Top Ten Movies: 2019

In his terrific debut feature, director Ivan Ayr takes a look at life in the Delhi metro from the POV of two lady cops at the long sides of the hierarchical spectrum—at work and in the society. His nuanced findings? Things aren’t very different for either the titular Soni or her boss Kalpana Ummat (débutantes Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra turning out terrific performances). Add the ominous and very real issue of women’s safety that hangs like a cloud of societal and governance failure over this country, and you have an unforgettable, life-like drama.

Pacing this dusty, fierce dacoit drama in the 70s Chambal badlands, director Abhishek Chaubey pulls out his most visceral offering yet. With some heart stopping cinematography by Anuj Dhawan and edgy performances by Bhumi Pednekar, Sushant Singh, Ranvir Shorey, Ashutosh Rana, and Manoj Bajpayee, Sonchiriya (The Golden Bird) boils over the cauldron of discrimination that’s gender and caste-based and as relevant as we step into a new decade. But what’s haunting is the wing of guilt that stalks some of the movie’s characters that’s also the driver for their actions. That golden bird isn’t as enticing as it sounds in the titles.

Super Deluxe
A metaphor-packed, deeply complex and a beating heart of a movie, Super Deluxe is part noir, part black comedy, part social farce, and all brutal reflection of us human beings. Director Thiagarajan Kumararajan sets an ever-morphing design and perpetually rotating tube of cinematic kaleidoscope to bring out the change and metamorphosis of each one of his myriad of characters. And as the patterns change, he also slides in subtle social commentary under the radar; it’s up to you to hook on or let it pass by. Backed by an all-powerful ensemble cast, the movie makes an apopheniacal case for humankind’s raison d’être. The Lemon Popsicle series got it right way back when. It’s all about sex.

 Marriage Story
Director Noah Baumbach‘s case for couples working things out by ripping off the glue between one that ought to have, where the unravelling of their marriage is one of the most emotionally visceral experiences you’ll ever have at the movies. With Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver packing in knock-out performances, you’ll reach for your ‘kerchief—and your partner—at the same time. Better yet, reach out for their ‘kerchief.

A chilling terror piece from Jordan Peele that’s high on suspense and nail-biting scenes, high on metaphors too, and consequently highly infuriating as well. But look beyond the heavily layered Hitchcockian pressure—the weak explanation at the lake house in act two notwithstanding—and you see Peele’s appeal to introspect at the haves and have-nots, about how the two live in parallel, frighteningly different universes on the same planet. Plus Lupita Nyong’o does such a deadly doppelgänger, you can only hope—and only that—that you aren’t a funhouse to such unnerving duality.

The Irishman
Director Martin Scorsese gets together for the first time with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to unspool the real-life story of Jimmy Hoffa. In a movie that’s high on de-aging special effects and brilliant performances by the duo and Joe Pesci, the movie’s poignant rumination paints a portrait of men who’ve ruled what they were in charge of, and the inevitable trajectory of life and aging.

Kumbalangi Nights
In this heartwarming comic drama that climaxes into a breathtaking thriller, director Madhu C. Narayanan weaves a winner about four brothers. Backed by all-round superb performances, the movie slowly circles a welcoming blanket of belongingness around you, letting in beams of the past to throw light on the shadow-boxing of emotions that their characters circle in. Then, unexpectedly, also lets in the warmth of the light, slowly melting you and them in a unison of emotions. It’s a net so gracefully cast, you don’t want to get out of it ever.

Dolemite Is My Name
Based on the real-life story of Rudy Ray Moore who did the craziest, raunchiest reinvention of his own image (and work) to churn out best selling raunchy rhyming narrations on vinyl, the movie’s a riot set to funky music and grooves. Director Craig Brewer‘s cracker-jack approach to his subject makes the movie much like him—loud and funny. And riding on this riot is Eddie Murphy who tackles Moore’s character with his own reinvention, packing in a solid act that’s outwardly outrageous  but also hopeful and courageous underneath.

Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood
On the backbone of the horrifying  Tate murders committed by the Manson family in 1969, writer-director Quentin Tarantino plots the arcs of once-upon-a-prime actor (played with superb semi-comic angst by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt-double (played with Kool-Aid charm and suave smoothness by Brad Pitt). Packing loving doffs to Hollywood, movie-making, gossip, and fun, Tarantino shows acute empathy for Sharon Tate (played with tender knowingness by Margot Robbie) that breaks your heart. This, before the movie stabs its way into a stunning, heart-stopping denouement. If only real life was a once upon a time fairy tale.

‘Twas the season for metaphors in movies. And no one did it deeper or more scathingly than director Lijo Jose Pellissery in Jallikattu (a traditional bull taming game). Using the hunting of a bull running amok in a village, the director couches a savage, unyielding look at patriarchy and blood-spilling ego amongst men. With stunning cinematography (Girish Gangadharan) and a haunting, moonlight-swathed background score (Prashanth Pillai), the movie offers little hope for humankind. We’re stewing in our own cauldron, and there’s only one way out of it: a complete reset.