My favourite films of 2011 (so far)

13) Wrecked

By far the most underrated and overlooked film of the year. The whole world went gaga over '127 Hours' and 'Buried', and no one bothered to look at this excellent single-location psychological thriller. Features a stunning performance from Adrien Brody.

12) 13 Assassins

Takashi Miike takes a break from the dementia of 'Audition' and 'Ichi the killer' and delivers a good ol' fashioned Samurai epic. The epic final hour of battle makes up for the feeble character development in the preceding hour.

11) Submarine

Comedian Richard Ayoyade makes an absolutely brilliant debut with this quirky, bittersweet British dramedy. Not enough can be said about the young Craig Roberts who comes across as a younger avatar of Dustin Hoffman.

10) We are what we are

This one came out of nowhere. 'We are what we are' is a gripping, devastating story of  an urban Mexican family with a dark, horrifying secret. Effortlessly mixes dread and drama.

9) Insidious

James Wan and Leigh Whannel, the geniuses behind the original 'Saw' dole up an exceptional homage to 'Poltergeist'. Creepy as hell. Does away with most of the horror film cliches. What impressed me the most was that it was made for just over $1 million, yet looked like a big budget thriller.

8) Source Code

The first (and frankly the only true) summer blockbuster of the year. Duncan Jones practically shouts at our faces that 'Moon' wasn't a fluke. Smart, taut thriller that exudes very high repeat value.

7) Cold Fish

Watching this film feels like sticking one's head out the window of a speeding bullet train. Shion Sono, the madman behind the classics 'Suicide Club', 'Strange Circus' and 'Love Exposure' doles up his most accomplished, most fucked up film to date. Stay away if you've a weak stomach. 

 6) Rango

What a magnificent piece of cinema. Spits in the face of 3D. For the first time in a decade, a Pixar product didn't turn out to be the finest animated feature of the year.

5) Confessions

Don't be fooled by the unassuming poster. 'Kokuhaku' (Confessions) is a goosebump-inducing, electrifying, visceral trip that sheds a light on the increasingly disturbed minds of Japanese kids. Some of the plot twists in the film are downright unsettling. 

4) Senna

A glorious ode to one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers. The best documentary I have personally seen since 'Man On Wire'. Director Asif Kapadia conjures some fascinating footage of the underbelly of F1. Whether or not you are familiar with F1, 'Senna' will shatter you with it's final scene.

3) Incendies

Vivid. Stunning. Haunting. Masterpiece. Features a plot that is as powerful as it's imagery. Blew me away.

2) Tree of Life

A visual, aural, narrative triumph. Terrence Malick's latest transcends magnum opus status.

1) I Saw the Devil

You need an oxygen mask to watch this mother of all serial killer movies. 'I saw the devil' is one of the bloodiest, most violent films ever made. Korean maestro Kim ji Woon directs the gore and savagery with artistry and style, never once stooping to the decadence that is generally found in extreme European films. Choi Min Sik, the protagonist of 'Oldboy' plays the hair-raising villain with primeval ferocity. As of now, 'I saw the Devil' stands as the best damn Asian thriller since the 'Vengeance trilogy'.

The 'I am Kalam' Review

 I am Kalam is a charming, heartwarming story that captures the conflicted emotions of a poverty-stricken kid with real sensitivity. The film is inspirational, moving, funny, and gives you a young hero to root for.  It's the kind of hopeful, kid's-eye-view Indian dramedy that hasn't been made for a while. 
What makes I am Kalam such an unexpected treat is that debutant director Nila Madhab Panda crisply separates the film's emotional core from a plethora of mawkish classism. There is no sloganeering or preaching here - Panda finds a very subtle and moving way to illustrate the film's "schooling for everyone" message.  He does away with the melodramatic gas and delicately weaves the theme of educational growth against incredible odds. Writer Sanjay Chauhan doles up a very realistic depiction of rural India’s education and lack thereof, and the struggle of learning in a community that places it as a last priority. It makes for an excellent film, mainly because its lead character Chotu (Harsh Mayar) is not only down to Earth and awfully familiar, but he never becomes a caricature or a gimmick.  

Here we have Chotu, an uneducated, though quick-witted 10-year-old who works with Bhati (Gulshan Grover) at a tiny highway dhaba in Rajasthan. Chotu dreams of attending school; he even calls himself Kalam after learning that like him, the then-president too used to be a child laborer forced to support his family. Chotu becomes friends with the rich young Prince Ranvijay (Husaan Saad) who introduces him to his school books, and musician Lucy (Beatrice Ordeix) who promises him that she’d take him to Delhi for his studies. Writer Chauhan mines the location for drama, giving Chotu static through his unsupportive mother, the nasty dhaba assistant Laptan (Pitobash), and the rejection from his rich friend’s household. Panda positions the barriers well, keeping the viewer hopeful that Chotu’s dream will indeed be realised.  

Most of the characters are stock types - the discouraging mother, the upper-class snobs, the inspirational friend - but they are given a bright re-envisioning. There are a few moments where I am Kalam dive bombs into hammy subplots - the worst offender is the prolonged exposition of Bhati’s crush on Lucy.  The climax is a tad schmaltzy too, but it becomes easy to overlook the contrivances, seeing as the film's heart is so wonderfully in the right place. The lion's share of the credit for the film’s success goes to young Harsh Mayar who holds his own against veterans like Gulshan Grover.    

I am Kalam is a delight to sit through. It is one of the bright spots in a dim period for half-witted commercial films. Don’t miss it.   

First published in Mumbai Boss