My Top 10 Indian Films of 2016

It’s still January, if barely, right?  This is a list of my favorite films in Indian Cinema released in 2016.  I have not seen every film released, by a long shot, but I’ve seen quite a few of the top releases in Hindi and Malayalam cinema in theaters.  I still haven’t seen Pink, although that is definitely on my list, and it’s now on Netflix streaming.

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1.  Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921)

Kapoor and Sons  was hands down my favorite Indian film of the year.  I just love the way the cast interacts.  It feels like you’re a voyeur in a real family and their drama.  I will admit that Sidharth is the weak link, but Alia and Fawad are so great in this.  Fawad Khan especially just blew me away.  And the soundtrack!  Kar Gayi Chull is my phone ringtone for a reason, because I never tire of hearing that hook.

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2.  Kammatti Paadam

Dulquer Salmaan had an amazing year, but Kammatti Paadam is just a masterpiece.  I’m so glad I saw this Malayalam gangster epic in a theater.  I was nearly shell shocked by the experience of seeing this Rajeev Ravi film.   Dulquer is our eyes into this world of gangsters, and dalit toughs.  He is very, very good, but the two actors, Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show.

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3. Udta Punjab

Alia Bhatt also had a great year.  I’m still thinking about how fantastic she was in Udta Punjab, a film filled with great performances.  This is the film that introduced me to Diljit Dosanjth.  And how great was Shahid Kapoor as the comic relief?  This was an entertaining film, but also one with an important message about how the drug trade affects everyone– a message the censor board tried to suppress, and thank goodness they did not prevail.  Udta Punjab is currently streaming on Netflix.

kali-malayalam-movie-wallpaper-0922-006394. Kali

Oh my goodness, Kali is such a tense thriller.  Kali means rage.  I admire the script and how the director kept me on the edge of my seat. I did not know what would happen next at any given moment. I felt that anything could happen. And I loved that about this Malayalam movie!  The first half is a personal story of a marriage with young man with anger issues.  Then the second half grips you by the throat.  Dulquer Salmaan gives another stellar performance in a great year, matched by Sai Pallavi.

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5. Dear Zindagi

I adored Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi.  We were afraid when the film was announced it was going to be a romantic relationship, but SRK is her mentor and therapist in this fantastic film.  This is my first Gauri Shinde film, and she is a wonderful director.  This was a nice crossover film that I took some Bollywood virgins to see, and they loved it.

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6. Fan

Although not a perfect film, I submit Fan may be the one of the best performances of Shahrukh Khan’s career in the double role of Guarav and Aryan.

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7. Neerja

This really felt like a year for women in Hindi cinema.  Sonam Kapoor was perfect casting for Neerja.  This film reminded me very much of United  93 – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still on the edge of your seat watching it unfold, filled with tension.  Neerja is currently streaming on Netflix.

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8. Dangal

I love that Aamir Khan made this movie about girl empowerment.  He let the young women at the center of this true story take the lead, and he was brave enough to play a father with a paunch, no less.  Dangal was one of the biggest family films of the year.

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9. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

I’m still not happy with the ending of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, but man it has some glorious moments.  It’s full on lush Karan Johar film making – actually my first Karan film on the big screen.  I’m reading his autobiography now, An Unsuitable Boy, and he says that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is about his own unrequited love story.  It’s a very personal film.  I wish there hadn’t been all the controversy about Pakistani actors, and Fawad Khan had a bigger part.  That soundtrack!!  I listened to the title track on constant repeat.

 

sultan-trailer-647_05241607500610. Sultan

I really enjoyed Sultan, and Salman made a great pairing with Anushka Sharma.  It was another Hindi film with a message of female empowerment, even if the majority of the film was about Salman’s character.  Great soundtrack, too!

Special mention for Brahman Naman which I saw the premiere of at Sundance back in January.  I’m not sure if it’s a purely Indian produced film, but it’s a quirky and wonderful teen sex comedy. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

Brahman Naman – Hilarious Indian teen sex comedy now on Netflix – The Indian American Pie

Brahman Naman is an absolutely hilariouos teen sex comedy set in the 80’s. It’s the Indian Superbad or American Pie with major homage to John Hughes movies, too.

screen-shot-2016-04-28-at-22-45-23Naman is the leader of his Bangalore college quiz team, and the leader of nerds in the same way Anthony Michael Hall was the leader of his group of nerds in Sixteen Candles. They delight in throwing trivia at each other and quoting Noel Coward.

The film opens with Naman waking up in the middle of the night to masturbate in the refrigerator door, wrapping his arms around the appliance to held the door tight. Really.

The film is mostly all in English with the occasional “yaar” or other term. Naman and his friends are Brahman, and there’s a sweet scene of him doing rituals with his father. Ash, is a nerdy girl who yearns to be on the quiz team with Naman and his friends, and has a major crush on Naman that is not reciprocated. He uses every excuse in the book to avoid her, even though his friends point out that she is Brahman, too.

The boys are sex obsessed, but don’t have today’s internet porn. All they have are racy magazines and sneaking into porno movie theaters. Naman has an elaborate gadget attached to his ceiling fan for a masturbation aide, but the ultimate was his putting his erect penis into a fish tank and the ejaculation was shown in close up. (!!!) Netflix bought the movie, and I wonder if that scene will need to be edited out even for streaming.

For all their bravado, the boys run away from being set up with a prostitute for their first real experience.

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My favorite part of the film, however, is when their quiz team takes a trip to Calcutta for a quiz competition. On the train they meet a female team from Chennai, and Naman falls for the leader, Naina. As his friend points out, she is Naman in female form, cutting him down to size with her wit.

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I was probably the only one in the Sundance theater to recognize  Biswa Kalyan Rath from the Pretentious Movie Reviews team. He’s a standup comedian in India, too, and has the small role in the movie as a guy at their college always trying to impress Naman and his pals with his sexual exploits on trains, planes, etc.

It’s an enjoyable comedy. and although my son was confused by the references to Brahmans and caste, I thought the film does a good job pointing out the issues with jokes understandable for non-Desi’s.

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At the Sundance showing after the film, I asked the director, Q, about censorship of films in India and he went on a rant about the restrictive censor board.  This is certainly not like any Indian film I’ve ever seen.  Q said in a recent interview “that the film is far from misogynistic. “We’re showing the boys for who they are — sexually starved and confused. And at the same time, we give women power. What you expect is definitely not what you’ll end up with,” he promised.”

Highly recommend this quirky film.  Four stars out of five.  Available July 6 streaming on Netflix!

What I saw and liked at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

I have attended Sundance since 2008, but this year we were able to attend the entire festival, so we saw quite a few films.  I saw 22 feature length films, and several shorts.

This year was special because our friend Tahir Jetter‘s How To Tell You’re A Douchebag, his first feature, premiered at the fest.   It’s a romantic comedy set in Brooklyn.

I’m biased, but for a very limited budget, I thought it was great.  Here’s a balanced review from The Guardian.

It’s difficult for me to name just one film as my favorite from this year, because there were several standouts for me.   For my full list with reviews, here is my Letterboxd list for Sundance 2016

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  1. Captain Fantastic — “Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.”  Viggo is AMAZING in this film as an extreme home schooling dad, in probably my favorite film.  I can’t think of anyone else more perfect for this role.  The young actor who plays the oldest son is also incredible.  A ★★★★½ review of Captain Fantastic (2016)

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2. Manchester By The Sea – Kenneth Lonnergan’s film stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Wiliams.  Affleck has to return to his home town Manchester By The Sea when a family member suddenly dies.  You gradually learn why he is so reluctant to be the guardian for his 16 year old nephew.  Searing film that we will be seeing come Oscar time, to be sure.  Five stars!!  Lucas Hedges is great as the young nephew, but Casey Affleck’s melancholy superb acting had me sobbing — not just tears down my face but holding my hand over my mouth to keep quiet in the theater sobbing.  This is a masterful movie about real people and their grief.  A ★★★★★ review of Manchester by the Sea (2016)

3. The Birth Of A Nation – Nate Parker’s slave drama about Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831 deservedly was the most talked about film at the festival.  It won the audience and grand jury prize.  I expect it to win Best Picture at the Oscars.  Just an incredible film.   Nate Parker choked up with tears at our screening talking about how hard it was to get his film made, and it received standing ovation after standing ovation at the fest.  A ★★★★★ review of The Birth of a Nation (2016)

4. Ali and Nino – I LOVED this sweeping romantic epic set in WWI era Azerbaijan.  Ali is a Muslim prince who falls for the aristocratic Christian Nino.  Mandy Patinkin plays Nino’s father.  The director, Asif Kapadia, just won the Oscar for his documentary film Amy, and I loved previous Sundance doc Senna.  So glad to see a new narrative feature from him.  A ★★★★★ review of Ali & Nino (2016)

5. Hunt for The Wilderpeople   A hilarious comic romp by director Taika Waititi.  (I have great hopes for the next Thor movie after seeing this movie, and laughing through Taika MCing the Sundance award night.)  Sam Neill is more curmudgeonly than ever, and has a fantastic reluctant relationship with his foster son played by newcomer Julian Dennison.  The film is out in New Zealand already, so you can see for yourself in the trailer below:

6. Other People – A gay writer son comes home to help take care of his mother when she is diagnosed with cancer.  Molly Shannon is the mother, and you’ve never seen her like this.  She’s fantastic.

7. Green Room – Patrick Stewart as the villainous owner of a Neo-Nazi punk rock club.  I don’t need to say anything more.  Anton Yelchin and his punk band have to escape a green room at the club after they witness a murder.  There’s a trailer already for this incredibly intense thriller.

Now we get down in the list to films that were good, but not my favorites.

8. Belgica – Two brothers run a hip nightclub in Belgium.  Predictable what happens, but the music was particularly good on the soundtrack.  Many parallels to the refugee crisis.

9. Morris From America – Craig Robinson and his son, played by Markees Christmas are the only black people in their entire German town.  Markees young 13 year old character loves rap and is incredibly sweet.

10.  Southside With You – This is the story of Barack Obama and Michelle’s first date when she was his mentor at his summer job at the law firm, Sidley Austin in Chicago (my husband’s firm.)  I really liked this film, even if you couldn’t even tell it was filmed in Chicago.

11. Sand Storm – set in a Bedouin village in Israel.  Everything changes when the father in this family drama decides to marry a second wife.  Really compelling story, with a debut Israeli director.  This clip shows the moment the first wife must welcome the second bride:

12.  Halal Love – Four tragicomic interconnected stories about how devoted Muslim men and women are trying to manage their love life and desires without breaking any religious rules.  This film set in Lebanon was really entertaining and super interesting.  I did not know before this film about “temporary” halal marriages.

13. Brahman Naman  A raunchy sex comedy set in the ’80s in Bangalore.  The film is in English and is sort of an Indian American Pie.  Naman and his friends are all on their college quiz team, which evidently was a huge thing.  Was not expecting an Indian movie where the opening scene has Naman masturbating in the door of a fridge!

14. Mapplethorpe:  Look At the Pictures  This fascinating documentary just started airing on HBO this week.  I really didn’t know that much about him, other than remembering Jesse Helms ranting about him in the ’80s.

15. Holy Hell was an amazing documentary filmed inside a cult.  The director was the official videographer of the cult for years, and had incredible footage.  The Q&A with several former members of the cult who were in the documentary was particularly powerful.

16. Life Animated – moving documentary about a family with an autistic son, who they finally are able to reach through his love of Disney animated movies.

And now the disappointing films on the list.

17.  Love and Friendship – Based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen.  Had some really hilarious zinger lines, and it was very fun to see Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in this movie.  But it dragged and could have used tighter editing.  Hopefully they tightened it up for theatrical release.

18. Certain WomenThree stories of women in the modern AmericanWest.  Performances were great, especially the acting of the Native American lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone).  But oh, my, god was this movie like watching grass grow.  So slow.

19. Yoga Hosers – Midnight movie starring Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughters as clerks of a Canadian convenience store.  It was worth seeing just to see  Kevin Smith choke up talking about coming back to Sundance with this movie.  It was amusing and silly, but Brat Nazis?  Really?

20. Jaqueline (Argentine) – decidedly quirky doc film within a film.  I fell asleep during it to be honest.

21. Swiss Army Man – I have NEVER seen so many people walk out of a movie at Sundance!  People in the 4th row walked out 1/2 an hour in!  This was my 23 year old son’s favorite movie, and my husband hated it.  But it’s like a train wreck that you can’t help but watch.  Daniel Radcliffe is a farting corpse that Paul Dano rides like a jet ski to escape a deserted island.  And that’s just the first 10 minutes.  The trailer just came out, so you can see for yourself with this truly bizarre film.  I shouted “WHAT?!!!” when “The Daniels” won the jury prize for directing at Sundance.

But Swiss Army Man is a screening I will NEVER forget.  It was worth it just to say I was there!

22. Christine – Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbock, a Tampa TV reporter who committed suicide on air.  The acting was very good, but again, the tempo of the film was slow for me.

Overall, a very strong year at Sundance.  Again, here’s my full list with reviews, here is my Letterboxd list for Sundance 2016, including the shorts.