By Zehra Kazmi:
2014 was an important year for cinema. Hollywood churned out some films that left us gasping for breath and searching for words. Here in India, though, it was a different story. Humshakals caused most of us to lose a huge amount of respect for Saif Ali Khan as an actor, Yaariyaan was a blockbuster, and Himesh Bhai continued to try his luck in acting with films like The Xpose. However, there were a few silver linings and some wonderful, internationally acclaimed cinematic works did come out of our country this year. (Also, Fawad Khan joined Bollywood, so obviously 2014 has been an amazing year for us, duh!)
I have made a list of films that I think every movie buff should see this year – films that made the year worth it, at least for me.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
This was definitely the most likeable film 2014 had to offer. Guardians of the Galaxy was smart, funny, had some amazing use of 3D, and wins the award for best soundtrack ever, hands down. What distinguished it from a generic and forgettable summer blockbuster was that it had all the makings of a classic. The characters won everyone’s hearts and stayed on with us long after the film was over. The humour was spot on and so were the performances. Full marks to Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper’s memorable turn as Rocket, the fast-talking genetically engineered raccoon who stole the show.
With Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet, Vishal Bharadwaj completed his Shakespeare trilogy and did not leave us disappointed. The film – a dark, twisted tale of revenge unfolds in the pristine and snow capped Kashmir Valley. Shahid Kapoor excels as the tormented and bewildered Haider – a poet who finds himself drawn into the lethal game of politics and terrorism. Tabu is magnificent as Haider’s mother, a mysterious and tragic figure who sees her whole world come crashing down in front of her. There were apprehensions regarding the film’s box office success. However, it managed to become not just a critical masterpiece but also rake in solid collections. Bold and unflinching, Haider makes an artistic statement, especially in a year which also saw terrible films like Jai Ho and Humshakals.
3. Gone Girl
Rosamund Pike as the gorgeous, ruthless and calculating blonde – Amy Dunne, is what classic Hitchcock thrillers are made of. She is utterly terrifying yet fascinating in Gone Girl. Ben Affleck as the neglectful and unfaithful Nick leaves the viewer conflicted and constantly questioning his motives. Has he done it? Or is he just a man caught in circumstances? This, ladies and gentlemen, is what they call the perfect casting. The minimalist design of the film, its haunting background score, the representation of American suburban horrors and media hypocrisy are all excellent. It suffers a bit due to Neil Patrick Harris being somewhat miscast as Desi Collings. Also, the misogynistic undertones of the film are worrisome. Despite that, Gone Girl is highly recommended – a thrilling game of cat and mouse, that you won’t forget for quite sometime.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel takes us on an enthralling journey with two unlikely friends – M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the Grand Budapest, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the trainee lobby boy. The concierge has been framed for murder and enlists the help of young Moustafa to clear his name. The film’s black comedic charm, period setting, Anderson’s colourful composition and attention to detail as well as the gorgeous locations make the film a modern classic. The impeccable acting by the cast comprising of Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, and the debutant Tony Revolori makes loving the movie easier. Its humour and warmth coupled with the sheer scale and beauty of Anderson’s vision makes it a rare gem of a movie.
Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s latest release, has proven to be a favourite among the critics for the year 2014. The technical masterpiece, shot over a time frame of 12 years, is also an emotionally revealing journey into what growing up really means for us. Boyhood tells us that we don’t need something completely theatrical to make our lives into tales which are worth being told, in fact the experiences that all of us have can make a great story. Starring Ellar Coltrane, Lorelai Linklater, Patricia Arquette (watch out for her amazing last scene in the film) and my personal favourite Ethan Hawke, the film is an awe-inspiring work of art. I don’t think that any other film can make you revisit growing up in such a way again – all in a span of 165 minutes.
6. Dedh Ishqiya
This is the second Vishal Bharadwaj film to make it to this list, and though he has not directed this one, he has written the screenplay and produced it under his banner. Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, the sequel to the much acclaimed Ishqiya, the film managed to surpass the original. It marked the return of Madhuri Dixit to the silver screen after a long hiatus. She plays Begum Para, the gorgeous Rani of Mahmudabad and is joined by Huma Qureishi as Muniya, her assistant, while Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi as Khalujaan and Babban reprise their roles from the prequel. The film’s elegant Urdu dialogues, stunning locations, the wicked chemistry between Khalujaan and Babban along with the magic of Madhuri resulted in the film becoming the critics’ darling in 2014. Though it does make you question the taste of the audience when you realize that something like Yaariyaan raked in more money than this.
Queen is a film that everyone should watch. It is honest, beautiful, warm and utterly delightful. Oh yeah, it’s also proudly feminist (making it all the more likeable). We watch Kangana Ranaut as Rani, brimming with innocent, wide-eyed wonder, following her journey of self-discovery as she nurses a broken heart, ventures out in the world, struggles with French food, sex shops and a mugging attempt, makes new friends, learns to value her own worth and finally stands up for herself. If you still haven’t seen it, go ahead and watch it already!
Jake Gyllenhall is downright creepy in Nightcrawler. Why? Because even though you know he is a diabolical sociopath, you cannot come to terms with accepting that he is a monster. In this swift, pulsating thriller, Dan Gilroy reveals the murky underbelly of television journalism, where the only thing that matters is creating a sensation. The pace of the film is insanely fast and engaging, making the viewer feel like they’ll miss out on some important detail if they even blink, keeping one glued to the screen. Aided by and able supporting cast of Riz Ahmed and Rene Russo, Nightcrawler is a must-watch.
9. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is Morten Tyldum’s homage to the great mathematician and cryptanalyst – Allen Turing, the man who helped create the modern-day computer and broke the Nazi Enigma code to help the Allies win World War II, only to be later driven to suicide for his homosexuality. Benedict Cumberbatch, extremely popular for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s Sherlock, gives an explosive, nuanced and complex performance as Turing. He is joined by a stellar supporting cast comprising of Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Stewart Menzies and Allen Leech in the film. The film tells a story that deserved to be told – of how cruel society can be to those who chafe at its established norms.
After last year’s Gravity, comes another science fiction film to sweep you off your feet. Interstellar is epic-in scale, proportion, casting, effects and everything else. The film is thrilling yet thought provoking and its dreamlike visuals inspire awe and admiration for the class act that is Christopher Nolan. Though not his best work as a director, it is clearly one of the best films of the year.
Honourable Mentions: Aankhon Dekhi, Ida, Gloria, The LEGO Movie, Selma, Birdman, Highway, The Fault In Our Stars and Whiplash.
I know there are works of international directors that should ideally be included in the list and ten is a small number considering how many fabulous films have come out this year, but do go ahead and watch these ten, at least.