Category Archives: Movie Recos (International)

Some of my all-time favourites from Hollywood

Dark. Twisted. Funny. Fucked Up. Gone Girl. #Review #GoneGirl

As I sat watching Gone Girl and the movie unravelled one of its incredible plot twists, I could sense a feeling of dread settle into couples throughout the theatre. I was transfixed at what was happening on screen – and how staggering it was – yet, I was distinctly aware that a quiet unease was creeping its way into the psyche of every couple, married or otherwise, as the theatre slowly fell into an uncomfortable silence. Perhaps this was the paranoia that the movie had projected unto me manifesting itself into a dark, perverse fantasy about the lives of others, or perhaps, Gone Girl is, in fact, the kind of movie that will make every couple momentarily reassess all that is right, and certainly all that is wrong with their relationship.

To say that Gone Girl is a thriller about a the hunt for the missing wife of a seemingly sociopathic man (or look at it as a thriller from the angle that you’ll see when you watch the film) will be a gross misjudgement of what director David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn have attempted to do with the movie, and will be a much too simplistic – and inaccurate – reduction of what is undoubtedly one of the most twisted and murky deliberations of marriage on the big screen.

That marriage is not easy is a fact that has been explored through several prisms in many a great films of our times, and of that before, from Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? to Blue Valentine. But just how f**ked up marriage, or for that matter, relationships can be, has arguably yet to be dissected in a manner in which Fincher and Flynn together do through the movie.

Gone Girl takes any and all expectations a viewer may have aligned himself with when going into the movie, and then smashes them to pieces, much like it does to every thought we may have had about the institution of marriage, or about what it means to be in a committed relationship. What the movie may do to couples watching it together is entirely dependent on just how seriously they take the movie or for that matter, just how mature or happy they are, because at its best, Gone Girl is a movie that can save a troubled marriage; and at its worst, it is the most horrid and unpleasant date movie of all time.

On the other hand, and in a most brilliant contradiction to the theme of the film, Gone Girl is also a first rate black comedy and satire. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions through the film, because its meditation on the bizarreness, incredulity, ridiculousness, stupidity, ethical and moral ambiguity, and the complete and utter disregard for professionalism that has become the media, is top class and should necessarily be seen and taken with a very big salt of pinch by everyone who works in the profession themselves.

David Fincher has used the plot of the movie to deliver a scathing diatribe on what has come to be called the ‘media circus’, where (no spoilers, don’t worry) people are put on trial and verdicts are passed without evidence, facts or even logic, where the convenient outcome is passed on the news as the right outcome, and where the consequence could be immense and tragic and yet no individual person has to take the fall – and which is why this unfortunate trend continues to grow, unabated.

Cinematically speaking, there’s nothing I can tell you that you wouldn’t know already: Fincher’s direction is outstanding, the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fantastic, Flynn’s screenplay is far too superior for being her first, and most other things including editing (Kirk Baxter), cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth) and the cast are near-perfect. But if there are two elements that stand tall among equals, they are the acting performances by leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

It’s funny how Matthew McConaughey’s McConaissance is spoken about with much ferocity all over the internet when Ben Affleck underwent a McConaissance, or Benaissance, if you may, much before he did. This is an actor whose performance does not rely on histrionics or dramatics but on subtlety – and Affleck betrays the confidence of an actor who could be, at this stage of his career, unbeatable at his game. This is a performance worthy of many rewards, and oh man, I can’t wait to see Affleck as Batman now. He’s going to fucking kill it! Since I can’t say much about Pike because of spoilers, let me say this: The greatest actress you didn’t know of so far has arrived, and how. Her performance is the stuff of legend (and I believe it would’ve been amplified if the film were to be shown without cuts).

Since I don’t need to convince you any more to go watch the movie, let me say this: I don’t think it was a perfect movie because the end didn’t go down well with me (I will write why after everyone’s seen it). And I still think Fincher’s best films are The Social Network and Fight Club. But if you are a fan of movies, and particularly of movie experiences, Gone Girl is as unique an experience as you’d get at the movies. Do not miss it.

P.S.: If you liked the film, you are going to love these alternate posters of Gone Girl:

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Shining new ‘light’ on superhero franchises #SundayGuardian #GOTG #Column

In Groot We Trust: Guardians of the Galaxy and the bright future of the Superhero genre

Weekly column by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Sunday Guardian. Original article:

When it was initially announced, Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie set in outer space, featuring five anti-heroes: a violent talking raccoon (Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper), a dim-witted talking tree (Groot voiced by Vin Diesel), a former WWE wrestler (Drax played by Dave Bautista), a lead who was earlier best known as the chunky shoe-shiner in a niche TV show (Starlord played by Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreations) and the only recognisable face in green makeup (Gamora played by Zoe Saldana).

It was being directed by an indie filmmaker whose most notable work may have been scripting the Scooby-Doo movies (James Gunn), was allotted a budget of $170 million dollars (enough to feed Bangladesh) and to make matters worse, it was an action comedy (the last superhero action comedy announced, Deadpool, never got released). Recipe for disaster, right?

Wrong! Because at a domestic box office of $255 million and counting in four weeks since its release, Guardians of the Galaxy has just become the highest grossing film of 2014 in the US, beating established franchises like Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spiderman 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and is well onto becoming one of the highest grossing films globally too, with an estimated worldwide box office of $500 million and counting.

But it’s not the numbers that you should care about, it’s what the numbers represent. If you’ve been even moderately interested in superhero flicks over the last decade, you’d have noticed a dubious trend: At some point during the last few years, comic book movies took a turn towards darkness and stopped being ‘comic’ altogether. Christopher Nolan, auteur that he may be, is to completely blame for this disturbing mess – his ‘Dark’ Knight trilogy set the tone for pretty much every comic book superhero movie to follow.

After Nolan’s gritty reboot of Batman with Batman Begins, we got a Spiderman reboot sans humour (The Amazing Spiderman), a Superman reboot that had a dark tinge throughout the film (Man of Steel), an Iron Man so dark that it was shot mostly at night (Iron Man 3), a Captain America so dark that even the Hulk had better jokes (The Avengers) and a Thor so dark that they even put the word ‘dark’ in its title, you know, in case anyone thought it *looked* too bright (Thor: The Dark World).

On the heels of this illness that has plagued non-superhero franchises too (Star Trek Into ‘Darkness’), came the unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie so aggressively anti darkness that its trailer featured Swedish pop rock band Blue Swede’s ‘70s anthem, ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ as opposed to, you know, Mike Zarin’s BRAAAM!s from the Inception trailer (yup, that’s the ‘dong’ sound you’ve heard in the trailer of *every* summer film since Inception, and yup, that’s how it’s spelt on the internet).

Considering the fact that the joke was actually on the last few superhero films that tried being funny (Green Lantern and The Green Hornet failed spectacularly), it cannot be stressed enough how monumental the earth-shattering success of the unlikely Guardians of the Galaxy is. Here’s a film that’s so experimental that it’s practically a lab experiment by Marvel. It’s not that the film has an exceptionally original storyline – it would do Blake Snyder’s beat sheet proud – it’s old wine, but only if the bottle was an insane novelty, designed in outer space by a bunch of misfit goons.

Take the pre-climax scene where the five anti-heroes agree to go on a suicidal mission to save the world after Starlord’s ‘I have a plan’ speech. The movie does the cliché but then, once all five are standing, Rocket remarks snarkily, “There, I’m also standing. Look at us, a bunch of jackasses, standing in a circle!” It is how the film takes all such superhero tropes and plays it to perfection, only to turn it on its head before the end, so that the audience gets to watch both an irreverent indie film and the familiar summer film that they all can’t seem to watch enough of.

Because that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy is: a summer blockbuster with the soul of an indie film. It’s got the big ticket action scenes, but it’s also got the quiet moments – like the scene where Groot grows a flower to gift a little girl; or the scene where Groot releases fireflies to bring about light in a dark scene; or well, just the fact that it’s got Groot! Instead of going the ‘one for them, one for us’ way with their slate of blockbuster films that go right up to 2020, Marvel Studios have figured out the inspired middle-path: ‘something for both’. How else do you explain an ingenious ‘70s soundtrack (‘The Awesome Mix Vol. 1) to a film set in space?

The success to the film bodes well for indie filmmakers with original voices who are looking to do something more than great films that give them creative satisfaction but pay a journalist’s salary (next to nothing, in case you were wondering). It also plays out remarkably for the hapless audience that wants to be entertained but cannot suffer through one more never-ending Michael Bay explosionfest (especially without any Megan Fox). Most importantly, it is exactly the hint (a $500 million one at that) that studios needed to make films that are something other than the 50th instalment of their safe franchise or the 80th reboot of the proven one.

It is early days yet, but like the heroes at its helm, Guardians of the Galaxy may be the unlikely misfit film that the world needed, and not just the film they wanted. The future of the galaxy is in safe hands indeed, because in Groot, we trust.

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Note: An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian in the September 7, 2014 issue.

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Comic-Con 2014 Roundup: Winners, Losers and Others #SundayGuardian

– Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Sunday Guardian

In an age where it is ‘normal’ for a fully functioning male adult to own superhero costumes and where there are more superhero movies lined up in the future than romantic comedies exist so far in life, if anyone still has a doubt that the geeks have, in fact, already inherited the earth, then they needn’t look any further for conclusive proof than Comic-Con International, San Diego.

A vulgar display of all that is geek, from comics to video games to comic-book movies to fantasy-themed TV shows, Comic Con is a convention that is geek-gasmic level of awesome for the kind of people who aren’t ready to give away their GI Joe collection even after they’ve birthed other people.

But that isn’t to say that Comic Con is only a place for ‘men’ who’ve had wet dreams to Wonder Woman and Princess Leia; this year, the convention that saw 130,000 people go nuts during the massive 4-day weekend from July 24-27, included a sizeable number of women fans who were there to cheer ass-kicking super-heroines in shows like Orphan Black and Game of Thrones, or go ga-ga over the dreamy superheroes in movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice; or just revel in some of the hottest and craziest cosplay outside of the big screen.

Here’s a roundup of the best and worst of Comic-Con 2014 in Movies that would make fellow Indian geeks excited:



How to win Comic-Con: Have a cast that includes the who’s who of big-ticket names like Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill) and Paul Bettany (Jarvis… yes, Jarvis) all turn up on one stage, with some of them dancing (and Downey Jr throwing roses at the crowd!). Add to the cast even more stars in new entries Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), James Spader (Ultron) and Josh Brolin (Thanos) wearing the much-talked about Infinity Gauntlet. Then reveal some mad concept art for the movie scheduled on May 1, 2015, and an extended first look that includes Iron Man fighting Hulk, Captain America’s shield broken, Thor crushing a tank, the appearance of Andy Serkis (without motion capture) and a devastating scene with some Avengers possibly dead… and as the geeks go bonkers, you know Comic-Con 2014 is yours to claim.


Where Avengers was the most anticipated panel of the Comic-Con, the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice panel was Warner Bros’ surprise gift to fans, and what a surprise it was: Director Zack Snyder brought DC Comics’ superhero holy trinity in Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman) and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) to wave at the crowd (no one was allowed to interact though); tweeted the first look of Wonder Woman, and revealed a minute of footage of Batman turning on the Bat signal even as Superman is waiting in the shadows with glowing ‘heat vision’ eyes (the leaked version of the footage can be found online). The result: madness! The movie, scheduled for April 28, 2016, had the most number of social media mentions at the end of the Comic-Con.


Another huge surprise that fans weren’t expecting was the appearance of auteur director Christopher Nolan, who made his debut at the Con two years after the end of The Dark Knight trilogy, along with fellow Comic-Con virgin Matthew McConaughey, the star of his next, highly-anticipated film, Interstellar, to see “what the fuss was about”. A new trailer of the movie, scheduled for November 7, 2014, was shown to squealing fans, revealing first hand the fuss to Nolan. The trailer can now be found online. Watch the trailer here: 


Quentin Tarantino was at Comic-Con to talk about an upcoming comic that’s a crossover of his film Django Unchained and masked crusader Zorro, when a fan asked him whether The Hateful Eight, the film that Tarantino shelved when its script was leaked online by, would ever happen. Tarantino replied in the affirmative for the first time since the debacle, to loud cheers from fans, and within the next couple of days, also released the official poster for the film, set for a 2015 release. Rejoice, fanboys! Check out the poster here:


With over 8 million views to its YouTube trailer in less than 7 days, one movie that fans all over the world are suddenly dying to watch, as a result of the buzz that its ‘sizzle reel’ generated at Comic-Con, it is George Miller’s reboot of the dystopian Mad Max franchise, that first launched Mel Gibson as a bonafide star. Mad Max: Fury Road, releasing on May 15, 2015, stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and with the maddest, baddest, biggest and loudest stunts (including an incredible car chase sequence) seen in a long time, wins the ‘Trailer of the Year’ award hands down. Watch the trailer here:  



Another King Kong movie, you say? A prequel, you say? That may possibly have fan favourite Joe Cornish attached to it as director, you say? Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But for all the geeks who went for Legendary Pictures’ panel at Comic-Con hoping to get a first look at Jurassic World, the ‘surprise teaser’ that featured a jungle with an ape instead of dinosaurs, left everyone confused and slightly annoyed, because the reboot of Jurassic Park releases before next year’s Comic-Con, so why had the geeks paid $200 for this kind of betrayal?


Another betrayal came at the hands of 20th Century Fox that stabbed fans in the back by choosing not to showcase any footage from its Fantastic Four reboot, instead having a panel on Let’s Be Cops, which is a comedy not inspired from a comic-book, which has no geek book or movie affiliations and which can only be considered fantasy if lead actors Damon Wayans or Jake Johnson are alien cops. This befuddling logic took away the buzz from X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn’s next, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and THE MAZE RUNNER, both decent properties owned by 20th Century, which would have got a much better showcase if 20th Century Fox had appeased the fans. Watch the trailer of Let’s Be Cops and Kingsman here: 


Instead of giving any sort of a first look at any sort of a thing to do with the Spider-Man franchise or its various spin-offs in the works, Sony Pictures announced that the third part in the Amazing Spiderman franchise has been pushed to 2018 from 2016, and Sinister Six, its villain-centric spinoff, will arrive first in 2016. No news was given about The Amazing Spiderman 4 that was originally scheduled for 2018. All this added more fuel to the fire that the franchise is in trouble after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed to live up to the box office expectations and Roberto Orci, who had penned the first two films with Alex Kurtzmann, left the franchise recently.


Unanimously called the dullest panel of the Comic-Con, even with stars like Josh Brolin, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba and fan favourites, directors Robert Rodriguez and Mark Millar participating, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For generated little to no buzz at the convention this year. This could be because the film’s sequel is coming nine years after the first one, or because bigger stars like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis were absent from the panel or perhaps because the movie’s marketing campaign included semi-naked girls gyrating live in different parts of the convention turned people off.  Watch the trailer here: 


Legendary director Michael Mann made a surprise visit to Comic-Con to unveil the trailer of his new film, a cyberthriller starring Chris Hemsworth, but unfortunately, the only reason fans at Comic-Con were surprised was because had nothing to do with comics and Mann had no reason to be there.  The trailer’s not online yet so the damp squib of a reception that it received at Comic Con could possibly have to do with the genre rather than the trailer’s merits.


Production Studio Legendary Pictures revealed that GODZILLA will have a sequel, to nobody’s general surprise, but proceeded to tease that it will feature even more monsters than part one, including iconic Japanese monsters, Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah, which are apparently bigger and more dangerous than Godzilla. At present time, no humans were announced as part of the film. Peter Jackson premiered the first trailer in the final part of the Hobbit trilogy, THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES. The epic trailer of the movie, which releases on December 17, 2014, can be found online but the movie’s panel, which featured a cast that included the most number of adored celebrities in a single film, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkin and director Peter Jackson, among others, is an equally awesome watch, especially because of the hilarious Stephen Colbert, who moderated the panel in a Hobbit costume. Watch the trailer here: 

Guillermo Del Toro, who is omni-present at the Comic-Con every year, had another brilliant year, as he released a teaser for his next, CRIMSON PEAK, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hannum, that got loud cheers from the crowd; his upcoming animation film, THE BOOK OF LIFE and his TV series, THE STRAIN. THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART I also debuted its trailer as did PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, but it was the latter that stole the show amongst most big-budget trailer premieres, because its panel featured Cumberbatch, and everyone loves Cumberbatch, probably including Katniss. Watch the trailer of Penguins of Madagascar here: 

The one other movie that made a splash at Comic Con was ANTMAN that lost its long-term director Edgar Wright a few months ago, to general scorn from the internet community. Marvel Studios released a teaser poster for the movie that stars Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, and is now helmed by Peyton Reed. It also showcased some test footage that was well-received, which is an indication that the movie will not ‘suck all balls’, as some internet comments have given us a reason to believe.

An edited version of this article first appeared as The Sunday Guardian cover story on August 2, 2014

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoon, on Twitter: @tanejamainhoon, on Instagram: @tanejamainhoon, on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

Cannes 2014 Roundup: Films on our must-watch list #SundayGuardian #Films

– Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Sunday Guardian

We may not hold it against you if, on the mention of ‘Cannes 2014’, the image that pops into your head is that of a jaw-dropping Aishwarya Rai on the red carpet. We may hold it against you a little bit if you recall Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor’s alleged BFF rumours. But heaven forbid, if Mallika Sherawat is all that you can think of, especially in a year she *gasp* covered herself, you should take a deep look inwards and examine your choices in life.

Because at the Festival de Cannes 2014, India had more to be proud of than the assembly line of fashionistas it churns out yearly.

  1. TITLI Chief among India’s growing presence at Cannes was first time director Kanu Behl’s TITLI, about the youngest member of a family of criminals in the ‘badlands of Delhi’s dystopic underbelly’ (according to the synopsis), who teams up with his newly wed bride to try and escape the family business.Produced by Dibakar Banerjee and distributed by Yash Raj Films, the film was featured in the prestigious Un Certain Regard category at Cannes and opened to glowing reviews with Hollywood Reporter calling it “an enjoyable, character-driven Indian yarn” and Variety calling it “a grittily impressive noir debut.”
  1. GRACE OF MONACO Yash Raj Films had even more glory come their way, as they unveiled Nicole Kidman-starrer GRACE OF MONACO, their first ever film produced under the banner of their Hollywood-based division, Yash Raj Entertainment (YRE), headed by Uday Chopra. The film, distributed by indie powerhouse The Weinstein Company, got the honour of opening Cannes, and despite dismal reviews, it was probably the first time Uday Chopra was a sight for sore eyes, as he proudly represented YRE and India alongside director Olivier Dahan, Kidman, Tim Roth, the very hot Paz Vega, and several other international names.
  2. TRUE LOVE STORY Another proud achievement was the selection of filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s 18-minute animation film about a coming-of-age Bollywood-fantasy romance that was selected as one of the 10 short films at the Cannes Critics’ Week. Rao’ silent film won her well-deserved accolades at Cannes.

Of course, no matter how much the Indian media tries to showcase Cannes as the sister-festival of the International Film Festival of India, Goa, the hard truth is, Cannes has a lot more to offer than Sonam, Freida, Mallika and Jacky Bhagnani (YES, HE WAS THERE TOO!). So here’s a look at the most-talked about films at Cannes 2014:

  1. FOXCATCHER Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s swan song that won him the Best Director, Foxcatcher features a non-funny Steve Carrell as a creepy, schizophrenic millionaire, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestlers, and recounts a real life tragic story set around the 1996 Olympics.
  2. MOMMY Canadian indie film prodigy, Xavier Dolan, 25, continued giving everyone an inferiority complex, with his fifth film in as many years. Mommy, about an Oedipal relationship between a single mother and her son, won the Jury Prize.
  3. WINTER SLEEP At a runtime of 196 minutes, you’d think the film’s name would be a sign of its outcome. But Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylon took home the Palme d’Or and had critics and fans mesmerised about the brilliance of the class-divide drama.
  4. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT The name may suggest otherwise, but the French film directed by the Dardene Brothers, is not a romcom, but a character-study about a woman fighting depression. Two words: Marion Cotillard.
  5. LEVIATHAN The Andrey Zvyagintsev-directed drama, about an ordinary man fighting against the system, took home the Best Screenplay award, and is said to be the best Russian film in years and thankfully, comes with subtitles.
  6. MAPS TO THE STARS The scandalous take on the Hollywood film industry through the eyes of two former child stars, the film, being hailed as David Cronenberg’s return to form, won Julianne Moore the Best Actress Award.
  7. MR TURNER Director Mike Leigh’s biopic of controversial 19th century British artist, JMW Turner, won Timothy Spall the Best Actor Award for his portrayer of Turner.
  8. IT FOLLOWS An indie horror film that is actually scary! David Robert Mitchell got everyone talking about his film about a teenager who has nightmarish visions after a sexual encounter.
  9. WILD TALES ­The following words have been used often in reviews of Damian Szifron’s comic thriller, a multi-story revenge saga: Dark, noir, comic, outrageous, twisted and violent. Yes, it’s an ode to Pulp Fiction.
  10. THE TRIBE A film without a single dialogue would sound exactly the kind of arty film you’d be likely to avoid, but Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s thriller, set in a boarding school for deaf students, is being hailed as a masterpiece. It also has graphic sex, by the way.

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian on June 7, 2014

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoon, on Twitter: @tanejamainhoon, on Instagram: @tanejamainhoon, on Youtube: /tanejamainhoon

2012 Roundup: The 20 Best Films You’ve Not Seen

Having gone through innumerable ‘Best Of’ lists over the past month, there is only one conclusion to be made: There is no such thing as the “definitive” list of the best movies of the year, since each ‘Best Of’ list depends only on the movies the critic compiling the last has managed to see in the past year. Because thanks to multiple film festivals, quick DVD releases, wide indie distribution and.. *ahem*… the internet, there’s far more variety of outstanding movies available for consumption than what the mainstream media thrusts in our faces. But at the same time, with the amount of brilliant international television out there, it’s not possible to watch *everything* without ensuring  a clot in your brain.

So, having watched around 200 movies this year, here’s a helpful guide to the 20 best movies you have probably NOT seen this year, but you really must! This list includes independent cinema from across the world, including India, and is subjective and limited to the 200 or so movies I’ve seen, and which made me feel. There are probably many more fantastic indie movies I’ve missed, and I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations in the comments.

20. GOD BLESS AMERICA God Bless America was this year’s guilty pleasure. Written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who has earlier directed The Jimmy Kimmel Show, the movie follows a miserable 40-something insurance salesman, who goes on a rampage to rid the society of its ills – including worthless reality television contestants and people cannot park decently – along with 16-year old accomplice who is tired of it all too. The movie is hilarious, bizarre, demented, over-the top, wacked out, and a giant middle finger to the world at large.

19. CABIN IN THE WOODS The craziest thing about this year was the fact that The Avengers was probably *not* Joss Whedon’s best film of the year. Cabin in the Woods, which was co-written and produced by Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard (frequent collaborator of JJ Abrams), took every horror movie cliché and turned it on its head to come up with probably the smartest horror film in a while. About a bunch of friends (including Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth) who travel to a remote cabin and start dying mysteriously, nothing is as it seems in this must-watch film.

18. HIGH SCHOOL High School is a laugh-out-loud stoner comedy set in high school… and hence the ingenious name. The film by writer-director John Stalberg is about a geek who accidentally gets stoned for the first time in his life one day before a drug test in his high school. To avoid his future from getting jeopardised, he decides to get his entire school stoned before the test. With a plot that crazy, the laughs come fast and loud, and Adrien Brody’s side-splitting turn as a drug dealer makes this movie one of the year’s funniest!

17. CHRONICLE What Whedon did to Cabin in the Wood, newbie writer-director Josh Trank, along with co-writer Max Landis, did to Chronicle. A movie about three friends who accidently gain superpowers, Chronicle brilliantly fuses together elements of superhero, sci-fi and found footage movies to give a refreshing, intelligent and fun take on a bunch of genres that have been so done-to-death that you puke on hearing the term “hand-held camera”.

16. GOOD NIGHT GOOD MORNING The Hindu film critic Sudhish Kamath’s sophomore film after 2006’s The Four-Letter Word, Good Night Good Morning was a fresh, inventive, witty and wonderfully crafted rom-com, that’s as far a cry from Bollywood as dreamy lead actress Seema Rahmani is from your typical Bollywood showpiece ‘heroine’. Co-written by Kamath and Shilpa Rathnam, the film is about an all-night conversation about love, life and all that in between, between two strangers trying to belong.

15. END OF WATCH David Ayer, who has in the past written Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, came out this year with End of Watch, a gritty cop drama-meets-buddy movie about two young officers who inadvertently cause events that make them a mob target. The film is polished yet stark, cinematic yet realistic and entertaining yet honest, and boasts of two of the finest performances of the year by Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena.

14. STARBUCK Before India came out with Vicky Donor, in 2011 Canada came out (no pun intended) with Starbuck (that had a wide theatrical release in 2012), a French comedy by writer-director Ken Scott about a forty-something slacker who discovers that he has 142 children from the sperm he had donated years ago. A funny, sweet, heartwarming and feel-good comedy, Starbuck is a unique film that’ll make you warm and fuzzy about family ironically through its theme of artificial insemination.

13. KSHAY Kshay is the unlikeliest of Indian movies you’d ever see in your life, and yet one of the most confident, well-crafted and riveting ones. A psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with an unfinished sculpture, the film that’s been made on a shocking micro-budget of Rs 4 lakh, is an accomplished, brave and original piece of Indian cinema that’ll give you hope about the future of our movies, in the time of Bodyguard and Rowdy Rathore.

12. RUBY SPARKS The writing debut of actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars in the movie, Ruby Sparks is a romcom that blurs the line between reality and fantasy and ends up as one of smartest and sweetest films in recent times. Made by Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film stars Paul Dano as a writer who falls in love with a character in his own novel – as she comes alive. A novel film about both love, loneliness and writing, Ruby Sparks is a wonderful watch.

11. THE RAID: REDEMPTION Indonesian action thriller The Raid: Redemption or Serbuan Maut, written and directed by Gareth Evans, is orgasmic-level of awesome where action movies go and is possibly one of the best you’d ever see. About a SWAT team trapped in a building with a crime lord and his ruthless killers, and featuring possibly one of the longest martial arts fight sequences ever, the hand-fights, raw energy and visceral violence in the film will leave you giddy for more.

10. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Two years after his inspiring Oscar-nominated The Fighter, David O’Russell goes back to a genre only he does in a manner quirky and smart enough to spawn its own genre – the comedy drama. Silver Linings Playbook is a family drama, a romcom, a character study as well as an ode to the dysfunctional people and relationships in life all rolled into a fun, honest film with delightful performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Anupam Kher.

9. SLEEPWALK WITH ME The debut film of writer-director and lead actor Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me follows a struggling comedian who tries to get noticed at the cost of a long romance and regular sleep. The film is one of the year’s most amusing and likeable, and only uses humour as a garb to say meaningful and intelligent things about relationships that are always best said funny.

8. HOLY MOTORS Holy Motors is a one-of-its kind bizarre, inventive, crazy, random and awesome movies of the year that’ll give you an experience you rarely have at the movies. About a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (an exceptional Dennis Lavant), who goes from being a beggar to an assassin and dons many other avatars through the course of the film, Holy Motors entertains, bewilders and thrills as Leos Carax lives up to his reputation of an auteur.

7. LIBERAL ARTS How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor’s follow up to his charming Sundance-winner Happythankyoumoreplease, Liberal Arts is an even more enchanting, assured, intelligent and feel-good take on love and relationships. A film reminiscent of Midnight in Paris in its celebration of nostalgia, conversations and the liberal arts, the movie is exactly what you need to put a smile on your face.

6. JAGTEN One of the year’s most brilliant films, Jagten (The Hunt) is a tense, taut and terrifying psychological drama about a man wrongly accused of sexual abuse and the consequent mass hysteria that endangers his life. A collaboration between two of Denmark’s contemporary cinematic greats – director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, Jagten is a powerful film that will make you think as much as it thrills.

5. EK MAIN AUR EKK TU Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is only a Karan Johar production in name and budget, but its heart and soul is as indie as you could find. The debut film of writer-director Shakun Batra, EMAET is about two weeks in the life of its uptight, troubled and pushover protagonist as he meets a quirky, confident girl who teaches him about life and living. A refreshing, uplifting and happy film about love and relationships by a director who has nothing but a bright future ahead.

4. THE INTOUCHABLES A French comedy-drama about friendship, The Intouchables is based on the true-story about the unlikely camaraderie and bond that’s forged between a quadriplegic millionaire and his caretaker, an ex-con. The film about hope, trust and possibility, does for disability what few others have ever managed by driving home the pointing that… it really doesn’t matter. But it does so in a hilarious, irreverent and loveable manner, ending up as one of the movies of the year.

3. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Writer-director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a beautiful, moving and inspiring tale about the defiance, optimism and courage of a six-year old girl in the face of certain doom. One of the most polished, poised and powerful feature film debuts in a while, the movie will make you feel like few others, and has a heart like no other.

2. WILD BILL English actor Dexter Fletcher (best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) delivers a fantastic, enjoyable and profound debut film about the relationship of an ex-con with his two sons who were abandoned by both him and his wife. A smart, entertaining, well-acted and beautifully-crafted crime drama about life and relationships amongst people who rarely have either, Wild Bill is one of the best Brit films you’d seen in recent times.

1. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED Undoubtedly my favourite film of the year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. But it’s not just the wacky premise that the film is a must-watch for. The film is essentially about friendship, about a sense of belonging, about hope, about the power of belief, about magic and about the fact that miracles do happen, if you want them bad enough to!

10 Other Notable Indies:  Valley of Saints, Teddy Bear, Smashed, The Sapphires, Pitch Perfect, Moonrise Kingdom, Goon, Detachment, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

10 Notable Mainstream Films: Argo, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit: An Unforgettable Journey, Life Of Pi, 21 Jump Street, The Dictator, The Dark Knight Rises, Project X, Looper and Ted.

5 Notable Documentaries: Supermen of Malegaon, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Imposter, This is Not A Film and Indie Game: The Movie.

Note: This column first appeared on on December 31, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Hollywood Bowl #5: Telluride Festival 2013 Roundup

On its 40th anniversary, the Telluride Film Festival (TFF) strengthened its reputation as one of earliest Oscar predictors in the world today. The festival, which is located in the small mining town of Telluride in Colorado, USA, was the first one to showcase the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo, last year, and in its earlier avatars, premiered a host of other Oscar nominees and winners, including The King’s Speech, The Descendants, Slumdog Millionaire and Brokeback Mountain.

While these films may have their ‘world premieres’ later at bigger festivals like the Venice Film Festival or The Toronto Film Festival with the red carpets and all the razzmatazz that comes with it, with what it calls ‘sneak peeks’, TFF has been instrumental in giving Oscar voters and pundits an early heads up on the films that stand strong chances of nominations. That’s because TFF has now started attracting a strong audience of Academy Awards voters every year as attendees, who are both here to catch the early Oscar buzz, and by being there, contributing to it.

TFF is also a rare festival in that it doesn’t reveal its lineup of films until just a day before the festival, and has thus, in a strange way, has become the cult indie fest that relies on its cultivated loyal fan following to populate itself every year. And this year, the festival’s followers got more than their money’s worth with some of the most anticipated films of the year showing at TFF before their official world premieres, including 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners and Gravity. Here’s a look at some of the films that made the most noise at the recently-concluded TFF, 2013:

  1. 12 Years a Slave

London-based filmmaker Steve McQueen, who has twice missed Best Picture Oscar nominations for his critically acclaimed films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), can be rest assured a nomination this time, and possibly even a win, if raving reviews and insane buzz around his new film, 12 Years a Slave, are any indication. The film, a historical drama based on the life of a free black man who has kidnapped and sold into slavery, has received unequivocal acclaim, with critics predicting Oscars (not just nominations) for lead actor Chiwetel Ejifor (American Gangster, Love Actually) for his heartbreaking performance and for director McQueen himself for what is being touted as the finest movie ever directed on slavery. The film also stars Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti, so you have all reasons to be excited!

2. Gravity

Being hailed as one of the most visually immersive cinematic experiences ever, the 3D thriller Gravity, about two astronauts trying to survive outer space after an accident, is also most likely to nab multiple Oscar nominations this season. Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien), the film has elicited awe from critics, audiences and even director James Cameron, who called it the “best space film ever made”.  With its supposedly unparalleled use of 3D and the strength of Bullock’s harrowing performance, critics are predicting that this could be Bullock’s second Oscar win after Blind Side (2009).

3. Prisoners

While critics are divided over whether or not Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut, Prisoners, is going to bag an Oscar nomination, they are certain of one thing: the film sees career-best performances from actors Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.  A crime thriller about a father (Jackman) who will go to any lengths to find his kidnapped daughter, even if it requires him to be at odds with a police detective (Gyllenhaal), the film is being compared to the likes of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, and even Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. The film’s script, by Aaron Guzikowski, was long listed as one of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts.

4. Nebraska

Director Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, The Descendants) new film, the black and white road trip drama-comedy about a troubled father-son relationship, had earlier premiered at The Cannes Film Festival 2013 and earned decent reviews, but its reception at TFF elevated it to being a rather special film. Bruce Dern, who played the alcoholic father to Will Forte’s son in the film, has already won the Best Actor award at Cannes, but with the buzz that the film generated – some even calling it the Best Film at TFF – he seems to be a likely Oscar contender and the film itself could surprise with an Oscar nomination, like Payne’s The Descendants did in 2011.

5. Under The Skin

A film that polarized audiences and critics alike at TFF was Sexy Beast director’s new film, Under The Skin, which stars Scarlett Johannson as a seductive alien. While everyone agreed that the film was distinctly original and that Johannson is outstanding in her unnerving portrayal of the alien, the film has been called everything from ‘silly’ to being a ‘cult’ film.

6. Starred Up

Another father-son story that received much acclaim at TFF was director David Mackenzie’s (Young Adam, Spread) brutal prison drama film about a violent teenager (Jack O’Connell) who’d much rather stay behind bars to be with his father (Ben Medhelson), than get out into the real world. Critics believe that the film, which they likened to Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, has managed to find the fine line between an emotional family drama and a starkly realistic incarceration movie, with a career-making performance by O’Connell.

7. Salinger

Shane Salerno’s documentary, Salinger, about JD Salinger, author of the cult novel, Catcher in the Rye, became one of the most talked about events of TFF. The film about the reclusive author who disappeared from the public eye for 45 years, passing away in 2010, revealed that the author’s private work will be published posthumously in 2015, which is possibly one of the most important literary announcements of the year. The documentary itself received mixed reviews, for the fact that the film gathered its footage and pictures by intruding into the privacy of the man who wanted nothing but to remain private.

8. Labor Day

Up In The Air and Juno director Jason Reitman’s new film is an emotional love story about an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who takes refuge – and then kidnaps – a lonely single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son. While critics were somewhat divided over whether the romance is able to shine through the suspenseful tone of the movie, Reitman has received universal acclaim for his most mature and powerful directorial attempt yet, and that, of course, Winslet is eternally brilliant.

9. The Invisible Woman

Actor Ralph Fiennes followed up his directorial debut, war epic Coriolanus, with a period drama The Invisible Woman, about the secret relationship of author Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) with a younger woman (played by Felicity Jones), in the last few years of his life. While Coriolanus wasn’t lapped up the critics, this time around Fiennes is being praised for his exceptional direction of the movie, and for extracting a career-making performance out of Jones (Like Crazy).

10. The Lunchbox

After getting fantastic reviews at Cannes 2013, Indian director Ritesh Batra’s debut film, The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique and Nimrat Kaur, started gaining momentum for being a potential Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee. Almost every important publication from The Hollywood Reporter to The Wall Street Journal called the film charming and endearing and counted it amongst their favourite films at the fest. The film releases on September 22 in India, and is easily a must-watch.

Some of the other highlights of the festival include: Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement, The Wind Rises, an animation film based on the life of a World War II fighter plane designer; Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish-language film, Ida, a sincere 1960s drama about an 18-year-old orphan in the backdrop of communist Poland; the 26-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Gia Coppola’s debut film, Paolo Alto, on teenage angst, based on James Franco’s book of the same name; Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to the Oscar-winning A Separation, relationship drama The Past; Penn and Teller’s provocative documentary Tim’s Vemeer exploring the relationship between art and technology, JC Chandor’s survival film about a man lost at sea, starring Robert Redford; Israeli filmmaker Yuval Adler’s thriller on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Bethlehem and Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s three-part HBO miniseries about 1969’s Prague Spring.  Two Cannes winners, Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue is the Warmest Color continued receiving rave reviews at TFF too.


Note: This column first appeared on on September 10, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Hollywood Bowl #4: We’re The Millers, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Drug Wars

We’re The Millers released this week and there’s only one thing you should know: Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper in the film. Let me repeat that in case your brains exploded with that information: Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper in the film. And yes, she has enough sequences in the film (that are, amazingly, left uncensored by our censor boards) to justify her profession. If you are a man, this is probably all you need to know to go watch We’re The Millers NOW.

In case you are a woman, or a man who clearly doesn’t know what’s good for him, We’re the Millers is also one of the funniest movies out this year, after The Heat, of course. Filled with massively inappropriate humour that is offensive to just about everybody (and hence, hilarious), We’re the Millers is a road trip movie about a drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) who hires a stripper, a homeless girl (Emma Roberts) and a kid in his building (Will Poulter) to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexico border. The movie’s script brings out every comedy cliché in the book, but the brilliant cast delivers them so well, it’s hard to stop laughing.

Will Poulter (the star of two of the British indie films of the last decade, Wild Bill and Son of Rambow) is easily the best thing about the movie (apart from Aniston’s anti-ageing body, obviously) and with his hilarious performance, guarantees for himself a long career of frat pack comedies, once Vince Vaughn finally realizes he’s too old for this s**t.

Two other films released this week: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, and Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and they are exactly as clunky as their names. Percy Jackson is still a decent-ish watch, merely because of the presence of Nathan Fillion, who makes anything a decent-ish watch, merely because of his presence (although Stanley Tucci is pretty damn good too). And while Mortal Bones had a better cast on paper, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lena Headey, Robert Sheehan and the like joining in, at a length of 2 hours plus, the movie is 2 hours longer than it needed to be.


DVD Roundup

Undoubtedly my favourite film that’s out on DVD this year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. It’s not just the wacky premise (that’s based on a true incident, by the way) that the film is a must-watch for.  Aubrey Plaza is indie Jennifer Lawrence level-awesome, and Jake M. Johnson (New Girl’s Nick) is downright hilarious and should do a lot more movies. There’s also an Indian kid making his debut, and Karan Soni is far better than the clichéd love-less nerd role that he plays. The script by Derek Connolly is genuinely one of the funniest, most hopeful, and strangely moving you’d come across, and Colin Trevorrow’s assured direction has landed him the job of directing Jurassic Park IV. Don’t miss it!

Another comedy that should be watched just on the street cred of the people involved is the British indie flick, Seven Psychopaths, which is directed by the outstanding In Bruges director, Martin McDonagh and has a stunning cast that includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken. A black comedy about seven psychopaths (with the most awesome reasons for being so), the movie is as original, unique, disruptive and mad as they come.  About a struggling screenwriter who (Farrell) who gets entangled with the mob because of his psychopath friends, this Tarantino-esque movie’s going to make you laugh and leave you in awe.

Hong Kong-based director Johnnie To’s new crime and underworld film, Drug War is out, and though it’s not as fantastic as some of his other gangster films like Election, it’s a perfectly good time at the movies. About a cartel boss who is arrested in a raid, the film takes on the usual crime themes of betrayals and survival in its own unique way: a mix of equal part art and equal part pulp. One and a half hours of a solid action thriller.


Trailer roundup

Just a few decent trailers released over the week till yesterday, but today the internet was bombarded with awesomeness. You need to watch the trailer of Under the Skin to realize why there can never be enough horror films. British director Jonathan Glazer’s (of Sexy Beast fame) creepy-as-hell nod to the Alien movies, starring Scarlett Johansson as the alien in human form is going to leave you afraid to see more, and yet want it desperately, at the same time.

A film about Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, that also brings to life Jack Kerouc and William Boroughs, is probably every beat generation fan’s wet dream. Exciting new talent Dane DeHaan stars along with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in Kill Your Darlings, in what promises to be a heady movie about a heady time in literary history (with a heady trailer to boot). 

And then there is Neighbors. From Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, here comes your new R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen *yawn*. But wait, does this actually look funny or does it actually look funny? A film where Zac Efron is the douchebag to Rogen and Rose Byrne’s mellow husband-wife couple? Also starring Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz Plasse, Lisa Kudrow and Jake M. Johnson and Carla Gallo in what seems like a battle of the generations? Yes, please!

A film that could potentially be Matthew McConaughey’s genuine shot at an Oscar, Dallas Buyers Club (Directed by C.R.A.Z.Y. director Jean-Marc Vallee) about a Dallas cowboy who contracts AIDS and then illegally helps treat people with HIV, genuinely looks like the kind of movie we’ll all be talking about for long. Check it out.

Also out: British indie crime flick, The Rise, starring the who’s who of young Brit talent, from Luke Treadaway to Iwan Rheon; James Franco’s weird teaser for his next as director, Child of God; Bounty Killer, a B-movie that looks quite mad;  The Turning, a collection of short stories with a trailer of short shots that have no meaning whatsoever, and Ass Backwards, one of those Sundance comedies that are supposed to be heartwarming, but, umm, aren’t.


Note: This column first appeared on on August 29, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.