Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Movies Roundup 2015

Did you know new year resolutions come true? Shocking, isn't it? After last year's 38% out of the 100 movies resolution, I had toned down the goal to 50 in 2015. This being the year when our first child was born even 50 seemed like a stretch till something unexpected happened. We installed a treadmill and a TV in front of it. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. Very excited to have watched 53 movies (106% to target) with 26 of them actually current releases. What did take a hit was the number of theater visits, down to five through the year, three before the baby (ironically, Baby being the last) and two while the baby was vacationing with her mother. The silver lining of the gruelling 24 hour flights to India is the vast selection of new releases, so caught up on eight during a round trip, and also picked up some original DVDs (sorry Pirate Bay, it was me, not you) during the trip. Being foolish and brave again and taking up the 2016 target back to 100. You can read more about the #100moviepact here

Quality wise this has been a pretty good year, significantly up from 2014 and that too in spite of a stricter rating scale. Just like in 20092010201120122013, & 2014 I made a quick note of my initial thoughts and a rating on 10, purely on how much I enjoyed the movies. As always, very keen to hear your thoughts and exchange some notes. Welcome 2016 and let the show go on!

Starting with the popular stats first, only for movies released the same year.

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

20 Bollywood releases in a year for the first time since 2008, boom, baby! As we have a fair number of Bollywood movies to choose from, but only 6 English, we shall do a Top 5 Bollywood and a Top 3 Hollywood selection here. Criterion being the movie must have released in 2015 or I watched it in a theater in 2015 (the latter is important as otherwise some December movies fall through the cracks between the years). The full list of all 53 movies with ratings will be available below, as well as the tweet reviews of all current movies.

We will go the Miss Universe way, starting from the lower ranks up to the top. Only if there are any Colombian movies involved, please assume it's in the list due to an error. All pictures are courtsey IMDb.

English Movies

3. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game - A brilliant man (Turing) portrayed by another genius (Cumberbatch). You know the story, yet root for the characters. 8.5/10.

2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Birdman - Broadway extravaganza. Keaton's masterpiece with rock solid support from Stone & Norton. Dark comedy bordering on eccentric. 8.5/10

1. Inside Out
Inside Out - Imagination and creativity going where imagination and creativity come from. Spectacular and heart warming. 8.5/10

Bollywood Movies

5. Drishyam
Drishyam - A reverse whoddunit that makes you root for the perpetrators, pleasant surprise - script & story are king but acting avg. 8/10

4. Talvar
Talvar - Raises valid questions, makes you seethe with rage at the way the case has been handled so far. Irrfan & Neeraj effortless. 8/10.

3. Piku
Piku - The overtly detailed, testy, yet endearing old man, every Bengali family has this Dadu, played with elan by Big B. Deepika wins over the masses and classes. Irrfan, just brilliant as always. 8.5/10

2. Dum Laga Ke Haisha
 Dum Laga Ke Haisha - that unexpected annual low key movie that wins everyone over. Bhumi is the Queen of 2015. 8.5/10.

1. Masaan
Masaan - Movie of the year. Incredible handling of two sensitive stories. Superb acting by the ensemble cast. Watch out for @ghaywan. 9/10

Disclaimer: Among the notable movies of the year that could have made the cut I haven't watched Titli, Tamasha, and Manjhi The Mountainman.

Bridge of Spies - Outstanding work by Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, ably led by Speilberg. Chilling, honest, and edge of the seat stuff. 8/10.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - grabs your attention from get go, and doesn't let it slip. Comedy, drama & suspense play well together. 8/10

Bajrangi Bhaijan - old message of harmony delivered via a vehicle with all access pass to each heart string. Always fall for these. 7.5/10

Jurassic World - The 22 year wait was worth it. Finally a deserving successor to the movie that introduced Hollywood to many of us. 7.5/10

Bajirao Mastani - Literally epic. Sensory delight. Songs distracting. DP, PC, & RS give their best. Climax disappointing. 7.5/10

Ankhon Dekhi -Rajat Kapoor scoops out a squiggly lump of lower middle class India and its curious characters. Sanjay Mishra brilliant! 7.5/10

NH10 - Powerful performance by Anushka, with a storyline that's almost believable if you take one big leap of faith. Violence overkill. 7/10

Tanu Weds Manu Returns- the crazy, zany parts worked quite well and Kangana, get ready for the award speeches. Poor climax and message. 7/10

Baby - Another taut Neeraj Pandey thriller with India's collective fantasy played out in an Argo-inspired climax. Rasheed Naz scary! 7/10.

Badlapur - taut story, brilliant Nawaz, but Varun Woody Dhawan did no justice to the protagonist's character. Something new though. 6.5/10

Revolver Rani - quirky, dark humour, edgy, not effortless, meanders in the end, Kangana is good, but not Rani (Queen) level, hatke. 6.5/10.

Dilwale - SRK sleepwalks yet again, Kajol looks gorgeous, bullet riddled storyline, hummable music, Sanjay Mishra aces comedy. 4/10.

Dil Dhadakne Do - Pretentious, wannabe tripe by Zoya Akhtar. Don't feel for any of the characters, not even Aamir Khan the dog. 3/10

Phantom - patriotic fantasy rubbish. Senseless, directionless, mind numbing 2.5 hours. Saif tries in vain, Katrina doesn't add usual. 3/10.

Shamitabh - When creativity meets money and decides to go crazy and take the audience for granted. Leaves you insulted, and AB too. 2.5/10.

Roy - that one time where KRK  doesn't just get it spot on, but provides the no holds barred review this torture deserves. 2/10.

Bang Bang - the last sound you hear before the squelching one of your brain plopping on the ground. Clean, unadulterated tripe. 1/10.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Books & Shows Review

Sometime during the past year I decided not to click on articles with clickbait headlines, you know the ones like 'This man saw a dog on the road. You won't believe what he did next'. Also, I said no to Listicles (25 things that only a 90s kid can relate to). And here I am at the end of the year making my own Top Books, Shows, Movies lists. Ah, well.

I did not end up reading a whole lot of books, but made up in quality what I messed up in quantity. Similarly for TV shows, was more deliberate about what I watched as they take up an immense amount of time, and with binge watching seasons on end it's almost like a commitment to a short term relationship.

Below are my ranking of Books (read in 2015) and TV Shows (watched in 2015).


5. 'r2i Dreams - For here or to go?' By Parth Pandya, Ramya Sethuraman, and Subhashini Srinivasan
r2i = Return to India. The debut novel of 3 authors, this one struck a chord close to home given the oft discussed topic among expatriate Indians, how long or if ever? Disclosure, one of the authors, Parth, is a good friend of mine, but that has little to do with this rating as you will find out if you are in the NRI boat and read this book. Expect much more from him in the years ahead. 

4. 'Written By Salim-Javed' By Diptakirti Chaudhuri
The third book in three years on Bollywood and its doyens by Diptakirti Chaudhuri (another friend!). He was the author of my favourite book of 2014 as well - Bollybook. This one is a biographical look at the greatest storytellers of Mumbai's tinseltown - Salim & Javed. You can find the more detailed review here.

3. Sultan of Delhi - Part 1 Ascension By Arnab Ray
This is a special one as it's not launched yet. Had the privilege of reading the draft of this epic drama, set in Delhi and Kolkata over many decades. May seem like a trend by now as this is also by a dear friend - Arnab Ray better known as Greatbong, but this list has been based on nothing but merit. Arnab has authored some of the recent bestsellers in India in the humour, horror and drama genres, and having read all of his books and blog posts (yes, all 10 years+) I don't want to raise the expectations for this one too much, but let's just say it will be one of the best books to come out in India next year. The canvas is vast and Arnab has matured tremendously as a writer to tackle various socio-political subjects as well as relationships and dialogue. Look out for this one.

2. KP: An Autobiography By Kevin Pietersen

I love masala Bollywood and I love cricket. When the two meet, like in the IPL, you can just sit back and enjoy the fireworks. KP has been more open and explicit in this book, presumably read by thousands if not millions, than most of us are in our heads. If you are looking for cricket gossip, and the workings of a genius cricket mind, pick this up.

1. Norwegian Wood By Haruki Murakami
I understand I am a decade or so late on this Murakami bandwagon, but what a writer. It doesn't matter the story is that of a much younger man in a very different country and culture, you identify with the characters in a strangely familiar way. A coming of age novel by the master. He will definitely be on my To Read list in 2016.


5. Hand of God (Season 1 )

Amazon's original series about a father and judge whose son is in a coma due to an attack and how he falls for religion, or what goes by religion, in his moment of weakness and lets it overpower and control his life completely.

4. Homeland (Seasons 1-4)

Had heard about this thriller on Showtime for years now, and finally during a month of free Showtime access binge watched all four seasons in a few weeks (Season 5 is coming to an end now). Taut and gripping with some glaring plotholes, an above average show made particularly exciting in the last few episodes of season four. Some of the most goosebump raising scenes seen on TV.

3. The Man In The High Castle (Season 1)
A historical fantasy based on the novel by Phillip K Dick. It imagines a post WW2 scenario where the German and Japanese had won and the US is now divided into two regions controlled by them. Was a slow first few episodes and then upped the tempo rapidly. Can't wait for Season 2. Another Amazon Prime Original.

2. Jessica Jones (Season 1)
A superhero with the least superhero powers is the protagonist, and a female protagonist at that. A supervillain with some real powers. Extraordinary performances by the leads and sharp editing makes this otherwise middle of the road Marvel novel stand out. Krysten Ritter is here to stay, look out for her in Season 2 and beyond. A Netflix original. 

1. Narcos (Season 1)
I have always had a keen interest in South America, perhaps because it seemed so distant and different growing up in India, and also because of their disproportionate prowess in world football (soccer). Andres Escobar's shooting post the 1994 World Cup made a big impact on me and always wanted to know more about Colombia. This curiosity was magnified manifold after the brilliant ESPN 30 for 30 show on the 2 Escobars. If 30 for 30 was 10/10 this show on the dreaded Pablo Escobar is 12/10. Finished the season in 2 sittings. Won't take more than a day to finish Season 2 once it is out.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2016 Resolutions - Want To Join?

As Dec-31 turns to Jan-1, nothing really changes. The night remains just as cold, or warm, depending on the hemisphere. However, to those obsessed with numbers and statistics, almost everything is reset. I certainly belong to that group. 

For the past few years I have tried to marry this love for numbers with some other things dear to me - movies, books, blogs, and a few things far from dear to me, but apparently important - miles walked (I can't don't run) and pounds shed (actually pounds gained is also mathematically interesting). In 2016 I am setting myself some stretch goals in each of these categories, and have managed to get a few like minded friends who are joining me in this gamified experience. If any of these things interest you, and especially the thrill of racing against time and others and collecting copious amounts of personal data, drop me a line.

My friend, and favourite Bollywood author, Diptakirti, proposed the #100MoviesPact, inspired by the #100SareesPact which might have popped up in your social media timelines in 2015. I jumped at it, but having watched 56 movies in 2015 I am well aware that it is a stretch goal. You can set your own finer rules for this, mine are simple - watch 100 unique movies in 2016 (Jan-1-2016 To Dec-31-2016). You can watch them anywhere. These can be movies you have watched in the past (prior to 2016), but you can't count a movie two or more times if you watch it multiple times in the same year. Year of release, language, duration, quality, especially quality, no bar. As usual I will also give a rating on a scale of 10. Shows don't count. Documentaries, I won't count, feel free to if you want.

Read 24 books. Simple. I have been using the Goodreads Annual Challenge to keep track of my progress, and also see how my friends are doing and what they are reading. Have picked up a few books based on their recommendations and suggestions from Goodreads. FWIW, I managed to reach only 10 with a target of 20 in 2015.

Blog Posts
Write 53 blog posts, or once a week. Will explain why 53 and not 52 at the end of this post. Used to fancy myself as a writer long back, haven't been able to put finger on keyboard for a long time. This is the one I am least certain about and will be the most laborious. This is the one I am looking forward to the most. For the record the last few years have been 2013 (12), 2014 (9), 2015 (10, including this one).

Now comes the hard part. If you know me even in passing you know fitness and I aren't made for each other. However, a 2014 purchase - the Fitbit - changed things somewhat, mostly because of the granular data in terms of steps, miles, flights of stairs etc. and forced fitness into my daily routine somewhat. This was accentuated by the very competitive challenges with friends from all over. I am ending this year at 1,630 miles/2,623 Kilometres (this includes all movement, not just those on the treadmill or where I go for a walk specifically for the purpose of a walk). I am stretching my 2016 goal by ~10% to 1,800 miles or 2,900 kilometres. I hardly walk on weekends, so this comes to ~6.5 miles or 10.4 Kms per weekday. I have a TV in front of the treadmill, and so am hoping to combine the movies and miles goals somewhat.

Losing The Pounds
I have been told any self respecting new year resolution can't exist without this one. This one will depend entirely on the Miles goal. The target is losing 15 pounds/7 kilos through the year. Let's not talk much about this.

I will be tracking and sharing my progress every week on this Google spreadsheet

Why 53?
Because I am looking at a Sunday-Saturday week, and Dec-31-2016 is a Saturday we have 53 Saturdays, and thus 53 weeks. So Week 1 for me will be Dec-27-15 - Jan-2-16 (for the movies count I will only record movies that I watch from Jan-1-2016). By the way, we have 5 Saturdays in January, April, July, October, and December) this year.

So, if any of this sounds interesting to you, even if the target numbers are different, let me know. Also, feel free to use the Resolution Tracker template.

Wish you all achieve whatever you set out to in 2016.