Thursday, December 30, 2021

Movies Round Up 2021

If 2020 was the Godfather of Annus horribilis, 2021 was the Oscar winning sequel. Hats off, boss. The bar was low, and you made it seem anything but. However, on a more optimistic note, unlike the past two years, this year's round up post comes before the end of the year, even if you're in Kiribati islands. So, there's that.

Movie wise, unfortunately I am yet to see the inside of a movie theater for 22 months and don't see that changing anytime soon. Though once again, thanks to some solid work by the streaming platforms for keeping us entertained, engaged, and sometimes depressed (looking at you Sardar Udham, what a gut wrenching beauty). Bollywood, for the most part continued to lag in quality and give up all the gains of the 2010s, hoping the pandemic is the reason and we will be back to happier days. Hollywood and many parts of world cinema though had a solid year, with some blockbusters making a comeback and more importantly just lots of good cinema. 

Now to the annual post. This is the 13th year of this tradition, and as always here's a recap of the prior years:

2009201020112012201320142015201620172018, 2019, and 2020.

Also, from this year I have split the documentaries entirely into a separate annual post, with books and shows, you can find more about that here

As this is as much of a movie round up tradition as a personal geeking out event on personal movie stats, let's get to the sections you have indulged me in for all the years.

Here is the Summary Table (in its 15th year) of movies released in the same year (2021 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

The split of the movies by source (not just 2021 movies) was as follows.

Amazon Video10
HBO Max9
Grand Total60

And now for the annual rankings. 

As always, Top 5 Hindi and Non-Hindi movies of the year (released in 2021). All images are courtesy of Wikipedia. And these are based on just 53 movies I happened to watch this year, take it with dollops of salt, send your agreements and vitriol, and keep enjoying the magic of the movies.

Non-Hindi Movies

5. Borunbabur Bondhur (Language: Bengali, Director: Anik Dutta)
Acknowledging the confusion of whether this can be considered a 2021 movie, and moving on. My blog, my rules, especially as it can be argued this is a 2019, 2020, and 2021 movie. Based on a short story by Ramapada Chowdhury, this last hurrah by the Late Soumitra Chatterjee is a slow burn as they say nowadays. But with a fair amount of intrigue, involving a character no less than the President of India. It's about the ageing patriarch of a joint family and his waning influence of the next generations. Petty family politics, and then the twist. And the twist. Thanks for the parting gift Soumitra Sir.

4. Coda (Language: English, Director: Sian Heder)
Streaming on Apple TV+ in the US, this coming of age story surrounds a teenager who is the child of deaf adults (CODA). Indian viewers will find some similarities with SLB's Khamoshi, but it's mostly at a surface level. 19 year old Emilia Jones delivers a performance that will make a lot of filmmakers take notice and that can only be good news for her, and us. But will be amiss of me to not acknowledge the all round solid performances, and how this movie retains his comedic nature, without giving in to melodrama which was an easy option. It does tug at those heartstrings for sure, but not always in the ways you will predict.

3. King Richard (Language: English, Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green)
A movie about the greatest tennis sisters in history but actually about their dad. Well, that's the first surprise for all of us. But then it works hard, from title onwards, to make sure they don't bait and switch us. Yes, this is about Richard Williams, and this is about Will Smith, and this is bloody good. I am sure cinematic liberties have been taken, and I am fine as long as the family doesn't say this is a hogwash - which they haven't, and we see the inside view of the life of someone who had the inside view of making and raising two geniuses. Difficult to take your eyes off the family and especially Richard, even when he's being his obnoxious best, or maybe especially when he's being so. Inspiring, motivating, and just overall feel like cheering for these people. We will likely also be cheering for some of them during the awards season.

2. The Humans (Language: English, Director: Stephen Karam)
"Stephen - we know you're a playright, but that doesn't mean you should make a movie without knowing how to hold a camera!" It's OK if you had this thought. Most of us did. And the camera was in very able hands in this one, even though we were seeing the backs of characters, through walls of rooms engaging in mundane thanksgiving dinner table conversations. The taut screenplay, sharp humor, and the eerie atmosphere in a lower middle class NYC apartment building is just on point. This is a movie about the characters and the dialogues/conversations. And we feel the cringe when that person says that thing. And we want to jump in and break the tension when a loose cannon has been let out. The ending catches us by surprise, but by then you're already not wanting the movie to end.

1. Judas and the Black Messiah (Language: English, Director: Shaka King)
I actually wasn't even hooked on to what turned out to be my favourite movie of the year during the first ten minutes of viewing. I remember turning it off and then when I realized it was going away from HBO Max in a few days, giving it a second shot. Daniel and Lakeith deliver powerhouse performances, both in their own style and whether you know enough about the Black Panther Party's history, or not (like me) you will feel deeply about them and all the other characters and want that thing to work out. This is a funny one, as due to the pandemic, in spite of the 2021 launch, it was already nominated for a bunch of 2021 Awards, and ended up winning a bunch too, very deservingly. 

Hindi Movies

5. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (Director: Dibakar Banerjee)
It's not what you think this is about. And then it's again got a few surprises for you. Unlike most Bollywood movies, and especially mainstream ones it doesn't hold back punches. I am going to confess, with the leading couple being who they were my hopes were low, then my interest was piqued by the storyline, and finally when it streamed, turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It's a tough watch in parts if you're going with standard Bollywood as your benchmark.

4. Atrangi Re (Director: Anand L Rai)
A last minute entry, coming in as a Christmas release, Anand L Rai and Dhanush delivers again. Yes, there's enough resemblances with their prior partnership, Ranjhaana, but kudos to them for trying something different. Yes, a serious topic was handled in that mixed bag way that they tend to be in these mainstream but different movies, but takes something to put this amount of money into such a bet. Also, it looks and sounds splendid, with ARR showing some of his charm after a while. The ending was exactly what I was hoping and not at the same time, but it's OK. 

3. Ajeeb Daastaans - Geeli Puchhi (Director: Neeraj Ghaywan)
A good anthology of three above average short stories, and one outstanding one. Coming from Neeraj Ghaywan, director of Masaan (winner of Best movie of 2015, in this blog) not surprised that he used Konkona and Aditi Rao Hydari in ways they haven't been utilized in a while. Taking on multiple complex issues - caste, sexual identity, feminism - Neeraj manages to serve the knockout punch, and many punches prior to that. Even if you don't watch the rest of the movies, which I think you should, don't miss these 45 minutes. Perhaps the best of Bollywood in 2021.

2. Pagglait (Director: Umesh Bist)
A dark comedy with no A-list superstars, with no theater release. Was easy for this to sink without a trace, but it did quite the opposite. With sharp story telling, introducing quirky but relatable characters for today's generation, and some core Bollywood plot pillars it won us over. Sanya Malhotra has quickly built a repertoire of interesting and different movies - Secret Superstar, Badhai Ho, Ludo among others and she carries this on her character's widowed shoulders with ease and grace. There levity when things get too tense, and everyone is happier for it. Was good to see Ashutosh Rana after a while, and he did his best in a toned down role of a grieving father.

1. Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi (Director: Seema Pahwa)
They say steer clear of using the word "underrated" when talking about a movie because how does it matter how others rate something when you're reviewing it. This one should be an exception. Hardly a peep about this outside of the "artsy" circles and that's likely a criminal offense. The brilliant Seema Pahwa's directorial debut depicts multiple generations of a middle class family arriving at the parents' house after the death of the father (Naseeruddin Shah). The nuances captured through the scenes, lines, props, and emotions are straight out of moments we have all witnessed first hand in our middle class Indian lives. You sort of know everyone's agenda, but not quite sure if everyone is as scheming or naive as they seem or if there's more to it. And please watch the movie to find out.

NOTE: There's an obvious omission in my list - yes, I am talking about Sardar Udham (I haven't seen 83 as that has had only a theatrical release). I have had the privilege of viewing Sardar Udham, and it's quite something else. The only reason I couldn't exactly put it in my Top 5 or any list for that matter is because I didn't enjoy watching the movie. Yes, of course I loved the movie, but watching it wasn't an experience I want to go through again. I just have this idiosyncratic filter, that I shouldn't just love a movie, but like it too, to recommend. And that kind of graphic gore and violence just doesn't feel right to me. Hats off to Shoojit Sircar, Vicky Kaushal and the rest of the team for delivering a message that was waiting to be delivered for a century, in a way that will echo for a while.

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

Grade: Must Watch
Drishyam 2
ET Extra Terrestrial
Little Things
Sound of Metal
The Father
The Kid Detective
Zack Snyder's Justice League

Grade: Recommended
8-Bit Christmas
Black Widow
Drunk Bus
Home Sweet Home Alone
I Care a lot
In The Heights
Jungle Cruise
No Sudden Move
No Time To Die
Rashmi Rocket
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Sophie Jones
The Climb
The Courier
The Guilty
The Hand of God
The Last Letter From Your Lover
Young And Beautiful

Grade: Read Summaries/Use Discretion
Ankahi Kahaniyan
Bell Bottom
The Dig
The Power of the Dog

Grade: Please Avoid
Bob Biswas
Plan B

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Books, Shows, and Documentaries - 2021 Wrap Up

 If you have ever read this blog, then you're in a rare minority of human beings. It also likely means you have come across, or you have had the privilege of me forcing down your throat, my annual movie round ups. To be honest, this blog has pretty much served that one purpose for the past few years. You have one job, blog. 

This year, I am introducing this new post, which I may branch into three-four separate posts in the future, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it. I will share my 5 favourite books, TV shows, and  documentaries from the year, not necessarily 'released' in the same year, because unlike movies, my consumption of other media is not much to write to the internet about. But yes, if something can be done, I believe it can be and should be recorded, so feel free to send me a friend request on Goodreads.

Note: Taking the short cut for the shows and documentaries this first year and using Wiki summaries, and  only sharing my personal comments for the books section. Will share all original comments across sections from next year. Pardon as a first time effort.

Here's my Top 5 in each section this year.


5. The Body by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson was a travel writer to me, till this book. Now he has the distinction of writing my favourite, and likely only biology book I have found entertaining, and educational of course. Like all his other books, Bill does the hard job of cracking open the shells of the nuts of the hard subjects and gives us the rich kernels. We know a fair bit about our bodies, or so we think, but for those of us not from the field of medicine or biology, this will be pretty eye opening, and again, never getting that boring feeling of 'studying' that he works hard in avoiding.

4. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Getting back to the joy of reading fiction was one of the highlights of 2021 for me, and The Plot ranks right up there as a taut mystery/thriller. the plot away...heh...this is one of those books you can curl under a blanket at night with and see the rising sun as you wrap it up, with a slightly increased heart rate due to the twists and climax. Just a solid novel let's say, about a novel. 

3. Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone

Obvious personal bias and interest aside, this follow up by Brad to his 2013 best seller 'The Everything Store' literally kicks off where the Amazon story ended in the last book. While I can't comment on the authenticity of any of the events or characters depicted, as a lover of business books and someone with some idea of the context, it was a trip down memory lane, not even a distant memory lane, with familiar names, faced, people, and projects. 

2. A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

Another fiction candidate in the top 5. And with this one based in post war Sri Lanka, a personal topic of interest, covered deftly by Anuk, there wasn't much of a question of whether I will like it, but more of how much. While you may not have the same fascination for the subject, the beauty of the book is you don't need to come from any position of prior knowledge or interest. It's at the end of the day a book about humans, emotions, and how we behave and react to normal and extremely abnormal (violent) situations and how they change us, or not. Will follow this author closely going forward.

1. War Minus The Shooting by Mike Marqusee

While my favourite book of 2021 was published in 1996, the miracle year for us fans of Lankan cricket, this book received a new lease of life this year with 81All Out Publications bringing this book back from the dead. Quoting from my own review below.

"The late Mike Marqusee is a cricket writer, but not your usual type. He was an American, who moved base to England and so had an outside in perspective on cricket. This book itself, while very much about that tournament and the cricketers is also a travelogue and a journalist's perspective of the politics of cricket, the sub-continent, and a lot more. He pulls no punches, at the English/Australian elitism, the sub-continental corruption and jingoism, the Pepsi-Coke wars, and observes the cricket and the drama that follows it with a sense of aloofness and amusement, while never disrespecting the sport or the fans."


Shows (all images and summaries courtesy Wikipedia)

5. Mare of Easttown (2021)

SummaryIn a suburb of Philadelphia, police detective Mare Sheehan investigates the recent murder of a teenage mother while trying to keep her own life from falling apart. Mare is a local hero, having been the star of a high-school basketball championship game 25 years ago. She has also been unable to solve the case of another missing young girl for a year, leading many in the community to doubt her detective skills. Her personal troubles include a divorce, a son lost to suicide, and a custody battle with her ex-heroin addict former daughter-in-law over Mare's grandson.

4. Scam 1992 (2020)

Summary: Harshad Mehta is an ordinary Gujarati salesman who lives in a cramped one-room apartment in Mumbai's Gujarati dominated suburb of Ghatkopar along with his parents, wife Jyoti and brother Ashwin. After doing all sorts of odd jobs, he joins the Bombay Stock Exchange as a “jobber”. Unsatisfied with his growth, he soon starts his own consulting firm. Exploiting loopholes in the market system and bribing various officials, he soon amasses a huge amount of wealth. In a parallel narrative, journalist Sucheta Dalal is investigating Mehtas's business after getting a tip from a bank clerk about Mehta's involvement in a scam in State Bank of India.

3. Squid Games
Summary: Seong Gi-hun, a divorced father and indebted gambler who lives with his elderly mother, is invited to play a series of children's games for a chance at a large cash prize. Accepting the offer, he is taken to an unknown location where he finds himself among 456 players who are all deeply in debt. The players are made to wear green tracksuits and are kept under watch at all times by masked guards in pink jumpsuits, with the games overseen by the Front Man, who wears a black mask and black uniform. The players soon discover that losing a game results in their death, with each death adding ₩100 million to the potential ₩45.6 billion grand prize. Gi-hun allies with other players, including his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, to try to survive the physical and psychological twists of the games.

2. Yes Minister (1980)
Summary: The series opens in the wake of a general election in which the incumbent government has been defeated by the opposition party, to which Jim Hacker MP belongs. His party affiliation is never stated, his party emblem is clearly neither Conservative nor Labour, and his party's political colour is white. The Prime Minister offers Hacker the position of Minister of Administrative Affairs, which he accepts. Hacker goes to his department and meets his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley.

While Appleby is outwardly deferential towards the new minister, he is prepared to defend the status quo at all costs. Hacker and his party's policies of reducing bureaucracy are diametrically opposed to the Civil Service's interests, in which staff numbers and budgets are viewed as merits of success (as opposed to sizes of profits or losses in private industry). Woolley is sympathetic towards Hacker but as Appleby reminds him, Woolley's civil service superiors, including Appleby, will have much to say about the course of his future career (i.e., assessments, promotions, pay increases), while ministers do not usually stay long in one department and have no say in civil service staffing recommendations.

1. Succession (Season 3) (2021)

Summary: Succession follows the Roy family, owners of media conglomerate Waystar RoyCo. The family patriarch, Logan Roy (Cox), has experienced a decline in health. His four children – removed oldest son Connor (Ruck), power-hungry Kendall (Strong), irreverent Roman (Culkin), and politically savvy Shiv (Snook) – all with varying degrees of connection to the company, begin to prepare for a future without their father,[7] and each begins vying for prominence within the company.

Other notable mentions:
Fauda: Seaon 1
White Lotus (Limited Series)
WandaVision: Season 1
The Queen's Gambit (Limited Series)
The Flight Attendant (Limited Series)
Paatal Lok (Limited Series)
Family Man: Season 2
A Teacher (Limited Series)


Documentaries (all images and summaries courtesy Wikipedia)

5. Break Point (2021)
Summary: It is a story of ambition, hard work, belief, friendship, brotherhood and partnership of the former Indian tennis players

4. House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths (2021)
Summary: True crime docu-series on the 2018 Burari Deaths

3. Pele (2021)
Summary: Pelé is a 2021 biographical documentary film about Brazilian footballer Pelé. It's a Netflix original film.

2. Turning Point 9/11 And The War On Terror (2021)
Summary: Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror is a 2021 American five-part docuseries created for Netflix and directed by Brian Knappenberger. The series documents the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11 2001 in New York City's Lower Manhattan, as well as the events that took place both in Afghanistan and the United States, which led to the attacks. It was released on September 1, 2021.

1. Tiger (2021)
Summary: The documentary is based on the 2018 biography Tiger Woods and examines Woods’ relationship with his father, Earl, and what impact that may have had on his development as a man, his rise, fall, and return in the world of golf. It features interviews with Woods former caddie Steve Williams, Woods former girlfriend, Nick Faldo, Bryant Gumbel, and Rachel Uchitel who was at the center of Woods’ infidelity scandal. Tiger notably relies on outside voices to tell Woods' story and does not include his perspective or commentary.

Other Notable Mentions:
Bad Sport
Allen V Farrow
Framing Britney Spears