Most movie critics across continents usually stick to listing the 10 best films of a year to those from their own country. However, a better thing to do is to pick a mix of films from across the globe that left a mark.
So here are the 10 best movies which I watched this year, some at home in Chennai and some in film festivals like Cannes, Venice, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Mumbai and Panaji.
Watch these movies for their stories, riveting performances and scripts that rang more or less true.
I loved Stephen Frears' Philomena (in English) for the courageous way it damned the church, for the way it brought out the silent suffering of a teen mother whose son is snatched away from her, for the way an emotional upheaval is handled with dignity and for the way Judi Dench is transformed from the prim and proper M in the Bond series to a deeply unhappy woman in Philomena. What a fine actress Dench is.
Saving Mr Banks
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson slug it out in John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr Banks (English). About what happened before Mary Poppins hit cinemas, Hancock's movie underlines the desperation of two people to adapt the novel, Mary Poppins, to the screen - Walt Disney, who is dying to keep the promise he made to his children, and the snooty Mary Poppins' author, Travers, who never wanted her characters to dance on the screen. But a financial crisis that threatens to blow her roof away forces her to sell the rights of her book. She does, but gives a really hard time to the Disney studio hands, stubbornly refusing to have any animation in the celluloid work.
12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave (English) is a very different kind of drama on an issue that provoked a civil war in America in the mid-1800s. While we have seen other slave stories (Django Unchained and the masterpiece, Gone With The Wind), McQueen's work is a poignant study of a free black man who is kidnapped from New York and bonded to cotton plantation labour and to the cruelty of his masters. Based on the actual memoirs of Solomon Northup, 12 Years A Slave is superbly narrated and engagingly acted out by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (French) from Tunisian-born Abdellatif Kechiche is a passionate love story of two lesbians. However, it is not just about prolonged sex scenes as it is also about a young girl's discovery of adulthood in the arms of an older girl. Despite being three hours long, the film does not sag at any point, thanks largely to the wonderful performances by Lea Seydoux and newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos.
But what many missed in this Cannes Palm clincher was its subtle study of class differences in France.
Palestine's Omar by Hany Abu-Assad gripped me with its nail-biting Catch-22 situation that involves an Israeli agent and a young Palestinian in a cat-and-mouse game. The humiliation faced by Palestinians in their everyday life is brought out powerfully. Mounted with finesse, the plot delves deep into the dilemma of Omar, whose loyalty to his own Palestinian people is in question.
Merzak Allouache's The Rooftops from Algeria is a brilliant and absolutely novel reconstruction of a day, from dawn to midnight -- of a series of mostly ghastly events on several of Algiers' rooftops.
A man is torturing his own brother urging him to sign a property document, and when a television crew out to capture the sights of the city from the roof stumbles upon the crime, the crew is killed. As we go on a tour of other rooftops, we see an old man imprisoned in a wooden cage (who narrates stories to a little girl of his life as a revolutionary), we see an elderly woman in a shack tending to her mentally challenged niece and her drug-addict son, and we also see a rock band practising. In about 18 hours, Allouache presents crime, death, love and music as they happen on the city's roofs. What a great idea for a movie.
Aparna Sen's Bengali work, Goynar Baksho (Jewellery Box), is an extremely witty look at how one woman guards a box of precious jewels even after she is dead. The woman, played beautifully by Moushumi Chatterjee (who once did terribly silly roles in Hindi films), turns into a ghost, helping a large family of her brothers and their wives. But she is very fond of one wife, essayed by Sen's daughter, Konkana Sen Sharma, who carries her part, stuttering along, with natural ease. Finally, when the ghost departs, Konkana's screen daughter gives the jewels away for what she considers a worthy cause.
A delightful movie indeed where Aparna tackles lust, temptation and greed with a touch of lovely humour. And, yes, Konkana is best when her mother directs her. Remember her in Mr & Mrs Iyer, also helmed by Aparna.
Karu Pazhaniappan's Tamil movie, Jannal Orum (By The Window) is a refreshing piece of narrative centring on a bus that travels from the temple town of Palani in Tamil Nadu to Pannaikadu. Essentially about a driver (played marvellously by Parthiban) and his conductor, Jannal Orum offers to show us a world that flits by as the bus winds its way through the picturesque foothills of the Palani Hills. As we travel along with a motley group of characters and meet others living by the wayside, the director lets his bus dive into murder one lonely evening.
As novel as Jannal Orum was Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox (Hindi) - the most talked about film of the year that also attracted rave notices at Cannes, where it unfortunately played in a sidebar and not in the official lineup. Set against the backdrop of Mumbai's famed dabbawallahs (men who transport lunchboxes from homes to offices), The Lunchbox is a unlikely love story of an elderly widower (performed to perfection by Irrfan Khan).
Nimrat Kaur is his screen lover, and the two get to know each other through the little notes they exchange through a dabba she sends him every day - knowing full well that this lunch is not for him. But for her husband. Batra handles the script with extraordinary restraint, and of course his main actors, including Nawazuddin Siddique, were just amazing.
Probably the best Indian movie of the year.
Shuddh Desi Romance
Not many will remember Shuddh Desi Romance in Hindi by Maneesh Sharma. What I particularly liked about this film was its hitherto unheard of subject. It talks about how men and women develop cold feet on the eve of their marriage. Able cast with Sushant Singh Rajput and Parineeti Chopra, the movie unfolds in Rajasthan and takes us through the fears of a young man and a young woman as they decide to get hitched after living together.
Rishi Kapoor as the guy who organises weddings is excellent, worried to death as he is when he sees young people running away from a formal marriage. A great commentary I would think about the state of man-woman relationship in today's India, and told with disarming simplicity.