Friday, December 20, 2013

Top ten films of 2013

This year has been a great one for cinema, what with a nuanced movie on homosexuality winning the top prize at Cannes (Blue is the Warmest Colour) and a spectacular feast for the eyes set in space (Gravity) touted to sweep the Oscars next year. Under these testing conditions, here are 10 movies, in no particular order, that impressed me.

Only God Forgives: After Drive, one wouldn't have expected Nicolas Winding Refn to get back with Ryan Gosling to make a hyper-violent, vastly fragmented movie with Hamlet overtones set in Thailand. But, truth be told, the images I witnessed at the Mumbai Film Festival are burnt into my brain. Love it or militantly hate it, this is a movie that will get under your skin and stay there for a long time.

The Strange Little Cat
: The find of the Mumbai Film Festival was this 72-minute-long German film, which looked like a love child of a long-forgotten Kafka story and an early French new wave movie. The director, Ramon Z├╝rcher, skilfully uses space in a tiny apartment for the movie - particularly the kitchen - as its inhabitants busy themselves preparing for a dinner.

Spring Breakers: Harmony Korine's latest feature is his most accessible one. Four party-crazy teenagers visit Florida during their spring break and witness various forms of debauchery; the story is told with splashy, hallucinogenic imagery. If you have anyone in the West willing to send you a gift, make sure you ask for this DVD, like I did.

The Place Beyond the Pines: Whoever said a movie cannot unfold like a novel needs to watch this movie about pain, betrayal and the exorcism of past demons. I can forgive Bradley Cooper for a hundred Hangovers after he played such a second fiddle. The lead, Ryan Gosling, puts in a performance that is through-the-roof brilliant. The shooting style, the televisual look, the punishingly bleak mise en scene - everything is more European movie than something from a major Hollywood studio. Director Derek Cianfrance should take a bow for topping his Blue Valentine.

Stray Dogs: Taiwanese film maker Tsai Ming-liang's moving elegiac tale of those living in the fringes of Taipei is transfixing. The climactic 11-minute-long scene in which a couple keeps looking at massive graffiti is more than memorable. It's one of those moments that can be watched again and again.

Rush: Ron Howard's cinematic take on a sporting feud between two Formula One drivers is an out-and-out entertainer. Right from the chiaroscuro cinematography to zingy one-liners to standout performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, Ron Howard got everything together to craft a minor work of genius.

Stranger by the Lake: When this whodunnit about a murder among gay men who frequently sunbathe at a lake somewhere in France's boondocks was shown at the Goa Film Festival, it got a rousing reception. The sex scenes are no-holds-barred, and Alain Guiraudie's adroit use of natural light makes it the most fiercely original film of the year. It's weirdly funny that movies like this and Blue is the Warmest Colour are being shown across the country at various film festivals with no protests from religious groups, but Section 377 continues to be part of our law.

Heli: This year, I best understood the power of cinema when the audience heaved a collective gasp at the Mumbai Film Festival as a man's genitalia were doused in lighter fluid (as punishment) and then set on fire in this slow-burning (no pun intended) Mexican revenge drama. Amat Escalante's pitch-perfect take on Mexican drug cartels kept me nailed to my seat.

Museum Hours: When was the last time you watched a movie that triangulated art criticism, gorgeous visuals and excellent conversation? Jem Cohen's film, a superb drama set in and around the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, is exactly that rare film. Shot in a documentary style, this intimate tale of an elderly museum guard and a shabby-genteel woman is at once moving and thrilling. The movie's best scene is nearly 10 minutes long: an art professor tries to explain Bruegel's paintings to a bunch of tourists, most of whom come across as philistines. Watch out for the moment when Cohen's camera gives a gentle rap across the knuckles of people who pull out their cameras while witnessing art.

Annayum Rasoolum:
Here's one more example of why more South Indian cinema needs to be released with English subtitles across the country. This simple-but-effective love story between a lower middle class Muslim boy and a Christian girl deserves to be seen for director Rajeev Ravi's depiction of virgin parts of Kochi with a camera that is manoeuvred around like a fly on the wall.


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