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19 Brilliant Movies You Need To Watch

November 07, 2023 12:40 IST
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Sukanya Verma gives us a lowdown on all those wonderful movies she saw and movies you need to see as and when they arrive to a screen or streaming space near you.

A lot has changed since the 2019 Mumbai Film Festival. Who knew then that a devastating pandemic was just around the corner and would bring this annual pilgrimage to world cinema and homegrown indies to a halt?

Enter 2023.

Although the horrific memories of coronavirus and its crushing impact on lives and livelihoods is far from forgotten, the human spirit is as indomitable as the power of cinema. And MAMI, boasting of a terrific line-up, made its return after a three year sabbatical to the City of Dreams amidst pomp and fanfare.

Once again, artistic grit and unapologetic glamour come together to create an atmosphere of diversity and discussion.

Between rubbing shoulders with Saif Ali Khan and the Kapoor sisters -- Kareena and Karisma -- at the valet parking, appreciating Agra Director Kanu Behl helping his mum and Khufiya's scene-stealing baddie, Navnindra up the stairs, writer-turned-director Varun Grover's eye-catching blue nail polish and a spontaneous chat on animation introducing me to the legendary animator behind Ek Anek Aur Ekta, Bhim Sain's adorable family, I found my inner peace before the screen in film-making at its purest best.

For nearly a week, the corner seat of the fifth row in Audi 5 and 6 became my home (occasionally though the opulent Grand Theatre at BKC's NMACC teased my off-duty Instagrammer), an unsaid bond of fleeting eye contact between perfect strangers picking the same movies as I/me was forged and eavesdropping like the perennial fly on the wall felt alright and amusing.


The Animal Kingdom

Thomas Cailey's sci-fi drama imagines a post-pandemic reality where humans are mutating into hybrid creatures. Clueless and traumatised, this shunned lot flees into the forests while authorities are hot on their trail and the general public debates the idea of coexistence.

At its heart though, The Animal Kingdom is an emotional rollercoaster wherein a man, desperately looking for his wife and plagued by the aforementioned genetic jumble, confronts his teenage son going through a difficult transition of his own.

There's much beauty and warmth in this poignant father-son tale whose emphasis on kindness and acceptance makes it unlike any other from the apocalypse genre.


Sweet Dreams

European colonialism is on its last leg in Ena Sendijarevic's Dutch-Indonesian period satire. Against the backdrop of an imminent workers uprising, a sugar plantation owner's sudden death spurs a conflict of interest between his immediate family desperate to lay hands on the inheritance he's willed to his housekeeper's son.

Sweet Dreams has the air of an art gallery. Its visually striking canvas paints a stoic state of sadness and suppression at its most surreal and perverse but the experience itself is elusive.


The Buckingham Murders

Hansal Mehta's film starring Kareena Kapoor Khan as a grief-stricken detective at the helm of a missing child mystery, along the lines of Kate Winslet's Mare of Easttown, focuses on a British Indian community's trials and tribulations.

Because of its indefinite embargo, I can only say Kareena has unlocked fearless new levels of emotional maturity within herself, and the evolution is spellbinding.


Fallen Leaves

War updates on the radio, wobbly job situation, alcohol problem, lonely state of being, life is hardly a bed of roses and love couldn't be further from their mind. But that's exactly what happens with Ansa and Holappa in Aki Kaurismäki's modern-day Helsinki romance.

Despite the gloomy challenges strewn in their path, the director's upbeat gaze, playful humour and endearing nods to the magic of meeting at the movies ensures the audience walks out of the theatre with a smile on their face and spring in their step.

An instant charmer.



Winner of Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival, Monster employs Rashomon's narrative structure to tell its three act perspective justifying the title's psychological perceptions that changes from a mother's fight against corporal punishment, a misunderstood school teacher's quandary and the tender bond between a pair of middle-schoolers too young to understand what it is, too young to fight it.

There's a wonderful line in Monster where a character says something to the effect that, 'If only someone can have it, it's nonsense. It's only happiness if everyone can have it.'

Ultimately, it's this 'love is love' wisdom that forms the sensitive core of Hirokazu Koreeda's touching exploration of childhood and friendships. Nobody gets kids or shows their world as gently as him.

Nobody picks a better set to portray them.

Monster is another jewel in the Japanese master's cinematic treasure.


Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person

A young vampire (by vampire standards anyway), confronted by the ethics of her natural lifestyle, isn't so much grossed out by the idea of sipping blood as she is by drawing it out of an unsuspecting someone in this quirky Ariane Louis-Seize rom-com. But when a broody teenager having a tough time surviving, life offers to be her breakthrough and the result is surprisingly sweet and riotously funny.

Evoking Tim Burton's eccentric energy in an indie soul ,Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person wins hearts through its witty treatment of familiar tropes and sheer likeability of its doe-eyed leads.


Strange Way of Life

Years ago, Pedro Almodóvar turned down directing Oscar winner Brokeback Mountain because he wasn't confident about his English. The Spanish auteur appears a lot more secure chronicling the reunion of ex-lovers, Ethan Hawke's gruff sheriff and Pedro Pascal's mild-mannered cowboy in his stunning queer Western.

As sweeping their connection is, a short story format doesn't do enough justice to their long harboured passions under a volatile exterior.

But connect the threads to where Strange Way of Life ends and the journey of Long, Long Time (third episode from The Last of Us, also starring Pascal) begins and you have a satisfying whole.


The Pot Au Feu

Best Director winner at Cannes Trần Anh Hùng's delicately, delectably crafted The Pot au Feu leaves a lingering taste of classic French cooking in our mouth and memories.

Food centric movies have enough advantage on their own when scene after scene unfolds the intricacy and indulgence of the culinary arts.

What distinguishes The Pot au Feu is not just the techniques used in a 1885 kitchen but also the giddy ardour of a luminous, lived-in romance between gifted chefs and their mutual passion for turning food into feast and the art of savouring it into a story, love story.


Anatomy of a Fall

Snow clad French Alps form the setting of Justine Triet's airtight courtroom drama starring the spectacular Sandra Hüller as an author forced to prove her innocence in a trial determining if her fellow writer husband's sudden death was suicide or murder.

Some unsettling revelations are made about their turbulent marriage and its upsetting outcome on their 11-year-old son.

Awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or, Anatomy of a Fall insists the viewer judge the intentions of its characters and make what they will of the ambiguities. What stands out though is an intriguing character study over the course of all the social injustices directed at its tour de force heroine.



Writing fortune cookies proves to be a therapeutic and creative exercise for an Afghan immigrant in America. A former translator to the US government, Fremont takes a wryly humorous look into a young woman's monotonous existence working in a San Francisco-based Chinese fortune cookie factory.

Between suffering grumps in her neighbourhood and engaging in laconic chats with her shrink, she quietly sends a message into the universe to be found. Only to wonder if she should feel guilty for wanting happiness in her share.

What could have easily become a typically melancholic expression of immigrant desolation acquires a whimsical face in first-time actor Anaita Wali Zada's deadpan genius. Refusing to make a big deal of its breezy possibilities with the arrival of Bear's Jeremy Allen White on the scene, Babak Jalali's black and white filmmaking stays true to its muted charms.  


All India Rank

Drawing from his own experiences as a '90s kid and engineering student at IIT growing up in North India, writer-turned-director Varun Grover captures the anxiety and naivety of a teenager shouldering the responsibility of his parents' expectations while trying to succeed in his IIT objectives and, simultaneously, coming-of-age.

Varun has a lovely rhythm to his film-making -- his love for language and '90s nostalgia, it all SINGS.

The control his young protagonist hopes for is amply displayed in the debutant director's craft where life and learning never stops for youth or empty nesters.

All India Rank is scheduled to release in February.



A seven-year-old girl arrives at her grandpa's home as part of her father's 27th birthday party thrown by his sisters. What seems like a celebration at first is really a goodbye whose emotional weight is felt by every single member of the sprawling family over the course of a chaotic day.

Mexico's official entry for the Best International Feature Film at the Oscars is a highly moving experience if spirited too.

Given that its entire gamut of feelings are viewed through a kid's perspective, it spoke to me on a personal level, sometimes breaking my heart, on others offering a belated closure for the loss and confusion I felt as a seven year old but continue to understand and not understand till now.


Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

There weren't many takers for Vietnamese film-maker Pham Thien An's Camera d'Or winner at the Mumbai Film Festival. Perhaps its three hours running time scared off most folks if the number of walk-outs is any indication.

What happens? A man residing in Saigon is forced to return to his native village and take responsibility for his little nephew after his sister-in-law's death in a road accident. There's been no news of his AWOL brother for years, but he's still not stopped looking. The girl he loved has become a nun but the memories of their time together still haunt him.

What's impressive? Its ethereal choreography has a ruminative quality and offers a fascinating analogy for faith.


The Monk and the Gun

The year is 2006. The place is the Kingdom of Bhutan. With modernisation kicking in and monarchy making way for democracy, the innocuous rural population needs to learn a thing or two about the concept of elections and voting.

Change has its own set of challenges, prompting a monk's mysterious request for guns while the power play within the mountain village and a shady American gun collector get caught in its fray.

A shrewd, shrewd satire AND fable, Pawo Choyning Dorji's crowd-pleaser brilliantly captures a nation at the cusp of new and old in all its enlightened glory while taking humorous jabs at India's state of democracy and America's second amendment.



Kanu Behl doesn't tell easy stories. And Agra is a tough, tough watch.

Sexuality and sexual repression form the key themes in the movie that digs deep within ugly foundations but is set in a city known for housing an architectural beauty. Featuring an unrecognisable Rahul Roy as the depraved patriarch of a family that's too beyond repair to be dubbed mere dysfunctional, it is his son's (a bare-all Mohit Agrawal) journey into growing misery and confusion that fuels Agra's struggles.

Diving deep into the psyche of a disturbed mind is always a tricky prospect.

While I couldn't empathise with its troubled characters or the darkness they demonstrate in the way Agra does, Behl's confident, uncompromised film-making shows the extremes he's willing to document in keeping with his bold creativity.


Perfect Days

Once in a while a movie comes along that makes you want to live inside it. Perfect Days by Wim Wenders is one such gift to cinema.

There's something so graceful and humbling in the manner Wenders captures a toilet cleaner in Tokyo out and about at work. Every day he wakes up, gets ready, drinks his coffee, plays his favourite music in a little blue van and drives to work with his set of magic tools and brushes and removes all signs of dirt people leave behind.

Japan's veteran actor Kôji Yakusho's sunshine schedule and pure smile embraces everyday monotony as well as the bittersweet interruptions stirring its set harmony in ways so sublime (and melodious), it's nearly spiritual.


Sthal-A Match

In a masterstroke of an opening scene marking a gender reversal of the arranged marriage scenario to an empowering effect, a young girl quizzes her potential groom about his age and height. Of course, the arranged marriage norms tilt far too much in the male's favour to make every woman's wish a reality, an unfair standard that's scathingly looked at in Jayant Digambar Somalkar's Marathi drama.

Sthal's patriarchy-smashing attributes aren't novel and its tendency to deviate into tangents of farmer crisis and disenchanted youth suggests it wants to bite more than it can chew. But its spunky cast of non-actors held my attention through and through.



Somewhere in a holiday home by the Baltic Sea, a sad sack writer suffering from a creative block -- his novel's name is Club Sandwich -- stands out like a sore thumb around an affable party of three -- a photographer, an ice cream vendor and a rescuer swimmer even as a raging forest fire threatens to stir the peace.

Christian Petzold's Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize winner at Berlinale centres around a killjoy and a woman he's secretly enamoured by.

Both Thomas Schubert and Paula Beer emerge as great draws in an otherwise standoffish movie that rudely changes its tone from slice-of-summer to serious and sad.


Terrestrial Verses

Regular Iranian folks from all walks of life share the daily scrutiny they encounter through experiences over a job interview, lost pet, sliding hijab and Rumi's quotes tattooed on their torso, to name a few, until this superb film culminates into its earth-shattering conclusion.

Living in a regime characterised by control and censorship is hardly a laughing matter, but directors Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami highlighting the absurdity of such authority leaves one with no option but titter nervously in disbelief and discomfort.

Can you imagine an Indian version of this?

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