Having gone through innumerable ‘Best Of’ lists over the past month, there is only one conclusion to be made: There is no such thing as the “definitive” list of the best movies of the year, since each ‘Best Of’ list depends only on the movies the critic compiling the last has managed to see in the past year. Because thanks to multiple film festivals, quick DVD releases, wide indie distribution and.. *ahem*… the internet, there’s far more variety of outstanding movies available for consumption than what the mainstream media thrusts in our faces. But at the same time, with the amount of brilliant international television out there, it’s not possible to watch *everything* without ensuring a clot in your brain.
So, having watched around 200 movies this year, here’s a helpful guide to the 20 best movies you have probably NOT seen this year, but you really must! This list includes independent cinema from across the world, including India, and is subjective and limited to the 200 or so movies I’ve seen, and which made me feel. There are probably many more fantastic indie movies I’ve missed, and I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations in the comments.
20. GOD BLESS AMERICA
God Bless America was this year’s guilty pleasure. Written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who has earlier directed The Jimmy Kimmel Show, the movie follows a miserable 40-something insurance salesman, who goes on a rampage to rid the society of its ills - including worthless reality television contestants and people cannot park decently – along with 16-year old accomplice who is tired of it all too. The movie is hilarious, bizarre, demented, over-the top, wacked out, and a giant middle finger to the world at large.
19. CABIN IN THE WOODS
The craziest thing about this year was the fact that The Avengers was probably *not* Joss Whedon’s best film of the year. Cabin in the Woods, which was co-written and produced by Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard (frequent collaborator of JJ Abrams), took every horror movie cliché and turned it on its head to come up with probably the smartest horror film in a while. About a bunch of friends (including Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth) who travel to a remote cabin and start dying mysteriously, nothing is as it seems in this must-watch film.
18. HIGH SCHOOL
High School is a laugh-out-loud stoner comedy set in high school… and hence the ingenious name. The film by writer-director John Stalberg is about a geek who accidentally gets stoned for the first time in his life one day before a drug test in his high school. To avoid his future from getting jeopardised, he decides to get his entire school stoned before the test. With a plot that crazy, the laughs come fast and loud, and Adrien Brody’s side-splitting turn as a drug dealer makes this movie one of the year’s funniest!
What Whedon did to Cabin in the Wood, newbie writer-director Josh Trank, along with co-writer Max Landis, did to Chronicle. A movie about three friends who accidently gain superpowers, Chronicle brilliantly fuses together elements of superhero, sci-fi and found footage movies to give a refreshing, intelligent and fun take on a bunch of genres that have been so done-to-death that you puke on hearing the term “hand-held camera”.
16. GOOD NIGHT GOOD MORNING
The Hindu film critic Sudhish Kamath’s sophomore film after 2006’s The Four-Letter Word, Good Night Good Morning was a fresh, inventive, witty and wonderfully crafted rom-com, that’s as far a cry from Bollywood as dreamy lead actress Seema Rahmani is from your typical Bollywood showpiece ‘heroine’. Co-written by Kamath and Shilpa Rathnam, the film is about an all-night conversation about love, life and all that in between, between two strangers trying to belong.
15. END OF WATCH
David Ayer, who has in the past written Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, came out this year with End of Watch, a gritty cop drama-meets-buddy movie about two young officers who inadvertently cause events that make them a mob target. The film is polished yet stark, cinematic yet realistic and entertaining yet honest, and boasts of two of the finest performances of the year by Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena.
Before India came out with Vicky Donor, in 2011 Canada came out (no pun intended) with Starbuck (that had a wide theatrical release in 2012), a French comedy by writer-director Ken Scott about a forty-something slacker who discovers that he has 142 children from the sperm he had donated years ago. A funny, sweet, heartwarming and feel-good comedy, Starbuck is a unique film that’ll make you warm and fuzzy about family ironically through its theme of artificial insemination.
Kshay is the unlikeliest of Indian movies you’d ever see in your life, and yet one of the most confident, well-crafted and riveting ones. A psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with an unfinished sculpture, the film that’s been made on a shocking micro-budget of Rs 4 lakh, is an accomplished, brave and original piece of Indian cinema that’ll give you hope about the future of our movies, in the time of Bodyguard and Rowdy Rathore.
12. RUBY SPARKS
The writing debut of actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars in the movie, Ruby Sparks is a romcom that blurs the line between reality and fantasy and ends up as one of smartest and sweetest films in recent times. Made by Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film stars Paul Dano as a writer who falls in love with a character in his own novel – as she comes alive. A novel film about both love, loneliness and writing, Ruby Sparks is a wonderful watch.
11. THE RAID: REDEMPTION
Indonesian action thriller The Raid: Redemption or Serbuan Maut, written and directed by Gareth Evans, is orgasmic-level of awesome where action movies go and is possibly one of the best you’d ever see. About a SWAT team trapped in a building with a crime lord and his ruthless killers, and featuring possibly one of the longest martial arts fight sequences ever, the hand-fights, raw energy and visceral violence in the film will leave you giddy for more.
10. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Two years after his inspiring Oscar-nominated The Fighter, David O’Russell goes back to a genre only he does in a manner quirky and smart enough to spawn its own genre – the comedy drama. Silver Linings Playbook is a family drama, a romcom, a character study as well as an ode to the dysfunctional people and relationships in life all rolled into a fun, honest film with delightful performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Anupam Kher.
9. SLEEPWALK WITH ME
The debut film of writer-director and lead actor Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me follows a struggling comedian who tries to get noticed at the cost of a long romance and regular sleep. The film is one of the year’s most amusing and likeable, and only uses humour as a garb to say meaningful and intelligent things about relationships that are always best said funny.
8. HOLY MOTORS
Holy Motors is a one-of-its kind bizarre, inventive, crazy, random and awesome movies of the year that’ll give you an experience you rarely have at the movies. About a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (an exceptional Dennis Lavant), who goes from being a beggar to an assassin and dons many other avatars through the course of the film, Holy Motors entertains, bewilders and thrills as Leos Carax lives up to his reputation of an auteur.
7. LIBERAL ARTS
How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor’s follow up to his charming Sundance-winner Happythankyoumoreplease, Liberal Arts is an even more enchanting, assured, intelligent and feel-good take on love and relationships. A film reminiscent of Midnight in Paris in its celebration of nostalgia, conversations and the liberal arts, the movie is exactly what you need to put a smile on your face.
One of the year’s most brilliant films, Jagten (The Hunt) is a tense, taut and terrifying psychological drama about a man wrongly accused of sexual abuse and the consequent mass hysteria that endangers his life. A collaboration between two of Denmark’s contemporary cinematic greats – director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, Jagten is a powerful film that will make you think as much as it thrills.
5. EK MAIN AUR EKK TU
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is only a Karan Johar production in name and budget, but its heart and soul is as indie as you could find. The debut film of writer-director Shakun Batra, EMAET is about two weeks in the life of its uptight, troubled and pushover protagonist as he meets a quirky, confident girl who teaches him about life and living. A refreshing, uplifting and happy film about love and relationships by a director who has nothing but a bright future ahead.
4. THE INTOUCHABLES
A French comedy-drama about friendship, The Intouchables is based on the true-story about the unlikely camaraderie and bond that’s forged between a quadriplegic millionaire and his caretaker, an ex-con. The film about hope, trust and possibility, does for disability what few others have ever managed by driving home the pointing that… it really doesn’t matter. But it does so in a hilarious, irreverent and loveable manner, ending up as one of the movies of the year.
3. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Writer-director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a beautiful, moving and inspiring tale about the defiance, optimism and courage of a six-year old girl in the face of certain doom. One of the most polished, poised and powerful feature film debuts in a while, the movie will make you feel like few others, and has a heart like no other.
2. WILD BILL
English actor Dexter Fletcher (best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) delivers a fantastic, enjoyable and profound debut film about the relationship of an ex-con with his two sons who were abandoned by both him and his wife. A smart, entertaining, well-acted and beautifully-crafted crime drama about life and relationships amongst people who rarely have either, Wild Bill is one of the best Brit films you’d seen in recent times.
1. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Undoubtedly my favourite film of the year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. But it’s not just the wacky premise that the film is a must-watch for. The film is essentially about friendship, about a sense of belonging, about hope, about the power of belief, about magic and about the fact that miracles do happen, if you want them bad enough to!
10 Other Notable Indies: Valley of Saints, Teddy Bear, Smashed, The Sapphires, Pitch Perfect, Moonrise Kingdom, Goon, Detachment, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
10 Notable Mainstream Films: Argo, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit: An Unforgettable Journey, Life Of Pi, 21 Jump Street, The Dictator, The Dark Knight Rises, Project X, Looper and Ted.
5 Notable Documentaries: Supermen of Malegaon, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Imposter, This is Not A Film and Indie Game: The Movie.
Coming up next: A list of movies to watch out for in 2013. You can tweet good, bad and even ugly comments (if you *must*) to the piece to Nikhil on Twitter: @tanejamainhoon.