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The Big Sick, T2: Trainspotting, Prevenge – 20 best films of 2017 from around the world

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series

As 2017 winds to a close, the time has come for reflection and introspection. If you’ve been following the news you’d be well aware of how both arts and world politics took a painful beating throughout the year. So it just makes sense that some of the best films of the year weren’t the obvious, big name titles but the smaller ones that properly reflected how far we’ve fallen from our collective high horse.

There were a few decent films like Ladybird, Get Out, Dunkirk, Coco and Call Me By Your Name. On the other hand The Shape of Water, Three Billboards and Phantom Thread would probably get some Oscar recognition in Feb.

The interweb, however, is filled with articles on how Hollywood is panicking over falling box office receipts and how the ‘prestige films’ haven’t performed well, but there’s little focus on the genuinely good ones that managed to sneak up behind the biggies and made an actual lasting impact.

From L to R: T2 Trainspotting, The Big Sick and Prevenge.

Here are the 20 of the best:

20. Bitch

Dir: Marianna Palka

This dark comedy drama takes the crown in the subgenre of using a bizarre setup as a metaphor for a real life domestic issue. After being endlessly frustrated in her troubled marriage, a woman suddenly gains the personality of a vicious dog – snarling and biting anyone who dares to come close. The film cleverly uses the ‘asshole husband’ trope as a primer for the werewolf like transformation of his wife, and anyone in a relationship would be able to relate to the themes snarling under the oddball dark comedy. Director and star Palka has made three other great films like this one and it’s rather odd that she’s been under the radar all this while.

19. Kedi

Dir: Ceyda Torun

What could possibly be better than a tour of Istanbul? A tour of Istanbul through the eyes of various cats of course. This Turkish documentary charmingly illustrates the relationship between man and the felines, rendering with the light touch of a cat’s paw the message that we humans could learn a thing or two from them. Whether or not you dig cats, this is a film purely meant to warm the cockles of your stone cold heart, and perhaps even appreciate how cats have managed to survive hundreds of years of kingdoms falling apart in the region – especially since humans currently in Turkey seem to be on their way to downfall.

18. Mayhem

Dir: Joe Lynch

The title of the film is a clear enough indication of what it could be about. This is a wonderfully unhinged, balls to the wall action horror comedy that almost seems like a remedy to the humdrum cinema this year. Set entirely within the confines of a building writer director Lynch tears corporate structuring and jargon to shreds with satirical bite – but that is when the film isn’t slicing and dicing through hordes of people in suits. It also signals the arrival of the gun trotting Samara Weaving as the next big thing.

17. Berlin Syndrome

Dir: Cate Shortland

Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland delivers a claustrophobic thriller with excellent performances, foreboding atmosphere and an increasingly unpredictable plot. The film premiered at Sundance to an unfortunate situation where the projection failed in the third act which marred the word of mouth and the film’s life, but it absolutely deserves a cult following. Shortand’s unique direction filled with silences and the suffocating cinematography often makes you wonder whether you should feel for persons who commit atrocities because they’re humans too.

16. Your Name

Dir: Makoto Shinkai

As someone who isn’t a big fan of anime outside of Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, Your Name opened me to a new way to watch and appreciate cinema. Very rarely does a film marry the emotional, the visual and the cerebral so beautifully, and Shinkai finds the right balance at every step, even in the sprawling scope and scale of the canvas. It’s the best animated film of the year, and also a proper pop culture phenomenon. I wasn’t aware of Shinkai’s work prior to this but now I’m a huge fan, and ten minutes into Your Name, you will be one too.

15 – The Ornithologist

Dir: Joao Pedro Rodrigues

Last year it was Embrace of the Serpent, this year it is The Ornithologist that takes you on a drug fueled, hallucinogenic journey into a remote jungle. This is the kind of film that demands patience, but those willing to wade into its murkiness and metaphors will find themselves rewarded handsomely. A large joint would be a nice accompaniment to fully experience the spiritual diatribes and seductive allure of the film. If nothing else, you’ll certainly be considering a tour of Portugal having been swayed by the lush visuals.

14. Tragedy Girls

Dir: Tyler McIntyre

The blackest of black horror comedy with an American high school setting, all the requisite underpinnings such as peer pressure and Instagram followers, and two strange girls who may or may not be planning a brutal murder. This is genre filmmaking working at optimum levels, with the oddball WTF-a-minute cycle of thrills to keep you nervously laughing but also strangely entertained. And the star of the show is Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool) who gets to ram head first in a subversive and hilariously wicked role.

13. BPM: Beats Per Minute

Dir: Robin Campillo

While the festivals went bonkers over Call Me By Your Name, Robin Campillo’s LGBT set drama went unfairly under the radar – but this is a much more nuanced, soulful and moving ode to the gay community. Set against the backdrop of the ACT UP campaign in early 90’s Paris, BPM shies away from sensationalist means to expound the stigma against homosexuals and AIDS at a critical time in history – culminating into a finale that is probably the most exhilarating cinematic sequence of the year.

12. The Big Sick

Dir: Michael Showalter

The reason why this film became an unlikely blockbuster and made it to many best of the year lists is that it is the most crowd pleasing film of the year. It is also the rare film that has a very large heart at its center – with emotional pull without manipulation, laughs that feel earned and characters that reflect people who are always around you but we never paid much attention to them. It’s made Kumail Nanjiani a star and it will be interesting to see what he does next and whether he has the acting chops to do something different.

11. Get Me Roger Stone 

Dir: Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro

While a film about a hero is generally the filmmaking norm, there’s always something far more fascinating about films on total, absolute dirt bags. Get me Roger Stone serves not just as a terrific portrait of one of the scummiest human beings to have graced the Earth, but also as a searing history lesson on what the hell suddenly went wrong in America. The film keeps lobbing grenades of information that becomes more and more shocking, more so because it becomes clear that the seemingly giant machine behind world history is a simple little thing called political lobbying. Essentially everything that was rotten in our world has boiled down to 2017, and this film serves as a handbook.

10. Band Aid

Dir: Zoe Lister Jones

Zoe Lister Jones stars and directs one of the most unique takes on a failing relationship, in which a husband and wife who fight constantly discover that the only way to avoid a divorce is to turn their arguments into pop songs. The nasty fights may get a little weary, but the unpredictable nature of the film and the wonderful chemistry between the leads is an absolute treat to watch. It may not reach the heights of Blue Valentine but the conflicts presented in the film are quite resonant and the observations are surprisingly insightful. Jones, who was earlier known for the show ‘Life in Pieces’ is quite an astonishing cinematic force.

9. Good Time

Dir: Ben and Josh Safdie

A kinetic, darkly thrilling film that goes so deep into the underbelly of New York so fast it’s hard to keep track of the goings-on. Pattinson delivers a shockingly great performance as a junkie caught up in a heist gone wrong, stuck in a race against time. The Safdie Brothers weave a consistently tense narrative, filled with lush visuals and a gangly, dense atmosphere. The choice of aesthetics render a style of filmmaking we’ve never seen before, so even in the moments of familiarity we’re kept on the edge of our seats, swept up by the unpredictable unfolding of the story.

8. The Villainess

Dir: Jung Byung-gil

If you’ve been missing some quality Korean cinema lately here’s a film that should whet your batshit insane cinema appetite for a whole year. This is not just John Wick on steroids, this is John Wick during a plutonium blast while careening at full speed towards an exploding star. Right from the opening scene where we see a woman kicking ass for ten whole minutes in one single take in First Person perspective, right up until the finale that contains the best bus sequence of all time, this is carnage presented like a beautiful ballet. It’s also nice to see Kim Ok Bin from Park Chan Wook’s Thirst headline another Korean classic.

7. Super Dark Times

Dir: Kevin Phillips

This is the low key, intimate, slow burn, beautifully shot thriller to fall absolutely in love with. The setup is like cinematic comfort food – a gang of young kinds in a suburban neighborhood find themselves involved in a murder gone wrong. The 90’s setting, the fantastic cast of young actors and the ominous atmosphere all add up to a very solid debut by cinematographer turned director Phillips. And there’s just something magical about seeing kids on bikes in movies – maybe it’s fascinating because the image represents an era that can never return even though it was a a few years ago and we had many chances to preserve that aspect of childhood.

6. Loveless

Dir: Andrey Zyvagintsev

The film that is sure to grab the foreign language Oscar this year, Loveless is a brutal, dreary jaunt into the harsh snow of Russia. Much like Zyvagintsev’s previous films, we’re taken through an uncompromising slow burn chronicling a family crisis with an undercurrent of social commentary on the state of things in the country. It may not be in the same league as Leviathan, but this is a demonstration of a master filmmaker under full control of form.

5. T2: Trainspotting

Dir: Danny Boyle

The sequel was never going to be a zeitgeist capturing classic like the original Trainspotting, but the film did something special – it presented us a new drug that we’re always addicted to – nostalgia. The result is a fever dream fueled by an overdose of nostalgia, reminding you of days gone by and how being carefree is no longer an option in an increasingly punishing world that cares less about you each passing day. It’s a somber chamber piece enveloped in Boyle’s trademark idiosyncratic colours and energetic camerawork. It’s also almost meta sequel filmmaking where we’re literally told that doing more of the same is just not possible when you’re no longer in your twenties.

4. Moka

Dir: Frédéric Mermoud

The director of French classic The Returned delivers another great film that explores the threshold that exists between life and death. Part revenge drama and part psychological thriller, we follow a woman (an incredible Emmanuelle Devos) who has embarked on a journey to find the owner of a car that killed her son during a hit and run. Apart from the unrelenting suspense, and brilliant twists and turns, the film is packed with exquisite visuals of Lake Geneva that serves as a metaphor for death.

3. All These Sleepless Nights

Dir: Michal Marczak

Like a beautiful fission of Terrence Malick and Kieslowski’s work, All These Sleepless Nights is the ultimate art form of the year, so beautiful to behold it seems like an art exhibition with moving images. It’s a simple story where youngsters roam a city in Poland over three nights and discover culture, history, and a deeper understanding of their own selves and their connection to each other. Director Marczak delicately moulds the shape of the film over and over again like clay, often changing its form from mesmerizing to haunting, making the experience so intoxicating and intimate you feel you’re within the movie itself. You want to touch the people in the film, and be touched by them; I don’t remember the last time I had such a convergence towards cinematic characters.

2. Better Watch Out

Dir: Chris Peckover

A trio of young friends hang out on Christmas eve, but there might be a killer on the loose – or so you think – because the 20th minute has an insane twist you will never ever see coming. With his elusive mix of sick humour, shocking visuals and subversive thrills debut director Peckover has created something totally unique, yet familiar and comfy to be consumed like hot chocolate on a chilly holiday evening. This is a comedy of quite astonishing blackness, and a thriller of surprising depth and soul – all packaged with incredible performances, particularly from the 14 year old Aussie actor Levi Miller and The Visit star Olivia DeJonge. This is the papa of all recent genre films and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Peckover makes next.

1. Prevenge

Dir: Alice Lowe

It seems the children of Ben Wheatley have come of age. Sightseers actor Alice Lowe has emerged as a superstar writing, directing and starring in what is possibly the best horror comedy in years. Lowe plays a pregnant woman who suddenly goes on a killing spree, targeting specific individuals who may or may not be connected to each other. But what sets this apart from many of its genre films siblings is how the woman in question receives particular instructions to execute her plans – a surprise best left for you to discover. It’s completely bonkers, and dances madly on the line connecting eccentricity and entertainment; but more than anything it is incredibly satisfying to watch, almost like a catharsis or sorts. Its bitingly hilarious digs on motherhood are just one of the many awesome screenwriting elements.


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM


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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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