Oscar day is here, and I just can't get myself excited enough to write about the awards today. Chances are that I might not feel like keeping this tradition alive in future, but lets try to continue the tradition this year too by posting *something* related to movies of last year. Since I haven't posted about my favorite movies of 2009 yet, what better time than today to do that? But first a list of movies that I didn't get to see, and are likely to be good enough to figure in the favorites list somewhere -
The Last Station
Where the Wild Things Are
The Lovely Bones
The Blind Side
Some special mentions:
(500) Days of Summer: A story that had no business being charming, yet seems so due to the luminous Zooey Deschanel. Great cinematography, very easy on the eye.
Boond: A short film in Hindi about a futuristic Rajasthan where fresh water is a scarce commodity. Pretty good photography and mostly very engrossing.
Bright Star: A beautifully shot movie about Keats with a memorable turn by Abbie Cornish.
Coraline: A horror fantasy stop-motion animation that has unbelievable visuals (specially in 3-D). I still can't decide whether it is the imagination of Neil Gaiman or the work of the animators that give rise to the jaw-dropping visuals on the screen.
Dev.D: Too many songs in the first hour, in my opinion. But when the songs are as good as them, probably thats not all that bad.
District 9: A really well done sci-fi that does a lot of alien stuff pretty well, without losing any of its apartheid-referencing relevance. The action near the end became a bit monotonous and boring for me, though.
Gomorra: Another Traffic/Syriana clone, this time about a unique Italian underworld. Some of the stories weren't very engrossing, but still overall a very good movie.
Invictus: Morgan Freeman is worth the price of the ticket (or rental price). Matt Damon probably didn't do all that much to deserve that nomination, though.
Luck By Chance: A pleasantly surprising first movie by Zoya Akhtar. A simple, done-to-death story that still seemed so refreshing right through. Having Konkona can never hurt a movie, and Farhan looks like a natural in a role that had to have many shades.
Paa: Everything about this movie was pointing towards it being a disaster, except maybe the director. What seemed like a movie made just for the sake of the gimmick casting, poised to become nothing more than a disability tearjerker turned out to be a surprisingly charming movie with a thoroughly surprising lead performance by Amitabh.
A Single Man: Wow! What. A. Gorgeous. Movie. You can see the evidence of the eye of a great visual artist in scene after scene. As I said, Wow!
Ponyo: Hayao Miyazaki delights again by the sheer power of his imagination. While the world is going ga-ga over James Cameron's vision, I guess my tribute to Miyazaki is that to me Avatar's visuals made me think that Miyazaki would've made all this had he been enamored with visual effects rather than handmade animation.
The Road: A great performance by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, a great story, great photography. Something seemed missing in the way it all came together at times, but there were a lot of memorable sequences that make this a great movie nonetheless.
Which brings us to the top 15 of the year.
The Damned United,
An Education: All you remember at the end of this movie is the beautiful, beauuutiful Carey Mulligan and her performance. But there are enough other things to make this such a memorable movie.
Avatar: A great GREAT visual experience that was woefully let down by a cliched, barely adequate screenplay that was only an excuse to show those stunning visuals. James Cameron had an amazing vision and the knowhow and technology to bring it to fruition - to the tune of 2.5 billion dollars, and counting...
The Damned United: Every single movie I have seen of Michael Sheen, he has impressed me. A smallish sports movie that is less about sports and more about this man and his confidence, his arrogance, his ambition, his rise and his fall.
Moon: A very well made "hard" sci-fi with Sam Rockwell giving a really good performance and Kevin Spacey playing his version of HAL. What more do you need? :) Given that this was director Duncan Jones's first movie, I'm looking forward to his next (called "Source Code", I think).
Precious: Was perhaps a bit too sad at times but was full of amazing performances by so many actresses that I'd probably want to see it again just to see some of those performances.
7-10) 3 Idiots, Broken Embraces, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The White Ribbon
3 Idiots: Not nearly as good as Lage Raho Munnabhai, with a couple of sequences dragging and quite a few jokes that were familiar to most people already, but overall still very good. Definitely good enough to keep Hirani's reputation intact in my eyes. Lets hope he keeps up the great work.
Broken Embraces: There is no way one can mistake a Pedro Almodovar movie for anything else. A genuine auteur. And this is as good as any of his recent movies.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: This movie took me by a surprise. I knew it was supposed to be pretty good, with great reviews etc but I still didn't expect it to be so entertaining. Easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
The White Ribbon: As frustrating as Cache, and for exactly the same reason, but also just as memorable as that movie. Not quite as great for me as some of the reviews are saying ("best movie in decades"!) but a haunting movie nonetheless.
3-6) In the Loop, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air
In the Loop: Another insanely entertaining movie. One of the funniest movies of the year. I'd have loved had they given the best original (or perhaps it should be adapted) screenplay of the year to this (well, either to this, or to Up... definitely not The Hurt Locker!). I described it as something like "an extended episode of Yes Minister written by The Office writers with a generous helping of profanity thrown in!"
The Hurt Locker: Didn't quite come together as a whole. Seemed like one thrilling episode after another without any overall arc to it. But those episodes were absolutely crackling! People keep talking about this being a war (anti-war?) movie while I actually see it as a thriller disguised as a war movie. And that is exactly how it worked. Some of those sequences are simple, irresistible cinema!
Inglourious Basterds: The opening chapter is one of the best short sequences written and shot by Quentin Tarantino. Totally worthy of its Kill Bill/Pulp Fiction ancestry. The rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to those lofty standards, but it still lives up to Quentin's name. Who would've expected a world war II movie that is as wordy as this? A movie about Nazis and Jews which talks about the great European directors and inflammable movie film? We knew Quentin will leave his mark on this "war" movie even though it is almost impossible to do things very differently in war movies, and yet, he just OWNS this turning it into something that had nothing to do with the war and everything to do with heroes and villains of Quentin's universe. If only it hadn't dragged in some places!
Up in the Air: Jason Reitman shows that Thank You For Smoking and Juno weren't flashes in the pan. A predominantly lighthearted movie about a serious issue that shines with the three leading performances. George Clooney never disappoints, of course, but the two ladies were both great too.
1,2) Kaminey, Up
Kaminey: Awefome! Fuperb! Vishal Bharadwaj jumped right to the top of the list of most exciting indian directors of today for me with Kaminey. He assimilated the essence of shakespeare and desi-fied those stories with so much creativity in Maqbool and Omkara and now he does the same thing to Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie school. There are so many things that are so good in this that it seems like nitpicking to talk about the few sequences that probably didn't work all that well. Great music, great ensemble of actors, great screenplay. This is easily one of the best hindi movies of last many years.
Up: No point saying "Pixar does it again"... By now everyone expects them to come up with one astonishing movie after another. It will be front-page news when they next come up with a movie that is merely very good (though I'm afraid that the Toy Story - 3 trailers haven't quite won me over yet). Like their last few movies, this is also a great movie for an audience of any age almost throughout the first half or so before taking a sudden turn into children's adventure movie territory somewhere in the second half. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, its not as if there are a lot of great children's adventure movies being made elsewhere. Still, like WALL-E, it is those portions that stops it from being as great as it could've been. The way this movie began, in its first half an hour or so, was just truly unbelievable. The little word-less sequence where Carl and Ellie's whole adult life passes on screen, set to a truly wonderful piece of music, is easily one of the most memorable sequences of all time. A great movie. Not just worthy of pixar's name, it actually enhances their resume. Now THAT is saying something.