy, but in spite of reading most of what I write about the movies I watch and the numerical rating, he doesn't know what is it about the specific movies that I liked or disliked and why. I introspected and took his feedback not only to heart but also went to work on it while it was fresh on my mind.

This has been as good a movie watching year as any for me with 130+ movies seen so far and 45 days still to go in 2018. So I will talk about some very specific scenes and sequences from some of my favourite movies that I saw this year, and will spend some time on the "why and what" made them special, to me.

The Tale
A middle aged woman gets some letters from her childhood that her mother has found in their house. The letters bring back memories, not just unpleasant ones, but confusing memories as she's spent decades rewriting them in her mind. She was abused as a teenager by two adults whom she trusted and respected. They were her role models. And the abuse itself as we see later in the movie was deeply manipulative, leaving her with a sense of confusion, did she really understand what happened, or were they actually helping her and she just didn't get it. Sensitively shot and brilliantly portrayed by the actors, the one scene that stood out for me was the way the memory came back to her. It started off as her as a 18-ish year old teenager. Still the abuse was abhorrent, but she was almost grown up in her memories. But then she realized she was younger, maybe 15-16, the memories seemed more grisly. However, when she actually saw her face at that time, 13-14 she realized she was a kid. A child who was abused. A child whose innocence was mistreated. The rest of the story became much darker from that moment on. The entire handling of the scene and the stark realization of exactly how young a 13-14 year old is was jarring.

The Insult
One of my strongest recommendations for this year. The 2017 Lebanese drama was also in the running for the Best Foreign Picture at the Academy Awards earlier in March. The name of the movie is no coincidence as the entire story revolves around, well, you guessed it, an insult. The pivotal scene is a masterpiece. The first few minutes were well utilized to set up a regular middle class life in Beirut. You get to meet the characters, regular people with mundane lives, and some construction work going on in this humdrum neighborhood. You get a sense of the cultural tension between the Palestinian refugees and the local Lebanese, one of the protagonists is a Lebanese Christian more specifically. However, there is no gunshots, bombs going off, or anything as drastic. It is a simple altercation between a construction team foreman who needs access to the balcony of someone's home, and how the general interaction escalates from just a impolite response by the homeowner to a near civil war towards the end of the movie. The proverbial spark was captured beautifully, just like it is in almost every start of something big and nasty (Chaos theory butterfly fluttering?). The scene drives home the point about how the smallest of our actions, when not thoughtful can get out of hand, and once it goes beyond the self, the ego, the person you can't bottle it back up.

The Florida Project
A child, 8-10 years old, living on the outskirts of the greatest dream in the world - Disney World - with almost no resources, a single mom down on her luck, and a shady motel. The premise seemed depressing enough to me as the dad of a 3 year old daughter that I didn't want to watch this. But glad I did. The scene that lift the movie are actually the ones around Disney World itself. Where she and her friends hang around in the periphery of the land of amusement park, full of wonder about what lies inside but with equal joy and amusement at tricking families with greater resources in giving them a few dollars to buy ice cream from the vendors nearby. The sheer ecstasy on the impish faces on successfully pulling off this con job and enjoying the cold, creamy treat is at par with those of the more fortunate inside coming face to face with their favourite characters. The resilience, and more importantly the clear distinction  difference between value and price, which children are great at, lifted the spirit.

Eighth Grade
This movie could do with all the publicity it can get. Like many Eighth Graders, and similar to the character I referred to in The Tale, Kayla is a teenager who is at that weird junction of too old for a kid, too young for a proper young adult. It is a coming of age story, but the 2-3 years shaving of age makes a striking visual difference. The scene that stands out in my mind is that of a typical rebellious, "cool", and an introverted Kayla getting her first real sense of belonging in a group when a senior asks her whether she would want to go to a mall with her and her friends. This is like our getting a chance to watch our favourite sports with our hero from the sidelines. Middle school and High school maybe just a year or two apart, but there's a world between them, and our young protagonist, with some of the usual self confidence issues among those in that age group who are not Miss Popular, feels elated at the invite. The emotions displayed by Kayla once she hung up the call and started getting ready for the meeting was heart warming and genuine. You want to be that excited and happy once again, for whatever the reason may be.

Outside In
About an ex-convict and the woman who fought for his case over the years (and was also his ex-teacher). The sequences around his rehabilitation after getting released from prison were poignant with the responses and reactions he received from those around him, many being over careful to not touch a raw nerve and doing so in the process, and some trying to avoid the awkward moments by trying to joke about it in turn causing more awkwardness. The scene in this hugely underrated movie that has remained with me is the one where our protagonist meets his saviour, in a car, outside a restaurant. He's obviously not just indebted to her, but clearly infatuated as well. She, a teacher and a middle aged wife and mom, is initially oblivious to the feelings as she's been cut off from these emotions for years, and then getting the sense of what's going on, starts to show the faintest signs of reciprocation and savouring the moment. This was continued in another scene where he calls her on their home phone as she and her husband are doing the dishes in the middle of a regular school night, and as soon as she hears his voice there's the sense of slightest teenage romantic tension leading her to her backyard to complete the call. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Movies Roundup 2017

Here comes the 8th Annual Movies Roundup of the Year post. This time delayed by a week due to travels, and that also meant I had my first 0 (that is z.e.r.o) blog posts in 2017, first time since I started to blog a dozen years back. Anyway, that shall be taken care of this year, now back to why we're here - Movies of 2017.

If you enjoy a bit of stats and nostalgia, here are the reviews from the years gone by  200920102011201220132014, 2015, & 2016.

Like the previous year, 2017 was a year of #100MoviesPact with friends as well. However, quite early on I had reset my target to 52 (one per week) as I had a lot of shows to catch up on, and yes, completed all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones from ground zero. So, my final tally of 66, though 10 short of 2016, was actually satisfying.

Here is the Summary Table (in its 11th year) of movies released in the same year (2017 for this post) that I watched.

Year     # Seen    Hindi:English:Bangla   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               17:13:0*                          9.0             7.03

*1 of the 2017 release movies was the Czech movie Ice Mother. 

Good to touch an average of 7s in spite of watching more current year movies than in any year since 2007.

The split of the movies by source (not just 2017 movies) was as follows, and like last year the Seattle Public Library was once again the shining star, providing DVDs from another era to the just released Wonder Woman and Trapped. 

DVD - Loaned24
Amazon Video11
DVD - Owned1
Grand Total66
And now for rankings. As always, Top 5 Hindi and English movies of the year (released in 2017). Disclaimer: I haven't watched a bunch of highly acclaimed movies such as: any of the Golden Globe nominees! and quite a few Bollywood ones like Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Savdhan, Secret Superstar, Tumhari Sulu etc.

English Movies

5. Logan Lucky

4. Wonder Woman

3. Get Out

2. Born In China

1. The Founder

(Full List of 2017 Hollywood)

The Founder9.0
Born In China9.0
Wonder Woman8.5
Logan Lucky8.5
Get Out8.5
The Lego Batman Movie8.0
I Am Not Your Negro8.0
Hidden Figures8.0
Get Me Roger Stone8.0
Gerald's Game8.0
The Big Sick7.5
Spiderman: Homecoming7.5
Baby Driver7.5
The Lovers7.0
The Red Turtle6.0
Fifty Shades Darker2.0
Grand Total8.0

Hindi Movies

5. Meri Pyaari Bindu

4. Raees

3. A Death In The Gunj

2. Newton

1. Trapped (Movie of The Year)

(Full list of 2017 Bollywood)

A Death In The Gunj9.0
Meri Pyaari Bindu8.0
Hindi Medium7.0
Jolly LLB 26.0
Tiger Zinda Hai5.5
Naam Shabana5.5
The Ghazi Attack5.0
Jab Harry Met Sejal4.0
Grand Total6.3

And below please find the rest of 35 movies, by language, by rating, which I saw this year but were released earlier. 

BanglaPratidwandi 8.5
EnglishManchester By The Sea9.0
Nocturnal Animals8.5
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory8.0
Deepwater Horizon8.0
Crimes and Misdemeanors8.0
La La Land 7.0
Kubo And The Two Strings7.0
Hell or High Water7.0
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them7.0
Cafe Society7.0
Don't Breathe6.0
A Hologram For The King6.0
Mostly Sunny5.0
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back5.0
Bridget Jones's Baby5.0
Doctor Strange4.0
GreekWorlds Apart7.0
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil5.0
PersianThe Salesman8.5
SwedishA Man Called Ove8.0

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Movies Roundup 2016

This is my favourite post of the year, every year. It usually comes a few days after Aamir Khan waits for everyone to showcase their best, and then blows away the competition in a Bhuvan-esque fashion. Here's a recap of the years gone by 20092010201120122013, 2014, & 2015.

This year was special in quite a few ways for my movie watching experience.

This was the year of #100MoviesPact, conceived by Diptakirti of Bollybook fame (perhaps somewhat inspired by his wife's #100SareesPact from the previous year) and participated with religious zeal by a group of us 10 friends. Rules were simple, as long as you watched a 100 different movies between Jan-1 to Dec-31, 2016 it counted. The #100MoviesPact became the #1000MoviesPact (100 X 10) as the year drew to a close and on Christmas afternoon we managed to record our 1,000th movie.

The other shout out of the year goes to the Seattle Public Library. A ridiculously comprehensive catalog, from Kanchenjungha to Karan Arjun, from the latest Hollywood blockbusters to obscure Iranian titles of the past, it has it all. And all of this for the princely sum of $0 per movie, $0 per year, $0 for membership. God bless the American Public Library system. 

Now coming to the numbers. 

I personally missed the #100MoviesPact but quite happy with 76 movies for the year (up from 53 last year). While watching movies in theaters remained a luxury with a toddler, I did manage to catch 4 (Fan, Dear Zindagi, Kahaani 2, and Dangal), 1 more than last year. Also, 30 of the 76 movies watched this year were 2016 releases (again up slightly from 26 last year). 

Now for the popular summary table, in its 10th year now (only for current year releases):

Year     # Seen    Hindi:English:Bangla   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

Happy to have watched a bunch of good movies, thanks to great recommendations by the #100MoviesPact gang, greater discretion used due to lack of time thanks to parenting duties, and of course the great Seattle Public Library system. The average of 6.98 is one of the best over the last 10 years and the trend seems to be going the right way. FYI, the overall average i.e. not just looking at 2016 releases was 7.31, highly boosted by a bunch of Satyajit Ray DVDs and also the Oscar nominated movies from last year.

The split of the movies by source can be found below, almost all of the DVD-Loaned were from the library again.

DVD - Loaned47
Amazon Prime Video6
DVD - Owned5
Amazon Instant Video1
Grand Total76

I also ended up watching movies in 7 languages, which was a new high for me.

Grand Total76
And now for rankings. As always, Top 5 Hindi and Top 3 English movies of the year. Disclaimer: I haven't watched a bunch of highly acclaimed Hollywood movies, and among the Bollywood ones of note that I missed out on were: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Aligarh, Neerja, Sultan, and Phobia.

English Movies

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

4. Elvis & Nixon

3. The Jungle Book

2. Eye In The Sky

1. Zootopia

Eye In The Sky9.0
The Secret Life of Pets8.0
The Jungle Book8.0
Elvis & Nixon8.0
10 Cloverfield Lane8.0
Suicide Squad6.0
Jason Bourne6.0
Finding Dory6.0
Brahman Naman6.0
Kung Fu Panda 35.5
Now You See Me 25.0
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice4.0
London Has Fallen2.0

Hindi Movies

5. Waiting

4. Kapoor & Sons

3. Nil Battey Sannata

2. Pink

1. Dangal (Movie Of The Year)

(Full List)

Nil Battey Sannata8.5
Kapoor & Sons8.0
Dear Zindagi7.5
Kahaani 27.0
Raman Raghav 2.06.5

Special mention to Fan, perhaps the only movie (at least parts of the 1st half) which I can ever find somewhat autobiographical:)

And below please find the rest of 46 movies, by language, by rating, which I saw this year but were released earlier. 

Please do share your thoughts and lists, and wish you a very happy 2017 movie watching year.

Apur Sansar8.5
Pather Panchali6.5
Midnight in Paris9.0
The Danish Girl8.5
The Big Short8.5
In The Loop8.5
Gone Baby Gone8.5
The Walk8.0
Steve Jobs8.0
Planes, Trains & Automobiles8.0
Pawn Sacrifice8.0
Love and Death8.0
LOTR - Fellowship of the Ring8.0
Fatal Attraction8.0
A Clockwork Orange8.0
The Revenant7.5
Purple Rose of Cairo7.5
Black Mass7.0
45 Years7.0
The Man From U.N.C.L.E6.5
Penguins of Madagascar6.5
Our Brand Is Crisis6.0
Furious 75.5
Johnny English5.0
Shatranj Ke Khiladi8.5
Margarita With A Straw7.5
Buna! Ce faci?7.0
Wild Tales8.5