2013: A Year in Film and TV (End of year Part-II)

Alright, here it comes – the second installment of this lengthy account. This time I shall talk about my favourite movies from 2013 and a few other things that have come up, such as TV Series.

2013 has been a great year for independent films, with makers going more experimental and covering unexplored aspects of real life. I’ve seen more indie films this year than ever. In fact, funny, but I’ve mostly seen only indie films this year at all, with very few or none of the mainstream releases. Yes, it is in some ways unfair to whip up a best-of chart in such a situation, but this list has been pretty stagnant for a while. Really doubt much is going to change after watching the Academy Award Nominees.

So, let’s begin.

Honorable Mentions

Frances Ha
Only God Forgives

*MY* Top films of 2013

5. Fruitvale Station

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I was pretty late in watching this, but read about at a few online sites as it figured in some of their best-of lists. Without doubt, it was well-deserved.

A film based on a true story, it outlines the last day of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old from Oakland CA as he, for once, tries to turn the page and start over with a clean life. With its low-key, yet unique production involving screen overlays when a character makes phone calls or sends text messages, the film manages to show the extent of transformation in the protagonist’s way of life and various triggers that lead him to do so. In the process, it also emphasizes on familial love, assumption of guilt and the general recklessness of BART police that eventually led to immense scrutiny over the years that followed.

4. Computer Chess

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I’ve always been a sucker for intelligent films with a sci-fi setting, but this one took things a notch up.

Admittedly, this film is not science fiction but merely one that questions possibilities of technology during its course. Set in the 80s, and shot with lo-fi production and organic music, the film instantly grabs attention and jumps into business as we walk straight into the annual chess tournament played by computers, and assisted by programmers who come up with robust algorithms year after year to bring the game closer to a man.v.man game.

Over the duration of this game, the film picks up on much more subtler aspects of this little achievement as characters speculate the future of technology and their express their own insecurities as they discuss the idea of machine taking over man.

This thoughtful film makes you rethink the effects of current state of technology from a viewpoint set to years ago in order to really look at it in an evolutionary fashion.

3. Upstream Color

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I’d heard very little about Shane Carruth, but boy I was excited to check when I read that this film was written, directed, produced, edited, composed, designed, cast by and starred him. That’s a lot of single-handed work, and it pays off brilliantly.

It would not be entirely appropriate to call this film science fiction, because that is the least important aspect of it. Shot in a style that at times reminds you of Terrence Mallick’s Tree of Life, the story is about the life cycle of a fictitious parasite that goes through a cycle from a man, to pig to an orchid plant, connecting all their consciousness in the process.

Exploring very Karl Jung-esque concepts, the film beautifully portrays the hidden connection between to beings and how the impulsive reaction of one affects the other. It also shows the bonding between two people with absolutely no reason, and their sense of paranoia as experienced by the collective consciousness that hovers above. The film also contains some intriguing, yet totally awesome unnamed characters such as the ‘Sampler’, whose musical methods I very much empathize with.

2. Her

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I’ve heard a lot about films by Spike Jonze and still have them on my to-watch list. But this is the first film that I’ve watched by him. Another film from this year that picks up on the inevitable moment when man and machine cross paths, but in a very, very different perspective.

The film follows protagonist Theodore, brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix (damn Oscar, y u no nominate?) as he breaks up from his monotonous relationship with his wife (played by Rooney Mara) only to stumble into a strange corner of his mind where he falls in love with an Operating System. Drawing references from numerous jokes about the personification of popular iOS voice system Siri, Her presents to you a carefully constructed love story between a man and an adaptive operating system that ends up developing its own personality.

Easily one of the better films that have released this year, and easily among the most different take at a peek into the future of mankind and his relationship with machines.

Highlight of the movie: The scene where Theodore panics when he can’t find Samantha (the OS). Wow. Just wow.

1. Before Midnight

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Needless to say, this was my most-anticipated film of the year and definitely lives up to every bit of expectation I had from it. I had nearly marked my calendar to begin looking for a third installment to this time-lapse account of a love story that dates back to as early 1995.

Before Midnight is in all respects, a matured film that deals with the reality of a relationship that is beginning to age, as the people comprising it begin to accept it as a part of life, and hence eventually reduce the amount of heed they pay to it. Played by the ever so energetic Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the lead-couple (the movie rarely shows any other character important to the story) go through not a pleasant and thought provoking conversation as they did in the earlier films, but a violent argument that I guess is inevitable when one reaches that stage of life.

Clearly the most apt ending for a trilogy that has been ever so realistic in its way of addressing life and people and it’s firm stand at ‘this is as good as it gets’ stage of a relationship that each of us will have to conform to, someday.

Oh, and if you’re going to watch this, watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset first.

Indian Films

I can’t really rate or make up a list since I’ve watched too few movies this year, but here are the top 3.

3. Lucia (Kannada/English)

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Lucia is the first Indian film to be crowd-funded, which gave me certain amount of confidence in its ingenuity. Also, it was recently recommended by one of my favourite directors from around here, so I gave it a watch. I was impressed.

Lucia follows the story of a man living two lives – one in reality and another in a drug induced lucid dream. Interspersed with the traditional Indian song-and-dance elements, but with sufficient plot justification, the film explores inner depths of mind as the protagonist achieves different set of things in each part of his waking life as they slowly cross each other, leaving you guessing which one is what.

A rare sight in Indian cinema with such a tight plot executed with very few or negligible flaws and a must watch for anyone on lookout for ingenious stuff from around here.

2. The Lunchbox (Hindi/English)

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One of the forerunners for India’s submission to the Academy Awards for the ‘Best Foreign Language’ film, The Lunchbox is certainly a soulful film that an average Indian is bound to relate with.

With its not-seen-before epistolary narrative that purely relies on letters sent by the leading characters to each other, the film also indirectly presents to you the circle of life and death and the inevitable emotions that they bring along. Having grown up in a very similar place and having to politely request grumpy old men to return the ball when they go flying into their houses during a game, I was pleasantly surprised to see the whole incident from the other side, as the movie explores the life of an aging widower with little else to pursue in life apart from the boring accounts job.

The Lunchbox also gives a more honest view into the lifestyle of an average Indian, which is invariably minus all the glam that one often tends to come across in a large portion of the massively misrepresenting local pop-culture.

1. Ship of Theseus (Hindi/English)

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I’d heard great things about this film even before its release and was eagerly anticipating this little feature. Sprouting out of what’s called the Theseus’ Paradox, Ship of Theseus follows the life of three different people, and one hidden character. For his debut feature, director Anand Gandhi has hit gold with his work, in terms of quality.

Following lead from this little Paradox, the film tries to view it from a previously unseen stand-point: Organ Transplants. From long shots of scenic landscapes which exist well within our everyday lexicons of life, to intelligent conversations among characters about death, afterlife and reincarnation, this film is one of a kind that makes a lasting impression in the mind of the viewer.

Breaking language barriers has always been a challenge in a country as diverse as India and the film successfully does that, and yet maintains great amount of cohesiveness when it comes to plot and screenplay. Arguably, this is the best film that India has seen this year and marks a major milestone in the new wave of Indian cinema that no doubt is emerging.

Oh, and post release, Ship of Theseus went on circulation through a number of theaters at different places before it was eventually uploaded for free streaming and download – staying true to its Indie nature.

Television

With increasing number of television shows experimenting with storytelling and plot-lines, it was only a matter of time before they got as classy and serious as films. I have only just started and have been simultaneously binge-watching a number of shows. I’m currently half-way though a few great ones such as Mad Men and Orange is the New Black. Here are the two best that I’ve completed and have always wanted to write about:

Breaking Bad

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I’m pretty late at getting to write about this, but this show is, without doubt, one of the best TV series produced till date. Driven by a premise more gripping than most films, Breaking Bad shows the transformation of a helpless ailing man into a diabolic crime lord, and the costs that come with it. With the end very much in sight from the very beginning, the show takes you on a journey through the innards of cross-border crime, chemistry and a mind with no fear. It would be a laborious affair to get to the details of this kind of brilliance as every season, in fact every episode deserves it’s own analytical blog post.

Must watch for just anybody who is looking for a thriller. In hindsight, I can’t really recall the end of one episode and the beginning of another, thanks to its exceeding sense of continuity and character development. What more, Breaking Bad also excels with amazing levels of technical detail and visual aesthetics that would make you pause at certain frames and admire them.

Bring on the Night

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Thoroughly underrated and unheard of (which explains this really lo-res screenshot), this Indian show lasts for only a season, but manages to showcase all its goodness in this relatively short duration. Spanning over 10 episodes, Bring on the Night gives an insight into the emerging underground art and pop-culture of India that has ever more intelligence than ever before.

The show follows four of its lead characters as they decide to convert a 2 century old house into an after-party nightclub and various difficulties faced by them in the process – may it be thanks to the usual Indian way of life, financial constraints or the tyranny of bureaucracy.

Another notable aspect of the show is its use of music by various independent musicians and bands for its official soundtrack. Besides it’s near-accurate description of life in India and portrayal of relatable characters, the show opens you up to a plethora of musicians from the nation that are only waiting to be discovered. A must watch for any binge-watcher.

 

So that ends the second and final part of my end-of-year wrap up.

This year happens to be a crucial year in my life as a number of career-determining steps and events lay ahead in the coming months. Stay tuned as I go on and off with updates on life and the world.

Till later,

– Sumanth

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