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Old 12-15-2020, 08:50 AM   #1
ravenus ravenus is online now
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India/Bollywood The best and worst of 2020 movies

This is really an odd year. Most of us would barely have seen anything at the cinema, so this will probably focus on releases on all streaming platforms (or direct to disc releases). Anyhoo, it's the film that matters, and not where you saw it.

Here's what I can think of:



I was happy with these:

The Disciple (Marathi) - Chaitanya Tamhane's trademark observational style tracks the journey of a man aiming to make his place as a classical exponent. Steeped in the more esoteric world of Hindustani classical music, it doesn't have the impact Court had, but on the whole quite good, especially rewarding for people that can appreciate large swathes of Indian classical vocal performances.

Ayyappanum Koshiyum (Malayalam) - a story that could have easily been cliched is, by attention to detail and a beautiful organic building up of scenes, made into a gripping yarn. 3 hours have rarely gone by so easily.

1917 (English) - This WW2 action drama is good fun, technically well done, giving the impression of having been achieved as one long tracking shot. It's a gimmick of course, but marvelously done. The entire second half has the quality of a dream sequence. The script is like that of a video game and characters have no real depth, but except towards the very end, I didn't feel the film overstayed its welcome. Probably the only movie in this post I saw at the cinema.

Choked (Hindi) - I thought the new Anurag Kashyap movie was quite decent. It's more modest than the usual AK film, but that also translates to less self-indulgent. There is one sequence which is brilliant in the way it cross-cuts two entirely different events generating the rhythm in-situ and then goes into a third sequence which is a marvelous fantasy that ties in with the main character. Also, an AK film where no one even says 'Chutiya' gladdens my sanskaari sentiments.

Uncut Gems (English) - It's not often I can stick through a film with a fatally unlikable protagonist, but even at 2hr 15min with some significant sag in the middle, this one can be said to be on the whole gripping and frequently outrageous (in a fun way). Both the script and Sandler's performance work to keep us interested without stooping to give the character cheap sympathy. Under the senses-saturating direction of the Safdie brothers, the film also becomes an ode to street smart New York.



Decent, but could have been better:

Chhapaak (Hindi) - Fairly alright as these things go, similar to last year's Uyare. Thanks to excellent prosthetic work and quiet underplaying, Deepika Padukone is mostly convincing as an acid attack survivor who reclaims her life...far less so as the lower middle-class public school educated dilli-waali she is supposed to be.

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (Tamil) - An anthology of 5 stories, unrelated except that they are all set in the time of the initial Covid-19 lockdown period. The bulk of the individual episodes are more okay than great, a sort of sentimental oatmeal. Still, there are good moments, and it's lovely to see familiar faces do parts they are comfortable with.

Raat Akeli Hai (Hindi) - A sort of "noir lite (latte?)", never brilliant, but also doesn't have many obvious missteps, apart from casting Radhika "where did I leave that phone?" Apte and some lazy deus ex machina scripting. Mostly it works as a star-vehicle for Nawazuddin Siddique and for its excellent night-time cinematography.

Helen (Malayalam) - Even with its flaws (too long with unnecessary prologue to establish lead character), Helen was a nicely done survival story of a girl trapped inside a walk-in freezer, who must escape before she dies of cold.

Driving Licence (Malayalam) - The "other" Mallu revenge movie with Prithviraj (and written by Sachy). I thought DL was okey-dokey where AK was exhilarating. The situations in the script don't feel as organic, and there's too much of script contrivance, buffoonery and deus ex machina.

Extraction (English) - Extraction on Netflix was a rather decent serious action film up until the very end. The bulk of the film is a lot of road rage and close quarters combat set in the crowded bylanes and box-like apartments of Dhaka, and this is executed efficiently. It suffers in trying to give an epilogue for too many of its characters, and it could have definitely done with some trimming of the dramatic cliches, but it's not bad as Netflix fodder goes.

Avane Srimannarayana (Kannada) - With influences as disparate as Dabangg, Rango and the traditional Yakshagaana (or perhaps taking a leaf out of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne), it is only natural that after a point Avane Srimannarayana wobbles under its self-indulgent style (the last third is something of a cave-in - at the end, quite literally). But like with Jagga Jasoos, it is for a surprisingly major part of its (186 min!) running time, delightful in its whimsicality.

Vaanam Kottatum (Tamil) - A generic bad guy and a climax that cranks up the stupidity quotient spoil it a bit, but for the longest time, Vaanam Kottattum (Let It Rain) is a sturdy masala family drama mixing elements of the rural potboiler with classic Maniratnam style. I love that they give a fair amount of importance to the individual character arcs. Performances are very solid too, especially Radhika as the mother, showing you why she is one of the great drama queens of Indian mainstream cinema.

Trance (Malayalam) - It has a very strong beginning and some trippy visual ideas, but sloppy writing in the latter half brings it down a few notches. Still worth watching for the strong acting talent on display.



Seriously Flawed Material

Gulabo Sitabo (Hindi) - A potentially beautiful story that turned out a terrible movie. The tone here (like Amitabh Bachchan's oversized prosthetic nose) struck me as completely wrong. What should have been a bleak vehicle about a pathetic rat-like scavenger with grandiose dreams, where the humor should come in biting irony, is painfully shoehorned into a sitcom with grating "comedy scene wala" background music. Even the end of what feels like a 5 hour slogfest is ruined by an imbecilic coda. Amitabh is surprisingly good as a wizened wretched geezer. If they had made it with the right tone he had the chops to give a moving performance. But now that's just a load of coulda-shoulda-yada-yada.

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithal (Tamil) - KKK aims to be a constant roller-coaster of plot twists, and it occasionally works, but the script suffers from depending on outlandish contrivances and logic gaps it does not have the chutzpah to smooth over. The actors have a (mostly) likeable presence and the script doesn't tries to preach morality, but 160 min is an ass-busting running time for a thriller that doesn't take pains to constantly grip the audience.



Fakk this crap:

Gunjan Saxena (Hindi) - It was so dumbed down they should have a label for it that says "for kids from ages 6-10". The writing has all the finesse of having been done with crayons and thick markers. Every scene is about handing out a homily or making a Hallmark frame. Not a single moment feels free of an agenda, ironic for the journey of a woman that wanted to soar unfettered.

Shakuntala Devi (Hindi) - Going by the tone, it seemed that the director comes from an ad film background. Half the film feels like a promo for detergent or a health drink, and the other half feels like it's trying to sell you a bank loan. I'd rather read a Maths textbook.

Bulbbul (Hindi) - It's not unwatchably bad, and has some seriously well done visuals, but it is the kind of horror story that, if you've seen / read any horror stories before, you will know within the first 15 min EXACTLY how it's going to play out; the film does not once in its entire 90 min running time surprise you. I suppose one must be grateful for its not having the twist-for-twist-sake convolutions that make you want to slap the writers silly, but it is a slog.

Good Newwz (Hindi) - F**k Bhoot Pt 1, THIS was a terrifying experience!

Ponmagal Vandhal (Tamil) - On paper this masala courtroom drama seemed like an interesting if flawed enterprise. In actuality, it's a train-wreck. The script seems to have been written by a drunk 5 year old, and the direction is devoid of consistency, randomly veering between stylish and 80’s masala formula. From start to finish a massive load of rubbish.

Mardaani 2 (Hindi) - I felt that the 105 min running time at least suggested a crisp movie; turned out to be mostly a waste of 105 min on a mediocre potboiler (no songs, that's a mercy) that needed far better writing.

Last edited by ravenus; 12-15-2020 at 11:33 AM.
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Old 12-16-2020, 11:57 AM   #2
Harvey Dent Harvey Dent is offline
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Speaking of streaming platforms , I really think a triumverate of movies from Netflix would be up there as best movies of the year : they would be Da 5 Bloods, Trial of Chicago 7 and Mank. Netflix also took the honors of the biggest disappointment of this season in The Prom. Of the other films , I thought The Invisible Man was a very interesting take on the famous story by H.G. Wells . It also helped that the 4K disc had an audio which blew out my living room . I have a couple of interesting movies in the mail ( Tenet , Possesor) which I hope will live up to the hype.

Ayyappanum Koshiyam is a bit of a cheat since it was a 2019 movie seen in 2020 . Speaking of the same category ( 2019 movies seen in 2020) , I would also rate Kumbhalangi Nights and Super Deluxe very highly . And of the pure 2020 , releases I would give thumbs up to both Cu soon and Trance . I just realized most of the movies above have Fahad Faasil in the cast . A new Naseeruddin Shah in the making ? The upcoming Vikram should be fun when he is pitted against Kamal Haasan

On the hindi film front, try hard as I could I really couldn't come up with anything interesting which I could recommend to anyone. To a limited extent I liked Ludo and its fractured story line
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