My favorite films of the decade
It's the end of 2009, and as we enter a new decade with hope and expectations for more exciting and breakthrough cinema, it is also obviously time to look back at the last ten years and both examine and acknowledge the films that enthralled and entertained us, and those which made a difference.
This is a task that is as fun as it is daunting- and there will always be films that will seem unfairly included or excluded. Hence, making no pretensions of judging the 'best' films of the decade- I instead present to you an eclectic list of my personal favorite films- ones that might be flawed, but have a special place in my heart, with moments that are etched in my mind, and which I never tire of revisiting. Here are 7Â½ films (yes, that's right)- in no particular order- that I truly love:
Mira Nair's wonderfully intimate and immensely moving portrait of a Punjabi family in Delhi preparing for a wedding remains among her best work- and my personal favorite. There isn't a character or situation that doesn't hit the right note- these are people we have seen all around us- and the ensemble cast does stupendous justice to the superbly nuanced writing. Keenly observed, funny, poignant, and altogether delightful- Monsoon Wedding is a celebration of life you can't miss being a part of.
Irrepressibly idealistic and amazingly pure in spirit, Swades may be naÃ¯ve, flawed and dauntingly long- yet each moment in this film shines with a charm and warmth that is indescribably unique. Full of gentle humor and ample heart, this film about returning home (both literally and metaphorically) has some lovely performances- I especially love Kishori Ballal as Kaveri Amma, who is the soul of the film, even as Shah Rukh Khan leads the cast ably in an arguably career-best role. Unfairly dismissed as 'documentarish' by some, Swades is a deceptively simple film- rich in imagery and symbolism, and multi-layered in its theme and message. Lagaan may be his masterpiece, but for me, this, without doubt, will remain the ultimate Ashutosh Gowariker film.
The jury is still out on this one- unacknowledged gem or overrated garbage? Either way, this film deserves kudos for sheer gall. Never before has a filmmaker made a mainstream Hindi film so completely bizarre and indulgent, literally pointing a middle finger to the industry, and I daresay- even most of its audience- and I doubt if we'll see anything like this film anytime soon. Its influences may have ranged from Kaufman to Kafka, but this film is ultimately testimony to Anurag Kashyap's cinematic courage and admirably stubborn spirit to not give in or try to fit in. The vivid visuals and black humor make this a fun watch even if you- like me- can't completely break the code on this one.
Sriram Raghavan's pulp-noir caper is undoubtedly the coolest bloody film this decade. With unforgettable characters (played unforgettably by the rock-solid cast) and classic lines ('It's not the age, it's the mileage!'), this is the stuff true-blue cult films are made of. It's stylish, amazingly shot, and hysterically funny in bits, but more importantly- underneath the jazzy razzmatazz of terrific style and innumerable film references, Sriram Raghavan's second film remains a truly solid thriller, one with both spine and soul.
Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi:
Sudhir Mishra's tour-de-force is a rare political drama, and a heart-wrenching saga of love, desire and ambition. Boasting of solid, powerful storytelling and powerhouse performances from the leads- Kay Kay Menon, Chitrangada Singh (in a breathtaking debut) and now-damned Shiney Ahuja, Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi wonderfully encapsulates an era of dreams and revolution through the journey of its characters and leaves you reeling with a sense of tragedy and loss. A film whose intellectual power and political statement is never overshadowed by its strongly emotional love story, Hazaaron is definitely one of the finest and most universal-appealing films that Hindi cinema has produced in recent memory.
Khosla Ka Ghosla:
With all respect to Dibakar Banerjee, who is an amazingly talented director, and does a great job here, this for me, remains a Jaideep Sahni film. Writers are an ignored, underrated lot in Bollywood, and it is rare to see a film which bears the stamp of a screenwriter so prominently and brilliantly so. Khosla Ka Ghosla is an immaculately written film, bringing alive the Delhi middle class ethos so vividly and with such affection, you know that this is a story straight from the writer's heart. With endlessly quotable dialogue, pitch perfect performances and a winning underdog story, Khosla Ka Ghosla is a film with infinite repeat value, and every single time I see it, I am invariably left thoroughly amused and moved. Vaary Decent, I say.
Ganda hai par dhanda hai yeh. Company was vintage Ram Gopal Varma- stunningly stylish, compelling, visceral and full of dry wit. The menace in Company was effortless and the storytelling genuinely affecting, unlike Varma's recent efforts where we only see flashes of brilliance between unending close-ups of brooding faces and ear-splitting background music. Vivek Oberoi made an unconventional and sensational debut (which he later wasted totally) and the entire ensemble cast- Ajay Devgan (my personal favorite performance by him), Manisha Koirala, Mohanlal, Antara Mali was glorious, sucking the audience completely in their (under)world.
(The first half of) Naach:
This just had to be here. There are many films which begin marvelously only to tragically splutter towards the end, but I just can't help see the first half of Naach as a completely separate film. The second half is an absolutely grotesque mess, and when seen against the dazzling beauty of the first half- I don't want to believe that it's the same film- and I do believe that it could stand very well on its own.
A terrifically unusual romance, Naach was avant-garde by Bollywood standards- the tone of the film is indescribably surreal while remaining firmly rooted in life- almost reminiscent in many ways of Wong Kar-Wai's work- and the film works not only as an intense, passionate romance between two very strong characters, but also as a superbly sarcastic look at the film industry. Antara Mali and Abhishek Bachchan brought Abhi and Reva to life, and I would love to forget the second half and perhaps even hope that in the manner of Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset, their story could perhaps get a more satisfying conclusion in another film. Naach 2, Mr. Varma?